DISRUPT - Why Jesus Kicked Everyone Out Of The Temple

Stone structure forming a cross

Why did Jesus kick everyone out of the temple?

Last week I introduced a series of 8 stories. The stories are found in Johns Gospel and centre around different Jewish establishments*. In these stories Jesus shows that he is the fulfilment of these establishments. We first looked at the wedding in Cana in John 2 where Jesus turns water into wine. This week I want to turn our attention to look at the clearing of the temple in John 2.

The Story

At this part of the narrative, Jesus has turned the water into wine at Cana and then gone down to Jerusalem. John tells us that it is the Jewish festival of Passover. Within the Temple, animals are being sold as sacrifices and money changers are exchanging money. Jesus enters the Temple, makes a whip from chords, and drives the animals out of the Temple. He overturns the money changers tables scattering their coins everywhere. Jesus then tells the people to stop turning His Father’s house into a market.

Understandably, the leaders are annoyed and so ask for a sign to prove to them that Jesus has the authority to do what he has just done. Jesus then says to them that if they destroy this temple, he will raise it again in three days. The Jewish leaders dismiss Jesus’ claim given the immensity of the temple and how long it took to build. The narrator then interprets the story for us and tells us that Jesus is talking about his own death and resurrection. You can read the whole story in John 2:13-22

So why did Jesus kick everyone out of the temple?

Let’s Look At Some Context

Let’s look at the backdrop of this story. John has mentioned that it is Passover, an extremely important Jewish festival. It is important to note that in Judaism there was only one temple, unlike other religions. This temple was believed to represent God’s dwelling place on earth (In Judaism it is acknowledged that God cannot be contained in a physical place, but that God’s glory dwelt in the temple – 1 Kings 8:27). Therefore, during Passover many Jews would travel from all over Palestine to worship and celebrate at the Temple. Celebrating at the Temple required animals to sacrifice. According to Levitical Law (Leviticus 22:20), the sacrificed animals had to be free from blemish or disability.

Now let’s put our mind into a first century Jew travelling miles to the temple for Passover. You could take one of your own animals. But on the long journey the animal could come to harm, and you could no longer sacrifice the animal, wasting your entire journey. Thus, it makes more sense to buy an animal when you get to Jerusalem from the temple.

Another point to consider is that Roman coins could not be used in sacrifice at the temple as the coins bore the image of Caesar. therefore, Roman coins (the currency of the day) would need to be exchanged for Jewish coins. This would be done with the money changers at the temple.

Hopefully, you are starting to build up the picture that these services are actually very important. Jesus did not cast out the animals and turn over the tables because the people involved were doing something evil or wrong.

Now we come to the reaction of the Jewish leaders. As I mentioned, and understandably, they are quite annoyed! They ask Jesus for a sign and Jesus shifts the focus from the temple to himself and begins to reference his coming death and resurrection.

Jesus the Prophet

The people of His day understand Jesus as a prophet. 

When Jesus asked his disciples who people think he is, they reply “some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:13-14). This was because Jesus acted in line with the Jewish prophets

Jesus did things and then commented on them. Jesus peeled back the curtain to help people understand what God was doing. This is key for the understanding of why Jesus kicked everyone out of the Temple.

Sacrifice and the Priesthood

Next, we need to look at the purpose and function of the Temple within Judaism. 

Both the priesthood and the sacrifices acted as a mediator between God and His people.

The sin of the people separated them from experiencing His presence, so the priests acted on the people’s behalf. This can best be seen by the divisions found with the temple. The closer to the centre of the temple we go, the closer we are to God’s presence. When we get to the holiest parts of the temple, only the priests can go there. 

Equally the sacrifices acted as both acts of atonement and worship. Making the people right with God and thanking and praising Him for his continued blessing in their life.

Prophetic Action

Within the temple structure, we see a group of people making sacrifices day in day out to mediate between God and his people. Jesus comes in and completely disrupts this process so that for a brief time it ceases to function as it should. For a brief moment, people can no longer sacrifice animals. For a brief moment, people can no longer give a monetary offering.

Acting within the prophetic tradition Jesus has disrupted the temple. When questioned Jesus redirects all the answers back to his death and resurrection.

Jesus is looking to the time when his death and resurrection will supersede the need for a temple altogether.

Jesus as the Temple

Jesus essentially becomes the temple.

Jesus becomes the high priest, the true mediator between God and humanity.

Jesus becomes the only sacrifice needed.

In fact, Jesus claims that all these institutions act as a foreshadowing, a taste of the actual reality of what He is doing.

What Does This Mean For Us?

The New Testament states that Christ is our High Priest, our mediator. 

We do not need anyone to mediate on our behalf. We can go straight to God wherever we are, whatever we are doing, and begin to develop a relationship with Him.

The New Testament goes on to state that we are also called priests. We as the Church are called to be mediators for the world. Both through our prayers and our actions. We can direct people towards what it looks like to be in a relationship with God.

May we, like these stories, begin to reorient our lives around Christ. May we look to Him as our High Priests. And may we act as a mediator for others in what a restored relationship with our creator looks like.

I would love to hear about how you act as a mediator on behalf of others, and about what you do to draw people closer to God. Leave a comment below and let me know.

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*The inspiration for this series comes from the bible projects' video on John's gospel. The majority of research I am using is taken from The New Interpreter's Bible - Luke & John (affiliate link).


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