John 2:13-22 records the account of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple during Passover. Jesus cleans house and in doing so, he challenges the authority of the priestly structure within the temple. Caiaphas, high priest during this time, had won a debate with the other priests and felt that they should allow commerce to happen within the walls of the Temple in the outer courts. None of this commerce was in itself wrong or corrupt. People came to Jerusalem during the Passover to sacrifice, and they would need appropriate animals, so the marketers of animals were a necessity. The moneychangers were there to exchange the foreign currency into acceptable temple currency. There was no guarantee that the foreign currency was of pure metal (silver or gold), and any money given to God was to have no impurities in the metals in the same way that any sacrificial animal was to be without blemish. The law require moneychangers to exchange the currency. The problem for Jesus is that this taking place within the temple when it was a place of solemn sacrifice and worship. The people saw a practical opportunity to be “religious” while at the same time make a little profit on the side. This infuriates Jesus because the temple was supposed to be about the worship of the one true God and Him alone. The people made it into a house of commerce seeking to meet their own needs, and thus made it about themselves.
In his anger, Jesus turns over tables, and scatters the people. Of course, the authorities did not like that he had done this, and they demand an answer as to by what authority he had done this. Jesus, as was his way, never gave his opponents a straight answer.
“Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous 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.” 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. 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.” (John 2:18–22, NIV84)
There was a belief among some Jewish scholars of the day that when the Messiah appeared he would bring to them a new temple. Jesus is in fact claiming to be the new temple, and in doing so, he is telling the people that their religious system is broken. He is telling them that it is in him where we find all we need to know about God, redemption, sacrifice, peace, and Kingdom. By assuming the identity as the temple, Jesus declares his intention to provide a new and better sacrifice. He is that sacrifice. He will inaugurate a new and better system with a better temple. All other temple, laws, and systems are mere shadows of the spiritual reality he represents. Jesus is taking the focus of the Jewish people off of the temple placing it squarely upon himself as the rightful King. It’s all about Jesus.
It’s easy to try and make Jesus fit into our neat little boxes, but Jesus is outrageous. He does outrageous things like trash the temple, and makes outrageous claims about rebuilding temples. Jesus doesn’t particularly care about our little boxes or preconceptions about who he is supposed to be. He is on a mission of God, and he doesn’t particularly care if the powerful don’t like it. He is bold and brave, compassionate and gentle. He never cowers in the face of conflict because he cares only for the honor of his Father. This is the Jesus I admire so much. This is the King I really want to meet.
As Jesus becomes more real to me, I find that I don’t care about much else. Arguments bore me, and I find I don’t have patience for distractions. I want to know my King more. Yet, my heart is prone to wonder; prone to leave the God I love. I bet yours is too. I pray that the day I see him face to face he will find me clean. I trust in his grace because that is all there is.