Jesus and the Temple of Destiny (John 2)

What is the most expensive property you can buy? If you want a London address, One Hyde Park was on sale recently for £75 million. Knightsbridge on one side, the world’s biggest back garden on the other, and very little noise from the neighbours. But if you need a little more sunshine in the Summer, consider the Villa Leopolda on the French Riviera. Named after the former King of Belgium it went on sale recently for only £485 million. And if money is no object, the most expensive property in the world? Currently, the Antilia Building in South Mumbai. 27 stories high. Three helipads on the roof, nine elevators in the lobby and space for 168 cars in the garage. A snip at £650 million.

These are the properties you can buy. What about those you can’t? Comfortably the most expensive private residence in the UK, Buckingham Palace is valued at over £1 billion. The Palace houses 775 rooms, including 52 bedrooms, 19 state rooms, 188 staff rooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms. But what is the most expensive property in the world? It is not Buckingham Palace. It is not the White House, the Kremlin or even the Vatican. 

No, the most valuable piece of real estate in the world, is the Haram al Sharif, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The site on which Abraham offered Isaac, on which Solomon and Herod built their temples. The Temple Mount is sacred to 16 million Jews as well as 2 billion Muslims, and of interest to another 2 billion Christians. Were it for sale, there would be no problem getting a deposit together. Orthodox Jews pray three times a day that the Temple will be rebuilt in their life time. Many Fundamentalists are dedicated to destroying the Muslim Dome of the Rock to achieve it. And millions of Bible-believing Christians are convinced this must happen for Jesus to return. Today I want us to explore what Jesus thinks about the idea. What does Jesus have to say about the Temple? Please turn with me to John 2:12. 

“After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” (John 2:12-13)

Notice that the time Jesus chose to visit the Temple was very significant – verse 13. “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” (John 2:13). Jesus chose a very special time to make this first public appearance. 

Jesus the Lamb of God – the true sacrifice, came to the Temple – the place of sacrifice, at the time of sacrifice. In this, he was fulfilling the Messianic prophecy of Malachi:

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:1-2)

The second time he would come to pronounce judgment upon her because they had rejected him (Matthew 23; Luke 13:34-35). But on this first occasion, let us consider three things:

What Jesus saw – What Jesus did – What Jesus said.

1. What Jesus saw: He was Angry in the Temple 

“In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.” (John 2:14)

The Temple was built to enable all nations to worship the one true God. There were four parts to the Temple. 

The outer court of the Gentles. The court of the women. The inner court for Jewish men. And the Temple itself. Here sacrifices were offered and once a year the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the sins of the people. So what made Jesus angry? When he entered the temple area, the smell of the animals filled his nostrils; the noise from the moneychangers’ tables. The priests had become arrogant and affluent through corruption and exploitation. Once a year every Jew was expected to offer an animal sacrifice to atone for their sin (Deuteronomy 12:5-7). Those travelling long distances would buy the animal, cattle, sheep or doves, near Jerusalem. Over the years, the priests tried to monopolize the trade. When they inspected the animals brought for sacrifice, they could easily find fault with animals purchased elsewhere or brought long distances. Injuries, blemishes or those that looked more than one year old could easily be disqualified. So pilgrims were forced to pay inflated prices for approved animals for sacrifice. But to purchase an animal, and pay their Temple tax, they must first exchange their pagan money for holy coinage. How could coins with the head of a Roman Emperor or pagan deity be brought into God’s House?  The Temple’s own currency, Tyrian shekels, containing high levels of silver ensured purity and quality. So, pilgrims were fleeced twice – once when they exchanged their money and second when they bought an animal to sacrifice. 

But to make matters worse, the merchants and the money changers who profited from this business, had taken over the outer court, the only place where Gentiles could worship and pray. This is what made Jesus angry. Not only were people exploited but also hindered from meeting with God. What makes you angry? Is it pride? When you are treated disrespectfully? Then get over it. What should we really be angry about? What made Jesus the angry? It wasn’t sin. It wasn’t even sinners. Jesus was angry with religious leaders who didn’t think they were sinners – the self-righteous who got in the way of other people finding forgiveness and peace with God. That is what really makes God angry. When the gospel is diluted, when it is corrupted or twisted; When people reated in the image of God are exploited, impoverished and enslaved; What Jesus saw in the Temple made him angry. Perhaps we should be angry more of the time. May God open our eyes to see his world his way. What Jesus saw: He was angry in the Temple.

2. What Jesus did: He was Jealous for the Temple 

“So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:15-17)

The Jews were proud of their Temple – its size and magnificence. Even the disciples, simple fishermen from Galilee, were in awe of the giant stones.  As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mark 13:1) But Jesus is not impressed. He is jealous. Jealous for what the Temple was intended to be – the place where people of every nation could meet with God and have their sins forgiven. Jesus is angry. Sufficiently angry to make a whip of cords, overturn the tables of the money changers and drive out the merchants. Imagine the scene. The animals are frightened, bleating, running about aimlessly; the merchants are complaining; the money changers are scrambling for their coins on the floor; The Temple officials are shouting for the guards. What a scene. This is the only time in the Gospels we encounter Jesus using physical force. And the time and the place are significant. 

At Passover. In the Temple. By overturning the tables of the moneychangers and of those selling doves, Jesus was directly and forcefully challenging the authority of the high priest, because they were there by his authorization.   His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17). This is a quotation from Psalm 69:9  “for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” Jesus was jealous because these religious charlatans were putting a price on God’s love and making a profit out of sacrifice. 

What Jesus saw: He was angry in the Temple. What Jesus did: He was jealous for the Temple. 

3. What Jesus said: He would suffer as our Temple 

“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)

The other gospels quote Jesus reply to those who questioned his authority. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers’.” (Luke 19:46). Jesus is quoting from Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah looked forward to the day when all nations would be drawn into God’s people. 

“these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7). 

The Temple was intended to be a place for all nations but Jeremiah foresaw how this wonderful vision would become distorted and corrupted.  

Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 7:11). 

Jesus combines these two prophecies to explain his actions, “It is written,” he said to them, 

“`My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it `a den of robbers.'”(Luke 19:46). 

Selling sacrificial animals in the Temple forecourt was forgivable. But cheating the poor and preventing foreigners from meeting with God was unforgivable. Challenged to justify his behavior, Jesus replies. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  Why does Jesus say this? Because Herod’s Temple was only a temporary construction until the true Temple had arrived. It was like a porta-cabin. Still unfinished after 46 years’ construction, its days were already numbered. Here we have not only the first hint of Jesus’ impending sacrifice but also of his resurrection.  Jesus was not cleansing the Temple. He was declaring it redundant. 

The imperfect, temporary, earthly Temple has been superseded by the perfect, eternal, heavenly Temple. 

It is no coincidence that just as Jesus died on the cross, Matthew tells us, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51). The wall of separation between a Holy God and sinful world, was torn down never to be re-erected. Why? Because of Jesus atonement – at-one-ment. Reconciling God and people. Once for all, once for all people, once for all time. That is why we no longer need to visit Jerusalem and offer bloody sacrifices to make atonement for our sin. That is why those who advocate the rebuilding of the Temple are regressing back into a pre-Christian sacrificial system, superseded, made redundant and annulled by the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why Hebrews warns, 

“To their loss, they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. (Hebrews 6:6). 

In the New Testament, the Temple is given new meaning. 

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.”
(Ephesians 2:19-21)

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

What does this mean? If Jesus Christ is your Lord and Saviour (John 1:12), you are a child of God and he indwells you by his Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11). You have been born again into the family and house of God. You are indeed a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.

This is most visible when God’s people gather together on a Sunday. But during the week, when you are alone, you are no less part of the Temple of God. That is why Paul writes,

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?  17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

What are the implications? What was the Temple intended for? What is the Church intended to be? Open or closed? Inclusive or exclusive? The Temple was the place of mediation. It still is! And what are we called to be? Mediators. What is our primary ministry as a church? Peacemaking. As the Temple of God, our role is to mediate between sinners and a holy God. How? By openly sharing the love of God found in Jesus Christ, in word and deed with all he draws to himself.  What is our mission as a local church? Everything we do should be evaluated by whether it helps win people to Christ, builds them in the faith and sends them to do the same. This is the purpose of God’s living Temple today. In John 2, we have met Jesus, angry in the Temple. Jesus, jealous for the Temple. Because Jesus would suffer to build God’s living Temple – the Church.