Sometimes we use the account of Jesus cleansing the temple as cover for our anger and justification for doing destructive things. The problem is, we don’t keep reading the record to see behind his actions the unique, redeeming love of Jesus that led to his death and resurrection (John 2:13-22).
Jesus entered the temple court, which was open even to Gentile God-fearers. It was turned into a place where sacrificial animals were being sold and money was being exchanged. These activities were driven by greed as prices and rates were inflated, and they were distracting the God-fearers from being able to pray.
So, Jesus cleaned house. He took it upon himself to drive out the animals and those who sold them, along with the money changers. Immediately, Jesus’ disciples recalled a line from Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.” This psalm served as a prophecy about Jesus.
The prophecy is this: Jesus will be filled with zeal for God’s house. That means he will be fervently devoted to the temple as the place where God meets people, and they (including Gentiles) meet him. Jesus’ zeal will be rooted in his love for God and people, and for their reconciliation.
The prophecy also pointed to the reality that Jesus would bear the reproach of those who reproached God. In gospel terms, this means that on the cross Jesus will bear the sin of those who sinned against God, so they can be cleansed and reconciled to him. Jesus pointed to his death when he said to the Jewish leaders who questioned his actions, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The temple Jesus referred to was his body.
The whole account of Jesus cleansing the temple points to his death on the cross and his resurrection three days later. The motivation behind his actions was love. Jesus was willing to be “destroyed” (crucified) for those he would reconcile to God, knowing all along he would be raised to grant them life.
So, the cleansing of the temple is not the expression of anger, but of love. It is not about kicking people out, but about bringing them into a right relationship with God. Jesus is the unique one. Only he can cleanse the temple. Only he can be the temple. Only Jesus’ love is pure enough that he can be trusted to do this sort of thing from a completely self-sacrificing spirit and for a totally God-and-people-serving purpose.
As we feel our anger, and the urge to express it, let’s stop and ask if we have subordinated it to love. Are we motivated by self-sacrificing love? Are we consumed with love for God, people, and reconciliation? Are we willing to die for those we want to correct because we love them? When we can say we are like Jesus in these ways, we can know our love is real, and our anger will not lead us to sin.
Think on these things this weekend. This Sunday at Grace we will consider the cleansing of the temple and the reconciling work of Jesus on our behalf.