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John 2:13-25 Study Guide: Clearing Out the Temple

Community Group Study Guide — Cleansing the Temple
John 2:13-25

Main idea:
The temple of God was a place where heaven and earth overlapped in the Jewish mind. They’d offer sacrifice and prayer as they gathered in a place marked by God’s presence. So as the nation gathered in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple to point to his own body as the true and better temple. The ancient temple had fallen short of its purpose over the years and had become a place of exclusivity, injustice and greed. In this passage Jesus points to his own body as the new temple that would bring people into God’s presence through his own death and resurrection. 

Study Information:
John 2:13-17
The gospel of John uniquely highlights the various Jewish feasts like Passover, Tabernacle and Booths. These feasts were given to the people of God to help them remember his acts of deliverance and for them to rehearse the story of their people. John’s unique focus helps us have a good idea of how long Jesus ministered, by measuring out these feasts we can be confident that Jesus’ earthly ministry was around three years. The Passover feast would have drawn people from all over Israel to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. The city would be packed with travelers and Roman soldiers who were brought in with greater numbers to keep the peace since the Jews were celebrating their national holiday about being delivered from slavery to an oppressive nation, Egypt. 

Jesus goes into the temple to clear out the corruption that had developed over the decades before. This action is recorded at two different times in the gospels. John talks about it at the beginning of his ministry whereas the other gospels put it at the end. We often want to harmonize events because the idea of it happening twice may feel uncomfortable to us, but Jesus doing this at the beginning and at the end of his ministry is fitting and would have happened three years apart which indicates that little had changed in the temple practices between him overturning the tables the first and second time. 

Why the outrage and need to clean out the temple?

The temple was designed as a place for God’s people to gather to offer sacrifice and praise and to experience his presence. Over the years various outdoor courts were added to allow for more people to gather. The central part of the temple was the Holy of Holies was the place where God manifested his presence to the high priest who’d enter once a year on the day of atonement. But various other courtyards were designed for people to gather and pray and offer sacrifice, including the court of the gentiles (ethnos/nations). Since people were traveling from all over the nation to come sacrifice, the law of God made provision for people to buy an animal for sacrifice instead of traveling for weeks with one to the city. It appears that various merchants would set up shop down in the Kidron Valley outside the temple, but over the years these merchants moved closer and closer to the temple area even taking up residence in the court of the gentiles. Instead of being a place where you’d hear prayers to Yahweh and people would make sacrifice for their sins, you’d instead hear people haggling over sheep and the changing of money and it all took place in a location reserved for the nations to gather, specifically people who wanted to follow and worship Yahweh but were not ethnically Jewish. To top this off, these merchants would jack up the prices of the animals and skim some money off the top for the money changing. Jesus does not specifically call out these shrewd business practices but he does condemn the taking over of the temple grounds for business. God’s heart for the outsider to worship him is on display here and their injustice towards the nations was something that Jesus was outraged by.

Jesus’ cleansing is intentional and purposeful. He makes his own whip and the language is forceful saying he “drove” them out. We may cringe at the thought of him making a whip, but it would be difficult to move big animals out of the courtyard and there is no specific detail saying he used the whip on people, that would seem to cross an ethical line that is not fitting with Jesus’ character. Yet we cannot downplay the intensity of this act. 

Why was the temple so special? The temple was often referred to as “the house” in ancient Israel and it is said that the Messiah (Christ) would be consumed by zeal for the house (Psalm 69:9). Likewise, we’re told that this house would be a house of prayer for the nations. The prophet Isaiah calls the people of God to act in justice and to be outward focused in seeing those who were from the nations come to faith in Yahweh. Specifically the temple is called a house of prayer for the nations and here the merchants and money changers were preventing the nations from being in the presence of God and offering prayer to him (Isaiah 56:1-7). God cares deeply about marginalizing the outsider and the corruption of the worship of his people.

It would have been startling to see this take place, so no wonder the leaders respond to Jesus by asking him what authority he had to clear out the temple and Jesus’ response directs them to the new temple, the new place where the presence of God was found: himself. 

A Second Exodus
John 2:18-25
The Jewish leaders gather to confront Jesus and instead of discussing how the temple had been defaced he talks about his coming death and resurrection. The Jewish leaders ask for a sign of his authority because cleansing of the temple was an action that carried political ramifications. The last time something like that happened was when Judas Maccabeus cleansed the temple of pagan worship in 164bc which led to an uprising and freedom for God’s people for a time. Jesus’ actions are seen as a claim to be a Messiah, a king. The sign Jesus gives them is pointing forward to his coming death and resurrection. Look back at John 2:13, this event occurred during the Passover, which was a national festival celebrating their freedom from being slaves in Egypt. Jesus chose this place and time to point to the true and better temple in his body which would bring about a second exodus but this time from being enslaved to sin and death. This temple, Jesus says, will be destroyed and raised from the dead. He is the place where heaven and earth meet and even though the disciples did not grasp what he said in that moment they would look back and connect the dots of what he said to what would happen on the cross and the empty tomb. 

Word spread about Jesus and what happened at the temple and many would believe in his name because of signs like the cleansing of the temple and other ones that John does not record in his gospel. Jesus would draw a crowd wherever he went. Pay careful attention to the word believe in the gospel of John because you’ll read about crowds that believed and then a dozen verses later they walked away from Jesus over something he said or did. John wants us to consider what do they believe? Are they actively following Jesus? In one of the most interesting verses in the gospel of John we read that Jesus know their hearts and does not entrust (same word as believe used earlier in the passage) himself to them. Basically it tells us that even though a crowd gathered around Jesus he did not “believe in them.” We each have various motives for following Christ and the Lord knows our hearts, this is a reminder that we ought not follow Jesus for the power he has or for what we can gain from him, God desires pure worship and a heart that helplessly trusts in Jesus for our deliverance. 

The cleansing of the temple points to a second exodus from sin and death and God’s desire for pure worship as we follow Christ in faith. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read John 2:13-25 and Isaiah 56:1-7

What had happened to the temple that caused Jesus to respond the way he did? Does this fit with your understanding of the character and nature of Christ?

What was the temple designed for in the life of the people of God?

How does Jesus point to a second exodus in his response to the Jewish leaders?

We’re told that Jesus knows what is in the human heart and entrusts himself to his people. How does this idea provide comfort or conviction for you this week?