John 2

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Jesus and the Money-Changers

This passage is problematic because it appears at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry in John and at the end of his ministry in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, and Luke 19:45-48). There is no evidence that there are two encounters like this at the temple, so the easiest explanation is that John does not place importance on chronology, and instead is ordering things to best present the gospel. The account of the clearing of the temple in John seems to be independent of the Synoptic account, as there are numerous differences in wording, actions, and even what people say. It comes across very much as two different people remembering one key event differently from years later.

This passage is very much tied in with Jesus' death, from it being Passover to Jesus talking about tearing down the temple and rebuilding it in three days. This is an early foreshadowing of both the problem, and the solution, that Jesus came to deal with.

Verse 13: The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (NRSV)

  • This is the first of three apparently separate Passovers mentioned in the John's gospel.
  • Passover required all men to go to Jerusalem and present themselves to the temple.
  • ”Up” to Jerusalem, as always, is simple geography. Jerusalem is high in the hills and every road to it takes people “up.”

Verse 14: In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. (NRSV)

  • John does not elaborate on why Jesus was in the temple, as it was part of the Passover duties, and he probably expected people to know that.
  • This is the generic term for “temple” and so does not indicate what section this occurred in. We can safely assume that it was in the outer courts, however.
  • Jews were living all over the world at the time, and only specific money was valid for use in the temple, so exchanges needed to take place in order to buy animals and pay for sacrifices.
    • Likewise, people would travel a thousand miles to go to the temple, and so would need to buy the animals for sacrifice.
    • These were dedicated people using these services, and the services were necessary given the political climate of the time. But how it was carried out and where was inappropriate, and not to be tolerated.
    • There are records of major money gouging taking place during these exchanges (Nicoll 1:707) but nothing in the text forces us to say that is going on here or is the reason why Jesus is upset.
  • There is some evidence that the people doing the selling might have been priests (Borchert 163). Regardless, the priests definitely knew about what was going on and condoned it.
  • That the people had tables indicates that this was a fairly formal affair, something that had been going on for a long time.

Verse 15: Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. (NRSV)

  • Jesus is not mentioned as quoting any scripture in this sequence, unlike the synoptics which have Jesus quoting other portions of the Bible as justification for his actions.
  • Weapons were forbidden in the temple, except for whips like this (Borchert 164). This leaves open the question of what Jesus would have used if that wasn't the case.
  • There is question about who “them” are in this passage, who Jesus drove out with a whip. Was it the animals, or the people as well? The text literally just says “he threw all out of the temple.” We have to
  • It does not mention Jesus being angry, or any other emotion, though it would be hard to imagine this happening without some anger.
  • This was not a sudden act of anger. Jesus made the weapon he used, which would have taken time and concentration. This was premeditated.

Verse 16: He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!” (NRSV)

  • Jesus is not arguing the necessity of what is happening, but it's placement. The sacred needs to remain sacred.
  • The use here of “my” fathers house is personal, which places God as Jesus' father. This would not have made people think that Jesus is God, but that he has a special connection with God, like a prophet.

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

  • One suggestion as to why the disciples remembered this right now is because the disciples were shocked at Jesus' actions and that this reassured them (Nicoll 708).
  • This quotation is the first part of Psalm 69:9. The verb has been changed to the future tense, however.

Verse 18: The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (NRSV)

  • There doesn't seem to be any outrage over the action itself, but that doing this was something for the Messiah to do and so they wanted a sign (Morris 196).
  • ”The Jews” is in contrast to “those who were selling.” These are the people who were simply at the temple. They were wanting validation, proof that Jesus had the right to do what he was doing.

Verse 19: Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (NRSV)

  • The word used here for “temple” is about the inner temple (Borchert 165).
  • The use of “temple” here is very appropriate as it denotes the location where God dwells on Earth.
  • This misunderstood threat will come back to haunt both Jesus and his followers. People used this statement against Jesus while he was on the cross, and as justification to kill Stephen.
  • The wording of this verse in the Greek is quite ambiguous. It could be a physical building or a person. We know it to be a person, or course, but misunderstanding is understandable.
  • Ironically, the way the people asking would bring about this sign themselves, and it would result in the sacrifice which would make the events that Jesus was fighting against here irrelevant (Morris 199).

Verse 20: The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” (NRSV)

  • There is an emphasis on “you” in the Jews response, which makes it mocking Jesus' ability to do this (Moloney 79).
  • Misunderstanding was the standard response of people in general to many of Jesus' statements, especially about his mission.
  • This temple began being built in 20/19 BC, and was finally finished in AD 63, just seven years before it would be destroyed by the Romans (Borchert 166).

Verse 21: But he was speaking of the temple of his body. (NRSV)

  • John's gospel was written after the physical temple had been destroyed for good. That event would have been fresh in everyone's minds. There is meaning in the parallel that the temple was torn down, but not rebuilt, while Jesus was torn down and brought back.
  • In Pauline writing, Jesus' body means the Church, a possible interpretation here as well. More likely, however, it is literally referring to Jesus' physical presence.

Verse 22: After 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. (NRSV)

  • Even Jesus' disciples did not understand this at first, but remembered his words until they made sense. They trusted that
  • This doesn't mean that the disciples did not believe Jesus before, but did not understand it.

Verse 23: When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. (NRSV)

  • The wording here emphasizes that a crowd was there for the festival (Maloney 85).
  • The re-mentioning of it being Passover indicates that the next few verses are not properly the same event as Jesus at the temple, but serves to tie in with the next chapter.
  • This is the same language elsewhere used for authentic belief.
  • The belief based on signs, however, is always the beginning of faith and not the end of faith.
  • We don't know what signs these were, as John does not elaborate or dwell on signs very much.

Verse 24: But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people (NRSV)

  • ”Entrust” is literally the same word used for “believed” in the previous verse.
    • They might have believed in Jesus name, but Jesus did not believe that it would stick.
    • This is a reflexive use of the term “believe” however, “believe himself to them.” This makes “trust” a more satisfactory translation, though it loses the play on words (Maloney 86).
    • This word is also an imperfect verb, in contrast to the aorist of the previous verse's use. This implies that Jesus' lack of trust was a regular or recurring occurrence.
  • As this entire section foreshadows the cross, this verse ties in with how no one stood by Jesus in faith while he was dying.
  • This is an aspect of faith that is not dealt with much in Protestant circles, Jesus having faith in us. Yet that is also a necessary part, and not something that is always given.

Verse 25: and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone. (NRSV)

  • This is another reference to Jesus as God, because only God knows what is in the heart of man.

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