The Cleansing of the Temple (El Greco, 1591)
13 Καὶ ἐγγὺς ἦν τὸ πάσχα τῶν Ἰουδαίων, καὶ ἀνέβη εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα ὁ Ἰησοῦς. 14 καὶ εὗρεν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ τοὺς πωλοῦντας βόας καὶ πρόβατα καὶ περιστερὰς καὶ τοὺς κερματιστὰς καθημένους, 15 καὶ ποιήσας φραγέλλιον ἐκ σχοινίων πάντας ἐξέβαλεν ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ, τά τε πρόβατα καὶ τοὺς βόας, καὶ τῶν κολλυβιστῶν ἐξέχεεν τὸ κέρμα καὶ τὰς τραπέζας ἀνέτρεψεν, 16 καὶ τοῖς τὰς περιστερὰς πωλοῦσιν εἶπεν, Ἄρατε ταῦτα ἐντεῦθεν, μὴ ποιεῖτε τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρός μου οἶκον ἐμπορίου. 17 Ἐμνήσθησαν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ὅτι γεγραμμένον ἐστίν, Ὁ ζῆλος τοῦ οἴκου σου καταφάγεταί με. 18 ἀπεκρίθησαν οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Τί σημεῖον δεικνύεις ἡμῖν, ὅτι ταῦτα ποιεῖς; 19 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Λύσατε τὸν ναὸν τοῦτον καὶ ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις ἐγερῶ αὐτόν. 20 εἶπαν οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι, Τεσσεράκοντα καὶ ἓξ ἔτεσιν οἰκοδομήθη ὁ ναὸς οὗτος, καὶ σὺ ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις ἐγερεῖς αὐτόν; 21 ἐκεῖνος δὲ ἔλεγεν περὶ τοῦ ναοῦ τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ. 22 ὅτε οὖν ἠγέρθη ἐκ νεκρῶν, ἐμνήσθησαν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ὅτι τοῦτο ἔλεγεν, καὶ ἐπίστευσαν τῇ γραφῇ καὶ τῷ λόγῳ ὃν εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς.
23 Ὡς δὲ ἦν ἐν τοῖς Ἱεροσολύμοις ἐν τῷ πάσχα ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ, πολλοὶ ἐπίστευσαν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, θεωροῦντες αὐτοῦ τὰ σημεῖα ἃ ἐποίει: 24 αὐτὸς δὲ Ἰησοῦς οὐκ ἐπίστευεν αὐτὸν αὐτοῖς διὰ τὸ αὐτὸν γινώσκειν πάντας, 25 καὶ ὅτι οὐ χρείαν εἶχεν ἵνα τις μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου: αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐγίνωσκεν τί ἦν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ.
13 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, both 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 market-place!’ 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ 18 The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ 19 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20 The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
23 When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
Christ Cleansing the Temple (Jeffrey Weston)
The move from Cana to Jerusalem
The scene in this Gospel now moves from the small town of Cana in Galilee to the capital city of Jerusalem, for the first of three Passover feasts that are part of Saint John’s narrative.
The Synoptic Gospels telescope the public life of Christ into one year, and have only one Passover celebration, and they place the Cleansing of the Temple in the last week of Christ’s life: Matthew place it on Palm Sunday (see Matthew 21: 10-17), while Mark sets this incident on the Monday (see Mark 11: 15-19); see also Luke 19: 45-48.
However, in Saint John’s Gospel there are three Passovers:
● John 2: 13 to 3: 21;
● John 6: 4 ff, and
● John 13: 1 ff.
The Cleansing of the Temple takes place during the first of these three Johannine Passovers.
In the outer court of the Temple, Christ finds a thriving market, where visitors can purchase the animals needed for sacrifice and change their money with the money changers for half-shekels from Tyre, which were acceptable religiously.
The animals and the coins were absolutely necessary for the Temple worship. So, in attacking the commerce in the outer court of the Temple, Jesus is doing more than purging the Temple of an abuse – he is attacking the Temple itself.
In Cana, Christ replaced the rites of purification. Now in Jerusalem, he shows that the very centre of traditional religious worship is losing its meaning in his presence. Later, he replaces the great feasts, one-by-one.
The glorious presence of God, which was once confined to the Temple in Jerusalem, has now become incarnate in the person of Christ Jesus.
Jeremiah had said that impurity would destroy the value of the Temple in God’s eyes: “Has this house, which is called by name, become a den of robbers in your sight” (Jeremiah 7: 11).
Other passages in the Old Testament tell how the coming of the Messiah will see an ideal Temple appearing on earth. No commerce will be tolerated there, and all the nations of the earth will be welcome in this new Temple: “And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day” (Zechariah 14: 21). See also: Isaiah 56: 7; Tobit 14: 5-7.
Christ goes up to Jerusalem.
The animals sold for sacrifice and Roman coins were changed into Jewish or coins from Tyre in order to pay the Temple tax.
This is not an outburst of temper, but the energy of righteousness being used to confront the religious leaders who have made a good business out of the religious practices of others.
In the third stanza of his poem A Song for Simeon, TS Eliot brings together the Christ who will tie cords to drive the traders from the Temple and the Christ who will be whipped and scourged,
“My Father’s house” is a claim to lordship.
“Zeal for your house will consume me”: The reference here is to Psalm 69: 9: “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
He says: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Instead of interpreting this as meaning “I shall destroy this temple,” the Temple Authorities ought to have heard him saying: “If you destroy this Temple, in three days I will raise it up.”
The rebuke by Jesus is heard and interpreted only in material ways. How could he possibly rebuild in three days had taken 46 years to build?
Of course, even in the time of Christ, building work on the Temple had not been completed. The Temple was begun by Herod the Great in the year 20 BC and it was not finished by Herod Agrippa until AD 64.
In two of the Synoptic accounts, the false witnesses at the trial of Jesus will misrepresent what Jesus said, claiming he said he was able to or would destroy the Temple: “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days” (Matthew 26: 61); “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands” (Mark 14: 58).
But as Mark points out, the Temple of which he is speaking is not made by hands.
This is not simply a prediction of his coming death. For the Apostle Paul, this temple is the Church of believers (I Corinthians 3: 16). But John has a different emphasis: the Temple is the body of Christ which, as the disciples would see after the Resurrection, would be raised up in three days.
Notice how John deliberately uses the term “raise up” and not the “build” or “construct” we find in the Synoptic Gospels.
In this Gospel, there is a continuing thread in which seeing is related to believing. But, as we know, seeing is not always believing; and believing in what has been seen and what has been said on this occasion is postponed until the disciples see the Resurrection.
Faith that rests merely on signs and on what is seen is not faith in him to whom the signs point is simply shallow and fickle faith.
Topics for discussion:
Have you ever excused your anger by finding a moral justification for your actions?
Is it ever right to lose my temper?
Have we a moral responsibility for the way the Church orders its financial affairs?
How zealous are you for God’s house?
Do you see your body as the Temple of the Holy Spirit?
Can you extend that image to other members of the Church, your parish, this community?
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group of B.Th. and M.Th. students on Wednesday 4 November 2009.