John 2:13-22


John 2:13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

There was likely a lapse of some time between verse 12 and 13. From Luke 2 we know that Jesus went to the annual Passover Festival for the first time at the age of twelve. Very likely He attended every Passover from the age of 12 until His death. The one mentioned here in verse 13 is His first in His public ministry. The Gospel of John mentions the Passovers which took place in Jesus' public ministry.

John 2:14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.

The references the margin of the Nestle/Aland Greek text are to the second temple cleansing which took place at the time of Jesus' last Passover on earth (three or at the least, two years later, depending on the determination of John 5:1).

These Notes reject the idea that this temple cleansing is the same as that mentioned by the Synoptics. All good, sound commentators reject identity of the two.

 "Temple courts," a locative phrase, denotes the Temple proper, perhaps the Court of the Gentiles, translated "in the Temple area" by LB. From what Jesus says in verse 16 it is clear that it was within the limits of what they called the Temple. Formerly the cattle, sheep and doves were sold to worshippers in markets outside the Temple. Gradually all this was moved right into the Temple.

Ylvisaker: At the paschal feast He began His activity in Jerusalem and at a paschal festival He brought it to a close. . . The uncleanness in the temple portrayed the corruption of the people and was an image of the impurity in their hearts. . . For the Passover all leaven should be removed from the houses. Here is the house God, and there is an abundance of the leaven of impurity. . . Our thoughts revert to Malachi 3:1-3, where the prophet proclaims the coming of the Lord to His temple. This was the first fulfilment of the prophecy.
Fahling: As many as two and a half million worshippers were gathered at Jerusalem from all parts of the Jewish world. . . The time had come for Him to present Himself to the nation as the promised Messiah. . . The work and the profit (of selling animals) must have been enormous. . . The prices charged were often exorbitant.
Kretzmann: Instead, however, of keeping the market in the lower part of the city, it had been brought up to the gates of the Temple, and finally into the very courts of the sanctuary.
Lenski: The cattle and the doves were a necessity for the prescribed sacrifices, but to make of the great court a stockyard was the height of abuse.

The sellers were "seated" as merchants in their place of business.

John 2:15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

Bengel: There was no material which inflicted less lasting hurt on the body than this. Nor is it said, that He inflicted a single blow upon the men.

Kretzmann and Fahling feel that Jesus did not actually use this whip but merely had it as a symbol of His authority and power. Lenski insists that He did use it on all, the people and the animals.

Ylvisaker: We notice that Jesus does not destroy their property, but He removes the desecration.

In any case He clearly maintains the privilege and authority of the Son in the house of His Father. Jesus made no excuses for what He did. Does the word "all" refer to the merchants and moneychangers or to the sheep and goats? KJV, NKJV, LB, RSV, JB, NEB, NASB, and AAT take the former view. NASB is typical: "drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen." TEV and NIV refer it only to sheep and cattle: "drove the animals out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle" Surely the translations from KJV to AAT are correct.

Furthermore, the last clause of verse 15 shows how definitely Jesus used His authority and implies that the money changers had already been driven out. We are saying that "all" means not only the merchants but also the moneychangers. They must have been dumbfounded and the sudden rush of cattle, sheep and doves must have caused bedlam, necessary bedlam.

Two specific terms are used for the money changers. "A changer of large into smaller coins" and "A man who changes heathen into Jewish money for payment into the Temple treasury." The fact that the Evangelist John distinguishes the two, shows how highly systematized this racket had become.

John 2:16 To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" 

He addresses only those who were selling doves, but it is meant for all. They would likely take least space and were selling mostly to the poor people. Jesus addresses the least offensive, making the command clear for all. He said: "Get these things out of here!" He really cleaned house. It is the same verb used in John 1:29 to denote totality and finality.

Then He adds: "Quit making My Father's House a merchandise house." The House of God is where God meets man. They had turned it into a place to make money, a place where people meet animals. The contrast is stark. It is symptomatic of the deep degradation of the Covenant people in Jesus' day. This verse has often been quoted in opposition to bazaars in the church. Is it relevant? Isn't the anger of those who want the bazaars often like the attitude of Jesus' enemies?

John 2:17 His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me." 

"Remembered" here and in verse 22, means "recalled." They applied something which they already knew. "It stands written," never to be revoked. This is a quotation from Psalm 69:10, which the disciples knew. The Greek of the LXX has "consume" as past tense, and is found in the Koine text here at John 2:17 and is therefore found in the KJV and NKJV. All others translate future tense. The translations are interesting: RSV, NIV, NASB, and AAT read: "will consume me." JB has "will devour me." NEB "will destroy me." TEV has "My devotion to your house, God, burns in me like afire." And LB "Concern for God's House will be my undoing." 

Psalm 69 is Messianic. Did the disciples know that? At any rate, they realize that the situation was critical, and ominous. In part it led to Jesus' death.

Hendriksen: The disciples are filled with fear that Jesus may suffer what David had to endure in his day; namely, that this zeal in some way would result in his being consumed. . . In expressing this thought use is made of Psalm 69, which is one of six Psalms most often referred to in the New Testament (the others 2, 22, 89, 110, 118). Other echoes of various passages of this Psalm (68 in the LXX) are heard in Matthew 27:34.48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 15:25; 19:28; Romans 11:9.10; 15:3; Hebrews 11:26; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 16:1; 17:8; 20:12.15; and 21 :27). While some of these are quotations, others are allusions, references more or less indirect. Jesus himself (15:25) cites Psalm 69:4 'They hated me without a cause' and refers it to his own experience. In fulfilment of Psalm 69:21 he uttered the word from the cross (19:28). . . From this it appears that Psalm 69 is Messianic. It is possible that the disciples so regarded it even at this time, but that cannot be proved.

It would not be wrong to say that the Holy Spirit caused them rightly to recall Psalm 69:10 on this occasion. They were believers in contrast to Jesus' enemies in the next verse.

John 2:18 Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 

"Then" means that they responded to the whole situation by addressing a question to Jesus. Here "the Jews," as often, means the Jewish authorities who were Jesus' enemies. It is not limited to the merchants and money-changers.
Bengel: This very act of cleansing the Temple was a sign, which Jesus had miraculously wrought. . . They require signs, to be proved by signs. They showed the same perversity at 6:30.

Look at the passages in the margin at 1 Corinthians 1:22. It is the language of unbelief, in sharp contrast to that of the disciples. TEV paraphrases: "What miracle can you perform to show us that you have the right to do this?" And NIV: "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" And AAT: "By what miracle can You prove to us You may do this?" They are practically saying: "You have no right to do this. You must prove that you have the right." 

Two things surface here:

  1. They were impenitent. They should have confessed guilt immediately.
  2. They are rejecting Jesus' divinity, barely six months into His public ministry.
Stoeckhardt: What was going on in the Temple portrayed the earthly, worldly attitude of the Jewish people. . . . It was Jesus' first and necessary work that, as Messiah, He must oppose the unholy and ungodly living in Israel. The people were in need of a Reformation.
Kretzmann: The Jews resented the implication of authority.
Lenski: Here the hostile attitude is quite marked. . . An unknown layman and mere visitor cannot be allowed to take matters into his own hands.

The word "sign" is a key word in John's Gospel, used seventeen times, occurring first at 2:11. We quote pertinent passages from Kittel, VII, pages 243-247:

John uses 'sign' in the sense of 'sign' 'pointer' 'mark.' In John's Gospel almost exclusively of the person of Jesus. . . Signs reveal His true nature, 2:11. . . In John 'signs' takes over the role played by 'miracles' elsewhere in New Testament. . . . The miracle at the wedding of Cana in 4:54, the feeding of the multitude in 6:14 and the raising of Lazarus in 12:18 all explicitly called 'signs' . . . Also includes the appearance to the disciples (20:24ff; cf. 20:30ff).
Lenski: John's Gospel naturally uses this term in the sense of the strongest and the most tangible testimony for Jesus' divinity, always counting those guilty who meet the signs with unbelief.
Hendriksen: It indicates a miracle viewed as a proof of divine authority and majesty. Hence, it leads the attention of the spectator away from the deed itself to the divine doer.

The Jews met the temple-cleansing with unbelieving ignorance.

John 2:19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." 

Here "destroy this temple" denotes Jesus' answer to a specific question. On "destroy" three explanations have been offered:

  1. Robertson-Davis and others call it a conditional imperative: "If you destroy, etc." 
  2. Bengel and others say it is equivalent to a future indicative, a prophecy.
  3. But all our translations and several good commentators take it as an imperative.

Note Jesus uses the word for "shrine" not temple. Jesus typified especially the holy place and holy of holies.

Bengel: The body of Jesus, about to be raised again, is the temple and dwelling-place of the Godhead. Therefore, Jesus is the Lord of the temple at Jerusalem, which was the type of the body of Jesus. . . . shrine recurs at verse 22. This is a grand declaration of His 'I can do what I please with the temple of My body. cf. 10:17.18. And so, I can also do what I please with this temple made of stone and wood.'
Ylvisaker: If they were not satisfied with what they had seen, they must wait. 'Destroy it, if you will' . . . The words imply that they will do this very thing in their blindness and obduracy. . . When the leaders in Israel rejected the person of Jesus and led Him to His death, they also destroyed the temple as God's dwelling. . . What the Romans accomplished later was but the external ruination, the razing of an empty shell. . . The temple was the main shadow or the reflection of the body which the coming of Christ prefigured among the people of the Covenant, Colossians 2:17.
Stoeckhardt: In Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. . . Already at the beginning of His public ministry the Lord was fully aware of His entire life, suffering, death, resurrection.

Jesus' enemies never forgot what He said here. Cf. Matthew 26:61 and 27:40. At His trial they tried to use it against Him and on Calvary they used it in derision. Mark 15:29.

John 2:20 The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 

Jesus had said "destroy this temple" meaning Himself. They use the same expression but use "shrine" in the sense of "temple,"  this temple. Verse 19 has been called a mashal, a deliberately enigmatic statement, a kind of riddle. In response to such a mashal, faith responds positively, though it does not understand all immediately. But unbelief reacts in rejection. Such is the case here. Herod had begun the rebuilding of the Temple forty-six years before, to gain the approval of the people. It was not actually finished for another thirty-six years, in 64 A.D., just six years before its destruction. Thus, Josephus.

"And you are going to" is emphatic, something like: "And YOU mean to tell us etc." To these people, Jesus sounded like a fool. Read 1 Corinthians 1:25-30. The things which God says appear as mere foolishness and weakness to unbelievers. Expect that in our day too. Don't give up when it happens. Jesus didn't. Paul didn't. You shouldn't.

John 2:21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body.

The body and person of Jesus were the anti type to the greatest type of the Old Covenant, namely, the Tabernacle and the Temple (Solomon, Zerubbabel, Herod). The Temple was the place where God met the Covenant people. And no one comes to the Father but through Jesus.

The Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. The Israelis would like nothing better than to rebuild it. The Arabs won't permit it because The Dome of the Rock is built on the Temple site. The millennialists have an unScriptural view of Jerusalem and the Temple. It is gone for good. The Jews themselves were the cause of its destruction.

John 2:22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Kretzmann: The Jews did not understand Him. Even the disciples did not understand the saying at that time; in a way they were just as ignorant as the Jews. But they remembered it after the Lord's resurrection, and at that time drew their conclusions correctly.
Lenski: The disciples found the key as verse 22 shows, but the Jews, because their unbelief grew only more intense, never found it (Matthew 26:61; Mark 14:57; 15:29).

On this verse look at 12:16 and then 14:26. It is plain as can be that the disciples were no synergists. They had no innate powers of their own to believe. They recalled and then believed only because the Holy Spirit caused them to recall and then to believe. Neither enemy nor friend forgot what Jesus had said. Friend was enlightened by the Holy Spirit only through the Word of God.

The obdurate rejection of Jesus on the part of His enemies led them to say what is recorded in Acts 6:14. They accused Jesus and Stephen of high treason. Read Stephen's final words at Acts 7:44-53 where he gives the Lord's enemies a severe verbal lashing. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Tabernacle and the Temple. The days of the Temple were numbered. Its destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D. is a stark reminder of what happens to those who reject Jesus, the Son of God, Who died and rose again for all.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 68-71. Used with permission.

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