The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore 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. John 2:13-25 (ESV)
We like to imagine Jesus as the Good Shepherd (and He is) but it’s a little more difficult to envision Jesus in a rage, wielding a whip, driving the merchants and moneylenders out of the Temple. Yet love – which is part of the Law- demands passion. Love demands respect and boundaries. If we love the church building, chances are we’re not going to allow livestock sales and usury to go on inside its walls.
In today’s culture the line between the sacred and the profane is more and more blurry than it once was. We tend not to set aside sacred physical spaces anymore- for good or ill, cathedrals are few and far between. We also are not that great about honoring the sacred in other planes either. We fail to honor others in our speech and conduct. We fail to set aside time and space for prayer, study and contemplation of God’s Word (Third Commandment, anyone) and then we wonder where God is.
Commerce is not a negative thing. It has its place. In Lutheran theology we do not consider the world or work or material things to be bad things, just part of the kingdom of the world (the left-hand kingdom if you will.) We have trouble when we get our dual citizenship mixed up. The kingdom of God should not be confused with the kingdom of the world.
Jesus was angry that the religious system of his time had become so corrupt that they could not see the real purpose of the Temple. They were more worried about fleecing the flock than feeding it. The Temple and its rituals and sacrifices pointed to Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice. It wasn’t put there so enterprising individuals could get rich off of it.
The real Temple was the Temple of Jesus’ body. Jesus so passionately loved and cared for this world and for the sorry state of lost humanity that He laid down His life to save ours.
When therefore 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.