I am excited to walk with you through a famous and often misunderstood passage about Jesus confronting the money changers in the temple. Look with me at John chapter 2:
John 2:13-14 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.
What is happening here is at the annual Passover week, faithful Jewish worshipers would come from remote parts of the Holy Land to gather for the Passover. They didn’t have SUV’s and travel trailers, so many found it a convenience to be able to purchase the animals used for sacrifice right there at the temple. Even with our modern-day travel means, I believe it still would have been most convenient not to transport living animals in the back of the van. So, traders were smart to supply this huge demand, and what began as selling the needed items and animals outside the gates moved to the streets of Jerusalem, and eventually, they crept nearer and nearer to the sacred precincts of the courts of the temple itself. We can think of a modern-day example of this like buying t-shirts or concessions at a concert or a game.
So, we get why there was a market for the animals, given that they were needed for sacrifice, but why the money-changers?
Every Jew had to pay to the temple treasury an annual tax of half a shekel, and this tax could be paid only in sacred currency. No foreign coin, with its emblem of submission to an alien king, was allowed to pollute the temple. So, there came to be a need of money-changers, not only for the Jew who had come up to the feast from a remote part of the empire, but even for the inhabitants of Palestine, as the Roman coinage had displaced the shekel of ordinary use.
Now here is the problem:
Cattle-dealers and money-changers were notorious for making a quick buck on ignorant travelers passing through. The poor were shamefully cheated, and the worship of God was hindered and impoverished instead of being facilitated and enriched. The worshiper who came to the temple seeking quiet and fellowship with God had to push his way through the hoards of the dealers and biding and merchant chants. Surely whatever devotional mindset one had was tampered with by the wrangling and shouting of a cattle market or auction floor.
The problem is everybody had become so used to it that it didn’t stand out as wrong and offensive to the people of God. This is not unlike the modern church today. The biggest, most attended churches in our country are often self-serving, “man-uplifting,” “God-belittling,” “word-manipulating” houses of profit. Big business has taken over much of the church and turned it into a moneymaking, people-entertaining, man-exalting house of trade.
In these churches:
Little repentance of sin is happening;
The word of God is not taught fully and/or with God-fearing conviction;
Few disciples are being made and sent out;
And people have no staying power or commitment, but instead they come and go as fast as the church can get the next campaign or event up and running.
And just like it was in Jesus’ day at the temple, few modern Christians can discern the difference and they just accept it as normal.
But not Jesus; He couldn’t stand what the house of worship had become.
This was the temple. Remember, this is still the old system: This is where you went to interact with God.
This is where the Holy of Holies was--where God’s presence was.
But our faith is not dependent on the House of God like it was before Christ--like it was at the temple. The temple is where the people of God went to interact with God through the sacrificial system He put in place, through the priest and the animal sacrifice. So, we need to be sure we understand the weight of what this place and space represented in this time. We need to see what bothered Jesus so much. The idolatry and love affair with making money had become why all these people woke up and went there--not to worship God, but to make a profit.
Jesus was bold enough to stand up and say, “Enough! This is all wrong.”
John 2:15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
Now, to do this--to upset an entire courtyard of merchants--He was going to need a little force and a loud voice.
John 2:15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen.
The whip is not to hurt people but to herd people and their many animals--to herd them out.
How do you move a herd of sheep and oxen? With a whip!
And if you are going to move the people out, people who have a lot to lose, people who worked so hard to secure their spot to sell, you would need some influence. A whip will help.
John 2:15b And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
I know of no more direct way to rid yourself of a person who is addicted to money than to mess with his money. This is what Jesus did. He is taking their treasure and dumping it on the floor and turning their shrines of idolatry upside down.
Now, there are two ways to see Jesus here:
As mean, rude, out of control, and out of line
As loving and full of mercy.
In no other instance do we see Jesus interact with anyone in this way—in a physical way. Think about all of Jesus’ interactions and all the times He faced incredible disrespect and opposition. He never got physical or loud like He does here. So, how do we digest this? As out of line or as a loving response? Let me ask you:
When a father yells across the room at his daughter who is about to dump a pot of bowling water on herself as she reaches to grab the handle on the stove, is he being out of line or full or love? It is loving, right?
When a humble, peaceable, gentle man discovers that his house has been broken into and his family is in danger of evil, rape, and murder, and he grabs a bat or a gun to stop the evil attack, is he out of line or full of love? It is loving and right to restrain the evil and protect the defenseless!
So, when the Son of God is in His Father’s house and thieves and swindlers and idolaters have set up shop to advance their own kingdom and not God’s kingdom, is the Son right to defend what is sacred and holy and to protect the children of God from being taken or manipulated by these crooks?
Here is what we also must remember: God is love and mercy, but He is also just and wrath.
He is the good and right and the ultimate Judge. So His verdict is right. If He declares these guys guilty and doing wrong, then they are--without a shadow of doubt. WHY? Because God says so, and God is never wrong.
While the physical actions of Jesus are very unique (He doesn’t get physical with anybody in all the other accounts we have), it makes sense why this is a somewhat shocking scene, but you need to see how right it is. You need to remember, this is Jesus, who was without sin. Not one valid accusation was ever made against Him at his trials when they arrested him. WHY? Because He never sinned.
This means Jesus handled an incredibly intense situation, just right. He didn’t cross the line.
Oh, how we need the discipline of Jesus in and through us when faced with extreme moments like this.
To do what is right but to not sin.
John 2:16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away …”
To those He didn’t need to engage physically, He didn’t. This shows us that He did whatever was needed and nothing more. To the pigeon dealers, He simply said, “Take them away.”
Christ rebuked all, yet none were injured, and nothing was lost. What an amazing example for us to follow. Temperance and prudence at work to perfection. And another thing to remember is this was how often Jesus handled the worst of situations with a still, calm voice: not getting riled up, not exploding or sinfully boiling over. Just trusting His sovereign Father to work all things to His perfection.
There is a perfect combination of engaging but not over-engaging.
Men, we need this as we lead our homes!
Parents, we need this as we lead our children
Wives, you need this as you submit to your husbands
Any of you who work for someone else or with someone else, you need this.
Oh, how we need the discipline of Jesus in and through us when faced with extreme moments like this.
To do what is right but to not sin.
Let’s look at what Jesus said as He cleared the courts:
John 2:16 “… do not make my Father's house a house of trade.”
See how this points out the deity of Christ!
First, He identifies Himself with the temple, terming it "My Father’s house," therefore affirming His divine Sonship.
Nobody in all of the history of the temple would have dreamed of calling the House of God their father’s house--not Moses, David, or Solomon ever referred to the tabernacle or the temple as his "Father’s house." Why? Because only the Son of God alone could do this. Only through Jesus can the Father be known.
Matthew 11:27 “… no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Now, here is the thing we must not miss here.
Verse 15 says, “And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple” (John 2:15)!
You have to realize, the masses of hundreds, if not, thousands of people in this area during the annual Passover who filled the courtyard didn’t know who Jesus was. It’s not like He was a high-ranking official of the temple.
Now, we know there is no higher ranking official of the temple than the Son of God. So when He says “My Father’s house,” He is pronouncing that authority. But to the masses, He would have just been another guy. Not only does this ramp up what Jesus is making known about Himself, but it also points out that there is no way in any human explanation that one guy with a whip clears hundreds if not thousands of people from the temple.
Especially when these people have their livelihood on the line.
It would have only taken a few angry men to grab Him, bind Him and toss Him out after a good beating. So, do you see the miracle here? Do you see the hand of God at work?
We often don’t attribute this as a miraculous event, but it is! I pray we see it with a fuller view and that it causes us to worship Jesus as God and worthy of our praise.
Jesus says, “do not make my Father's house a house of trade.”
Referring to God as His Father would have been more reason to beat Him down.
WHY? Because until Jesus, no one talked about God this way.
It is not abstract to us because we, the church, are God’s adopted sons and daughters, and so He is our Father, too. Jesus later teaches His disciples to refer to God in prayer by saying, “Our Father in Heaven.” But when the Jews hear Jesus speak this way, it causes them to boil in anger because to them, it looks like a man is putting himself at the same level as God.
Later, in John 5:18 we’ll read, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
This is a great miracle. God was surely at work in causing unexpected obedience from the crowd to listen to Jesus and to leave without riot or pushback. Also, it was miraculous for Jesus not to be arrested right there for disturbing the peace and for what would have been blasphemous in Jewish ears, by proclaiming Himself as the Son of God.
But, Jesus is the Son of God. He is doing the will of the Father.
I want us to see the power of God to accomplish His work in this amazing event.
Praise God for Jesus’ example of faith and passion about the name of His Father.
He will not stand for God’s worship to be trampled on by the agenda and idolatry of man.
This leads us to the next verse and the disciples’ response to Jesus in all of this.
John 2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Jesus’ disciples remembered Psalm 69:9: “For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”
Psalm 69 was written by David, and David was calling the people to true worship. That’s the scene. David was calling the people to true worship, and what he was getting back was resistance and hatred and hostility. The people were in the same condition then that they are in Jesus’ time.
Like David, Jesus is filled with zeal for his Father’s house.
He is upset that the House of God had become simply a means to a profit.
Instead, God’s house is supposed to be about knowing and loving and treasuring God the Father.
We have to see this today, too. We have to ask, “Am I Jesus who has a right zeal for God, or am I like a merchant who really focuses my days on only the things of this world--on my profit and my stuff?”
We have to see that the true treasure that satisfies is not a daily profit, but it is God Himself. The point of the temple is that God holds the supreme place. He is the supreme treasure.
Do you get this? Does your life reflect the truth that God is far superior to any temerity profit or fame or satisfaction?
What Jesus saw that day in the temple was not an isolated instance of questionable worship support.
It was the outworking of greed cloaked with religion. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me” (Matthew 15:8–9).
Jesus is saying, “My Father is not being worshipped. Money is being worshipped—in my Father’s house.” This flies in the face of why Jesus came into the world. He came to display the infinite worth of His Father and to vindicate His Father’s honor—and to free us from the killing effects of the love of money.
Now, God doesn’t just want our routine worship or weekly sacrifice, either. He wants lives that are sacrificial. Obedient. Honoring Him. He doesn’t want Sunday followers but sold out soldiers for His name’s sake. He wants sacrifice in life and heart and not just religious routine.
Why is this good news?
It is good news because zeal for God’s house DID consume Jesus.
This was not a one-time flair of zeal for God’s glory; It was His mission. The good news is that Jesus’ zeal for right and lasting worship of God DID consume Him.
It consumed Him on the cross.
Hear this today:
1. Jesus was consumed, so we don’t have to be.
Meaning He paid our debt, so we don’t have to pay it for eternity, but we get to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Do you know this? Have you trusted your life to Jesus so that this applies to you?
2. Jesus was consumed, so we can have zeal for God’s glory too.
We would only live for our own fame and sin and selfishness if not for the saving work of Jesus in our place. If not for new life in Christ, we would remain just like the merchants and money-changers who pursued idols of the heart and money while in the shadow of the temple that houses the only One who can truly satisfy.
I pray this is a true blessing to you and that God brings real conviction for growth and maturity in your faith. I am praying for you as you continue to study the Gospel of John as we finish this year’s Bible reading plan and prepare to start a new one.