Address 7 The Cleansing of the Temple

John 2:12-22

After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days. And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.

Following the baptism of our Lord, He went out into the wilderness where, as we learn from the other Gospels, He was tempted of the Devil. Then He returned to Judea and began a slow progress toward Galilee. We have already followed Him in the calling of His earliest disciples and considered His presence and His action at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. Now the Lord went on from Cana to Capernaum. Capernaum is called elsewhere “his own city.” It was not His own birthplace, we know. Neither was it the city in which He had lived as a child and young man, but it was the city that He chose as a residence as He began His ministry. Of course, He was not there very much, and He could say, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). He was seldom at home, but if He had a home at all, it was Capernaum. Capernaum, therefore, was one of the most privileged of the Galilean cities. There He often appeared in the synagogue.

I cannot express the emotion that overwhelmed several of us as we stood in the recently excavated synagogue in Capernaum and realized we were standing, in all probability, on the very stones where His feet once stood. As we looked down from that raised platform, we could imagine the healing of the withered arm and the deliverance of the poor woman who had been so crippled that her body was bent together for so many years. We remembered that it was there that He delivered His great discourse—“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). We could look down to the seashore and we knew that there Matthew once had his office as collector of customs, and we noticed the road going by and thought of the Lord Jesus as He raised the daughter of Jairus, after healing the woman who pressed her way through the crowd, crying in faith, “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole” (Matt. 9:20-21).

Capernaum, blessed above all places on earth, for Jesus chose it as His home. There He taught and did His works of power, but, alas, it was of this very city that later on He said, “Thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell” (Matt. 11:23)— the city so privileged! Do you know, that very city was blotted out of existence? For centuries no one knew where it stood, until in recent years it was excavated from under a mound of sand. Surely Capernaum’s fate should be a solemn warning for us today. The greater our privileges, the greater our responsibility. If God has, in loving-kindness, permitted us to live in a country where Bibles are found on every hand, and yet we turn a deaf ear to His proclamation and despise His Word, how dreadful it will be, some day, to face Him in the judgment whom we have rejected while on earth. God grant that the lesson of Capernaum may sink deeply into the heart!

He went down to Capernaum and with His mother and brethren and disciples continued there a short time, and then He started south again to manifest Himself at Jerusalem. The Jews’ Passover was at hand. In the Old Testament the Passover is called the Passover of the Lord, but wherever you turn in the New Testament you find it called the Jews’ Passover, as we also read of the Jews’ feast of the tabernacles. Why the change? Why are they not called “feasts of the Lord”? Why are they designated “feasts of the Jews”? Because the Jews had turned away from the Lord, and the keeping of these feasts had become mere formality, so that the Lord no longer owns them as His. Let us be warned by this of the danger to which we are all exposed of putting outward observances in the place of spiritual realities.

The Jews’ feast of the Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. When He reached the temple He was shocked to see business going on in its courts as though it were a worldly market or counting-house. What had, perhaps, begun innocently enough as an accommodation to supply lambs for visiting Passover guests and the exchanging of money for those from distant lands, had degenerated into a feverish effort to make merchandise of what was needed in order to observe the sacrificial service connected with the Passover. Covetous-ness and overreaching prevailed to such an extent that God was dishonored and the temple scandalized. There was the bleating of sheep and the cooing of doves disturbing the worship of the Lord, and these who offered them for sale thought only of enriching themselves. They were commercializing the things of God, and that is always repugnant in His sight. So Jesus asserted Himself as the Lord of the temple. We read in Malachi, “And the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple” (Mai. 3:1) and shall purify it.

He appeared suddenly before the people with a whip of small cords and began to drive out the sheep and the oxen. He said, “Make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise” (v. 16). Since then, how much there has been of the commercializing of the things of the church of God. Whatever the Lord gives, He gives freely, and what His servants have to offer in the way of ministry to needy souls should be offered just as freely. We bring our gifts out of the appreciation and gratitude of our hearts. What we do for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ should be done because we want to do it.

It must have seemed strange to see Jesus with this whip of cords, crying aloud, “Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.” “My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” Notice the tone of authority. It is, “my Father’s house,” and “my house.” He was the Lord of the temple, because He was Lord over all. The disciples remembered that it was written, “The zeal of thine house hath [consumed] me” (v. 17; see also Ps. 69:9). How well that applied to Him!

The Jews began to object, and asked, “What sign showest thou?” (v. 18). They challenged Him to work some miracle in order to attest His authority, to do something marvelous in order to accredit Himself. But He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). It was as though He said, “You want a sign that I am the Son of God, that I am the One promised of the Father—you shall have a sign. In God’s due time, destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They did not understand and turned angrily upon Him, saying, “This temple was forty-and-six years in building, and would you raise it up in three days after it was destroyed!” He meant the temple of His body. But He did not explain. It was of no use to do so. Men get into such a state that there is no use trying to make clear spiritual realities to them.

So our Lord had nothing to say to them. They had chosen their own way, and He did not attempt to explain the mystery of His words. But when He had risen from the dead, His disciples believed Him. We may consider those words today, and we can see the meaning. “Destroy this temple.” What was the temple? It was the building, as originally constructed, in which Jehovah manifested His presence. There in the holiest of all was that uncreated light, the Shechinah glory. That was the visible manifested presence of God on earth. The temple simply hid that glory from the eyes of the multitude outside. The high priest entered the holiest of all once every year. And so the Lord Jesus Christ’s body, when He came into this scene, was the real temple of God. His body answers to the outer court, His soul to the holy place, and His spirit to the holy of holies. God was manifest in Christ. God Himself dwelt in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, for He was God and Man in one person. He spoke of the temple of His body, for God and Man were there in one person. So He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Notice, “I will raise it up.” In other words, He was to die, but He died in perfect confidence that He would rise. Have you noticed how the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is attributed to each person of the blessed Trinity? In another place He says, “No man taketh [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (19:18). He laid down His life, and He took His life again. He raised up the temple. But elsewhere we read that He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, and then we are told that the Holy Spirit raised up Jesus, our Lord, from the dead. Each person of the Godhead had His part in the resurrection of Jesus. And now He has been declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead. Apart from this we should have no gospel to preach to a lost world.

But Christ is risen, and we are told that, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10).