After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. 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. 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.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 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.
You may recall that last week the story of the wedding at Cana ended with the statement that the disciples believed. “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). So the miracle of turning the water into wine was called a sign, and the effect of the sign was to reveal the glory of Jesus—and the effect of that revelation was to bring about belief in the disciples.
Now look at how today’s story ends. The story is about Jesus driving money-changers out of the temple, and being asked for a sign, and telling them he would raise the destroyed temple in three days. And the story ends in verse 22 like this: “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.”
John Is on Task
So what we see here is that John is on task. In John 20:31, he tells us the reason he wrote this Gospel: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So he is making explicit in 2:11 and 2:22 that this is in fact the effect the events had when they happened, and that he prays they will have when he tells them—and when I preach them.
And I think it is also true that the reason belief happens is because in these stories Jesus manifests his glory. That will happen again today. So let’s go see how it happens, and see, too, whether this unlikely text may be a Christmas text after all.
Setting the Stage
Verses 13–14 set the stage for Jesus’ action. “The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.” So inside the temple court, a place meant for prayer and other acts of worship, there were pens of oxen and sheep, and cages of pigeons and sellers sitting around them waiting to make a transaction, and others who were prepared to exchange a pilgrim’s money into the right currency so that they could make a purchase.
The outward reason for this set up was probably that the law required sacrifices of oxen and sheep and pigeons, and many worshippers would have come a long way and would not have brought their sacrifice with them. So this made the animals readily available for purchase. You could say it was the loving thing to do. Make the purchase convenient.
Now what is Jesus’ response when he saw this? Verses 15–16:
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. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
Jesus obviously did not approve of what he saw. Why not? What was the problem?
A Different Event
Don’t jump too quickly to the other Gospels. For example, when Jesus does something similar in Matthew, he says, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers’” (Matthew 21:13). John does not report either of those two things as the problem here. He doesn’t say: “It’s a house of prayer.” And he doesn’t say they are “robbers.”
Is John even reporting the same event? In Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus drives money-changers out of the temple at the end of his three-year ministry. In John, he is doing it at the beginning of his ministry. It could be that John has moved the event and isn’t claiming to have a chronological order. But there is no compelling reason to think this is not a different event altogether from what happened three years later. Jesus’ response is not the same. And the outcome in Jerusalem is not the same.
What Jesus Says
So what matters here is what Jesus does say. He says, in verse 16, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Jesus does not say that the sellers and money-changers are robbers, or that the animals are defective, or that the place is a place of prayer—though it is. He says that they have turned his Father’s house into a bazaar. An emporium. A market.
The disciples saw this incredible display of fury—he was using a homemade whip of ropes, and loosing the oxen (oxen are big!), and dumping boxes of money on the ground, and turning over tables, and saying (with who knows how piercing a voice over all the bleating), “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” And when the disciples saw this, they connected it with Psalm 69:9 where David the king says, “Zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”
Jesus was consumed with zeal for his Father’s house. And reproaches were, no doubt, raining down on him like torrents: “What in God’s name do you think you are doing?!”
What Made Jesus So Angry?
So what made Jesus so angry? The contrast he pointed out was between “my Father’s house” and a marketplace. “My Father’s house” means: This house is about knowing and loving and treasuring a person, my Father. In this temple, my Father has supreme place. He is the supreme treasure here. “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:11). “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalms 73:25).
But that focus has been replaced by a focus on trade. And there is no reference here to the people who needed the animals—the pilgrims who were buying the sheep and pigeons. The anger is all directed at those who were selling and handling the currency. Jesus could see through the veneer of religious helpfulness to the heart. In fact, in verse 25 John says, “He himself knew what was in man” (John 2:25).
Hypocrisy and Love of Money
What did he see? He saw that this bazaar, this emporium, was not advancing communion with his heavenly Father. It was not flowing from the love of God. It was flowing from the love of money. And what made it worse was that religious ritual, and vaunted helpfulness, were being used as a cover for greed—O the entanglements of greed and religion in our city and in our day! Another story just broke this week of a big church-based Ponzi scheme with a pastor bilking his people of $100 million!
That’s what Jesus saw—hypocrisy. Religion used as a front for greed. Empty forms of love for God plastering over the insatiable love of money. Jesus boils when he sees formal godliness as cover for gain (see 1 Timothy 6:5).
Underneath Pharisaical Legalism
Jesus made it very clear that underneath the religious legalism of the Pharisees, he saw the love of money. Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees in Luke 16:13, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Then Luke comments, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14). That’s another form of hypocrisy—shoot the messenger of truth. Rescue yourself with ridicule.
You can hear the zeal of Jesus burning in Matthew 23:25: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” You put up a fine display of religious helpfulness in the temple bazaar. But you are driven by the love of money, not the love of God.
Jesus’ Exposé of Religious Greed-Covering
And O how sophisticated and subtle it gets! Who but Jesus can ferret out the ways we rationalize covetousness. Listen to this exposé of religious greed-covering from Mark 7:9–12. Jesus says to the scribes and Pharisees,
You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.” But you say, “If a man tells his father or his mother, ‘Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’” (that is, given to God)—“then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother.”
In other words, “You don’t need to support your needy parents. Just give us your money.” Or as Jesus said in Luke 20:46–47, “Beware of the scribes . . . who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”
What Jesus saw that day in the temple was not an isolated instance of questionable worship support. It was the outworking of greed cloaked with religion. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me” (Matthew 15:8–9). My Father is not being worshipped. Money is being worshipped—in my Father’s house. Jesus came into the world to display the infinite worth of his Father and to vindicate his Father’s honor—and to free us from the killing effects of the love of money.
In Response to Jesus’ Fury
What is their response to Jesus’ fury? Verse 18: “So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’” That’s not an encouraging response. Why not? Because it confirms what they are hiding.
There was another time when they asked for a sign from him to prove himself. Listen to what happened. This is Matthew 12:38–39: “Some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.’”
Why is it evil and adulterous for them to seek for a sign from Jesus? It’s because when they ask for a sign, it’s a dodge. It’s a trick—a ploy. They don’t need more signs to prove what’s true. They need hearts that love what they know is true. They’re trying to turn a problem of greed into a problem of knowledge. If we can deflect the issue onto his authority, then the light won’t shine so brightly on our covetousness.
Jesus’ Double-Layered Answer
So Jesus takes their question and he gives a double-layered answer. They ask, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them in verse 19, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And they responded in verse 20, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” And John comments in verse 21, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body.”
So what did Jesus mean when he said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”?
What Does Jesus Mean?
He was answering at two levels. First, he meant, You are destroying this temple. When you desecrate the worship of my Father with your white-washed greed, you destroy what this temple is, and you expose it to the wrath of God. It will indeed be destroyed. And that happened 40 years later when the Romans leveled it in A.D. 70.
But at another level he was saying: That same materialistic deadness to spiritual reality that destroys this temple will destroy me. Just like you kill worship in the temple with your consumerism and materialism, you will kill me. I and my Father are one. If you destroy his house, you destroy me. If you treasure money more than my Father, you will treasure my destruction—and buy it with 30 pieces of silver.
So he is speaking at two levels: Destroy this temple, the building; and Destroy this temple, my body.
“In Three Days I Will Raise It Up”
And what does Jesus mean when he says, “And in three days I will raise it up”? Same two levels. I will raise up my body in the resurrection after three days. Remember what he says in John 10:17–18? “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” He lays it down for our sin. He takes it up again. When they destroy it, he builds it again in three days.
But there is another level of meaning. The material temple that would be destroyed, Jesus builds again in three days in the sense that he now replaces this temple and becomes the new “place” where everyone may meet God and fellowship with God. Remember what he said in Matthew 12:6, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” And he meant himself.
Jesus: The New Temple
And remember what he said to the woman at the well in John 4:21–23, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” In other words, authentic worship will not be attached to Jerusalem (or any other place). It will be in spirit and in truth. It is attached to Jesus.
“I am the new temple. When I raise my body from the dead, everywhere in all the world, people may come to God through me. There will be no pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There will be no hajj to Mecca. There will only the movement of the heart from money to Christ.
A Christmas Quiz
Let me close with a little quiz that puts a Christmas twist on this sermon. How would you respond if someone asked: Does having a Bethlehem Bookstore in the church building contradict this text? Why or why not?
I would say, “This church building is not the temple of God. Jesus is. When Jesus died for us and rose from the dead, he replaced the temple with himself. He is the universal Immanuel, God with us.”
Santa’s Sack of Substitute Treasures
Therefore, the real contradiction of this text is not the bookstore, but Santa Claus (and, of course, I mean Santa symbolically—what he stands for culturally.)
In Jesus we meet God. We know God. We fellowship with God. In Jesus we find the infinite treasure of the all-satisfying God. Santa Claus, with his moralistic legalism and his sack full of substitute treasures, is the new temple for many.
So you have a choice. You can go with the Santa-Claus way of connecting with God—the Santa temple:
You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I’m telling you why,
Santa Claus is coming to town.
And this is not good news for people like you and me—sinners.
The Jesus Way of Connecting With God
Or you can go with the Jesus way of connecting with God—the Jesus temple.
“I lay down my life for the sheep. . . and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:15, 18). “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). I am the new meeting place with God. “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). That’s good news. That’s the best Christmas gift you could ever receive.