Thieves in the Temple

the merchants chased from the temple
The Merchants Chased from the Temple (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

John 2:12–25 (ESV)

12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus, his mother, and his disciples went to Jerusalem for the Passover. As he went into the temple, he encountered those who were engaged in the sale of oxen, sheep, and pigeons. He also found “money-changers” there. These services were actually quite practical for the Jewish people who visited the temple. Many came from many miles away and it was much easier to bring money to purchase an animal for a sacrifice than it was to bring an animal from home. Also, since most everyday commerce was done in Roman currency, it was a needed service to exchange Roman currency for the temple currency, which was all that was accepted for the temple tax.

Many have understood this passage to say that Jesus was upset because of the buying and selling of goods that was transpiring. However, that was not the issue. The issue was that the sellers and money-changers were taking advantage of the people. They were selling at inflated prices and exchanging the people’s money at unfair rates. This is especially clear when Matthew, Mark, and Luke are also consulted.

The people were amazed that Jesus would enter the temple and act with such authority. In response, they wanted to see a sign that would prove he had authority to do these things. After all, the temple was ruled by the priests. Jesus tells the people that his resurrection would serve as the sign that he had all authority (though they did not understand what he meant). It is Jesus’ resurrection even today that tells us that Jesus had the authority to say the things he said. And it is the resurrection that assures us that the things he said are true. May we seek to learn and obey the words of the Lord.

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