Thursday, October 20, 2011

In His Father's House (John 2:13-18)

Some thoughts regarding Jesus' cleansing of the temple recorded in John 2, in light of the words of Malachi:

"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like a fuller's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years (Malachi 3:1-4).

"The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem," (John 2:13).

What is the Passover and why is it significant to Jesus ministry? Passover is a feast, commanded by God, commemorating God's rescuing of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb, and thus their creation/establishment as a nation (Exodus 12). The Passover was the first of three annual festivals at which all men were required to appear at the sanctuary (Exodus 23:14-17). Passover is associated with the feast of unleavened bread, the week during which leaven was rigidly excluded from the diet of the Hebrews (Exodus 23:15). Passover is also related to the 10th plague - the death of the firstborn in Egypt. The death of Jesus at Passover time is quite significant. Paul calls Christ, "our Passover," (1 Cor. 5:7). Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians, chapter 5, that Christians must put away old leaven of malice and replace it with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:8). John applies the command from Exodus 12 not to break a bone of the Paschal lamb to the death of Jesus.

The Passover lamb and the physical rescue of Israel from Egyptian bondage foreshadows and points toward the Passover lamb that was to come and release spiritual Israel from their bondage to sin. That lamb is Jesus. This is what John the Baptist is calling to mind when he calls Jesus the Lamb of God (John 1:29); this is what Jesus is referencing at the Last Supper, when he associates the Passover Seder supper he and his disciples were sharing, with the sacrifice he was about to make of his body and blood on the cross (Matthew 26:26-29). Just as the first covenant was established by blood, Christ's blood establishes the second. Jesus is, at the Last Supper, showing that the Passover lamb pointed to him.

"In the temple, he found that those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there," (John 2:14).

Why would people be selling animals in the temple? The necessary animals for the prescribed sacrifices had to be available, especially for those who had traveled a long distance; it would not be practical for most people to bring their own sacrifice (Lenski, 205). A temple tax was also required of all Israelites 20 years of age and older (Exodus 30:11-16). Again, those coming from long distances would require the services of a money changer, in order to convert foreign currencies to the proper weight/denomination coin needed for the temple tax.

"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," (John 2:15).

Jesus whipped these people with the scourge and destroyed their property. Are Jesus actions sinful? If not, why? We know that Jesus' actions are not sinful, because Scripture tells us. Jesus was without sin (2 Colossians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22). Jesus' anger, however, stems not from hatred, but from love - love for his Father, and his Father's house. God the Father shows his approval for the cleansing of the temple by giving Jesus' actions power. Jesus had "emptied himself" (Philippians 2:7) of his divine power, though not his divinity. He, therefore, had to demonstrate perfect faith and rely on the Father to exercise his divine power for him. There was a crowd of "them" and only one Jesus. If the merchants, who presumably had permission to sell in the temple were in the right, why did they not resist this one, lone wack-a-do, who was attempting to beat them with his homemade whip? Lenski offers an explanation:

"As God's Son, who has the Son’s right in this house and the Son's power over this house, Jesus uses his right and his power. And the Father supports his Son by lending his act power to drive these temple desecrators out to the temple gates in wild flight. By this word, "my father's house," Jesus attests both his Sonship, and his Messiahship," (Lenski, 208).
We also see another example of God the Father confirming Jesus’ authority, when he lends power to Jesus' words in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus' mere statement, "I am he," caused those who had come to arrest him to draw back and fall to the ground (John 18:6).

"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?'" (John 2:17-18).

Who are "the Jews" in verse 18? "The Jews" are, simply, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the teachers of the law - the Jewish religious leaders. In the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were particularly revered by the masses. They controlled the synagogues and schools (Harrison, et. al., 406). The Pharisees, in Jesus time, were the preeminent Jewish sect. They were strict observers and teachers of the Torah. As the historian Josephus explains, the Pharisees believed that in order to live under God's favor, as Israel had in the days of Moses and David, the Jews needed to separate themselves from the Gentiles and their ways and return to strict observance of Mosaic Law. Modern Rabbinic Judaism is most likely a modern-day descendent of the Pharisees (TLSB, 1557). Given their disdain of Gentiles, it would make sense that the Pharisees would be looking for a Messiah who would rescue them from the domination of the Gentile Romans, and restore the autonomous Jewish nation.

Why did the Jews ask Jesus for a sign to validate his actions in the temple? The Jewish leaders asked for a sign of Jesus’ authority, because he was doing things that a regular, everyday, average carpenter did not have the authority to do. He was messing with established temple tradition and regulations. Jesus was, however, doing much more than that, as our verse from Malachi shows us.

In response to their repeated requests for a sign, Jesus basically tells the Jewish leaders that, if they were really faithful Jews - true children of Abraham - they would have already recognized Scripture's description of him, and believed in him (John 8:31-59; Romans 4:12-17; Galatians 4:21-31). Whether or not the Pharisees had some specific "Things The Messiah Will Do When He Gets Into Town" list, I don't know. It is clear, though, that Jesus, by his words and actions here, derives his authority from God the Father. When he is challenged, he quotes, or references, Scripture (John 5:39). Jesus’ words and actions cause his disciples - men who had been taught by John the Baptist and were actively seeking the Messiah described in Scripture - to call to mind important passages of Scripture (John 1:17).