“My Father’s house” (part one)

Posted: November 5, 2012 in Sunday school
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Jesus Clears the Temple (2:13-25) – John now shifts the scene and the focus (remember, this Gospel jump-cuts). In Cana we saw Jesus replacing in Himself the Jewish ideas of purification; here, in Jerusalem, He is being held up against the traditional heart of Jewish worship and identity…the Temple. Jesus’ famous righteous anger is on display, but also famously misinterpreted…used to justify all manner of things not intended by the Lord. Let’s go to the text:

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts He found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves He said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then responded to Him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and You are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple He had spoken of was His body. 22 After He was raised from the dead, His disciples recalled what He had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

23 Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs He was performing and believed in His name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for He knew what was in each person.

(v.13) – Passover (Unleavened Bread) was one of three mandatory annual festivals (Pentecost Firstfruits and Tabernacles Ingathering being the other two) prescribed by Mosaic law. Jesus’ attendance is another demonstration of how He came to live in righteous fulfillment of the Law on our behalf. As a side note, this is the first of three distinct references to a Passover in John’s Gospel, which is internal evidence that Jesus had an earthly ministry lasting 2 1/2 -3 years.

(v.14-15) – Both the sale of animals and the exchange of currency were not uncommon practices in Jewish history: as Judaism spread, proselytes remained in their native lands and cultures, rather than relocating; yet, with laws stipulating attendance at the Temple, offerings of ritually clean animals, and payments of the temple tax due only in shekels, it should not be a surprise that vendors would exist to supply these needs. In ordinary circumstances, one would find these sellers and traders in the street marketplace, convenient to the Temple, the travelers, and to food/water/stalls for the animals. So why are they inside the Temple courtyards? Once again, we need to turn to cultural context for our answers. Think about what is was like for the Jews living in Roman-occupied Palestine: the Empire financed its operations on the taxes, tariffs, fees, and permits levied against subject populations; one rare exception was a general exemption on activities related to and occurring within the local “holy temples”; Rome had adopted a policy allowing indigenous religious practices to remain in place, as long as at least token worship of Caesar was included, and sedition was not preached.  This had a calming effect on the people, making keeping the peace much simpler. The Temple officials faced a dilemma: allow the Romans to tax and regulate the sale of sacrificial animals and currency exchange (which would happen if they remained out in the streets), or move it all inside the compound, into the Outer Courts, also known as the Courts of the Gentiles…as far inside as any non-Jew could go.  They chose the latter. Sure, there were some trade-offs – the noise, the smells, the crowds – but they consoled themselves with the facts that 1. They could go further inside to get away from the distasteful stuff; and 2. They kept all the money collected in fees from the “preferred vendors” allowed inside, and largely avoided Roman oversight. Of course they would not allow blatant cheating or gouging (in fact, they did), but buyers lose most or all of  their haggling position when faced with a single source and an unavoidable demand. Given the realities of the times, why would Jesus have such a violent and dramatic reaction? Where is the love, man?

Unfortunately, the mental picture many readers have of Christ brandishing a bullwhip and wreaking havoc are more products of Hollywood than a clear reading of the original language of Scripture. John does not linger on the details, he is assuming a great deal of prior knowledge, but the “cords” Jesus fashions into His whip are better thought of as long slender grass stalks, much like hay, which would naturally be found anywhere animals were; braiding these is a slow, tedious, deliberate process, and yields something more akin to a drover’s brush than Indy’s leather lash. Jesus is going to empty the room, yes, but He has no desire or reason to injure anyone. He moves the people and animals out with an unmistakable demonstration of authority, and nobody gets hurt in the process. (Besides, weapons were not allowed within the Temple complex, so what observant Jew would sit down in the Courts and make one?) Jesus is not reacting emotionally to the scene, He is responding to something which offends Him – but what? Many teachers focus on economic injustice and racial bigotry as justifications for Jesus’ anger, and these are indeed themes that the Lord addresses several times, but  He is about to make it abundantly clear where His priorities lie.

(Check back tomorrow for the conclusion…the depth of background info needed to receive the message in context requires a lot of words, so I will break here for now.)

On Mondays I present short versions of the Sunday school lessons I teach at my home church. We are studying the Gospel of John, with the focus of seeing Jesus as the Apostle wishes: the holy Son of God; the Messiah prophesied by all of the Old Testament; the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. Once we see Him, we will have to believe, and thus be saved.  Scripture references are NIV unless otherwise noted.

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