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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2007-06-24

Text: John 2:13-25

We have already seen in chapter 1 of John's Gospel that Jesus is the Word of God (1:1), the Lamb of God (1:29, 36), the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews (1:41), the Son of God, and the King of Israel (1:49). We have also seen in chapter 2 how Jesus began to prove the accuracy and truth of all these descriptions when He worked His very first miracle during a wedding feast in Cana. 

Now we will see Jesus continuing to demonstrate the truth of these descriptions by purifying the Temple. What Jesus did at that Temple in Jerusalem showed that He was truly the King no one could oppose, the Son who was zealous for His Father's House, the Messiah who came to restore the spiritual life and purity of His people, and the Lamb who was to be slain for our sin. 

What a glorious picture of Jesus Christ this whole event reveals to us! Let us read this passage (Read John 2:13-25)

I. Sanitising the Temple at Jerusalem (vv.13-17)

A. The Pollutions that Christ Found (v.14)

The first thing mentioned in the passage is what Jesus found in the Temple - things which should not be found there. He found stalls where oxen, sheep and birds were being sold for sacrifices. He also found money-changers sitting at their tables. All this made the temple resemble a commercial bazaar or shopping mall rather than a place of worship. The sound of praise and worship was mixed with all kinds of noise: The jangling of coins being poured out, the bleating of the sheep and lowing of the cattle, and all the sounds of haggling over prices combined together to make such a din, that worshippers in the temple would find it most difficult to pray and commune with God amidst all that noise.

But why were they there and not outside the Temple? The animal sellers had initially been allowed to set up their stalls within the Temple courts only for the ease and convenience of Jewish pilgrims who came from afar to celebrate the Passover and who could not bring sacrificial animals with them to the Temple. And since all animals for sacrifice had to be free from blemishes, those that were sold at the Temple cost much more than those that were sold in the market. Now, this convenience was soon abused and turned into a thriving money-making business. But the chief priests who were the Temple authorities did not mind this abuse at all. Why? Because the rent they collected from the stallholders brought in plenty of revenue to fill their coffers. 

Perhaps you may be wondering why there were moneychangers as well. They were allowed into the Temple also for the sake of convenience: Every year thousands of Jewish pilgrims from foreign lands came to the temple to offer sacrifices there. Some came from Egypt and Syria, others came from Greece and Asia Minor and some came from as far as Babylon and Persia. With thousands of coins of different currencies pouring in from all these places, the animal sellers would need the help of moneychangers to convert them all into the local coinage. Since there was a service charge for each transaction, the moneychangers brought additional revenue into the Temple coffers. 

Now, the moneychangers also had another function. They were authorised to collect the annual Temple tax from every pilgrim. This tax was only half a shekel (which is about 50 cents in our currency) but the moneychangers were allowed to charge 10% commission for collecting the temple tax on behalf of the chief priests. And since the temple shekel was the only kind of currency that could be used to pay this tax, pilgrims also had to pay for currency conversions. From all this we can see what a money-spinning business these money-changers were enjoying there, and what immense revenue they must have brought into the coffers of the Temple authorities. It is estimated that their profits amounted to the equivalent of about S$100,000 a year!

Unfortunately all these sales and money transactions were not being made at a bank or a commercial centre where they should be found, but within the House of God where they should not be found. And with all the accompanying corruption and abuses that resulted from human greed and coveteousness, it became a terrible scandal and desecration of the Temple. To make matters worse, the chief priests were exempted from paying any temple tax, but they were using the collections to live luxuriously like kings. Such was the moral decadence that our Lord Jesus found in the Temple when He came to Jerusalem for the Passover. And it stirred up His resolve to rid the Temple of these pollutions.

B. The Purification that Christ Effected (v.15)

According to v.15, He made a whip out of some cords and drove all the animal sellers and money changers out of the temple. He also overturned the tables of the moneychangers. We can just imagine what great pandemonium there was with all the sheep and oxen rushing out of the temple and people shouting and scurrying everywhere to pick up the coins that fell to the floor.

You will notice that Jesus did this single-handedly, with no help from anyone and yet no one attempted to stop Him or arrest Him. Perhaps everyone there could sense the authority with which He carried out His purifying work. And the whip which Jesus wielded may also have helped. In ancient times the whip was a recognised symbol of royal authority. Here then was Jesus asserting His rights as the true King of Israel!

What is even more interesting is that His act of purifying the Temple had been foretold in the Scriptures 4 centuries before it happened. Let us turn our Bibles to Malachi 3:1-4 'Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. 2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: 3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. 4 Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years.'

Dearly beloved, the day is coming when Jesus will wield His royal authority once more. And this time He will come as the King of kings and Lord of lords to purify the whole world of all sin and unrighteousness. Are you ready for His coming? Or will you be among the many unsaved who will not abide the day of His coming? The Lord Jesus calls you to repent and be saved now, while there is still time to do so.

C. The Principle that Christ Stated (v.16)

And whenever Jesus speaks we must obey. In v.16 of our text we see Him speaking His first public words during this visit to the Temple. He said to those who were selling doves there: 'Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.' I want you to take note of the words 'my Father's house' in this verse, for they reveal that Jesus cleansed the temple not only as a King, but also a Son - the only begotten Son of God! When He was at that same temple 18 years earlier, He had said to Joseph and Mary, 'Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?' (Luke 2:49) Now, here He was in His Father's house again, occupied with His Father's business! And who can tell what a father's interests are better than a son can?

As God's beloved Son, Jesus would naturally love His Father's House and be most concerned about its use or abuse. And since we have now become God's children by adoption, we should be just as concerned about our Father's house as Jesus was. We should love the proper use of God's House for worship, prayer, communion, instruction and fellowship. And conversely we should have a great dislike for the improper use of God's House like commercial, money-making ventures. 

Jesus stated an important principle in v.16 - that God's house must never be made a house of merchandise. Nothing deserves greater contempt than the commercialisation of religion for selfish purposes! And yet such horrible abuse has happened again and again in church history. In the 16th century it was the sale of Indulgences for Rome. A monk named Johann Tetzel even created a catchy little jingle to boost his sales 'When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul out of Purgatory springs!' In recent times it has been the sale of miracles of healing. The so-called 'seed money' solicited from thousands who want healing has financed the expensive lifestyle of charlatan evangelists. Therefore whenever such abuses are found within God's House, they must be totally and quickly removed. 

Perhaps you may ask, 'How about the sale of Sunday lunch coupons or Christian books in the church premises?' These are fine as long as they are run as a ministry where no one in our church stands to gain a single cent from them. But if someone in our midst makes some profit out of them, it is no longer a ministry but a business. Let us ensure that we always uphold the principle that God's house must not be made a house of merchandise. 

One way that this principle is violated is when people come for worship on Sundays to find more potential clients for their own businesses or even to execute their business transactions. One brother who is in the insurance business has told me that he makes it a point never to approach any fellow worshipper to buy insurance policies from him. But if someone in church happens to know that he sells insurance and approaches him for it, he will only do the transaction with him on weekdays and not in church. I thank God for what this brother told me, and I trust that we may each do our part to keep the church from becoming a house of merchandise. 

Let us us have the same zeal for God's house that our Lord Jesus had, as recorded in the words of v.17 'The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.' Now, the words, 'eaten me up' in this verse may have an additional sense - not only to be consumed with zeal, but also in the process, being consumed because of that zeal. This leads us now to the next part of our message which is about a different kind of temple from the one in Jerusalem.

II. Sacrificing the Temple of His Body (vv. 18-22)

The act of cleansing the Temple instantly created a deep rift between Jesus and the chief priests who exercised authority over the Temple. This rift was widened further when Jesus did it again after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (which we commemorate as 'Palm Sunday'). This time, our Lord was even less sparing with His rebuke to them. 

Let us look at the account of this as given in Mark 11:15-18 'And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him'

Notice that v.18 says that the scribes and chief priests now 'sought how they might destroy Him.' Doesn't that remind us of what Jesus had said to them when they had asked Him for a sign? He said 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' As the omniscient Lord, Jesus already knew more than 3 years beforehand that these chief priests and scribes would seek to destroy Him and that they would succeed. This verse shows in no uncertain terms that Christ was already heading toward Calvary's Cross from the very beginning of His public ministry. It confirms that His purpose in coming into the world was to be the Lamb of God to die for sinners. And He never shrank from fulfilling that purpose.

Dear friends, here is something you must think about: Jesus came to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sinners like you and me. But have you put your trust in Him to be your sacrifice? If you have not, please realise that it is an inexcusable sin not to trust in Christ, because of all that He has done to give up His life for sinners. 

Now, Christ willingly submitted to being arrested, tried unjustly and handed over to the Romans to be crucified. But since His life was absolutely perfect and sinless, the chief priests had great difficulty coming up with a suitable charge that can be used against Him. But they finally found one by using the words which Jesus had said to them in v.19 - 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' (cf. Matthew 26: 61). To them it is utterly unthinkable that the temple building should be destroyed.

But Jesus was not speaking about the Temple building at all. Verse 21 makes it clear that the Temple He was speaking about was His body - The earthly body which He possessed from the time He was born into this world. Why did Jesus call His body a Temple? Actually every living person is like a house. You have a body which is the physical part of you, and a soul which is the spiritual part of your being. Throughout your earthly life, your body is the dwelling place of your soul. 

In the same way, the body which Jesus had was His bodily dwelling. Since the word 'temple' means a place where God dwells, and since Jesus is God Himself, the body of Jesus is truly a temple. In fact, all the furniture and parts of the Temple in Jerusalem pointed to Jesus Christ and were designed to teach God's people about Christ and His ministry - E.g. the huge curtain which separated the Holy place from the Holy of the Holies represented His flesh (Hebrews 10:20). And this curtain suddenly ripped into two from top to bottom at the very moment when Jesus died on the cross (Matthew 27:51)!

Coming back to our text in John 2:19, I would like you to observe that when Jesus said, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' He was replying to a request from the Jews for a sign that would prove His authority over the Temple. Now, how did this answer their question? It did so in at least two ways. 

Firstly, the authority that the Jews claimed to have over the Temple was very limited. In Israel's history, even King David was denied the right to build it. God gave His son, King Solomon the right to build the Temple, and the priests from the tribe of Levi were authorised to serve God inside it. But because of sin, God sent the Babylonians to destroy the Temple in 586 BC, and the Jews had no temple to worship in for about 60 years. It was only when God authorised Zerubbabel and Jeshua, to to rebuild the Temple that it was raised up again. Hence we see that all authority over the temple of Israel came from God. 

This helps us to understand why Jesus said to the religious leaders, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' This statement showed them up as having no real authority over the Temple buildings. None of them had any poweror authority to build or raise up a temple, let alone decide on what should be allowed within its courts. But Jesus had every right and authority to do whatever He wished to do in the Temple because He is able to raise it up!

Secondly, whatever jurisdiction the Jews could claim was only over a building. Jesus is so much greater than them because His jurisdiction is over His own body which is a far greater temple than the building. In the building the Jews worshipped a God they could not see. But through the body of Jesus sinners could meet God face to face. 

In the building the Jews offered their sacrifices repeatedly to atone for their sins. But in the body of Jesus, sinners have a perfect sacrifice that was made once and for all time! Therefore if the Lord Jesus is able to raise up the superior temple of His body from destruction, then surely He must also have every right and authority over the inferior temple building to dictate what should or should not be allowed within its courts. 

And this is something that no human authority can ever claim to do, because it means raising one's own dead body back to life. The best that men can do is to raise up dead physical structures like tall buildings and huge bridges, but no man has power to give life or to raise the dead back to life! That power belongs to God alone. And God's authority exceeds every other authority in this world and beyond. This verse, John 2:19 contains the earliest prediction made by Jesus Christ about His own resurrection 'in three days I will raise it up.' This is where He first revealed what was to become the greatest miracle of all time: His resurrection on the third day after His death on the cross. It is the miracle that settles any question about His authority.

And the authority that Christ has by virtue of His resurrection must lead us now to consider the authority He has over our lives. Dearly beloved, by virtue of His resurrection from the dead, Jesus claims authority over your life! If you were to ask, 'What right does Jesus have to demand my trust and obedience?' the answer is found right here: Christ died to be your Saviour, but He rose victorious from the dead to be your Lord and Master. Will you submit to His authority? Will you surrender your will to do His will? 

Just as Jesus rightfully purged the Temple of all its pollutions, He has every right today to come to you and demand that you put your sins away. He has every right to demand the removal of all the idols you have laid up in your heart. He has every right to demand that you forsake everything that should not be found in the temple of your heart. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, 'What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?' This brings us to the third temple of God that we want to consider this morning.

We have already seen that the first two temples of God were the temple building at Jerusalem which Jesus cleansed. and the temple of His own body which Jesus sacrificed later on. Now we come to the 3rd temple of God, which is your heart.

III. Searching the Temple of Men's Hearts (vv. 23-25)

The heart is the seat of the soul, and Proverbs 4:23 tells us that out of it are the issues of life. Romans 10:10 tells us, 'For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness' It is only by believing in Christ with all your heart that you are saved. But there is vast a difference between believing that Jesus can save you and believing in Jesus to save you. It is the difference between having a professing faith and having a possessing faith. Dear friends, what we need is a possessing faith. 

In v.23 we are told that many people in Jerusalem believed in the name of Jesus Christ 'when they saw the miracles which He did.' The last part of this verse reveals that their belief was prompted by what they saw. Perhaps they had seen Jesus healing the sick, or opening eyes of the blind, etc. And if anyone were to ask them for their opinion about Jesus, they would perhaps answer without hesitation that He is a great prophet or teacher who has come from God (cf. 3:2). 

But v.24 tells us that Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men. Something about their faith caused Him to refrain from trusting Himself to them. Perhaps He could see that their belief was merely a professing faith, a faith based on the miracles they had seen. They did not have a possessing faith, a faith that demands no miracles to substantiate it and sustain it. Perhaps Christ could also see their motives for coming to Him and professing to believe in His name. Some may have done so with the most selfish motives. 

According to verses 24-25, 'Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.' Dear friends, let us learn an important lesson from these words. If you belong to Christ He is dwells in the temple of your heart. He sees and knows everything in your heart, and nothing can be hidden from Him. He knows you better that anyone else - even better than you know yourself! 

Are there any motives in your heart that are unworthy of Him? Are you tolerating sins in your life that grieve Him? How long will you allow them to reside with Him in your heart? Please do some necessary 'house-cleaning' and put them away now, or else Christ Himself may one day have to do the house-cleaning for you - and it may not be a very pleasant experience for you when He does this. You may feel the painful but loving lashes of his scourge of small cords driving out all the sins that you have not dealt with.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25