Sermon Commentary for Sunday, March 3, 2024

John 2:13-22 Commentary

So far in Lent we’ve reflected on why we should we heed Jesus’s call to repent and believe that the Kingdom of God has come near, and we’ve realized that we have no idea how God works but that we need to follow him on the crucifix journey in order to learn. This week we join Jesus in the temple.

In the Word Biblical Commentary for John, George R. Beasley-Murray makes a good case for reading this text primarily Christologically, not ecclesiologically. Jesus is laying the foundations of a pivotal mental model shift that will lead Christianity in a totally different direction than Judaism when it comes to thinking about the temple/church.

Which is not to say that what Jesus does here has no ecclesiological significance. Let’s start with the problem, as Jesus sees it. He and his disciples go to Jerusalem and as they enter the temple, it looks and sounds more like a marketplace than a house of prayer. The buying and selling of animals for sacrifices was a necessary activity; the issue is where it’s happening: it’s crowding out the only space available to the Gentiles for prayer. So as Dale Bruner describes it, the animal sales are a “legitimate happening in illegitimate space” because it is cutting off communion with God for a certain group of people. (And we might add, it’s not much of a positive evangelistic witness.)

Jesus clears out the space so that people can commune, feel at home, with the Father again. That is a significant reminder about the purpose of physical worship spaces worthy of our reflection. Are we cutting off people’s access in any way? How? Why? Even if the reasons are legitimate or started out with good motives—like trying to make it easier for some to participate by having animals ready onsite—who is being pushed out?

Such reflection takes on even more significance when we remember that what Jesus is doing here is not just building an ecclesiology for his followers, he is also revealing important things about himself. That’s what makes this passage ultimately about Christology (which then informs our understanding about what it means to be his church).

The moneychangers and animal sellers demand Jesus prove his authority to kick them out. As they often do at the temple, they want to know who Jesus thinks he is, trying to be the boss of them—after all, prophets have to prove themselves. Jesus gives them a sign, but it is far from immediate. He commands them to destroy the temple—he’ll raise it in three days. I appreciate the NET Bible’s translation note: this command is meant to be understood ironically, like “Go ahead and destroy the temple and see what happens.”

It’s ironic because they think he means the physical building, but Jesus is cryptically saying that HE is the temple. That’s his sign. That’s his authority. He is and will be the place for communing with the Father, the way to be at home with God for all God’s people.

And Jesus is zealous about it. He will do so much more in his incarnated ministry, talk so much about gathering his sheep, breaking down the barriers that exclude us (anyone!) from the presence of God. His entire life, death, resurrection, and ascension is about making God’s presence our home. It’s the atonement in a nutshell. As Beasley-Murray summarizes, “The risen Lord is the ‘place’ where the glory of God is revealed, where his forgiveness and renewal are experienced, and where fellowship with God is grounded and forever maintained.”

Of course, nobody understood it in that moment, not even the disciples. And that’s okay. But that doesn’t let us (or them) off the hook for thinking about what it means. It’s like the problem in the temple that led to this revelation from Jesus in the first place. What things have gotten in the way of fellowship with God? What systems and structures, ways of talking and describing belief and faith have become prescriptive and are now actually causing harm?

Though many Christians stayed connected to Jewish temples for centuries, the Christian church was identified with those who gathered together in one another’s homes for hospitality and fellowship across social boundaries. They worshipped, celebrated the sacraments together, and discussed the teachings that helped them encourage each other to “keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of their faith.” (Heb 10.25, 12.2) Being the body of Christ, the church, is something that we continuously participate in—the Holy Spirit builds what it looks like through us. It is maybe less “plug and play” than we think.

What needed to be razed so that the right foundation could be built upon? For one thing, the sacrificial system—Jesus took care of that. For another, the divisions of welcome into particular areas of the temple—Jesus took care of that too when his death caused the innermost temple curtain to rip from top to bottom. And based on Jesus’s own zeal in the temple clearing, what needs to go? What needs to be deconstructed so that the right foundation, Jesus himself, can be seen and known? Anything that stands in the way of being at home with God. That can be sin just as much as it can be the rules, practices and expectations we’ve set in place to guard against sin. Jesus was already leading the deconstruction movement 2000 years ago. He is more than happy to have people find him amidst the rubble of shattered systems and structures. May we find our true faith home with him.

Textual Point

Dale Bruner highlights the growing trust the disciples had for Jesus in John 2. As they witnessed the miracle of water turned into wine at Cana, they “believed in him.” (v 11) Now, as they watch him in the temple, they remember a Scripture (v 17, from Psalm 69.9). Then John catapults us forward in the story to mark this moment with another instance of the disciples remembering: Jesus’s words about rebuilding the temple in three days came to mind again after Jesus’s resurrection (v 22). It was then that the disciples not only trusted Jesus, but they believed the scripture and what Jesus said. It can take a long time to lay a good foundation.

Illustration Ideas

Anglican Bishop Todd Hunter has a new book out called What Jesus Intended: Finding True Faith in the Rubble of Bad Religion. I haven’t read the book, but have heard Hunter interviewed about it. I mention it because of the subtitle. The physical temple would be in ruins in AD 70, but Jesus is talking about himself as the temple: true Christian religion and faith needs to be founded upon him. So from the deconstructed rubble of what was our foundations, we rebuild with Christ as the true cornerstone.

2023 was a big year as AI went mainstream with ChatGPT. People had a lot of fun describing a scene to AI and asking it to make an image. This one went around the internet as an example of how wrong AI could get things. It’s of “Jesus flipping over the money tables in the temple”:


Jesus has him some zeal, but it’s not the kind of zeal of which the Psalmist spoke. And look how empty the place is—it betrays the context and the issue Jesus was taking with the marketplace atmosphere created in the temple’s outer court.


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