Just before the Jewish PassoverJesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me. The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.
During his stay in Jerusalem for the Passover many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he gave, but Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him.
To a contemporary audience Jesus’ anger is justified for the people had turned God’s house into a market place. It is important to realise however that such an occurrence would not have been uncommon in Jesus’ time during the Passover, for it was during this time that sacrificial offerings were central to temple worship. Given that the people had travelled great distances on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem money changers were necessary so that those carrying Roman and Greek coins could be issued with the local currency.
Jesus would have been enraged by the fact that monetary dealings had overtaken sacrifice, prayer and ritual as the primary reason for people gathering there. Moreover, the Temple had become a marketplace no different from any other, where the poor and the vulnerable were exploited and where usury was commonplace.
The Temple, which had once been destroyed by the Babylonians, was according to Jesus being destroyed again for rather than honouring his Father’s House, the people had defiled it.
While the Scriptures reveal that the Temple is of great importance, this passage highlights that Jesus, not the Temple, is the dwelling place of God, a theme reiterated throughout John’s Gospel. ‘The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me’ (John 14:10). The account in the Temple foreshadows Jesus’ own death and resurrection. The remark ‘destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it up’ would not have been understood at that time, even by his closest disciples. Rather, it was only after the resurrection that the ‘disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.’
Anthony Cleary: Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation