Jesus In the Temple
Scripture - John 2:13-25
Imagine the scene is a school. The students are all taking their end-of-year exams. The teachers are preparing for a big Open House where parents & friends will all come to visit. Everyone is excited. It is the biggest moment in the school year.
Suddenly the door of the principal’s office bursts open. In walks a student, with a few friends behind him. He goes straight to the desk where the secretary is organizing a pile of examination papers, & turns the desk upside down, scattering the papers all over the room. He then proceeds into the
principal’s private office, where with a single sweep of his arm he knocks to the floor all the letters & papers, the invitations & arrangements, so carefully made for the big day that is coming up.
He turns on the astonished onlookers. “This whole place is a disgrace!” he shouts. “It is corrupt from top to bottom! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!”
Before he can get away, the principal himself arrives. “What right do you have to behave like this?” he asks.
“You can fail me if you like,” the student replies. “You can throw me out. But I shall go to college. I am going to study to be a lawyer. And one day I will put an end to corruption like this. Your system is finished!” Then, before they can stop him, he walks out.
Now all such stories are only partial parallels to the astonishing scene in the Temple. No illustration can do justice to what Jesus did; we have to understand the event itself, unique as it was, & to understand what John wants us to see within it. This, like the miracle of turning water into wine before it, is a moment of angels going back & forth between heaven & earth.
The Temple was the beating heart of Judaism. It was not just, as it might be today, a church on a street corner. It was the center of worship & music, of politics & society, of national celebration & mourning. It was also the place where you would find more animals – alive & dead – than anywhere else. But, towering above all these, it was of course the place where Israel’s God, Yahweh, had promised to live in the midst of his people. It was the focal point of the nation, & of the national way of life.
And this is where the then unknown prophet from Galilee came in & turned everything upside down. Those who are familiar with the biblical story can forget how shocking it must have been – which is why it is good to find modern illustrations of similar, though hardly identical scenes. Perhaps what occurred in the US Capital on January 6 comes close. And the questions our text raises are: Jesus, was that really you? You may want to chill out a bit, don’t you think? What was wrong with the Temple? Why did J do what he did? Are we really supposed to follow Jesus’ example? And what does his answer mean when they asked him for a sign?
Before even that, though, there is another question to be considered. People who know the other gospels in the New Testament will realize that they contain a remarkably similar incident. But in Matthew, Mark & Luke it occurs at the end of Jesus’ public career, when he arrives in Jerusalem for the last time, rather than at the beginning of his ministry as it does here. All sorts of theories exist as to which is right – or whether, even, Jesus did something like this twice.
In favor of putting the incident at the beginning, as John does, is the fact that Matthew, Mark & Luke do not have Jesus in Jerusalem at all during his adult life, so the final journey is the only place where it can happen. John, however, has Jesus going to & from Jerusalem a good deal throughout his short life. And if he had done something like this at the beginning, it would explain certain things very well: why, for example, people came from Jerusalem to Galilee to check him out, & why, when the high priest finally decided it was time to act, the Jewish authorities already felt like they had a case against Jesus.
But there is no doubt what John thinks it all means. It is Passover time; he has already told us that Jesus is God’s Passover lamb, & now he goes to Jerusalem at the time when liberation, freedom, & rescue from slavery were being celebrated. Somehow, John wants us to understand, what Jesus did in the Temple is a hint at the new meaning he is giving to Passover. This will be important for other Passover moments in Christ’s life: for example, the feeding of the 5,000, the saying about eating & drinking the Son of Man, & of course the passion story.
It is also a hint - & a strong one – as to what Jesus thinks of the Temple itself. Clearly, he regards it as corrupt, & under God’s judgment. The trading, the marketplace atmosphere, it not what it was supposed to be there for.
We religious folk applaud Jesus driving out the moneychangers & restoring proper use of the temple. We agree that the temple should be a holy space, clean & pure, for the special purpose of meeting with God. But as we move to the end of the passage, we feel that the actions & words of Jesus begin to circle in on us.
Jesus transformed the meaning of the passage by redefining what is understood as Temple. No longer is it the brick & mortar of a building, instead the temple is the flesh & blood of a body – His body. He is the true temple: he is the Word made flesh, the place where the glory of God has chosen to make his dwelling. The Jews had ancient traditions about the Temple being destroyed & rebuilt. It had happened before, & some thought it would happen again. Herod the Great had begun a program of rebuilding the Temple, & now, 46 years later, one of his sons was completing it. Jesus takes those traditions & applies them to himself. He is the reality to which the Temple itself points. His death & resurrection will be the reality to which the whole Passover celebration points.
And since his Ascension, we, the church, remain as his body on Earth. And as such, our bodies are the temple of his Spirit. For Jesus, the space of the new temple is still paramount. Our bodies are the temples of his Spirit, not to be cheapened by anything less. We are called to keep our bodies clean & pure, a holy place suitable for dwelling with the Father. There are many appropriate uses of our bodies, but there comes a moment when everything else must fade away & we remain in worship with the Father.
The meaning that begins to grow here, like a seed putting out its first shoots that show what sort of shrub it is going to be, has to do with Jesus’ own fate. When the authorities ask Jesus what he thinks he is up to & request some kind of sign to show them what it all means, he speaks, very cryptically, about his own death & resurrection.
In the 2 vivid scenes of this chapter (turning water into wine & disrupting the business of the Temple), John has introduced us to almost all the major themes of the gospel story & has given us food for thought about where it is all going. But, as so often, he ends with a hint as to how people should respond. If you see the signs Jesus is doing, then trust him. Believe in him. Jesus, after all, is the one who knows you through & through.
Let us pray. May the meditations of our hearts be pleasing as we reflect on the words we have heard & the message we have received. May our lives be guided by God’s wisdom & truth. Amen.