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The New Testament Commentary Vol Iii John by B.W. Johnson

The Cleansing of the Temple.

The Gospels are silent concerning any visit of Jesus after his twelfth year until the first passover after his ministry began. The Lord, after his baptism, the temptation, and the witness of John, had begun his work rather quietly in Galilee, but when the passover season came he joined the vast crowds who were seeking the city of David, and repaired to the national capital where popular expectation held that the Messiah would reveal himself. The following events have a fuller significance when it is borne in mind that it is the Lord's first visit to the temple after his work began. The cleansing is an assertion of his Lordship, and authority over the temple, a declaration to the religious rulers that the Holy One of Israel had come. (Joh 2:13)

13. And the Jews' passover was at hand. Observe that John writes as one far from Judea and among Gentiles. He does not say the, but the Jews' passover. For an account of the institution of this annual feast, see Exodus, chapter XII. There is no account that John the Baptist ever went to Jerusalem, but the Savior attended all the passovers but one during his ministry. A short time before he had been baptized and anointed for his ministry; since then his time had mostly been spent in Galilee. Now, first, since his work began he visited the capital of the nation and the Temple. His life had thus far been quiet, but it behooved him to assert his authority in the very center of national worship, and his collision with the corruptions of the times brought upon him immediately the antagonism of the priesthood and Pharisees. From this time onward his pathway is stormy. (Joh 2:14)

14. And he found in the temple. The Jewish worship centered in the temple. There the nation gathered at the great religious festivals; there all sacrifices were offered and the priesthood were consecrated. First there was the Tabernacle, the movable temple of the wilderness; then the temple of Solomon, destroyed at the time of the Captivity; then the second temple built by Zerubbabel; lastly, the temple of Herod, a great enlargement of the second temple, one of the most costly and beautiful buildings on the earth. It was of white marble, with roofs of cedar, and was rather a collection of buildings, courts and porches than a single building, all within the temple enclosure covering nineteen acres. The plan on the following page will give a better idea of it than any description.


Temple Plan.

In the center was the Holy of Holies, only entered by the High Priest once a year, at the feast of the atonement; next without was the Holy Place, entered only by the priests; without the entrance of this was the Court of Israel; then the Court of Women; then still without, the Court of the Gentiles. It was in this last named court that the traffic was conducted that aroused the indignation of the Savior. Those that sold oxen and sheep and doves. These were for the sacrifices. It is stated that at the passover 200,000 paschal lambs were required, and as the vast throngs who came from distant parts could not bring them it was needful to buy them in Jerusalem. The traffic in these and the victims required for sacrifices, oxen, sheep, kids and doves, became an enormous one. Instead of being conducted at stock-yards it was installed in the temple itself, under the eye and patronage of a venal priesthood. The Court of Gentiles, designed as a |house of prayer for all nations| (Mark 11:15-19), was converted into cattle stalls, filled with their ordure, and noisy with their lowing and the din of traffic. And the changers of money sitting. The Jew was required to pay for the support of the temple service a half shekel annually (Exodus 30:13; Matt.17:24). No heathen coin could be put into the temple treasury because they usually had images upon them which the priests regarded idolatrous; the Jewish shekels were not in general circulation, and hence it was needful that the current coin be changed before the temple tax could be paid. This money brokerage had also installed itself in the temple and much gain was made by the commissions charged. (Joh 2:15)

15. Made a scourge of small cords. The original implies that it was made of rushes, which were carried in as bedding for cattle. It was not a formidable weapon of itself; was chosen more as a symbol, and was probably not laid in violence upon any one. Drove them all out of the temple. His indignation was aroused at the desecration. As the representative of the Father he had the right to cleanse the Sanctuary, and here, first, he asserts his authority. The traffickers fled before his glance; not in terror of his scourge, or of one man whom they might have defied, but there was something about him that struck consternation; an authority, a divine majesty, a mysterious power that could not be resisted. The act was superhuman. If any one doubts it let him try to clean a market of thousands of greedy traffickers with a harmless scourge, and see how soon he will bite the earth. Along with the traders he drove out their cattle, and overturned the tables of the money changers. (Joh 2:16)

16. Said unto them that sold doves. Cattle could be driven out, the money overturned, but the doves were in cages and could only be carried out, or released and lost. Christ's object was to cleanse the temple, not to destroy any one's property. Hence, he commands them to carry them out. Make not my Father's house a house of merchandise. His authority for his act is that this is his Father's house. He does not say our, but my Father, or in other words, he acts as the Son of God. His act is really a public proclamation of his divine authority. He still looks with indignation upon the desecration of his Father's House. How often still it is converted into a house of merchandise! This cleansing of the temple must not be confounded with the later one that occurred on his last visit to Jerusalem. His ministry in the Holy city very appropriately begins and ends with a protest against the desecration of the temple. (Joh 2:17)

17. His disciples remembered. As they beheld his flaming zeal and thought of the wrath that it would bring down upon him, they thought of the words in Ps.69:9, |The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.| (Joh 2:18)

18. Then answered the Jews. I suppose that |the Jews| has an official signification as in John 1:19. As soon as they have time to recover from their surprise, the officials demand his authority for these acts. They are evidently full of resentment. The enmity that grew more and more bitter until its object was nailed to the cross, had begun. They call for a sign, some miraculous demonstration of his rights. One had just been given. (Joh 2:19)

19. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. To the demand for a sign, made more than once during his ministry, this was his constant answer. Unbelief would do its work in destroying the temple of his body, and its argument would be overthrown by his resurrection from the dead. The temple itself was only a type of the spiritual body of Christ. His body contained within itself the spiritual temple that would be developed. It was appropriate to point to it as the temple, though the Jews did not comprehend his words. (Joh 2:20) (Joh 2:21)

20. Forty and six years was this temple in building. It had been forty-six years since Herod the Great had begun his work. At this time the work was not fully completed and workmen were still engaged on some of its parts. It was eighty years from the time it was begun before it was fully completed by Herod Agrippa II. a.d.64. The Jews did not understand him, nor is it certain that he designed they should. To the obstinate and hostile unbelievers he often spoke in parables. To honest seekers for truth his language was plain and simple. (Joh 2:22)

22. When therefore he was risen from the deed his disciples remembered. They remembered and understood his words then; they did not now. Then |they believed the Scripture| which foretold his death and resurrection, though they had never understood it before. (Joh 2:23)

23. Many believed in his name when they saw the miracles. The miracles that he worked at this passover season are not recorded, but this passage affirms them, as well as John 3:2. Their belief was rather an intellectual assent that he was a divine teacher than an obedient trust in him as the Savior. (Joh 2:24)

24. He did not commit himself to them. He knew too well that theirs was not a heartfelt trust to reveal himself unreservedly to them. (Joh 2:25)

25. He knows what was in man. He knew their hearts, because he possessed the divine omniscience that could fathom the depths of every heart.

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