John 2 – Week Two
At this time of the year, around Christmas, our vision of Jesus is as a tiny baby in a little manger. There’s something so innocent and pure about a newborn. You can’t help but watch them as they sleep because there’s a calmness on their sweet faces as they sleep. I can imagine Baby Jesus was no different.
In just a few months, our vision of Jesus will fast-forward to the adult version. The sacrificing and forgiving Jesus who willingly suffered and was tormented, and murdered on that cross. We’ve seen the reenactments in movies and productions of just a fraction of what Jesus willingly went through and our emotions are stirred because we realize what He did for us. We are captivated by the limited understanding we can have of His love for us.
f you were to use single words to describe Jesus, what would they be? Sinless, loving, holy, forgiving, faithful? There are many words that probably come to mind, but we don’t usually think of Jesus as being angry. And yet, in today’s scripture, we see a side of Jesus that we don’t normally see.
John 2:13 NRSVUE “The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, with the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
The Apostle John, as we discussed two weeks ago, writes differently than the other authors of the gospels. John doesn’t necessarily write in chronological order. Matthew, Mark, and Luke write of this event occurring later in the ministry of Jesus, rather than at the beginning which we assume from reading John’s account. In the first part of chapter 2 of John, we read about the turning of water into wine which was the first “sign” of the authority of Jesus. Verse 12 of chapter 2 of John transitions from the wedding to their next stop, presumably. “After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples, and they remained there a few days.” (John 2:12 NRSVUE) The very next verse places Jesus at the Temple which could lead us to believe that this was done before He became well-known. Some Bible scholars have the opinion that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice in this manner while other scholars believe that John told the story earlier in his writings for “theological reasons”. [i]
Personally, I don’t think it matters so much if it happened once or twice. The truth is that cleansing isn’t a one-time thing so it seems plausible that it could have happened more than once, but I don’t think that’s a detail to get hung up on.
Here’s the backstory of today’s scripture. The Temple, as we have learned, had different sections for different purposes. You may remember that King Solomon orchestrated the building of the first Temple; however, that Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians some 400 years after it was completed. When the Israelites were released from captivity, a remnant returned, and the rebuilding of the Temple took place under the leadership of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
Fast forward a few years. King Herod was a Roman leader who is famously known for ordering the murder of every male child under the age of two to eliminate the foretold King of the Jews, aka Jesus. Several years after King Herod had taken the throne, he thought the best way to endear himself to the Jews was to give them a bigger and better temple than what the Jews had built years before. The new temple was redesigned with the original various sections for different purposes, but it also included many new areas, one of which was “the Court of the Gentiles, where non-Jewish worshipers came to pray.”[ii]
The Court of the Gentiles was the outermost part of the Temple. It was considered to be the least holy of the areas. There was a barrier around the Court of the Gentiles along with warning signs written in Greek and Latin alerting the Gentiles that the penalty for going into unauthorized areas was death.[iii] Paul writes of this barrier, this wall in Ephesians 2:14 NLT “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” The hint of hostility comes from the questionable consideration for the Gentiles’ worship because their courtyard was also the area set aside for vendors to sell animals for sacrifice. Imagine going to the altar to pray and having a bull snorting in your ear or having sheep bleating in the background. The noise, the activity, and, well, let’s be honest, the smell, would have not made for a worshipful environment.
When this story takes place of Jesus entering the Temple, it’s nearing the time of Passover. This, as we know, was an important Jewish holiday that celebrated the freedom of the Israelites from Pharoah and recognized God’s protection over them. When the Jews made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, they came equipped with money to cover their expenses. However, the money would have been considered a foreign currency, so money exchangers were on hand in the Court of the Gentiles to “trade out” the money at a not-so-fair rate. Other vendors were set up to sell sacrificial animals such as doves and cattle for “convenience’s sake”. This created a profit for the money changers. But that wasn’t the only fundraiser. It was easier to purchase the animals for the sacrifices there on the spot rather than make the long journey with the animal. Of course, the prices set for these animals were far greater than the going rate. And for those who did choose to bring along their own sacrificial animal, they were forced to pay an inspection fee to ascertain whether their offering was acceptable. By no coincidence, most were often told by the inspectors that their animal wasn’t good enough and would be rejected by God. They would then be coerced into buying one of the overpriced animals available there at the Temple.
Passover was a massive event and was attended by likely millions of people.[iv] The revenue generated would have been huge! We often talk about Christmas being commercialized, but this isn’t a new thing. Passover, itself, even in Biblical times, had become a commercialized religious holiday with many looking to make good money from the opportunity to gouge the people. What should have been a holy time focused on God’s love and provision had morphed into a money-making extravaganza with little to no thought of God.
We often see illustrations or reenactments of Jesus in the Temple and He is often shown as having a look of rage or anger and seems to react in an uncontrolled manner. He’s depicted with a whip held high as if he is using it on the merchants and animals. In fact, some people refer to this incident as the “temple tantrum”.[v] I don’t like that. Calling that time in history a tantrum indicates that Jesus acted spontaneously, irrationally, and emotionally. There are a few words tucked in there that tell us this was not the case at all. John 2:15 KJV “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;”
Jesus didn’t just pick up something and start thrashing a weapon. He took the time to make a whip formed with small cords. After He had done this, He drove the merchants and the animals out and disrupted the currency exchange by pouring out the money and overthrowing the tables. Although we know Jesus didn’t react irrationally, the physical actions He took are a bit contrary to how we picture Him, though, aren’t they? We like to think of the sweet baby Jesus in the manger, the inquisitive twelve-year-old Jesus who stayed behind to spend time with the teachers, the calm and patient Jesus who welcomed the little children, and the forgiving and loving Jesus who willingly sacrificed Himself. But here we are told He fashioned a whip, and drove the merchants and the livestock out. He turned over tables and there’s even an exclamation point at the end of His quote. Jesus was angry.
How do you feel about Jesus getting angry? Does it make you a little uncomfortable? I wonder if it seems contrary to the character of Jesus because we don’t understand or really experience righteous anger. When we think of anger, it is usually clothed in bitterness, revenge, rage, and other negative-sounding descriptions.
Let me share some quotes with you about anger.
“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If you speak when angry, you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” Groucho Marx[vi]
“Anger is one letter short of danger.” Eleanor Roosevelt
“Anger doesn’t demand action. When you act in anger, you lose self-control.” Joe Hyams
The anger that Jesus experienced doesn’t fit the mold of the anger we know. He didn’t lose peace of mind. I know He didn’t regret what He said. He certainly didn’t create a dangerous situation. And He most definitely never lost control. What Jesus felt was righteous anger.
What was Jesus’ motivation for being angry? The people were missing the whole point of the Passover. What originated as a reverent time centered around the goodness and lovingness of God had become this frenzied circus of activity that not only didn’t center around God but also distracted and took away from the worshipping of Him.
“Righteous anger stems from an anger that arises when we witness “an offense against God or His Word.” [viii]
What does anger look like to us? What are things that make us “angry”? Just this week, I’m thinking of conversations I’ve had with different people in which they’ve described themselves feeling what some might consider anger. I was on the phone with someone when they had someone pull out in front of them and then hit their brakes. For several miles, the person on the other end of the phone kept expressing anger towards this person who had gotten in their way and slowed them down. Another friend was angry because part of her family still had not decided how, when, and where they were going to celebrate Christmas together. Someone else was angry because Amazon had not yet shipped a package that was a Christmas present and they were frustrated because it looked as if the item wouldn’t arrive in time.
Those are things we can identify with, aren’t they? Not one of those could be classified as righteous anger. Do we even experience righteous anger or have we buried it by not standing up for God’s Word? Have we stuffed down what should be our natural response to offenses against God so much because we certainly don’t want to offend our neighbor? Our community? Have we allowed society to warp our way of thinking so that we no longer experience nor express any kind of righteous anger?
I’m sure that most of us share the sentiment that we can say whatever we wish about our family, but don’t dare let us catch someone saying anything negative about them. We will criticize or complain about our relatives, but we go into a protective mode when others have degrading things to say about them, don’t we? It’s a natural, organic response. But somehow, when it comes to God, we cower and bite our tongues so as not to offend anyone or spark any conflict. We’ve quieted our passion and zeal for Him. We have drowned out the holy reverence of Christmas, Easter, and every other day with meaningless substitutions and wayward ambitions. What if, for instance, instead of adorning our homes, lawns, and stores with candy canes, gingerbread houses, wreaths, blow-up animations, ribbons, bells, and yes, even the themed Christmas trees, our Christmas decorations consisted of just a manger scene? What if our passion and zeal were all about our Savior in the manger and not about how festive and bright we can make everything look? What kind of a Christmas would we experience if we allowed Jesus to come in and cleanse our Christmas season?
I was encouraged when I came across a news article about a little town named Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The city was threatened with a lawsuit because of a nativity scene that had been displayed in a public park for 72 years. A legal advisor recommended the quickest and easiest solution to the threat: Take down the nativity scene. The mayor made the call and told the group who was responsible for the display to remove it. Their response? “No, we’re not going to do that. We don’t believe that one citizen’s opinion can force us to remove the Nativity that has been here for decades.” Word got out and people from all over, not just from Eureka Springs, showed up to protest the removal of the nativity scene. As a result, the mayor rescinded his order and the nativity remained.[ix] That’s righteous anger. That’s having a passion for defending and standing up for the real reason for Christmas. The people did not shrink away and just simply comply. They remained faithful in their worship to God. I just bet God had a sweet smile on His face when they refused to budge.
Jesus, in the cleansing of the Temple, shows us that anger alone isn’t sinful. He demonstrates to us the proper and appropriate way to be angry. But anger, without boundaries, and without righteousness can soon become the devil’s playground.
Ephesians 4:26, NIV “In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
I think this verse gives us the go-ahead to be angry when appropriate, but it also teaches us how to be angry. And we certainly can look to see how Jesus did it. Because this time at the Temple isn’t the only time Jesus is thought to have expressed righteous anger. In Mark 3, Jesus goes into the synagogue on the Sabbath and encounters a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees look on to see if Jesus is going to heal on the Sabbath which was a no-no, in their opinion. Mark 3:4 NIV “Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
Another incident occurred with His disciples being the target of His anger. Mark 10:14 NLT “When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.”
In all three of these situations, Jesus is taking a stand for what He knows is right. He’s willing to speak up when life around Him is not as God would want it. Jesus is not afraid nor ashamed to demonstrate righteous anger despite the consequences of doing so. The consequences of Jesus’ righteous anger vary. We aren’t told of the disciples’ response to Jesus’ anger. We’re only told that Jesus held the children and blessed them. We assume there was no consequence. After healing the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees began their plot to kill Him. Here we have a deadly consequence. And with this situation in the Temple, after driving the opportunists out of His Father’s House, Jesus encounters a consequence of challenge. John 2:18 HCSB “So the Jews replied to Him, “What sign of authority will You show us for doing these things?”
When we exhibit righteous anger, we need to make sure our motivation is God-based, our words are covered in truth and love, and we need to be aware that there may be consequences. But if we have checked our motivation and checked the truthfulness and lovingness behind our anger, then we cling to the promise of Romans 8:31 HCSB “If God is for us, who is against us?”
It’s interesting that the Jews don’t question WHY Jesus did what He did. Their question was about His authority to do what He did. It’s as if somehow, they knew that what they were doing and what they were permitting to be done was wrong. Jesus’ authority was being challenged because He did not acknowledge the authority they thought they had.
Whatever the consequence may be, Jesus wasn’t afraid to demonstrate His anger or His passion for what He believed in. The disciples benefitted from this. Verse 17 of John 2 tells us that as Jesus is clearing out the Temple, “His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.” (John 2:17 CEB) Other translations use the word “zeal” rather than “passion”. These words that the disciples recalled were words that had been written by David many years earlier in Psalm 69:9. If you remember, David so wanted to build a temple for God, and was, in fact, passionate or zealous about the idea, but God didn’t allow David to build it because he had shed too much blood. Jesus is showing this same passion or zeal for the reverence and holiness of God’s Temple and this scene will greatly impact His disciples.
John 2:17 MSG “That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house consumes me.”
18-19 But the Jews were upset. They asked, “What credentials can you present to justify this?” Jesus answered, “Tear down this Temple and in three days I’ll put it back together.”
20-22 They were indignant: “It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and you’re going to rebuild it in three days?” But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple. Later, after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this. They then put two and two together and believed both what was written in Scripture and what Jesus had said.”
The righteous anger that Jesus showed solidified the disciples’ belief in not only Scripture but also in what Jesus had to say. When Jesus spoke these words, the disciples would not have understood what He was saying. Only as time went on, and Jesus was crucified, buried, and then raised back to life after three days did the disciples experience the spiritual growth that was needed for them to continue His ministry and it was then that they understood what Jesus had said during this moment of righteous anger.
James 1:19 CSB “My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.
I admit that I am not an angry person, generally speaking. I’d like to think that I am quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, but I can’t always claim that. I also can’t claim that I exhibit righteous anger. I’ve bitten my tongue, smiled, and nodded in what seemed to be agreement when others voiced their distorted beliefs and theories about God when I knew them to be false or misleading. I did so because I didn’t want to step on their toes. I did so because I’ve tried to live by example and not by words. I’ve been neglectful in responding with righteous anger when I should have. I think of people in my life that have taken a stand and have suffered the consequences of doing just that. I admire them. One, a dear friend of mine that I’ve known for close to 30 years, fought against a corrupt preacher. She exhibited righteous anger because he was abusing his position and the pulpit, and she responded appropriately and with passion and zeal. But she was criticized, she was talked about, shunned, and made to think she was overreacting. She wasn’t. She was simply doing what we all should do. Passionately and zealously keeping that which belongs to God sacred and holy and set apart from the rest of the world. America has long been considered the melting pot of the world because of diversity in race and culture. But we’ve also allowed our nation, and unfortunately, our churches to become a melting pot of religious beliefs and standards. “It is a mixture of different beliefs, a pick-and-choose or copy-and-paste approach called syncretism.”[x] That’s just “the combination of different forms of belief or practice.”[xi]
Jesus’ intent that day in the Temple was to clear out the clutter, the distractions, and the misfocus. His anger shouldn’t make us feel uncomfortable unless we’re part of the clutter, the distractions, and the misfocus. Wouldn’t we want to serve a God Who gets angry when injustice occurs, when people are mistreated, and when sinfulness becomes the expected normal? Likewise, shouldn’t we expect God to be angry with us when we fail to get angry for Him?
“Anger has been said to be a warning flag—it alerts us to those times when others are attempting to or have violated our boundaries.”[xii]
Do you still have boundaries? Do you keep the temple that God gave you free of clutter, distractions, and misfocus? If not, look for Jesus in the corner. It looks as if He’s assembling a whip of some kind.
[i] Explore the Bible by Jere Phillips & Nikki Wilbanks
[ii] Explore the Bible by Jere Phillips & Nikki Wilbanks