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Cleansing The Temple

March 3, 2024|Cleansing the Temple|John 2:13-22

JD Cutler

Click here for the sermon audio

As I was looking over the text for our sermon today, I had the feeling that I had taught through this event before, so I searched through my previous sermons and although I found many references to it, I had not covered it in our time together. 

Which is not, in and of itself unusual, there is a lot of Bible to cover after all! But the reason I was so sure that I had covered it is because it is one of my favorite passages in the Gospel accounts, because it is such a contrast to the picture of Jesus most of us are familiar with, especially in today’s church. 

I call him the Sunday School Jesus, right? The caucasian, golden haired, Jesus with the well groomed hair and beard, sitting peacefully, just waiting for someone to invite him into their heart. You know what I’m talking about. If we looked around our church, I am positive we could produce the exact picture we are all thinking about. 

Voddie Bauchum, a pastor with a way for words, refers to this as the ‘sissified, needy Jesus’. The passive Savior who is desperate for you to accept him, who longs for you, who needs you. 

And while there is no doubt that the scriptures present a side of Jesus that is gentle, that is welcoming to the faithful, that is compassionate toward the crowds, we often overlook the pictures of Jesus that offer a contrasting side of him. Jesus, that takes up a whip and cleanses the temple. A Jesus that flips tables and knocks over stacks of coins. A Jesus willing to take on the whole Jewish religious system with a righteous indignation against sin and wickedness. 

These contrasting attributes of Jesus are not mutually exclusive of one another, nor is one to be emphasized more over another, we must ensure that we are worshiping the Jesus who is, not the Jesus we want him to be, or the Jesus we wish he was. Why? Because that is called idolatry. Creating a God in our own image or likeness, and it is offensive to and sinful against the One True God revealed to us in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

 ...we must ensure that we are worshiping the Jesus who is, not the Jesus we want him to be, or the Jesus we wish he was.

There is a tendency in the modern evangelical world to paint the God of the Old Testament, the Father as wrathful and just and consuming and Jesus of the New Testament as loving and kind and nice. Make no mistake, the Bible says that Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and that he is the image of God. 

What the Father is, Jesus is. So we should expect to see Jesus pouring out wrath against sin, judging the rebellious nations, and we do. If we only needed one scripture to show us that Jesus is more than the gentle lamb, we would have to look no further than Revelation 19. 

Revelation 19:11-16 (ESV) 11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

When Jesus returns, this is how the Bible describes him. Quite a different picture than the Jesus who just wants you to be happy, who wants to bless you and prosper you and give you everything your heart desires? The nice, safe Jesus. 

But we don’t have to wait until the end of the story to see this part of our Savior, it is right smack dab in the middle of his time here on earth, where he cleansed the temple, not once, but twice

This morning we are going to look at the first of those two cleansings as recorded by the apostle John. Now some people will say that John and the other Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the same event, they just place it at different times. You see Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe Jesus cleansing the temple in his last week here on Earth before his crucifixion, at the third passover recorded for us in his Earthly ministry. John specifically places this event at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry at what is the first passover recorded for us in the gospels. 

They will say that it is one event, but the writers were not consistent with their testimonies, pointing to this as an inconsistency or a contradiction. If we trust the word of God, we can easily dismiss that there are no actual contradictions in scripture, only supposed ones that we may not be able to fully rectify because we don't have all the information. 

The other option is that we know the gospel writers were not as concerned with chronologically recording Jesus’ ministry, but thematically doing so and so maybe John placed it here because it fit the development of his gospel. I also don’t think that is the case because John makes the context of this event very clear and the details are different enough that we should accept that this cleansing happened twice in Jesus ministry, once at the beginning and once at the end. With that said, let us look at this first cleansing recorded for us by John in John chapter 2. 

Jesus has worked his first miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana, returned to Capernaum. This is where we pick up in verse 13. 

John 2:13-14 (ESV) 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.

Jesus makes the required pilgrimage to Jerusalem to observe Passover. As he comes into the temple, he finds it to be a chaotic mess of merchants and business, which he finds to be an affront to the purpose of the temple and its prescribed worship. 

We will talk more about this in a little bit, but for now, let us simply acknowledge that Jesus is not pleased with what he finds for the very simple reason that the worship of God is being hindered by what he finds. 

Last week we saw that we do not have the freedom to follow Jesus anyway that we want, this week we will see that we do not have freedom to worship him in any way that we want. I think that this is one of the primary lessons from Jesus cleansing the temple, but before we make applications for us today, let us dig deeper into this event so that we might better understand the method and motivation of Jesus, as well as the mark of His authority to do so. Let’s begin with his method which we find in verse 15-16.

we do not have freedom to worship Him in any way that we want.

The Method of Cleansing 15-16

John 2:15-16 (ESV) 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. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

This is the part where many of us can get uncomfortable with the Jesus we see here, but let me point out something that this is not. 

This is not an uncontrollable fit of rage. How do I know that? Because having experienced them as a sinful human being and having witnessed other sinful human beings dealing with uncontrollable anger, I can say that sitting down and taking time to make a whip is inconsistent with someone who doesn’t have control over his or her faculties. 

This isn’t uncontrollable anger, but a righteous indignation over what he found going on in the temple. 

Moreover, if you have ever seen anyone drive animals anywhere, you know that it is systematic and thoughtful. Jesus is purposeful and methodical here. 

He drove them all out, the people who were selling them, with their sheep and their oxen. He did not release the pigeons, but told the sellers to get them out of here. 

Now, He overturned some tables and poured out the coins. This is what I see here, what he could not drive out immediately, he disrupted and demanded that it be removed. 

It was systematic, it was thoughtful, it was deliberate, that is he targeted the things that were out of place in the temple to be removed. 

Which is what I want to focus on for a moment, as we think about his method of cleansing. 

I think the tendency when we find things in our lives, in our churches, that need to be removed, we settle for reduction, don’t we?

If we could just have less of that, that would be good. Or in our own lives, if I could just do less of this sin, it would be better. In church, we say, don’t move too fast, don’t change things too quickly, but when we are talking about things that are out of place in our lives and in our gatherings, we must not settle for reduction, we must remove them completely. 

Secondly, we must remove them immediately. Notice that Jesus went to work immediately. 

This was a huge undertaking and yet we do not find Jesus looking for compromise, he doesn’t tell them they have the day to clear out, or the week, he immediately begins the necessary work of cleansing the temple courts.

Thirdly, we must be thorough in our removal. The Bible tells us that Jesus addressed the sheep, the oxen, the pigeons, the sellers, the coins, the tables. 

As you heard from Levi this morning, our church is in the middle of a process called Regenesis. We are evaluating what we are doing as a church, why we are doing, how we are doing it, and through this process, things may be identified that need to be removed. I pray that Jesus’ model will remind us that concerning worship, things that are out of place or are hindering worship must be removed immediately and thoroughly. 

Purity not pragmatism ought to drive our cleansing, as it did our Lord Jesus when he cleansed this first century temple.

Purity not pragmatism ought to drive our cleansing...

His method was very simple. Drive out and remove the things that did not belong in the temple. Immediately, thoroughly, and completely. Not out of uncontrollable rage, but out of a righteous indignation at the things that didn’t belong and the people who had put them there. 

But why? Why did he do this? We get a clue for our next verse, which we will look at under the heading…  

The Motivation for Cleansing 

John 2:17 (ESV) 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The disciples see not anger, but zeal at work in Jesus. 

What is zeal?

Oxford dictionary defines it as ‘great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective.’ 

This definition seems to match pretty well with the Greek word translated zeal here. It is often translated negatively as jealousy in the New Testament, but when it is describing a positive expression or a Godly one, the word is translated as zeal. It is a passionate, enthusiastic, pursuit of something. 

They saw Jesus’ passion and the great energy he put into cleansing the temple and they called it zeal. What is interesting is that the bible says they remembered a scriptural reference and applied it to Jesus. 

The scripture quoted here is not traditionally identified with the Messiah, or as we call them a messianic psalm. 

But there is something in what Jesus does that causes his disciples, either in the moment or as they reflected on it later that reminded them of this Davidic psalm. The Psalm that is quoted is Psalm 69. David is lamenting that his love for God has alienated him from his brothers. 

He says, 8 I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s sons. 9 For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me. He goes on to say 20 Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. And finally in a declaration of praise, he says 30 I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. 31 This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.

House in the Bible does not always refer to the physical structure of a building, but also the household that dwells within. 

In short, David declares that it is his passion for God, the things of God, and the ways of God that has devoured him. So much so that David sees a reproach against God as a personal reproach against himself. 

Imagine Jesus standing there, having come to the temple to celebrate the passover and coming into the chaos of the outer courts. 

As he looked around, I can imagine the feelings that washed over him. 

How could his brothers, the nation of Israel, be okay with this? How could any of those who are supposed to be leaders and elders in the temple think this is okay? How could they treat my Father’s house this way?

The insult to the Father, or the reproachful way they treated this sacred place given to them as a dwelling place for the Father, he took as an insult to himself. 

In this way, the disciples saw this Son of David reflecting in a great degree the very emotions that David had written about in the psalms. 

It was his love and passion for the Father that caused him to cleanse the temple. 

But we have to ask, what was the problem?

Why were these things present, which in and of themselves are not bad, but actually necessary for worship?

Every Jewish male that made the trip to the temple at Passover was expected to bring a sacrifice, which as you can imagine is difficult for those who live further away, so they would bring money to purchase animals for their sacrifice. 

Actually, in the Old Testament law, those that lived too far away were encouraged to sell what they had that they would bring as a tithe, take the money, come to Jerusalem, and then buy the things they needed. 

Nothing about this process is wrong. 

In addition, every male was required to pay a temple tax to continue funding the temple system. The problem was that there were all kinds of different local currencies, some bearing idolatrous images, language, and some that were full of impurities. In order to keep the temple treasury pure there was an official temple currency. So in order to pay the temple tax, there had to be moneychangers that would take their local currencies and exchange them for the temple one. 

Furthermore, you cannot expect those that provide such a service would do so without making some sort of profit to provide for their own families. To raise, keep, trade, and provide for livestock would not be cheap. To exchange money and deal with the hassle of all of these multiple local currencies would not be easy. 

In this cleansing of the temple, it is not the actions themselves, or even their motives that motivates Jesus. It is that they have decided that the best place to do their business dealings is in the temple itself, specifically the court of the gentiles which was supposed to be available to those from other nations who had converted to worshiping the One True God of Israel. 

That which should have remained outside of the temple had made its way into the temple. 

History tells us that at one time they had set up a market across from the temple mount where these transactions took place. But it seems that either gradually or all at once, it had been moved into the temple itself. 

Maybe it was pragmatism that won out. Maybe one vendor decided it didn’t make any sense for the pilgrim who made the trip to Jerusalem to have to go to the market and then the temple. Why not a one stop shop experience for these worshippers?

So he moved to a corner of the temple court and set up shop. Soon others saw that he was not stopped and he was busy, so they moved to. Then as more and more came, they began to vie for the best spots. Then they began to cry out, advertising the unblemished nature of their particular animals, maybe they began to shout out that they had lower fees for money changing than others. And what was supposed to be a reverent place of worship for gentiles became a mix of thousands of animals making noise, vendors hawking their services, and people shopping in the temple. 

And the religious leaders, who profited off of this system, either did not care or could not do anything about it, so when Jesus came into the temple that day he found all of this going on. 

Can you imagine a gentile trying to worship in the midst of this chaos? Can you imagine a Jewish woman trying to worship with this going on right outside their court? 

We all collectively get distracted if someone drops something or gets up to go to the bathroom, how would we worship with all of that going on?

God’s holiness was being ignored, his temple was being misused, worship was being hindered, this is what motivated Jesus to sit down, braid a whip, and drive it all out. He was zealous for his Father’s house. 

Do you have that kind of enthusiasm for the things of God? Does it break your heart when God’s holiness is ignored, when his gathering is misused, when worship is being hindered? Does it light a holy fire within your heart that screams, this has to stop! If not, why not?

We will never welcome or participate in the cleansing that Christ wants to do in his church if we are not zealous for God, his things, and his ways. Thirdly this morning, let us look at…

We will never welcome or participate in the cleansing that Christ wants to do in his church if we are not zealous for God, his things, and his ways.

The Mark of His Authority to Cleanse 

Let’s pick up with verse 18 and the reaction of the Jews to this cleansing by our Lord. 

John 2:18-22 (ESV) 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

What sign? What mark? What token? Notice they did not argue with what he did, only challenged his authority to do so. Who are you to prohibit what the religious leaders allow?This really gets to the heart of it doesn’t it? By what authority are you doing all this?

We haven’t seen you call down fire like Elijah, we haven’t seen you bring water from a rock like Moses, what possible reason do we have for listening to you. 

What does Jesus say the mark of his authority is?

Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. They are dumbfounded. The temple they are standing in has in fact been destroyed before and it was in its forty-sixth year of being rebuilt and expanded during Jesus’ time on Earth. They don’t understand what he is talking about, but neither do his disciples. John adds this note.

He was spelling about the temple of his body, therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this. 

Wouldn’t you like to have been there for that conversation. “Wait, guys, I just realized something. Remember when Jesus said that if the Jews destroyed the temple he would raise it up in three days? Yeah? He was talking about his body! He is the temple. How’d we miss that?!” 

Maybe it didn’t happen like that, but I like to imagine it did. Although they didn’t understand what he said, he actually answered their question directly. 

What sign? What mark of authority did he have to do the things he was doing? He was the Messiah, he was the son of the living God, he was Lord of the Temple, and all of that would be evidenced when he was raised from the grave three days after they put him to death. 

This is consistent with what Jesus said every time someone demanded a sign from him. 

Matthew 12:38-40 (ESV) 38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Matthew 16:1-4 (ESV) 1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

Don’t miss this. Jesus says the sign of his authority to do everything he did and does is that he is the resurrected Savior. He is the King of Kings and Lord or Lords. 

The fact that Jesus is alive today, having been resurrected and his risen body testified of by over 500 people, is evidence that he is exactly who he said he was and therefore he is the absolute authority over all things. There is no other sign more important than this. Sometimes people today say, I would believe in God if he just gave me a sign, as though a resurrected Savior is not evidence enough!

Jesus had the authority to cleanse the temple because he is the Son of God who was put to death, buried, and raised again.

This cleansing of the temple was actually the beginning of his prophesied ministry. Listen to what Malachi says at the end of the Old Testament writings. 

Malachi 3:1-2 (ESV) 1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.

They were waiting for the Lord to come to his temple, but they were not ready for his coming, because he came into his temple and found it defiled and like the refiners fire and the fullers’ soap, he cleansed it from impurities, starting here and one day he will finish purifying his people and bring them to himself and the father where they will dwell with him forever as the true temple of God, the very indwelling presence of the Almighty God in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Isn’t that what we are looking forward to?

As the apostle John describes seeing the vision of the final day when the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven. He says. 

Revelation 21:22 (ESV) 22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

Jesus could cleanse this type and shadow because he is the real and better substance behind it, that’s where his authority came from. 

We have looked so far at his method of cleansing, his motivation for cleansing, and now the mark of his authority to do so. What do we do with this today?


First, we acknowledge that we have not always gotten this right, myself included. I remember at a former church we had a traveling singer and evangelists come and when I came into church that evening he had set up a table in the entryway selling his CDs and other merchandise, and I remember getting upset and this verse coming to mind, do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

And while I still wouldn't love that if it happened today, I have to admit, if that is as far of an application as we make, we have missed it. 

This building is not the temple. 

We could operate a coffee shop out of the back and it would not be making the Father’s house a house of trade. 

We could sell books from the lobby and it would not be making the Father’s house a house of trade. 

Are these things wise or prudent? Probably not. But the point is, this building is not the temple. 

The New Testament tells us what the temple is now that Christ has poured out the Spirit on men. 

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (ESV) 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (The you in verse 16 and 17 is plural)

2 Corinthians 6:16 - 7:1 (ESV) 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst,nand be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” 1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The church body, not the building, is the temple. So when we gather to worship we are the temple of God in which all the types and shadows of the physical temple are displayed. We are covered in the blood of the lamb, we have been justified and forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you(WE) may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you(US) out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you(WE) were not a people, but now you(WE) are God’s people; once you(WE) had not received mercy, but now you(WE) have received mercy.

So when we gather to worship we are the temple of God in which all the types and shadows of the physical temple are displayed.

With that understanding, the closest application I can make for Jesus cleansing the temple then would be, when we gather as the body of Christ, part of the temple of the Living God, is our worship according to his prescriptions. That is, are we worshiping according to the way we have been commanded? Are our lives together honoring and sufficiently reverent towards God? Are we collectively hindering worship of God, or have we brought things in the temple that should have remained outside of it?

These are the questions we must ask of ourselves, regularly and honestly, because friends, we do not get to dictate right worship of God, we must submit ourselves to the Lord of the Temple, the head of the Church, our savior and Lord Jesus Christ. May he find us when we gather already cleansed and not needing him to cleanse us as he did the first century temple. 

Let us pray. 


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