23: His Father’s House (John 2:13-17)
23. His Father’s House
Jesus had to be about His Father’s business. John has Him starting in His Father’s house.
This was obviously not the first thing that Jesus did in His ministry, according to the other gospel writers. But John takes us here first. His Father’s house. Approaching the Passover week.
He will be here again in the not-too-distant future. At the Passover, as the Passover Lamb. He will submit Himself to the religious rulers and their political schemes and personal agendas. They will do to Him as they please, not knowing that they are actually working out the Father’s plan. They will desecrate the Father’s house with the murder of the Father’s Son. That will be a far greater sin than making profits out of sacrificial animals. If Jesus wanted to really clean up His Father’s house He would have had to do a much deeper work.
Jesus knows this is not a permanent solution. The traders might be kicked out today but they’ll be moved back in and wheeling and dealing again tomorrow.
No, this is not about sorting out all the problems of the temple. It doesn’t even address the root issues.
Jesus is making a point. But what is the point He is making?
In Matthew and Luke’s account of the incident, the issue seems to be that His Father’s house should be a place of prayer, not for bartering and making a profit out of people.
“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:12-13)
Through Mark, the Holy Spirit adds an important component. Not only should the temple be a house of prayer but it should be a house of prayer for all nations.
“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”’ (Mark 11:15-17)
It seems that these dealers had set up shop in the part of the temple that was set aside for the nations to pray. The Jewish rulers were plainly not bothered about that. Jesus obviously was. Very bothered! God’s heart has always been that He would choose one nation from earth in which to dwell and display His glory so that all the nations would be drawn to Him. And so He clears out these squatters to make room for the true guests, people from all the nations on earth.
Here in John’s account, prayer is not mentioned at all.
“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. 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.” (John 2:13-16)
John has a different emphasis. First of all look at how Jesus talks about the temple. He calls it “My Father’s house.”
In the other three gospels Jesus doesn’t use that phrase. He simply quotes the scriptures: “Is it not written?”
The passage He quotes is Isaiah 56:7, which is plainly referring, in context, to God’s desire and purpose to gather the nations to Himself.
“for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7)
John was here when this happened and he will have heard Jesus quote that scripture. So the fact that he left it out of his account is important. He left it out because he wanted to emphasize something different to the other gospels.
John has Jesus calling the temple “My Father’s house”. He wants us to know that this is personal to Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants us to know that this was personal to Jesus. This wasn’t just an exercise in restoring some sort of sort of shalom, peace and reverence to the house of God. This wasn’t even just making sure that the Jewish leaders made room in the temple for the nations to come and pray. This was personal. This was His Father’s house.
The fact that this was personal comes out in the details John highlights and the language he uses. The other gospel writers have Jesus driving people out and overturning their tables and chairs. John adds more.
John saw it happen. He would have walked into the temple with Him and probably, because John was so close to Jesus, would have noticed the change in His countenance.
He probably had a vivid recollection of Jesus finding some reeds and rushes (that’s what the Greek word means) and binding them together into a whip. Other gospel writers don’t mention the whip.
Maybe some of the disciples asked Him “Rabbi what are you doing?”
Maybe they were sensitive enough to feel the storm blowing in and they kept their peace and their distance.
All around, the usual babble continued. The sellers had no idea that the One and Only of the Father was in the house. They continued to buy and sell. Making a profit out of animals that would be brought to the sacrifice. They’d found a way to earn money out of devout sinners by making them pay handsomely for the privilege of putting things right with God. The religious leaders watched with warm satisfaction as the tax from the profits rolled into their own coffers.
“Come pay inflated prices for an animal so that you can offer it to the Lord for your sin and ceremonial cleanness and to ensure that you have kept the letter of the law!”
That is what they had done to His Father’s house. His Father who had graciously given His people a means to stay in relationship with Him. The power to forgive or cleanse wasn’t in the sacrifice of the animals themselves. They were just a shadow. They were pointing towards the pure and perfect once-for-all sacrifice that was yet to come. The Lamb of God. God’s own sacrifice. And that sacrifice can not be bought for money and should never be sold for profit.
His Father had made a way for this people, but they had turned it into a profit making marketplace. Can you imagine the bartering.
“How much for the lamb?”
“What, I can go and get one in the market for half that price!”
“We’ll go and get it then, but you’d better make sure it is a perfect one, otherwise you know what might happen to you. Ours are specially chosen and blessed by the priests.”
“I can’t afford that.”
“Then walk away in your sins but you’d better be careful that you don’t fall under the wheels of a Roman Chariot on the way home. But look, I’ll help you out. If you can’t offer a sheep, here is a pigeon. It is not so good, but the good Lord might look kindly on your sacrifice.”
“Only _____ and cheap at the price.”
“That’s scandalous. Daylight robbery. I can get it cheaper…”
“Ah but will it be perfect? Will it be blessed? It’s either this or you could die in your sins and what good will your money be to you then eh?”
Unfortunately this sort of dealing was probably going on all the time.
Jesus listens to all of this as He binds the reeds together until finally they are strong enough for purpose. John can probably feel the temperature rising, but nothing He has seen before of Jesus will have prepared him for what was going to happen next.
Suddenly Jesus turns on the nearest dealer. He throws his table over, scattering pigeons and cages everywhere. The money falls to the floor. The dealer, shocked, reaches to pick it up but a whip suddenly cracks on the upturned table by his head. He looks up to see the form of a man with fire in His eyes about to bring the whip down again. He forgets the money and backs off into the next table. That too goes flying over and now there are two dealers with their backs to the wall. Then three, then four.
You would think that at least two or three of those men would realise what was going on and put up some sort of resistance, but they had found themselves on the wrong side of the wrath of God, even though they did not recognise it for what it was. They were in no mood to fight. They scattered towards the exit, running alongside sheep and goats and calves.
He came to the tables of the money changers. The bankers who kept the commerce flowing. They probably tried to protect their money boxes. Too late. He grabbed them and poured out their contents all over the floor. Again the other gospel writers don’t mention this detail. John wants us to know the passion that Jesus is expressing here. He wants us to know how personal this is.
Ordinarily, with money falling all over the floor, people would be running in to try and grab some, but not on this occasion. No one wanted to get in the way of Jesus of Nazareth, The King of Israel, The Light of life, The One and Only. These people had taken the goodness and grace of His Father, the glorious kindness that this temple represented and made it into a marketplace for their own greedy gain and selfish ambitions. They were doing it at the expense of the very people that His Father wanted to draw near to Himself. They were representing God as some miserly dictator who could only be appeased by the overbearing taxing of poor sinners.
Yes Jesus was angry, righteously so. This was personal for Him.
“do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
The Father’s grace and forgiveness can not be bartered for, at any price. His mercy is priceless.
As they watch Jesus cleansing the temple, the disciples remember a scripture:
“His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” (John 2:17).
It must have been the Holy Spirit that brought the particular scripture to their minds. He is always bringing the scriptures to our minds. Gradually, piece by piece, they grow in their revelation of who Jesus is. The process for them was that they saw and experienced Jesus at work and then the Holy Spirit would take them to the scriptures to reveal to them what was really going on. That’s a great model for discipleship.
Now, by experience and the scriptures, they know something about Jesus that they will never forget. They will invariably tell future generations of church builders and urge them not to forget.
“Jesus is loving and kind, gentle and humble, but don’t mess around in the Father’s house because He has a consuming fire in Him for His Father’s glory and reputation. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of His consuming zeal. Take a look at what you are doing and ask the Holy Spirit to help you: Are you doing anything which misrepresents who the Father really is? Deal with it before Jesus, who baptises with the Holy Spirit and fire, whose winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing floor, deals with you.”
This account is a sobering reminder of how Jesus feels about people who turn His Father’s house into a place for personal gain at the expense of His people. It is a sobering reminder to all who minister in His Father’s house that whatever we do should be a true reflection of who the Father really is.
If Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, then zeal for His Father’s house still consumes Him. He still is in the business of fashioning whips (which could come to us in different guises from financial pressure to people that feel like a thorn in our sides). He is still in the business of driving out anything that reflects badly on His Father. Both the Bible and Church history clearly indicate that if there is no repentance when Jesus knocks at the door of the church, eventually He will simply remove the light of His presence and anointing from that church altogether. That church will no longer be a voice for Him to the nations because He will spit them out of His mouth.
As Jesus said to the church in Laodicea: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16.
It seems that He has not lost any of His consuming zeal for his Father’s house.
Ask the Holy Spirit: “Lord, is there something I am doing that is making Your house into something that isn’t a true reflection of who you really are?”
And then: “Lord, what do you want me to do about it?”Posted on: June 3, 2018Peter Todd