Jesus is the Temple
October 7th, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
Note: There is no audio file available for this sermon.
Contrary to our common image of a loving, sweet Jesus, all four Gospels present a story of Jesus as angry, even furious as He cleanses the Temple (Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:12-18, Luke 19:45-48, John 2:12-22). What brings Jesus to such fury? What does God want all the world to know in this story from Jesus’ actions, His words, and His emotions?
I. The Story: Jesus Cleanses the Temple (John 2:12-22)
Arriving in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration at the massive Temple, the center of worship for Israel, Jesus’ expectations would have been that it was a place where God was to dwell (awaiting the return of His Shekinah glory at the mercy seat), and a place of sacrifice for sin (offering animal sacrifices to God). Combined, it was a place where man could meet God – God’s presence was near in the Holy of Holies and He offered forgiveness because of sacrifices offered. In the Court of the Gentiles all nations were welcome to worship God.
Instead of worship, however, Jesus found chaos/bedlam in the Temple Courts – a giant marketplace both for selling animals and exploiting people financially. With a whip, Jesus “drove all from the courts”, “scattered the coins”, “overturned their tables”, and told some sellers to “get out” (Jn.2:13-16). When His authority was questioned by the Jews, Jesus exclaimed, “Destroy this temple and you are going to raise it in three days.” (Jn.2:19) Angry actions and an amazing reply.
II. The Claim: Jesus IS the Temple.
Jesus’ zeal and passion in the Temple, prophesied in Psalm 69:9, was against all the financial dealings in the Temple which were destroying this as a place of worship. When questioned, Jesus clarified that He Himself, His body, was the actual Temple of God (Jn.2:21). He wanted people to know clearly that He was the presence of God among humanity. Jesus, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn.1:14). Jesus saw the corruption of people in the traditional form of Temple worship and revealed a new way to know God. God knows the sin/failure in all of us as we try to reach His presence (Jn.2:24,25) In place of our efforts, God offers His own solution through the ultimate sacrifice of His Son for our sins. There is no more need for sacrifice to cover our sin because Jesus in His divinity died in our place.
No longer do we need to beat up on ourselves for not being good enough (unworthy, unloved, rejected, shameful, abandoned, condemned). No longer do we have to run, hide, or blame others. Jesus created us (Jn.1:2), and by His sacrifice (not ours), Jesus welcomes us into the very presence of God as we come to Him in faith. Jesus is where all people can meet God. He has swept away more than just coins and tables to bring us to God. Jesus has swept away all our sin as He died on the Cross, an action of God’s passion and love for each of us. May we be encouraged, grateful, and revel in His presence!
- Given Jesus’ cleansing of the temple as our example, what do Christians have the right to be angry about?
- What two types of temples are described in this story of Jesus in Jn.2:12-22? Describe.
- How can Jesus uniquely be a one and done sacrifice for us to God?
- If we experience God’s presence through Jesus, and Jesus has died. Where is God for us?
- Are you living as if you believe Jesus’ sacrifice was/is enough for your sin? What does that look like?
Good Morning! We are continuing today in our series called “More than just a nice guy.” This is a study where we are going through the gospel of John and looking at the images John uses to portray Jesus. It’s been interesting. As we’ve gone through this, we are finding that some of these images of Jesus, like the Lamb of God or the Messiah, might fit into our stereotypes of what we would expect Jesus to be. Others that we have seen, like the one we looked at last week in “Jesus as the Life of the Party,” might challenge us to think a little more. They may push us to perceive Jesus in a new way.
Today we are going to look at an image of Jesus and a story about Jesus that seems so outside the box that many people, when they read it, have trouble believing that Jesus would do this at all. In fact, last week I met some folks at a dinner party and, during the meal, one lady actually brought up the story that we are going to look at today. If I understood her properly, she said “Look. I have real difficulty believing that this is a true story, because it’s so contrary to the image I have of Jesus.”
Some people think the story we are going to look at today is just a parable. They think that, because this story shatters our image of Jesus as just a nice guy. Because today, Jesus is going to get angry, angry like we’ve never seen him before, angrier, I think, than at any other point in his ministry. He’s going to be a lot more today than just a nice guy. Today, Jesus is going to cleanse the Temple.
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles, if you have them, to John 2:12-22. While you’re turning there, let me assure you that the cleansing of the Temple was a real event. It’s recorded in all four gospels. We’re going to look at this story today of Jesus cleansing the Temple. As we do that today, we are going to do two simple things:
- First, we’re going to look at this shocking story of Jesus cleansing the temple. We’re going to see why he went to the Temple and what it was that made him so angry when he got there.
- Secondly, we are going to look at something even more shocking: A claim that Jesus made about who he is and how he relates to the Temple. We’ll see what that claim has to do with you and me.
As we prepare to look at the Word today, let me just say this. This sermon has been very, very difficult to work on. John Maiden and I are finding that preaching the book of John is very challenging. (Only 19 chapters to go!) It’s challenging, because most of the time when we preach a passage we’re trying to show you how it plugs into your life, what you should do differently, because of that passage. But our passage today really isn’t about that. It’s not about three easy steps to fix this or that in your life. In fact, it’s not about us at all. It’s about Jesus. It’s about who he is. He’s going to make an incredible claim today that was far more outrageous than his behavior in this story. This isn’t about us. For John, Jesus is the star of the show. So today, our main goal is to get to know Jesus, to worship him, to experience who he is in a new way and even to prepare us for the Lord’s Table today. Today, we’re going to talk about Jesus. So, let’s read this story of Jesus cleansing the Temple:
After this (after Jesus turned the water to wine at Cana) he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 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. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 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.
– John 2:12-22
We’re going to start today by looking at the story, and the story is just this:
The Story: Jesus Cleanses the Temple
John begins our story. He tells us this:
After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
– John 2:12-13
So at this point in Jesus’ story, he has turned the water into wine. He has returned to his hometown of Capernaum with his family and friends . After he’s been there for a few days, it’s time for Jesus and his disciples to take the 85 mile walk to Jerusalem to go to the Temple and celebrate Passover. If you were an Adult Israelite Male in Jesus’ day, you were supposed to go to Jerusalem three times every year for the three great religious feasts of the Old Testament. The biggest of these feasts was Passover.
So Jesus was going to the Temple. Now it’s hard for you and me, as modern Americans, to appreciate the importance of the Temple to a Jew in Ancient Israel. When we think of a religious building, we think pretty small. We think of maybe a church with a steeple or, if we’re thinking really big, we think of a major cathedral. But to a Jew in Jesus’ day, the temple wasn’t like that at all. It was a much bigger deal!
For one thing, the temple was massive. Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a model of the Temple in Jesus’ day. Notice it’s a whole complex. The tall area in the back is the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwelt and where the High priest would offer sacrifice once a year for sin. The area in front of that is the court of the priests. Around that are courts for Israelite men and women. This large area on either side is the court of the Gentiles. This temple is massive. I always pictured the temple as kind of a smallish or medium sized building, like a church building. But it’s a little bigger than that. The holy place there isn’t like 5 stories tall. it’s 15 (150-180 feet). The court of the Gentiles there covered 30 acres, 27 football fields. So the temple was massive and impressive. But that’s not the reason that the Temple was so important to a Jew. The reason it was so important was because it was the center of worship for Israel, and that meant three things:
- It was the place where God dwelt
God is everywhere, but the Temple was a place where God manifested his presence in a special way. When Israel went through the Red Sea and through the wilderness, they had God’s presence to lead them. The way they could tell he was there was through this glory cloud. Remember that? It looked like a pillar of cloud during the day, but it kind of glowed so it looked like a pillar of fire by night. That was the manifestation of God’s presence, and it went everywhere with Israel in the early days of the exodus.
When the Tabernacle, which was like a mobile, tent version of the Temple that Israel took through the wilderness, was constructed, God’s glory was in it. That glory cloud, called the Shekinah glory, entered the Holy of Holies and settled over the mercy seat. God’s presence was with them. When Solomon finished building the temple in 1 Kings 8, that same Shekinah glory once again descended in the Holy of Holies of the temple.
With the Temple, Israel knew that God’s presence was with them in a special way. Can you imagine having a place where you knew for sure that God dwelt? In the early days, the temple had been that.
But then something happened that was one of Israel’s greatest sorrows as a nation. There came a time when the Glory of God departed from the temple. After years of Israel sinning and disobeying and resisting God’s plan for them, there came a time when God’s glory left Israel’s temple. Ezekiel had a vision of it, and it’s heartbreaking to read. He saw the glory rise up from the mercy seat, and then he saw it move to the threshold of the temple, like it’s on the verge of leaving, and then the glory pauses as if to say that God is giving Israel one more chance. But they don’t. Their leaders remain corrupt. So Ezekiel saw the glory leave the temple, and God’s presence departed from Israel. This was a heartbreak. For centuries, the Jews waited for its return. The temple was, first of all, designed to be a place where God dwelt.
- It was the place of sacrifice
The temple was THE one place where you were to offer sacrifices to God. You couldn’t do that just anywhere. You couldn’t just approach God on your own terms. You had to offer a sacrifice for your sin. You had to bring an ox, or a lamb, or a dove, depending on how wealthy you were, and what kind of offering it was. The temple was the one place that you were supposed to do that. That’s why there were so many people in Jerusalem for Passover. You had to go to the temple to sacrifice your Passover Lamb. Other sacrifices were offered every morning, and every evening, and on the Day of Atonement. The Temple was the place of sacrifice. When you put these two together, God’s presence and Sacrifice, the Temple was
- The place you could meet God
The temple was the place where man could meet with God. You knew he was near you, knew he had forgiven you. Once a year, the High Priest would go into the Holy of Holies, where God’s actual presence dwelt (when he was in the Temple). He would be face to face with the manifestation of God’s presence.
Man could meet God at the Temple . Special provision was made to show that. The Temple had a place for everyone to meet God. If you look at the model, there was a place where only the High Priest could go. There was a place where only the regular Priests could go. There was a place where only Israelite men and Israelite women could go. There was a special place by God’s design for the Nations. It was called “the court of the Gentiles,” and it was huge! It was designed so that people who were farthest from God could come and be near his worship and see what he is like. Those farthest from God could worship the living God. It was meant to be a place of meditation, and worship, and prayer.
The Temple was meant to be a place where everyone could meet God. It’s fitting today that we mention that, because today is World Communion Day. We celebrate today what the Court of the Gentiles was meant to celebrate in Jesus’ Day: That God welcomes the nations all nations to worship Him!
So the temple was meant to be all this: The place where God dwelt, the place where sacrifice was offered, and the place where man could meet God. That is what Jesus had come to see. He had traveled miles to Jerusalem to be in the place where everyone worshipped God! When he got there, things were not as they should be:
In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
– John 2:14
What Jesus found at the temple was a giant marketplace:
- People selling lambs for Passover.
- People selling cattle and doves for the offerings of the rich and the poor.
- People changing money, so that you could pay the Temple Tax in the currency that the Authorities liked best.
It was a marketplace. It would have been complete chaos! If you’ve ever been to a really big open-air market, it’s very chaotic! We had a big market in Zimbabwe, called Mbare Musika. When you went there, there would be vendors running around yelling, and chickens, and goats, and other critters wandering around, and people trying to argue with you over price. It was chaos. Kelley loved it! But it drove me crazy!
This would have been like that. It was in the Court of the Gentiles and it would have swallowed the whole thing up. We’re not talking about a craft fair with 15 tables here . One ancient historian said that on one Passover there were 225,000 lambs sacrificed. So this would have been bedlam! It made Jesus absolutely furious:
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. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
– John 2:15-16
That is angry! Angry like we’ve never seen Jesus be angry. Jesus doesn’t normally whip people. When Jesus met crooked tax collectors, he didn’t flip their tables over! He turned them into disciples! When the Pharisees dragged a woman who had been caught committing adultery before Jesus, he didn’t make a whip! He forgave her! But here he’s really angry. So we have to ask what on earth made him so angry? Well it wasn’t that people were selling animals. They had to sell animals. These pilgrims had come from all over the area to observe Passover. Jesus walked 85 miles. It’s not like they could carry their lambs with them, so selling the animals was a necessary service. That’s not what made Jesus angry.
What made him so angry then? Well, I’m sure part of it was that they were exploiting people. In the other gospels, Jesus calls these guys thieves, because the guys that were changing money weren’t just changing money. You could only pay the temple tax in their currency. When they changed the money, they had a 30% upcharge!
Likewise with the doves. When you brought a dove to be offered, it had to be approved by the temple authorities. It had to be without blemish or defect. You could buy doves outside the temple. They were readily available, but the authorities would almost never approve them. So you really had to buy them inside the temple grounds, and they cost up to twenty times more! So they were exploiting people.
If you’ve ever purchased popcorn and a drink at the movies, you understand this principle, right? You can’t bring it in. You have to buy their stuff. I’ve never understood how they get away with it! There’s 12 cents worth of food. They charge us $15, and we keep paying! I’ve never understood that. I keep waiting for someone to start a movement or a boycott or something. I’m waiting for someone with a WWJD bracelet to take it seriously, because we KNOW what Jesus would do. He would overturn the table of those who sell popcorn and drive out the sellers of candy! OK, just kidding. But they were exploiting people.
But that’s not the main reason that Jesus is angry here. The main reason Jesus is angry, and all four gospels agree on this, is because of what this is doing to the worship of God. Here in verse 16, Jesus says “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market?” In Mark’s gospel, he says “My house is a house of prayer for all nations, but you’ve turned it into a den of thieves!”
This is destroying worship. Think about what’s going on here. This is contradicting everything the Temple was designed for. They could have conducted their business in any number of places in Jerusalem, but they chose the Court of the Gentiles, the very place that God had designed so that those who were farthest from God could begin to experience the worship of the Living God. Now it’s been swallowed up by this circus, 6 Flags over Yahweh, so that there’s no place for quiet reflection, no place for prayer, no place for those farthest from God to find out what God is really like. No worship was occurring and those who were farthest from God were being blocked from God.
It made Jesus angry. It should cause us to pause in our worship. I wonder as I read this passage what Jesus thinks about my attitude towards worship. What does he think about the way I sing the songs of worship? What does he think about the way I come to the Lord’s Table? What does he think of my heart? My attitude? Would it please him? Would it distress him? Would it ever make him angry? What does Jesus think about the way we treat our guests, especially those who are farther from God> I don’t mean that in a judgmental way. I just mean those who don’t know Jesus those for whom this worship is all new. I think of Tom and Kim’s Muslim friends who visited a few weeks ago, who had never experienced Christian worship before. I wonder what Jesus thought about the way we treated them? I hope he’s pleased, but it’s a good question to ask ourselves. Jesus cleansed the temple, because those farthest from God were being blocked from God.
Now, one more thing before we go on and I don’t have time to go into this, but I need to mention it. In doing all this, Jesus was fulfilling prophecies that had been made about him in the Old Testament. We won’t dive into this in detail, but when Jesus drove out the merchants he was quoting Zechariah 14:21, which said that on the Day the Messiah set up his Kingdom there would no longer be a merchant in the house of the Lord. Jesus was fulfilling that here. John also tells us that the disciples, when they saw Jesus’ behavior, were reminded of Psalm 69, which is a prophetic Psalm that is all about the Messiah’s sufferings. It’s an incredible Psalm. One of the things it says in the middle of the Psalm is “Zeal for your house will consume me.” In other words, “the Messiah’s passion for God’s Temple would be the death of him.” Sure enough, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple was one of the things that really set the authorities against him.
So in all of this not only is Jesus doing what’s right, he’s also fulfilling Scripture. The story is that Jesus cleanses the Temple. He reacts to the lack of worship and to the fact that those who were farthest from God were being blocked from God. That’s the story. The other gospels all stop recording at that point. But John doesn’t. He goes on to show us that Jesus used this event to make an incredible claim about himself., a claim that was even more radical than the things he had just done. Here’s the claim:
The Claim: Jesus is the Temple
Let me show you what I mean. As soon as Jesus drove out the animals and the merchants the Temple, authorities reacted:
Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
– John 2:18
Notice they don’t ask themselves if Jesus might actually be right in doing this. They don’t ask if people were being exploited or if those farthest from God were being blocked from God. They just ask if he can prove his authority with some kind of divine sign. What’s funny is that Jesus actually just did that! He was fulfilling the prophecy about no merchants in the House of the Lord by driving them out. So he’s given them a sign, but now he gives them another sign:
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
– John 2:19
The temple authorities respond, and they have misinterpreted Jesus’ words:
The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 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.
– John 2:20-22
That’s the way John ends his record of this encounter. For once, I am sympathetic to the authorities! Normally they seem kind of dishonest, but here they ask Jesus for a sign, and he gives them this nonsensical answer: “Destroy this temple, and I’ll raise it up in three days.” I think it’s understandable that they ask “How on earth are you going to pull that off? It took thousands of laborers decades to put this thing up and you say you can raise it in three days.” Then John gives us the explanation. It was Jesus’ body. OK, we know that he was raised from the dead after three days. But when I hear this, to be honest, I’m like “How were they supposed to know that?”
When I first read this, it seems like they’ve asked a silly question and Jesus is responding by giving them a silly answer. There’s an African Proverb that says “If a boy asks you if you can tie water with a string, ask him if he means the water in the well or the water in the lagoon.” What that’s saying is ask a silly question, get a silly answer. It seems kind of like that’s. What’s going on here?
But it’s not, not by a long shot. This isn’t a silly answer at all. Jesus is saying something significant. He’s saying that He is the Temple. He’s the Temple. Everything the temple was meant to be Jesus was. Remember what we said the Temple represented to Israel? Jesus is all that. Remember how we said the Temple was the place that God dwelt on earth? Well
Jesus is God’s Presence on Earth. Jesus wasn’t just a good teacher. He wasn’t just a prophet. He didn’t just have some divine spark. He was God., fully God in human flesh. When Jesus claims that his body is the Temple, he is claiming to be the place where God’s presence is manifest on earth.
Remember how we said the Temple was a place of God’s glory? Remember that Shekinah that started in the Tabernacle and moved to the Temple? Remember how heartbreaking it was when that glory left Israel? Let me show you something from chapter 1 where Jesus was called “the Word” Remember that? In the beginning was the word. Look what John says:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
– John 1:14
See those words “made his dwelling”? Do you know what that literally says in the Greek? It says he “tabernacled” among us. That’s the same word as the place where God’s presence first dwelt. John is saying “Jesus tabernacled among us.” The reason John doesn’t say he “tempted” among us is that, like the tabernacle, Jesus was mobile. John was saying Jesus was God’s tabernacle, his mobile temple, on earth.
Look at the rest of the verse: “We beheld his glory.” That glory, that spiritual manifestation of God’s presence that tragically left, returned in Jesus. Like the Temple, God’s presence was in Jesus.
His presence in Jesus was better. You could go to the temple and have some idea what God was like. You could find out that God loved beauty from the amazing architecture, that he was moral, unlike the Pagan temples. You could see that he had chosen Israel. You could learn that he was only to be approached on his own terms. But Jesus is the real manifestation of God’s presence. If you want to know what God is like really like, look at Jesus. If you want to know what he loves, look at Jesus. If you want to know what God hates, what his priorities are, who he cares for even what makes him angry, look at Jesus. Jesus is the Temple. He’s the place where God’s presence is manifest on earth.
We said something else about the Temple. We said it was the place of Sacrifice. As the Temple, Jesus is the place of sacrifice. Remember we said the Temple showed us that you didn’t approach God without a sacrifice. You couldn’t come to him on your own terms. You needed something to cover your sin. So year after year, those sacrifices were offered. It was a bloody business, because sin is a bloody business. God says the wages of sin is death. So there had to be this sacrifice, and it could only be offered at the Temple to cover the sins of God’s people. It was the place of Sacrifice.
Jesus is the temple. He is the place of sacrifice. Jesus came for the express purpose of dying for our sin. He was the sacrifice. We see this again and again and again in John’s gospel. Last week, we talked about the hour of Jesus’ glory. It was the hour of sacrifice. The week before that, John Maiden talked about Jesus as the Lamb of God. Jesus willingly became our Passover Lamb. John’s gospel shows us that Jesus was literally being crucified as those Passover lambs were being sacrificed. He came to die. We see it in our passage today. The disciples remembered that Psalm 69 said “Zeal for your house will be the death of me.”
Jesus came to die. He is the ultimate sacrifice. There is no need any more ever again for a sacrifice to cover our sins, because Jesus, as the Temple, is our sacrifice. He’s enough, no matter what you’ve ever done. No matter how shameful or wicked or sinful it was, Jesus can forgive it. He can cover it. Because he was man he could cover your sin, because he was God, he could cover everybody’s sin. His death, his sacrifice, has infinite value.
Jesus is God’s presence on earth. Jesus is the place of sacrifice. There was one more thing we said about the temple. We said because it was the place of God’s presence and the place of sacrifice it was the place where man met God.
Jesus is the Temple. Jesus is the place where man meets God. Because Jesus is God and because he’s our sacrifice, he is the place HERE is the place where we meet God. Through this sacrifice, which is represented by this Table, man can meet God. We can come before him. We can pour out our hearts to him. We can know that we are accepted and loved. We can find strength for our struggles. We can know that we are his people. We can come to him today no matter who we are, whether we are near to God or far from God, because not only did Jesus cleanse the temple, he is the Temple.