Jesus Clears the Temple

I’ve been reading a growing selection of Orthodox authors. In my reading of Orthodoxy, I’ve encountered other ways of reading Scripture besides the primary historical-grammatical-contextual approach. While that approach is essential in placing the story in its original setting (and therefore finding the original meaning), there is far more going on in any given text that a single, historical meaning. Allow me an example.

I read John 2 this morning. This passage has two sections to it, one is Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana and the second is the temple clearing. It is with the temple clearing that I’d like to suggest a “spiritual” meaning (if you please). 

Here is the account of the temple clearing from John 2:13-25:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts he found people 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 courts, 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! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then responded to him, “What 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.” They 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. Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

Jesus’ clearing of the temple is often called an enacted parable. That simply means that Jesus physically does on a small scale what his words are referring to on the larger scale, namely, in this case, the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. While Jesus’ action caused temple functions to cease for a short period of time, what Jesus was pointing to caused the temple functions to cease permanently (as there is no temple in Jerusalem). This is important historically as it gives sufficient reason for the Jewish leaders to loathe Jesus, though their loathing of Jesus was due to their radical misunderstandings of true religions (James 1). Jesus was perfectly righteous in his actions…all of them. But, commenting on this only emphasizes the historical-contextual approach. Allow me move into my “spiritual” reading.

In 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul says our bodies are the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus promises that he will dwell with his people (Mt. 28:18-20). The idea of the God the Holy Spirit (“who with the Father and Son is worshiped and glorified” – from the Nicene Creed) indwelling believers is not a foreign concept to Scripture nor to believers. The idea of our bodies being a temple might be lost on people from day to day, but the reality is nonetheless true. We were made for relationship with God. Our purpose was to live, work and rest in full communion with God. Our bodies, minds, strength and souls were to be wholly his, temples for his eternal presence. But, sin broke that union and brought disunity and idolatry into the human temple. Now, where humans were designed to worship and relate to God, we worship ourselves and are unable to perfectly relate to God or his creation. 

What am I saying? Just like the temple of Jesus’ day needed to be cleared, so too our hearts must be cleared before we can rightly worship God. Our hearts, much like the temple of John 2, is a den of robbers and thieves. We are idolaters, whether we worship things or ideas. We allow filth in plant roots in our hearts. And, Jesus is coming to clean it. The disciples recalled a verse from the Old Testament in which they saw Jesus’ zeal for the house of God. Jesus demonstrated that zeal by driving out the animals and overturning the tables. He wanted the filth gone and for true worship to offered again. 

That’s just what Jesus does in our own hearts and bodies. Our temple of the Holy Spirit is in need of shaking up. What Jesus does in revealing our own sin will be more disruptive in our own lives as he brings to our attention every sinful thing we hold dear. But, the temple must be cleared. If not, judgment will come. And, for the temple of John 2, judgment came. When the Romans came, the temple functions ceased permanently. In the same way, if we do not repent and cleanse the idolatry from our temple, judgment will come. And the judgment will be permanent.

This reading does not remove the historical significance of John 2. Rather, after establishing the historical meaning, this reading allows the Spirit to continue illuminating the words of Scripture to the hearts of its’ readers. The Holy Spirit illuminated this in my reading and it has been personally edifying. I’ve been encouraged as I continue to see the Spirit work through the Scriptures. The Lord continues to speak to his children, calling them home, calling them to himself.


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