The story of Jesus cleansing the Temple is about motivation. The merchants were motivated by greed. The Jews were motivated by skepticism. Even those who "believed" in Jesus were immature in motivation. Jesus challenges them all, as well as us, to have proper motivation, faith, and commitment.
Jesus knows all men. He understands and knows what is in the minds and hearts of everyone. Jesus always challenges us on the point of why we do things. He is concerned about our motivation. How He dealt with motivation will be our topic today.
Motivation is the thread that runs throughout our text and the story it tells. Being properly motivated is part of Christian maturity. When we stand in His presence, the proper response is repentance and faith. Then, Jesus wants us to live for Him in true devotion, faith, and commitment.
2. Our Text
Our text is John 2:13-25. This passage describes an occasion when Jesus cleansed the temple. According to John, this occurred at the time of the Passover. Jesus and His disciples went up to Jerusalem. We read:
13 And the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated.
15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables;
16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a house of merchandise."
17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Thy house will consume me."
18 The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?"
19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
20 The Jews therefore said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"
21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.
22 When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.
23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing.
24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man. (NAS)
Later in His ministry, Jesus would cleanse the Temple again. We read about this in Matthew 21:12-17 and Luke 10:45-46. In Matthew 21:12, Jesus said the merchandisers had turned the Temple into a "robber's den." The motives of these "would-be" merchants were wrong.
We will deal with (1) the greed of the merchants, (2) the opposition of the Jews, and the (3) unreliability of the believers. In each case, the problem was one of motivation. Jesus calls us to something better and higher. Through submission to Him and the Holy Spirit, our motives will be purified.
I. The Greed of the Merchants: Verses 13-17
1. The Problem
When the Jews visited the Temple, they went in order to make sacrifices. In order to make the proper sacrifices, they had to have the appropriate oxen, sheep, and doves. The purchasing of animals for was an ancient custom. Over time, the practice was subject to much abuse.
Moreover, the Jews had to exchange money in order to pay the tax. The tax was required for everyone (Ex. 30:11-16) who was at least twenty old. It could be paid in advance, but those who paid while present had to have Jewish coin. Various kinds of coinage could be changed at the tables for the Palestinian half shekel required for the annual temple tax. This money exchange would be useful to the sellers of the sacrificial animals. No doubt the money changers made money on the exchange.
The problem was that greed, dishonesty, and extortion had taken over. The merchants had their sights only on their business and their profits. As a result, the merchants overlooked the sacred nature of the Temple site and moved their commerce from a location adjacent to the Temple, into the Court of the Gentiles. This was not in the Temple proper. Although they were in an outer court, it was the entrance to the Court of the most High. The merchants had lost sight of the true purpose of the sacrifices.
Whole flocks of sheep and oxen were penned there. Wicker cages filled with doves were there. The moneychangers sat under the arcade, which was formed by the four rows of Corinthian columns. Their tables were covered with piles of coins. Clearly, greed, dishonesty, and extortion had taken over.
Upon viewing this scene, Jesus went into action. According to Jerome, "A certain fiery and starry light shone from his eyes and the majesty of Godhead gleamed in His face." His "hour" to act was here. He was the Messiah. He had the authority.
The public ministry of Jesus begins with an act of holiness and indignation. He takes cords and twists them into a scourge. With the whip in His hand, He drives the merchandisers out of the Temple. Along with them He drives out the sheep and the oxen. This is not a snapshot of timidity. He drove them out.
Then Jesus spoke (v. 16) to the dove sellers, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a house of merchandise." The message, of course, applied to all the merchandisers, not just the sellers of doves. He draws a sharp contrast between "My Father's house" and "a house of merchandise." Clearly, Jesus was proclaiming that He was the Son of God, the Messiah. He had the authority and right to do what He did. This was truly an inaugural event.
3. The Disciples
The disciples did not understand the full meaning of what Jesus was doing, but their reaction was positive. They did recognize the importance of the place. Their reaction had to do with this, not the motivation. They remembered (v. 17) these words from Psalm 69:9, "Zeal for Thy house will consume me." This is a Messianic Psalm predictive of Christ. The verse goes on to say, "And the reproaches of those who reproach Thee have fallen on me." The reproaches would quickly come and fall upon Christ.
The disciples saw that Jesus felt strongly about the house of God. The house of God was to be respected. Because the greed of the merchants overrode their respect, Jesus drove them out.
What can we learn from this? First, we learn how important motivation is. Jon H. Allen tells this story:
A lady answered the knock on her door to find a man with a sad expression,
"I'm sorry to disturb you," he said, "but I'm collecting money for an unfortunate family in this neighborhood. The husband is out of wok, the kids are hungry, the utilities will soon be cut off, and worse, they're going to be kicked out of their apartment if they don't pay the rent by this afternoon."
"I'll be happy to help," said the woman with great concern. "But who are you?"
"I'm the landlord," he replied.
So much depends on our motivation. It was not wrong for the merchandisers to sell animals and doves. Nor was it wrong to change money. However, it was wrong for them to do it with greed and dishonesty. We must be careful about our motivation. We must put God first in all our motivation.
Second, we need to respect the house of God. As Jesus would teach later (John 4:24) we worship "in spirit and truth." We do not have to be in a Temple to worship. However, the house of God is symbolic of all that we believe. Because it is, we need to respect it. These days, we must be careful. In our generation, many things do not seem sacred. Let us respect what is sacred and treat it with respect.
II. The Skepticism of the Jews: Verses 18-22
1. The Jews
No doubt some of the Sanhedrin and the Temple police were present, but John simply writes about the Jews. Quickly, the Jews asked (v. 18), "What sign do you show to us, seeing you do these things?" They were full of unbelief and challenged the authority of Jesus. Their attitude was "Who are you to do this?" "What authority do you have?" Therefore, they asked for a sign.
The Jews expected a powerful Messiah, but they did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Because of their unbelief and skepticism, they demanded a sign. Like the money changers, they had the wrong motives. They did not really want to follow Jesus, so they put up the performance of a sign as an obstacle. They wanted to put Him on the defensive.
The action of Jesus in driving out the merchants was itself a sign. He did not need to perform anything else. Jesus rebuked people for wanting a sign. It was not that signs were wrong. Actually Jesus performed many miraculous deeds that are described as signs. However, He did not appreciate their reason for demanding a sign. Privately, they wished that He could not perform a sign that would give indisputable proof of His authority. So this is what they demanded. With the right motivation, they had sufficient proof already.
Here, instead of performing another sign, Jesus said (v. 19), "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." In other words, He pointed them to a future sign. According to Mt. 16:4 and Luke 11:29, it would be the sign of Jonah. The Jews will have their sign--His death, burial, and resurrection, but they will have to wait. He was at the beginning of His ministry, and it was not time for his death. He points them to the future. His death, burial, and resurrection will be the unanswerable arguments.
3. The Jews
The Jews did not understand that Jesus was speaking of the Temple of His body. They responded (v. 20) with disbelief, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" John explains (v. 21) that Jesus was referring to the "temple of His body," but the Jews did not understand what Jesus meant. Moreover, their objection remained in their minds. It would come up again (Mt. 26:61) as an accusation against Jesus. When people are wrongly motivated, no amount of reason or evidence will change their view
Today, we have much more information about Christ, His teachings, and what He meant. We have the advantage of seeing the events historically. Even so, a mind that is not quickened by the Spirit does not comprehend in any personal way what Jesus meant. Even to believers, some sayings will remain a mystery until later when Christ returns.
4. The Disciples
Even the disciples did not understand all that Jesus meant. They would not understand until the end of His earthly ministry.
John writes (v. 22), "When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken. " The thought is not that they had not believed, but that their faith was supported and strengthened. Indeed, Jesus told them (John 14:26) that the Spirit would bring many things to their remembrance when He was gone.
Jesus would not institute His kingdom right away. Between Pentecost and the Ascension (Acts 1:6), they were still wanting an early fulfillment of the Kingdom. Jesus must fulfill the role of the servant before He would reign in power. This meant that He must endure His death, burial, and resurrection. Even now, we await His return for the full implementation of His power.
What can we learn from this? We can appreciate all that Jesus does. His healing power is a sign that strengthens our faith. But our motivation must be right. Once again, the real issue is proper devotion and faith. The moneychangers were wrongly motivated. The Jews were wrongly motivated. It was not wrong to change money. It was not wrong to rejoice over signs or even to want signs. But to do these things from wrong motivation was wrong. Let us get our hearts in the right place.
Today, many people manifest the same attitude the Jews did. They really do not want to believe, but they demand a sign. They demand new proof before they believe in the Savior. Often they believe many things without anything like proof, but hold back when it comes to Jesus. With this as their motive, they will not readily come to Christ. Unlike them, let us believe and receive His salvation. The basis for our faith already is strong. We have indisputable evidence now!
III. The Immaturity of the New Believers: Verses 23-25
1. The New Believers
The Jews had asked for a sign. Jesus pointed them to the one irrefutable sign--His death, burial, and resurrection. Later, referring to the time of His death, Jesus said (Mt. 12:39-40) they would only have the sign of Jonah. Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for 3 days and nights before being vomited out on dry land. Jesus would rise on the third day.
However, throughout the week of celebration, Jesus was in Jerusalem. He did many signs among them. And many believed on His name. The festival lasted a whole week. Signs can often lead to faith, even before the Word has been received. When people believe in Christ, we call them "new" believers.
Even though many people responded to His signs, Jesus did not entrust Himself to these believers. Because of this, some commentators hold that these people were not true believers. It may be that some of them were not, but I think it would be better to take the text at face value. They were new believers. As new believers, their faith was untested. Their motivation may not yet have been fully changed. Christ, who knows the hearts of all men, knew this. He did not need anyone else to tell Him. Therefore, He did not entrust Himself to them.
The fact that Jesus knew what was in their hearts is evidence of His omniscience and His divinity. Only God can fully search and know the hearts of men. Jeremiah, in chapter 17 and verse 10, makes this declaration:
As the Son of God, Jesus had the right and the ability to know all that is in man. No pretensions will be unknown in His presence.
The life of Jesus was at stake. He would die willingly for us, but this was not the right time. Therefore, it was not wise for Him to entrust Himself to them. He knew the fickleness of people. He knew that these new believers might be turned against Him. They had to grow in their faith. They needed to be grounded in teaching and the Word. At the beginning they were simply impressed by the signs. They could not have known the full implications of the gospel. That understanding would come with time.
This whole passage is about motivation. Jesus knows what is in your heart. Nothing is hidden. He can discern the thoughts of your heart. And He holds open the door to salvation for you. Come to Him in faith and He will accept you.
As we walk with Christ, we grow in His image. The Spirit of God transforms us. He purifies our motives and causes us to relate to Him on a higher level. We become grounded in the Word. New believers have all this to anticipate. Many new believers make very rapid progress because of the transforming power of the Spirit and the Word.
What a powerful story. The whole story is about motivation. The moneychangers were wrongly motivated. The questioning Jews were wrongly motivated. Those who believed were immature and as yet not established in motivation. On the other hand, the disciples did not have full understanding, but they were properly motivated.
This is your opportunity to come to Christ, believe in Him, and allow the Holy Spirit to change your heart. He will infuse in you the proper motivation. This will manifest itself in important ways. You will see the house of God as a house of prayer. You will exalt Christ and His miracle working power without demanding a sign to believe. You will become reliable in your trust and faith.