“And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple, (See John 2:12-25, RSV).
There are two accounts of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in the Gospels. One places this event at the beginning of his public ministry, and the other places it near the end of his public ministry.
Some scholars believe this indicates that there may have been two occasions when Jesus cleansed the temple by driving the money-changers and merchants, along with their animals, from the house of worship. This would also help to explain the acceleration of events that led to his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.
The cleansing of the temple occurred at Passover (which roughly corresponds to our Easter season). Worshipers came from all over to attend the feast, to pay their tithes, and to offer sacrifices. Because of the burden of travel, it was not practical for many people to make the journey with animals in tow. Something of a “ministry” existed in the temple area so those from outside Jerusalem could purchase the necessary animals and exchange their funds for temple currency. Most likely, Jesus was offended by the high prices being charged for animals and the corresponding high rates of monetary exchange.
Dishonesty was masquerading as ministry! Jesus was not duped. He watched. He waited. He acted.
The priority of Jesus was that his “Father’s House” be recognized as a house of prayer and not a den of thieves. He cleaned house! He called for repentance and revival. He served notice that “business as usual” was not acceptable.
I have always believed that Jesus developed these sentiments, at least in part, by attending temple with his earthly father, Joseph, when he was just a young boy. I can image Joseph saying in the presence of his children, “This is a disgrace. This is God’s house. They have made it a house of thieves!” I believe Jesus represented both his heavenly Father and his earthly father when he cleansed the temple. (By the way, what impressions of the church do our children get from us?)
Departing somewhat from the immediate text, we might also remember that in the New Testament the Apostle Paul insists that our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit”. God dwells with and within his people. Is cleansing needed? Is revival needed? Do priorities need to be established? As a young preacher I used to deliver a sermon on John 2 called “Overthrowing the Tables”.
I spiritualized this historical event in order to say that we must allow Christ to cleanse our temples/lives, and to do so might require his overthrowing tables of worldliness, materialism, complacency, and apathy. Jesus is in the cleansing business.
Dr. Faught is Pastor of The LaFollette United Methodist Church.