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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 12 – John 12: 2:13-25
Revising the Temple

This second story in this second chapter is as remarkable as the first. Here it is:

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people 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 courts, 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! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They 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. 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.

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

It causes even more puzzlement amongst the experts than the first story of this chapter. Clearing the Temple is recorded in all 4 Gospels but in the other 3 it occurs near the end of Jesus’ ministry where here it seems to be at the beginning. Or has John put it here because he wants us to read and hear the rest of his book with this in the background? I think he has. If a squad of Roman soldiers or temple guards allowed something like this to happen for a second time they would be in very serious trouble. The Philippian jailer was thinking of killing himself as the less painful option when He thought Paul and Silas had escaped from his prison. If Jesus had cleared the Temple early on He would have been a marked man every time He went to Jerusalem subsequently. No, again John has chosen a surprising passage for his introduction to the life of Jesus. Why? What did he mean by doing so?

The Temple was the very centre of Jewish life. Everyone who was able to visited it at least once a year as we are told Jesus and his family did for the Feast of Passover (Luke 4). They thought of God being there more than anywhere else. He had led the Israelites through the wilderness at the Exodus in a tent and then a tabernacle. He had been present in the Temple when Solomon dedicated it. Only later, when things went badly wrong in the life of the nation, had He ceased to be there visibly (Ezek 10). There was no visible proof that He was there in Herod’s temple but they still reckoned it was the place to be as often as possible.

John records: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts He found people 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 courts, 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! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market.”

It looks as though He was annoyed by the way the merchants had set up a bazaar inside the outer courts. But there is much more to what He did than that. Mark is most helpful. He says that as Jesus and His disciples were approaching Jerusalem they saw a fig tree and Jesus went up to it to get some figs. A curious thing to do as it was not the right time of the year for it to have fruit on it. Then, even more surprisingly, Jesus curses the tree. They go down into the city, Jesus clears the temple, and they come back to find the tree had withered. What is going on and why?

Mark has put one story, the clearing of the temple, inside another, the death of the fig-tree. He does this sort of thing with stories quite often and clearly relates the two stories, one of them explaining the other. In this case He is saying the temple is done, finished, it is withered, it is dead. And, indeed, just 40 years later it was, pulled down and destroyed by the Romans at the sack of Jerusalem. That had already happened when John wrote this Gospel.

So what was to happen now? Answer, from Jesus: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” Which they don’t understand. They say, “It has taken forty- six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”

John knows what the whole event means. He tells us, “the temple He had spoken of was His body. “
The Temple is done, gone, even if it hasn’t fallen down yet. But God is still with them, and with us, in the person of Jesus.
In fact, there is still more to come in the later teaching of the church. Paul says, “we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’”
That is you, assuming you have set out to follow Jesus, and me. Where is God these days? He is in you and me, and nowhere else in any special sense in the whole wide world. WOW!

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