John 2:12-25

John 2:12-25

SERIES: The Gospel of John

Reformation Day in God’s House

SPEAKER: Michael P. Andrus

Acknowledgment of Reformation Day:  Yesterday was a holiday for many Americans, but it was a Holy Day for Christians. Were you aware of that?  Yesterday was Reformation Day, the 475th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  On October 31, 1517, a 34-year-old monk named Martin Luther nailed a treatise containing 95 spiritual concerns on the door of the University Cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany, to protest corruption in the church of his day.  Though he didn’t plan it that way, his actions led to a complete break with the Roman Catholic Church.  Though didn’t plan it this way, I think it is most appropriate that our Scripture text today deals with Jesus’ cleansing of corruption out of the House of God.

But before we get to our text today, I want us to focus for a few moments on the import of the Protestant Reformation.  Luther was a great man of God who reminds me much of the Apostle Peter. He almost always spoke too quickly and often acted before he thought.  Everything he did he did with enthusiasm.  He can be accused of brashness, of vindictiveness, of vulgarity, even of obnoxiousness at times, but one can never accuse him of spiritual apathy.  Always an activist and sometimes a radical, he urged specific reforms upon his superiors in the church.  He was not reticent to question tradition or to challenge the religious establishment. 

Many of the older people reacted against this rebellious upstart, but his home became a meeting place for young people who admired his candor, became convinced by his logic, and were captivated by his Christ.  Luther was heartened by this enthusiastic response from the younger generation.  He wrote in the year after his fateful action in Wittenberg, “I now confidently hope that the true theology of Christ which those men who have grown old in their sophisticated opinions reject, will pass over to the younger generation.” 

We have lost much of the bite and explosiveness of Luther’s message in our churches.  We are more apt to coddle Pharisees than to shock them.  We want to keep the peace, sometimes at the expense of offending God.  Not Luther.  Lewis Chamberlain has written a brief poem whose message hits home with force.  It’s entitled, “Martin Luther.”

If a really

Good man

Could have

Gotten hold of


And chopped


His highs

And filled in

His lows

And taught

Him to function

Within the


Of things

As they are

Luther might

Have grown up


Of managing

His father’s


But by God’s grace that did not happen.  He did not end up working in his earthly father’s foundry but in his heavenly Father’s Church.  Luther wrote one of the great hymns of Christendom, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.  Let’s turn in our hymnbooks to # 26 and sing it with conviction.

Introduction:  The Apostle John was a brilliant writer, not in the sense of using scholarly words or complex grammar, but rather in the sense of making profound ideas simple and pressing home great truths by the perceptive way he arranged his material. It is clearly no accident that he records the story of the cleansing of the Temple right after the story of the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee.  

As you may know, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all indicate that the cleansing of the Temple occurred immediately following the Triumphal Entry in the very last week of Christ’s life, while John puts it here at the very beginning of His ministry.  Some argue, therefore, that there must have been two cleansings of the Temple, and while that is a possibility, it also makes sense to me that John is just arranging his material thematically rather than chronologically.  Either way, the juxtaposition of these two events side by side sets up a startling contrast.

Last Lord’s Day we saw Jesus at the wedding feast as a person who loved people and considered it most appropriate to enhance their enjoyment and celebration of life.  In this event we get a glimpse of quite a different aspect of His character—His righteous indignation.  That was a day of joy; this a day of judgment.  That was a day when He was commended for the excellent wine He supplied; this a day when He was challenged for taking spiritual authority into His own hands. 

Taken together, one might conclude that these two accounts are a summary of Jesus’ entire ministry.  He was both a Savior and a Sovereign Judge.  He was a shepherd with a lamb in His arms, but also a lion with a scourge in His hands.  Paul wrote to the Romans, “Consider therefore the kindness andsternness of God.” (Romans 11:22)  One of the great mistakes of the 20th century is to fail to see that Jesus is to be worshiped in both aspects.  If we only accept the facts about Him that are pleasant to us, and if we overlook or stubbornly refuse to believe about Him the things that do not give us pleasure, then what have we done but created an idol to worship?

I suggest to you an additional thought: both celebration and righteous indignation are needed in our lives as well.  We need to know how to live it up and enjoy life; we also need to know when to get serious and even angry.  The problem with many of us is that we so often mistake the times. 

Let’s read together John 2:12-25:

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 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.

23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

The first thing we find in our story is that …

Jesus takes a drastic action.  (13-17)

He arrives in Jerusalem to worship and celebrate Passover—a most important Jewish feast that falls in the Spring roughly at the same time as our Easter. Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt by the mighty power of God.  You recall that only those who sacrificed a lamb and put blood on the doorposts of their homes were passed over by the angel of death the night before the Exodus.  For over 14 centuries that event had been remembered, in varying degrees of faithfulness, by God’s people.  As Jesus arrives at the Temple for Passover, what does He find?

What Jesus finds in the Temple (14).  He finds a stockyard and a stock exchange.  What in the world were these things doing in the House of God?  Well, believe it or not, there was a reason, for the Law required every adult male within 15 miles of Jerusalem to “appear before Jehovah” at the Temple to make a sacrifice at Passover.  But in addition, tens of thousands of foreign Jewish men, plus many women and children, would make a voluntary pilgrimage to the Holy City for this Feast.  Since everyone was required to make an animal sacrifice and those who traveled great distances could scarcely bring their sacrifices with them, there needed to be some way of purchasing the animals when they reached Jerusalem.

Furthermore, the financial offerings and temple taxes required of every worshiper were accepted only in Jewish currency, so there had to be some means of changing coinage from distant countries into the approved currency.  So to the extent that these peddlers and money changers were performing a necessary service for the worshipers, there was nothing intrinsically evil about what they were doing.  But in this particular situation there were several evil aspects.

First of all, the merchandisers were plying their trade within the temple itself, undoubtedly in what is called the Court of the Gentiles.  Had they conducted their business at the market across the street from the temple, Jesus would perhaps not have objected, or at least not so strenuously.  But here they are overrunning the only portion of the Temple where Gentiles were allowed to congregate and worship. Listen to what Jesus asks of the peddlers, according to the parallel account in Mark 11:17: “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?'”  He was concerned that God’s House be used for worship and communion and that no one be prevented from doing so by the chaos and pandemonium He found there.

The second wrong being perpetrated by the moneychangers and merchandisers seems to be extortion.  In Mark 11:17 Jesus continued, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers.'”  When Jesus accuses them of turning His Father’s house into a den of robbers, it implies that they are plying their trades with dishonesty.  If you have done any traveling overseas, you’re aware of how easy it is to get ripped off when changing money from one currency into another.  The historical evidence reveals this is exactly what was going on here.  Alfred Edersheim, author of The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, tells us that the total profit extracted from a single exchange could be as much as a full day’s wages.[i]

Furthermore, the peddlers of sacrificial animals, according to Edersheim, were in cahoots with the priests.  Every animal used as a sacrifice had to be perfect and unblemished, according to OT Law.  It was an easy thing for the priests to simply reject animals brought in from the outside, forcing the worshipers to buy from the temple merchants, whose animals were all given the seal of approval beforehand.  The merchants in turn paid a commission to the priests for each animal sold.  Of course, the prices were astronomically high.  For example, they were known to charge $4 for a pair of doves worth only a nickel in their currency.

The third wrong, and worst of all, is that they were taking the reverence out of worship by commercializing religion.  Sad to say, this is not unknown even today.  In 1978 I visited a famous cathedral in Mexico City where there was a store inside the church, not 75′ from the chancel where one could buy all manner of paraphernalia from candles to crosses to pictures of your favorite saint at rip-off prices.  And if that weren’t enough, you could also buy a lottery ticket.

We pride ourselves on avoiding such crass commercialism in our church, and I’m glad we avoid it because it’s wrong.  Our Elders believe the ministries of the church should be carried on by free-will offerings and therefore reject virtually all money-raising gimmicks—whether bingo parties, raffles, auctions, bazaars, or car washes.  But perhaps we pride ourselves too soon, for there are other ways of taking the reverence out of worship.  Our prayers can be vain repetition of meaningless jargon.  Our worship can fail to acknowledge the holiness of God, as we come into His presence with unconfessed sin in our lives.  Worship without reverence also occurs when the preacher (or congregation) come unprepared.  

Well, that’s what Jesus found in the Temple. What did He do about what He found? 

What Jesus does about what He finds (15-16). Before we look at verse 15 & 16, let me ask you what you would have done if you had come upon the same situation.  I can imagine some would probably write a letter to the editor of the Jerusalem Times protesting the sacrilegious use of the Temple.  Others might circulate a petition to present their objections to Herod.  Some who are braver might mount a soapbox outside the Temple and denounce the peddlers and moneychangers.  And I know a few who would probably try to get a piece of the action by setting up a booth to sell IXTHUS pins and One Way bumper stickers.  But who in the world would dare do what Jesus did? 

First, He took physical action.  Verse 15 says, “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 moneychangers and overturned their tables.”  Second, He took verbal action.  He said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”  The key to understanding Jesus’ action seems to be that phrase, “my Father’s house.”  If someone were trespassing on our private property by setting up a flea market, most of us would get pretty upset.  Well, to Jesus the Temple was private property—it belonged to His Father, and they were guilty of trespassing. 

What the Scriptures say about what He does (17). Jesus’ action was a fulfillment of prophecy, for verse 17 tells us that His disciples remembered the 69th Psalm.  That is a Psalm of David which is quoted frequently in the NT as a Messianic Psalm.  That is, it speaks not only of David’s situation but, in addition, many of its statements have an application to the Coming Messiah, particularly this statement, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  Love and concern and jealousy for God’s house and the true worship of the Lord were an absolute obsession for Jesus.  He couldn’t rest until He had righted the grievous wrongs before His eyes. 

Let me ask all of us today: what is it that consumes us?  Is it zeal to make more money?  Is it zeal in the pursuit of sports or a hobby?  Is it zeal for knowledge?  Is it zeal for politics?  Or is it possible that zeal is lacking entirely from our lives—are we just apathetic and indifferent? 

I fear that few of us in the evangelical church today could honestly say, “Zeal for my Father’s House consumes me.”  And here I’m not referring to a building, for God no longer dwells in a Temple in the same sense He did prior to the death of Christ.  The House of God today is the Body of Christ, the Church, the family of all true believers.  Would we want our zeal for God’s family to be measured by the degree to which we sacrifice financially that it might increase and prosper?  Would we want it measured by our willingness to serve our fellow-believers or our desire to fellowship with them?  Would we want it measured by the degree we become righteously indignant when injustice is done in the name of the Christian faith, whether that injustice is moral, financial, racial, or political?  How do we stand up under the scrutiny of that searching Psalm: “Zeal for my Father’ House consumes me?” 

Do I dare offer one other exhortation by way of application? Before we try to reform society and bring it in line with Christian values, should we not first make sure that Christian values are being practiced in the Church?  1 Peter 4:17 reads, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”  Should we be demanding that our government adopt an amendment to allow voluntary prayer in the public schools when statistics show that fewer than 2% of professing Christians pray as much as 2 minutes a day in their private lives and less than 1% regularly attend a prayer service at their church?  Jesus didn’t try to cleanse society but rather the Temple, knowing that when people become rightly related to Him, they can turn the world upside down. 

Now in the second movement in our story we find that …

Jesus makes a dramatic claim (18-22)

Our Lord’s action apparently takes the Jewish leaders totally by surprise, but they regroup and return to challenge Him in verse 18.  

The Jews request a sign. (18)  “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”  It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic, wouldn’t it?  They know they’re in the wrong.  They know they have no business whatever ripping off the poor in the name of religion.  They know they don’t have a moral leg to stand on.  So, they take refuge in a debating technique we’ve seen plenty of in this election year—they attack Jesus’ person in this case by questioning His authority. 

There’s a certain rationale to this question about authority.  You see, the Jews expected God to perform mighty acts when the Messianic age dawned.  Thus, their own test for all self-appointed Messiahs was, “Can he do the miraculous signs of Messiah?”  They see Jesus’ cleansing of the temple as an intrinsic Messianic claim, and therefore they are demanding that He authenticate that claim by performing some great miracle. 

Perhaps it seems to us that what Jesus should have done is go ahead and perform some startling miracle.  That would have convinced them, and Jesus would then have had the spiritual bigwigs behind Him.  But Jesus never used miracles as a manipulative tool to get the crowds to believe in Him.  He performed miracles out of compassion or as a means of strengthening the faith of His disciples or to reward faithfulness.  But He refused to do them as a gimmick. 

Now it is true that Jesus’ miracles were a powerful witness and that they should have been sufficient to cause people to believe in His Messiahship. Jesus Himself said in 14:11, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” But when challenged by His enemies, whether the priests, the Pharisees, Pilate, or Herod, He always refused to give them any sign other than the sign of Jonah.  That’s what we read in Matt. 16:4: “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”  The sign of Jonah was the Resurrection, for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so the Son of Man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 

Jesus gives them the sign of Jonah. (19)  Look at verse 19: “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.'”  He doesn’t perform a miracle for them, but He tells them about a miracle that He will perform contingent upon their doing something. 

The Jews misinterpret the sign. (20)  They respond in verse 20, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” The Jews were always crass literalists in their dealings with Jesus, and this time is no exception.  They think He’s speaking of Herod’s temple where they are standing, and Jesus says nothing to dissuade them of that misinterpretation.  Jesus often spoke in parables and enigmatic statements to confuse those who were confirmed in their opposition to Him. 

You can understand, of course, why they are so incredulous at His claim, believing, as they do, that He is talking about Herod’s Temple.  For that Temple was a monumental feat of architecture and construction.  It was begun in 19 B.C., and by the time of this incident 46 years had been spent on its construction.  But the temple was not completed until A.D. 64—84 years in all.  The fact that it was not yet completed would serve to heighten their amazement at the claim that Jesus could erect it again in three days.  

Of course, their entire assumption that Jesus is speaking of Herod’s Temple is mistaken, for He is speaking of the temple of His body.  When they kill Him, He will rise from the dead in three days.  By the way, this prediction of our Lord is one that long stuck in the throats of the Jews.  They reminded Him of it at His trial, and even as He hung on Calvary’s cross the Scriptures tell us in Matt. 27:39, “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross if you are the Son of God.'”  Isn’t it sadly ironic that at that very moment His executioners themselves were setting the stage for the sign they asked Jesus to produce. 

His disciples eventually understand the sign.  (21-22) The Jewish leaders weren’t the only ones who misunderstood Jesus’ prediction about rebuilding the temple in three days; so did His disciples.  This is the first of many occasions when Jesus predicts to His disciples that He will rise from the dead, but almost always, as here, they miss the point at the time.  They simply couldn’t get it through their heads that Messiah would have to die before He could reign. 

But like most of us, the disciples have excellent hindsight.  Verse 22 tells us, After he was raised from the dead, the disciples recalled what he had said.  They believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”  It wasn’t hindsight at all, but the ministry of the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised them in His Upper Room Discourse which enabled them to see how the words of Jesus and the predictions of His death and resurrection in the OT were fulfilled.  In John 14:26 Jesus says, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  Now the third and final division of our text is verses 23-25, where …

Jesus refuses a dilettante faith.  (23-25)  A dilettante is an amateur, a dabbler, a shallow person. 

The story of the cleansing of the Temple is finished but the Apostle John adds a very important postscript, and I want us to read it, beginning at verse 23: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.  But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.  He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.”  The import of this brief paragraph is difficult to determine at first examination.  

The key to answering this brief paragraph is found in the word “believe” in verse 23.  You will note that the same word is used of the disciples in verse 22, but the meaning is different.  In Greek, as in English, the word “believe” has a wide range of meaning.  It can mean mere intellectual assent; it can mean a considered opinion; or it can mean a deep and abiding faith and trust. 

In verse 22 it is obviously referring to a deep and abiding faith and trust which the disciples have in the Scriptures and in the words of Jesus.  But in verse 23 the belief is much less than that, and the final phrase in the verse is what gives the crowd away.  It says, “many believed in his name, beholding his signs which he was doing.”  

Many “believed” in Him.  (23)  Their faith was based solely upon His miracles.  So long as they could see Him perform great works of power, they were willing to believe and follow.  This is not an isolated reference to the shallow faith of Jesus’ followers.  Note, for example, 

4:48: “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” 

6:2: “A great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick.”

6:26: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”

It is a great characteristic of Jesus that He refused to cash in on a moment’s popularity.  He did not want followers unless they clearly understood and accepted the cost of following Him.  So, we see that while many “believed” in Him…,

He didn’t believe in them. (24-25). The word “entrust” or “commit” in verse 24 is the very same word in Greek as the word “believe” in verse 23.  Many believed in Him, but Jesus did notbelieve in them.  He had no faith in their faith.  Why?  Because their faith was not genuine, and Jesus knew it.  His knowledge of men’s hearts is profound; in fact, He knows what is in every man’s heart (v. 25). 

What is the point?  You can’t fool Him about the nature of your faith.  There are many people who follow Jesus (or profess to follow Him) but for the wrong motivation.  Some believe in Him because their friends or family believe.  Others believe because of the great moral example that Jesus set by standing up for what is right, no matter what the cost.  Still others because they recognize His miracle-working power in people’s lives today.  And still others believe because they’ve been fascinated by His matchless wisdom as demonstrated by the Sermon on the Mount or other discourses He gave.

I tell you this morning that all of those reasons for believing in Jesus are good but none is sufficient.  The kind of faith generated by such considerations is the same variety as that which characterized these people in Jerusalem who saw Him cleanse the Temple—It is a faith based upon His performance not His Person.  True, genuine, saving faith is faith that rests squarely on the death and resurrection of Christ. 

Conclusion:  May I turn you to 1 Cor. 15:1-4, where the sign of Jonah is spelled out in perfect clarity: 

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”

This is the saving Gospel, the good news in a nutshell—not the fact that Jesus performed miracles, not that He was a good moral example, not that He could preach inspiring discourses, but that He died for your sins and rose again.  If you believe that with all your heart and have staked your eternal destiny on it, I can guarantee you, since the Word of God, that Jesus also believes in you.

DATE: November 1, 1992



Cleansing of the Temple

Zeal for God’s House

Sign of Jonah


[i] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 

John 3:1-15