Worship is about adoration, the complete giving of ourselves to God. What kind worshipers are we? Are we passionate? Are we devout? Are we faithful? Or has our worship become defiled, routine and secondary in our lives to other interests or desires? How devoted are we to Christ? How are we devoted to the things of God? What standard are we using to measure our lives?
Michael Green shares the following illustration:
If your car started once every three tries, is it reliable? If your refrigerator stops working for a day or two every now and then, do you say, ‘Oh, well, it works most of the time’? If your hot water heater provided a cold shower every now and again, is it dependable? If you miss a couple of loan payments every year, does the bank say, ‘Oh well, ten out of twelve isn’t bad’? If you fail to show up for work once or twice a month, are you a dependable employee? If you fail to show up to church once or twice a month, would you be considered a true worshiper?[i]
It is interesting that we expect faithfulness and reliability from things and other people, but what about ourselves? What does God expect of us? The problem is that when it comes to the things of God, we might see ourselves as volunteers rather than as slaves of Christ. For a volunteer, almost anything seems acceptable, but for a slave complete devotion is expected.
Judah in the time of Christ was a highly religious environment. When we think of the Jews in the time of Jesus, we may be tempted to think that they were a unified people. However a careful study of the time shows how fragmented they were. If the Jews had been really unified at the first Jewish revolt in 70 A.D. they would probably have succeeded, but they were literally physically fighting among themselves while they were besieged in Jerusalem.
Two of the groups are somewhat familiar to us as they are mentioned in the New Testament. The Sadducees were primarily made up of the aristocracy and they held many important political positions. However, to maintain this place they had compromised with the Romans and therefore many of the common people were unsympathetic toward them. They were the ones that held the chief priest posts and made up most of the positions in the Sanhedrin. Their focus was on the temple worship. Though they rejected the oral traditions of law, which the Pharisees promoted and only took the first five books of Moses as inspired, they lived very worldly lives. Jesus criticized the Pharisees more than any other group as they had the greatest influence over the masses of people. Scholars estimated that there were about 6,000 Pharisees in the first century. The basic difference between the Pharisees and the other streams of Judaism was their acceptance of the oral law as canonical and therefore authoritative for life. How the oral law came into such prominence in the minds of the Pharisees occurred because of the exile, when there was no temple.
Another very small group numbering in the hundreds were the Essenes. Many scholars today, believe that the Essenes were originally a group of Sadducees, who gathered other disenfranchised Jews who were deeply devote and believed that end of the world would come soon and withdrew into the wilderness. The main issue of difference then between the Sadducees and the Essenes had to do with purity issues. The Essenes had a stricter interpretation of the Torah and felt that the Sadducees were compromising the faith in their more lax view of Temple worship. It should be noted that the Sadducees’ central element to their expression of faith was their focus on the Temple worship. Since the Essenes felt that the Sadducees had defiled the physical Temple with moral impurities by having a High Priest that was not a priest from the family line of Zadok, and a more liberal interpretation of Jewish law, the Essenes moved to a more internal, heart understanding of Temple worship.
Geza Vermes, translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls, speaks of the attitude that the Essenes had and how it differed from the Sadducees’. The first, as we have already discussed, had to do with the wrong genealogical lineage of High Priests. The second issue had to do with the sect’s attitude towards the Temple and Temple sacrifice.
While some Essenes, notwithstanding their vow of total fidelity to the Law of Moses, rejected the validity of the Sanctuary and refused to participate (temporarily) in their rites (cf. Philo, Omnis probus 75; Josephus, Antiquities XVIII, 19), they evaded the theological dilemma in which this stand might have placed them by contending that until the rededication of the Temple, the only true worship of God was to be offered in their establishment. The Council of the Community was to be the ‘Most Holy Dwelling for Aaron’ where, ‘without the flesh of holocausts and the fat of sacrifice’, a ‘sweet fragrance’ was to be sent up to God, and where prayer was to serve ‘as an acceptable fragrance of righteousness’ (1QS VIII, 8-9; IX, 4-5). The Community itself was to be a sacrifice offered to God in atonement for Israel’s sins (1 QS VIII, 4-5; 4Q26 fr. 7ii.).[ii]
In other words, they saw their community of faith as the temple or dwelling place of God. What I’m trying to point out to you is that there were other Jews who were disgusted with what was happening at the Temple. The points of contention among the Jews themselves had to do with how one worshiped God. Jesus weighed in on this very issue when he was talking to a Samaritan woman. Samaritans were a mixed race with the Jewish people who developed their own temple and approach to worship. They worshipped at Mount Gerizim rather than in Jerusalem because Jerusalem was not mentioned in the first five books of the O.T. When the Samaritan woman posed the question to Jesus asking where the right place of worship was, he answered her:
Jesus declared, ‘Believe me woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.[iii]
So, when Jesus cleansed the temple, it was not a shocking thing to some. Some Jews felt that what Jesus was doing was justified. So, what can we learn from this sign, this incident in the life of Jesus, and how does it apply to our lives? When we understand the significance of this action, it can bring about a positive result in our lives.
THE FIRST THING WE LEARN ABOUT JESUS CLEANSING THE TEMPLE IS THAT IT WAS A PROPHETIC PICTURE OF WHAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN
When Jesus cleansed the temple, it was a prophetic act to reveal that a change in the essence and nature of worship was about to happen. Jesus is addressing the fact that they were just going through external motions in their worship of God. Their lifestyle and priorities reflected how far they had gotten away from what real worship was all about.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!’
His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.”[iv]
What is interesting is that this incident, according to John, seems to be at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry while the other gospel writers portray this incident during the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. Scholars have debated a number of things concerning this incident. Were there two incidents where Jesus cleansed the Temple? Or was John taking this incident out of the order of events to make a theological point? Most believe that there was only one incident and it happened during the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. In John chapter one we see the first miracle or sign where Jesus turned the water into wine revealing a transformed faith in God from a primarily ceremonial and ritualistic life to a life of joy. In cleansing the Temple Jesus is making a powerful statement about the need for the old way to be renewed and purified.
A. This is obviously a sign that revealed Christ’s mission.
Jesus came to prepare the human heart to worship God. The Temple with its sacrificial system had been a provision to address sin, but had over time degenerated into a mere ritual for most. For some, religion was now just big business. It had been defiled and corrupted. Jesus is confronting the unnecessary barriers being put in the way of the common worshipper which is keeping them from truly connecting with God.
B. F. Westcott is probably right when he sees in this incident a commentary in the prophet, Malachi.
See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me [Jesus said this about John the Baptist]. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come, says the LORD Almighty.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.
He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me, says the LORD Almighty.[v]
So how does this apply to us? The temple is where God’s presence dwelt in the Old Testament. Now in the arrival of Jesus, the true temple is actually Jesus’ body.
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.
The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?
But the temple he had spoken of was his body.[vi]
After his ascension into heaven, we have a new picture of the temple of God. We, the followers of Jesus, become Christ’s body. The apostle Paul explains, that the church of Christ is His body. We are the temple of God. We are the house where God resides and therefore, we must live an undefiled life.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.[vii]
When Jesus came on the scene He addressed the desecration and defilement that was going on in His Temple. When the Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, He came in cloven tongues of fire. This is a picture. Fire speaks of a refining, cleansing work. When we surrender to the Holy Spirit he comes and in cleansing fire. In Malachi’s account we hear the cry of God to bring about transformation in the human heart. He comes to address the sin issues in our lives. How are we living our life? Are we living to please God, or are neglecting God? For those who are violating God’s ways and there seems to be no immediate consequence, let me point out to you, that God is giving you an opportunity to repent, to change your mind and turn from your ways. God allows moments to seek His forgiveness and grace, and to discover His mercy. Otherwise, the bottom will fall out. We will be exposed, shamed, and disgraced.
What Jesus did is best classified as an act of prophetic symbolism. If he had Zechariah 14:21 in mind when he protested against his Father’s house (cf. Luke 2:49) being turned into a supermarket, we may recall that the preceding verses of Zechariah 14 tell how all nations will go up to Jerusalem to worship. The only place within the temple precincts which was open to people of ‘all nations’ (apart from the Israelites) was the outer court (sometimes called the ‘court of the Gentiles’); if this area were taken up for trading it could not be used for worship. Jesus’ action reinforced his spoken protest.[viii]
When we as believers live defiled lives, we are unknowingly keeping non-believers from coming to Christ. Our lives can become stumbling blocks to people coming to faith. It is important that the Temple, which is our lives, are set apart for God’s purposes. It is critical that our lives be fully devoted to God.
So who were the moneychangers and why were they needed?
Money changers were required, since Jews were not allowed by the Romans to issue their own coins, and Roman coins bore images of their rulers with (to Jews) blasphemous claims of rule and divinity. The Jewish rulers therefore decreed that the temple tax and sacrifices be paid for in Tyrian coinage.[ix]
The Tyrian coin was made up of pure silver and maintained its value. The tragedy was that their attention to detail about not allowing coins bearing images of foreign rulers became a means of abusing genuine worshipers. Greed took the place of devotion. They were gouging the people in the process of exchanging coins. Does that ever happen in our lives where we put finances ahead of worship? What are we living for? To glorify God with our lives or our own interests?
B. We also discover from this incident something of God’s passion.
We often see God as indifferent and apathetic to what is happening in life. Why is this so? We see so much injustice and thereby question God’s activity in our world, and falsely assume that God doesn’t care. This is the farthest thing from the truth. Peter reminds us of this in his second letter.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.[x]
In our grace-oriented society we have a hard time believing that God would ever judge humanity. Yet, there are expressions of God’s judgment, not only in Scripture but throughout history. We fail to remember the lessons from cities that are destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah, where after repeated warnings and continuous corruption, they were destroyed. I wonder sometimes in our past century – two world wars, a great depression, an influenza that saw millions of lives destroyed – if these were not the outcomes of many lives lived in rebellion to God. Do we think that if we as Canadians continue to forget God and walk our own way that a day of reckoning will not come to our own society where the wages, or consequences, of sin is death? You may argue, ‘But what about the righteous?’ God often spares his own, as He did Lot, but let us remember that we as a church need to be about our Father’s business of reaching our world. Otherwise, we will have failed even as ancient Israel failed in her witness of God to the surrounding nations as she adopted their ways, rather than being a vibrant witness of God’s ways. Is the church today pure and vibrant or do we see much compromise and sin even in our own lives?
Does it shake us up to see Jesus, in righteous anger, driving out the money changers from the Temple? We often attribute human thinking to God. What we need to discover not only from this incident, but from many others, is the heart of God. What God is concerned about is often different than what we are concerned about. God is concerned about injustice, oppression, and hypocrisy. As the religious leaders of Jesus’ day discovered, it is not just about a form of godliness. God is deeply concerned about how we treat each other. How do we treat those who are coming to God?
THE SECOND THING WE LEARN ABOUT JESUS CLEANSING THE TEMPLE IS THAT HE WAS CHALLENGED
We are always shocked when people question or oppose those who address sin in the lives of believers. Most people today are very uncomfortable with confronting issues because that means we expose ourselves to criticism and conflict. We often lack the moral courage to address sin today. We are so often tempted, like Adam in the garden, to be silent and then only speak when confronted with blame and anger. It is amazing how Adam blamed his wife for his sin, and then ultimately blamed God.
The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me- she gave me some of the fruit from the tree, and I ate it.[xi]
So what has to happen in order for cleansing to occur in our lives? We have to take personal responsibility for our own sin. Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III in their bool Intimate Allies, state: “Redemption does not come, however, without a war.”[xii] We have to address the evil before we can overcome it.
Then the Jews demanded of him, ‘What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’[xiii]
The apostle Paul states that the Jews required a sign.
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.[xiv]
When Moses was concerned about the people of Israel believing God had sent him, what did God do? God gave Moses two signs to authenticate his message (the staff turning into a serpent and returning back to a staff, and his hand turning leprous and then being healed.)
Then the LORD said, ‘If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second.
But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.
And take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it.[xv]
Jesus now gives them the sign of His authority.
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.
The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?
But the temple he had spoken of was his body.[xvi]
The disciples remembered afterwards the significance of this event.
His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.”[xvii]
F. F. Bruce points out regarding the understanding of this text: “…the zeal for the house of God which Jesus manifested on that occasion would yet be the death of him.”[xviii]
We must remember that it was this statement that was presented at Jesus’ trial.
Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him:
We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.[xix]
What had Jesus said? John, in writing his letter, uses two different terms for the word temple. When the Jews are talking about the Temple that took forty-six years to build they are using a word that speaks of all the temple buildings. When Jesus speaks of the temple of His body, it is the word that speaks specifically of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, which is the very dwelling place of God. John concludes this episode with this interesting comment:
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.[xx]
It took the sign of the resurrection to bring them to a place of belief. That was the sign that Jesus was offering his nation. That is the sign that He offers to us, that our faith can be placed in Him because of what He accomplished by conquering death.
Now we are the temple of God. So, what does God see from our lives? Is our commitment superficial and inconsistent at times?
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.
But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.
He did not need man’s testimony about men, for he knew what was in a man.[xxi]
Are we living a consistent godly life? Do we have a superficial faith? Do we solely assent to the truth, but are not applying it into our lives and therefore do not experience transformation, nor the joy of being free? How do we see Jesus? Do we see Him as He truly is; loving, forgiving, caring, and compassionate; but also engaged, courageous, and aggressively dealing with sin in our lives? Before we start pointing the finger at others, maybe we need to look within our own soul and ask the questions, ‘What kind of a worshipper am I? Have I allowed the temple of my soul to become defiled? Am I serving as a volunteer or do I see myself as a love slave, fully devoted to Christ? What kind of a worshipper am I?’ What things in our lives does Jesus need to drive out? Life-transforming moments happen when we repent and turn away from those things that defile our lives thereby becoming devoted worshipers.
[i] Michael Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Book House, 1982), 143-144.
[ii] Geza Vermes, Translator. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, (N.Y., N.Y.: Penguin Books, 2004), 82.
[iii] John 4:21-24, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iv] John 2:13-17.
[v] Malachi 3:1-5.
[vi] John 2:19-21.
[vii] 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
[viii] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 75.
[ix] George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 36, (Waco, TX: Words Book, Publisher, 1987), 38.
[x] 2 Peter 3:9.
[xi] Genesis 3:12.
[xii] Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III, Intimate Allies, (Carol Stream, Il: Tyndale House, Publishers, Inc., 1995), 275.
[xiii] John 2:18.
[xiv] 1 Corinthians 1:22-23.
[xv] Exodus 4:8-9, 17.
[xvi] John 2:19-21.
[xvii] John 2:17.
[xviii] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 75.
[xix] Mark 14:57-58.
[xx] John 2:22.
[xxi] John 2:23-25.