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Edward F. Markquart

Series B

Gospel Analysis: The Cleansing of the Temple

LENT 3B      John 2:13-22

Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198

The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.

Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 24 

#271. 273. CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE     Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-15, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-22

The story of the cleansing of the temple occurs only in Series B, Lent 3. Certain stories occur several times in the Sunday morning lectionary such as the baptism and temptation of Jesus. This story occurs only once, Lent 3B, from the Gospel of John.

Mark’s sequence of events is as follows:

*Triumphant entry on a colt.

*Goes to the temple, looks around, and walks to Bethany.

*The next day, comes back from Bethany to Jerusalem.

*Curses the fig tree.

*Cleanses the temple.

Matthew’s sequence of events is as follows:

*Triumphant entry on a colt.

*Cleanses the temple.

*Curses the fig tree.

John’s sequence of event is as follows:

*Jesus turned water into wine

*Cleanses the temple

*The story of Nicodemus

John locates the cleaning of the temple at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry at the Passover, whereas the story in Matthew and Mark at the end of Jesus’ ministry, during the last week of Jesus’ life in Jerusalem. 

The important issue is not when this particular story is located in Jesus’ ministry. It is not important whether this event occurred at the beginning of his ministry or occurred during the last week of his ministry. Nor is it important that there were theoretically two cleanings stories, one early in John and the second story later in the other gospels. The important issue is this: What is the meaning of this event? What is the message that God is communicating to us through this story?

The gospels of Mark and John are most descriptive of this scene. Below, examine the models of the temple.



-The Passover of the Jews was at hand. (Only John). The Passover was a few days away. All four gospel authors include the story of the cleansing of the temple. All four gospel authors have this event occur just before the Passover. Only John explicitly mentions the Passover. In the first three gospels, the cleaning of the temple occurs as part of the story about the Passover week.

The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus went to three Passovers. The first Passover in John is recorded here in John 2:13. The second Passover is mentioned in John  6:4 and the third one is found in John 11:55.

 -He (Jesus) entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple. We can easily visualize the money chargers, the oxen, sheep, pigeons and the general chaos in the Temple area, especially in the Court of the Gentiles. The historian Josephus informs us about the “bazaars of Annas.” We recall that Annas was the old man, the high priest, and that he had four sons and one son-in-law (Caiaphas) who were also high priests. This family made big money off the temple business. It was the biggest racket in town. People would bring their Roman and Greek coins with images of the emperor on those coins. Such coins were inadmissible in the temple because they were unclean due to the pagan image of the Caesars on those coins. Those coins with the image of Caesar would have to be exchanged for Jewish “kosher” coins. The money-changers made good profits. Larger animals like oxen and sheep were also bought and sold, as were pigeons for the sacrifices for poorer people. In equivalent dollars of today, Annas had an annual $170 million dollar business going. Yes, Annas and his high priestly family, had the best and biggest business in the country, and it was concentrated in the temple. Josephus was right: the temple area had become a bazaar.

In a moment, we will examine several paintings of this scene. Jesus, with a whip (John), drives out people from the temple and cleanses the temple of all the commerce and riff raff. Indeed, the temple (its courtyards) had become a "den of robbers."

-In the temple, he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons and the money changers at their business.  (John) Only the Gospel of John mentions oxen and sheep.

-He  overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  In the specifics of John’s account, we see a plurality of tables and seats being turned over. In a painting below, we will see an image of Jesus overturning the chair of a person selling pigeons.

“These people were in the Temple because of the Passover festival. Greek and Roman coins had a human image on them, so the half-shekel temple tax had to be paid in silver didrachmas of Tyre which had only the designation of value. Animals were kept in the Court of the Gentiles for the first time in 30 ad. "…The merchants and money changers would have been confident of the justice of their position…. these people were not only licensed by the temple authorities, they had no reason to have a bad conscience with respect to their occupation—without which the payment of the temple tax and the temple cultus could not be carried out." (Ernst Haenchen, John 1: A Commentary on the Gospel of John Chapters 1-6. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984, p. 190)

-And making a whip of cords, he drove them all. (John) This image of the whip, mentioned only in John, becomes a primary image for painters of this scene. Below, carefully examine several paintings of the “cleansing of the temple” and Jesus will always have a whip in his hand. A reader can feel the anger of Jesus in this scene, unlike almost any other scene from the gospels. A reader can feel the red hot anger of Jesus towards those people corrupting the temple.

This vivid story has inspired artists throughout the centuries. All the pictures have Jesus wearing red. All the pictures have Jesus swinging a whip. The pictures seem to imply that Jesus was whipping at the people more than at the animals. Many Christians feel uncomfortable when Jesus is pictured as whipping at people rather than animals. Such an image does not conform to our mental image of Jesus and how he handled his anger. Yet we know that Jesus was driving both the sellers and their animals out of the temple courtyard.

Focus on the words "making a whip of cords." It seems that on the spot, Jesus made of whip of what he could get his hands on. It was a spontaneous gesture on his part.

The whip was a whip of cords, a whip of ropes, not a whip of leather or metal.



In this Rembrandt, the viewer cannot help but focus on the stern and angry eyes of Jesus. He has a whip in his right hand. The man next to Jesus is clutching his money bag. A viewer also focuses on the money at the bottom left. The man is grabbing his loose change so as not to lose it. We can imagine Jesus cleansing of the temple of the money changers.

The above link has a fascinating conversation about this painting.


In the above painting, we focus on Jesus with his red cloak. We focus on his right hand with its whip and his left hand pushing a pigeon from a commonly, aging woman’s right arm. We notice a man behind her counting his money to make sure that he didn’t lose any. We see a woman with an ashened face of fear carrying a basket of birds in her outstretched hands, trying to make sure that she didn’t lose any. We notice a well dressed woman on the right with a basket of bread carried on her head. The painting is filled with tension.


We again focus on Jesus (dressed in red) in the center of the painting. We can see the elongated bodies which was the style of El Greco. We can see the money changer on the upper left, clutching his bag of money. As Jesus utilizes a whip, it appears that he is using the whip to scare people who are selling goods in order to drive these people out of the temple. We can see a table turned over in the foreground.

The above link has a fascinating conversation about this painting.


On a larger screen, a person can see the detail in this picture e.g. the pigeons at the bottom in the pigeon cage. In the center bottom, a viewer can see a man being turned over in a chair such as when Jesus turned over the chairs of the pigeon sellers. You can see a cow/oxen and a donkey which apparently were being sold. The scene is pure chaos.


The Purification of the Temple


Again, in this painting, a viewer can get the feeling of the chaos of the scene. Numerous people are trying to escape from the anger of Jesus (again dressed in the color red that symbolizes his hot anger): money changers, men, women, sheep, cows, dog, pigeons. The movement is for people trying to get out of the temple. We are reminded that these scenes of the temple presuppose Jesus was in a temple building and not out in a courtyard adjacent to the temple.



-He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple (Mark).

-He drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple. (John) These were large animals, primary used for sacrifices. The “them” seems to refer to people who were the sellers of the sheep and oxen. Only the Gospel of John mentions the larger animals such as the sheep and the oxen. The synoptic gospels mention only the pigeons.

-He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who sold pigeons, “Take those things away.” (John) We can visualize Jesus pouring out the coins from the money bags of the moneychangers. We can also see him overturning their tables. In an earlier verse, we heard of Jesus knocking over the chairs of those who sold pigeons.,612,48

“Those who sold animals suitable for sacrifice provided a much-needed service to those who had traveled from great distances, as did the moneychangers. Temple sacrifices were only accepted in Jewish currency and many of the travelers came from places where other currencies were used.

Why, then, did Jesus drive the merchants and moneychangers from the Temple premises? Some commentators believe that Jesus was attacking the extortionist practices of many of those who sold animals and exchanged money. Others believe that the outrage was over the irreverence of the traffic on Temple grounds. Still others believe that Jesus was outraged because this trafficking took place in the court of the Gentiles, thus hindering them from approaching God in worship. The latter view is supported by the second cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15-17) where Jesus proclaims that the Temple should be a place of prayer for all peoples.”

-He taught and said to them, We remember that Mark emphasized that Jesus was a teacher. See page 215, #251 and Mark saying that crowds “gathered to him again and, as was his custom, he taught them.”

-“Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?” But you have made it a den of robbers. This verse is found in Mark, Matthew and Luke. Mark’s gospel uniquely has that wonderful phrase, “for all nations.”

"Is it not written ... in the Old Testament," Isaiah 56:7, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” This is the issue: the temple is to be a house of prayer, not a house of profit.  That is what our Christian temples are to be: houses of prayer. 

The temple is a house of prayer not for "our own people" but for all people of all nations.

-“You shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” (John) Jesus was thinking of God as his Father and that his Father’s house had been violated.

Similarly, when our own homes have been broken into, robbed, vandalized and violated, we naturally become intensely angry at those destructive thieves who have ransacked our houses. We feel personally violated. We often become intensely angry at those people who have smashed up and defaced our homes and committed wanton, destruction of our property. Similarly, Jesus thought of the temple as his Father’s house and it was being vandalized and violated, defaced and destroyed by people who did not respect or revere as he did. 

Think of an analogy such as one's oldest adult child being responsible for the parent's home when they are away on vacation. The oldest child comes into the parent's house to check up on it and it has been ransacked, vandalized and violated. The person looking at the damage would be enormously angry and say, "Look what they have done to my parent's home." Such was the feeling of Jesus.

-His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for thy house shall consume me.” (John) Yes, we can feel the zeal of Jesus in this scene. Jesus was quoting from Psalm 69:9. Focus on the word, “zeal.” Zeal implies intense passion.

Focus on the two words, “your house.” The temple was and is the Lord’s house. It is not that the Lord God confined his presence to the temple but that that temple had been dedicated to God. The house was the Lord’s house.

“Consume me.” Eat me up.

 [H.R.: The so-called "House of Annas" was the owner of a great part of the sales stands for animals, of money-changers’ business, etc. The sales frequently occurred at exorbitant prices, sucking the last copper coin from the worshippers, especially from the poor and naive peasants. The House of Annas had converted religion into big business, lacking spirituality, but they called themselves “the spiritual leaders of Israel.”

The Sadducee High-Priest Yosef Kayafa, Annas’ son-in-law, who had been High-Priest previously, transferred the selling of animals from the markets on the mount of Olives to the court of the Gentiles, a recent innovation to guarantee a temple monopoly on animals offered for sacrifice, over Pharisaic objections. One may even consult the Mishnah’s story of R. Gamaliel’s later drastic action against overcharging for sacrificial animals.

Inside the Temple walls, there opened a great columned hall or portico, facing the north side, like a cloister. The hall's size was impressive, and so it was called the Royal Portico. Four rows of pillars divided it into three long aisles. Each pillar was 27 feet high and so thick that three men standing with arms stretched out could just encircle it. The tops of the pillars were carved with rows of leaves and the ceiling with leaves and flowers.

It was in this splendid portico, where the moneychangers' tables stood, and the traders had stalls and cages to sell animals and birds for sacrifice.

Every Jew was expected to pay a tax to the Temple each year. The amount was set at half a shekel of silver, the amount laid down in the Law of Moses for the atonement of every Israelite, in Exodus 30:11-16. In the first century half a shekel was reckoned the equivalent of two Greek drachmas or two Roman denarii. A laborer could earn that amount in two days.

The priests decreed that payment should be made in coins of the purest silver. Only one sort was acceptable, the silver coins of the city of Tyre.

Many of the traders charged very high prices, taking shameless advantage of the pilgrims who came from the countryside and from foreign lands. The traders had to pay for permission to have their stalls in this area, and they had to pay the leading priests.

Later Jewish tradition even remembered one place as 'the Bazaars of the sons of Annas'. Again, you find here the reference to the abuses of the 'House of Annas'.

It can be estimated that the amount taken to the Temple each year was about half a million shekels. The Tyrean shekel was worth four denarii, so the annual income of the Temple would be equivalent to wages for two million man-days of work, or 5480 man-years of work, on a basis of 7 working days per week.

Let's say the average yearly income of a North American today would be 30.000 dollars. Then you could calculate the Temple income almost as 170 million dollars. And a good part of this, constituted personal revenue for Annas and his friends. The Temple was not the spiritual center any more, it had become big business!”

Josephus remarks: "As for the high priest Ananias, he increased in glory every day, and this to a great degree...for he was a great hoarder up of money...he also had servants who were very wicked, who joined themselves to the boldest sort of the people, and went to the thrashing-floors, and took away the tithes that belonged to the priests by violence, and did not refrain from beating such as would not give these tithes to them. So the other high priests acted in the like manner, as did those his servants, without any one being able to prohibit them; so that (some of the) priests, that of old were wont to be supported with those tithes, died for want of food...

"A sedition arose between the high priests, with regard to one another; for they got together bodies of the people, and frequently came from reproaches to throwing of stones at each other; but Ananias was too hard for the rest, by his riches,--which enabled him to gain those that were the most ready to receive. Costabarus, also, and Saulus, did themselves get together a multitude of wicked wretches...but still they used violence with the people weaker than themselves. And from that time it principally came to pass, that our city was greatly disordered, and that all things grew worse and worse among us."



John 2:18-22

18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" The Gospel of John was the book of signs. Signs were miracles that pointed to God. In John’s gospel, the previous event was the sign of turning the water into wine.

The synoptic gospels do not have this section in John 2:18-22. John uses this story differently than the first three gospels.

19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." John's gospel uses this story to confront the Jews with his coming resurrection. Jesus was forever challenging the Jews. Jesus was playing on words. The temple that he would raise was his own body rather than the physical temple that had taken so many decades to build. The Jews would not comprehend this reasoning at all.

20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" The construction of the temple began in 20 BCE so this would have been about the year 26 CE. If Jesus was born in about the year of 6 BCE, he would have been about thirty years old at the time of this event. The temple was completed in about the year 63 CE.

The dating of the temple and dating of the age of Jesus was not the major issue of this text.

Rather, Jesus’ body would be raised up in three days. That was the issue.

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.

From a sermon on this text:

“An illustration. Mom and Dad (my wife and myself) had gone on vacation and had asked their oldest daughter to check on the family house to make sure everything was OK.  The oldest daughter’s name was Anne. She had a husband named Steve, and two children, Ben and Kate. One day, after Grandma and Grandpa had been gone for almost a week, it was time to drive over to the house and make sure that everything was OK. As the Dunham family drove up to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, they sensed that something was wrong. It just didn’t feel right. It was eerie. A strange sensation made the family feel uneasy. Something was wrong. Daughter Anne unlocked the door and she peered into the front room. It was a mess. Her husband Steve was right behind her and then the two kids.

Someone had been into Grandma and Grandpa’s house and totally vandalized it. Ransacked it. Destroyed it. Weird senseless things. All the furniture in the living room was turned over, shaving cream and paint sprayed all over the living room and dining room and kitchen. The cupboards in the kitchen had been opened and all the dishes were scattered on the floor and broken into a mess of glass. The whole house that had been vandalized. The living room, dining room, kitchen, family room, bedrooms. The large colored television set was gone. So was the computer. So was the silver. So was the jewelry box. Yes, they robbed the house. More than that, they destroyed the house. And this eldest daughter, her husband and their children were so mad. So angry. They reported it to the police. But nothing happened. They telephoned Grandma and Grandpa to tell them what happened to their house and they were mad as hops too. Yes, insurance covered some of the damage…but it was…just so awful.

Yes, there are times when we become intensely angry. Such as when our home has been senselessly robbed, vandalized, destroyed and desecrated. Such as when a drunk driver in  a drunken stupor loses control of the car and kills your child. Such as wartime, when some guerillas slip in from the jungle and mutilate your family and home. Such as when the enemy’s bombers come in and decimate your town and all the homes in your village.

Yes, there are times in our lives as human beings that we become intensely angry. Those times may be the angriest times of our lives.

We also think of times when sacred objects were desecrated such as the crazed man throwing a solvent at Michelangelo’s famous carving, the Pieta, the most beautiful carving in history, and trying to destroy it. Or a crazy person who slashes the canvas of a famous painting by Rembrandt and scar it forever. Some people are mentally and morally sick and do terrible things to sacred objects.  We are profoundly disgusted by the desecration of holy things.

In the text for today, we hear the story of the day when Jesus was the angriest he ever was as a human being. Today’s story is when Jesus was so mad and so angry and so hostile that he quickly made a whip, like we would instintively find a stick to threaten someone with. Have you ever been that mad? What was going on in the story for today that made Jesus so incensed.

People were vandalizing Jesus father’s house and he was made, plenty mad. Just as daughter Anne was enormously angry that people had vandalized her parent’s home, so Jesus was also extremely angry that someone was ruining his Father’s home. Jesus caught them right in the act of their vandalizing, their profaning, their ruining his Father’s house. No wonder Jesus was so mad.”












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