Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables. And he said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up."
So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.
- John 2:13-22
Yesterday, we read that there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine." Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it." Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water." And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast." When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!" This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.
Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. How do we understand that Jesus' ministry lasted three years? John's Gospel gives us three Passovers, altogether, that Jesus will attend. This is the first one during His ministry.
And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables. And he said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up." Unlike the other Gospels, this act of cleansing the temple occurs early in John. Perhaps that suggests to us its significance, a kind of central importance to His ministry and teachings, and identity. He is acting as Messiah while not openly declaring Himself otherwise. It reminds us that you cannot serve God and mammon. We remember also that it is John who teaches us that Judas betrays Jesus in part because he is a thief, and suffers from the sin of covetousness. This display of vigorous action on Jesus' part is rare and unusual, and teaches us about His true zeal. The Scripture remembered by Jesus' disciples is from Psalm 69: "I have become a stranger to my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s children; because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me" - Psalm 69:8,9.
So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" By the time that John's Gospel was written, persecution in the synagogues had become fierce against the followers of Christ. The term "the Jews" is used here like that of a political party, and is most frequently used in John's Gospel to denote the religious leadership. Here, it's used for the chief priests and elders in the temple. John's Gospel gives us seven signs of Christ's messianic identity as Son. The leadership are asking for a sign from Jesus of His authority to cleanse the temple. Jesus is not a Levitical priest, and therefore His authority is challenged.
Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. The only sign Jesus will give will be "the sign of Jonah" (see Matthew 12:38-42) to which He alludes here. And we're introduced to a common literary device used by John in this passage. Jesus is speaking of the temple of His body, but the leadership understand only that He speaks of the great temple as reconstructed by Herod. The reader is given to understand the deeper meaning. My study bible says, "As Christ is careful not to reveal Himself to scoffers, He answers in a hidden way: the ultimate sign will be His death and Resurrection."
There's a kind of strange whodunnit sense to the Gospels. "Hidden in plain sight," Christ is steeped in mystery. Who is He, really? Even when we know Him as the Son, we still have to ask, "Who is He really?" It's like a detective story, only in reverse. We know who "the murderers" are -- in some sense, it's the whole of a sinful humanity, and it's the one who was a murderer from the beginning. But the Gospels are like a detective story in that they open up to all of us the mystery of Who Christ is, and each of us, like amateur detectives -- even among the professionals -- are invited to pursue this mystery. The ultimate answer is, of course, God. God is the author, and this is God's story. But that just gets us started into the mystery. What and Who is God? Who is the Son? Better yet, how does the Son want me to live my life? What is God's story telling me? What is it I need to know now? The mystery of Christ begins here in this story in the temple. The leadership has a kind of mystery on its hands, and one it doesn't like at all. Who is this Man who has taken it upon Himself to cleanse the temple? Who is He to cast out these money changers and animal sellers? In the context of the fullness of the Gospels, we probably get the idea that they know darn well what He's getting at, given His criticism of their methods and their way of being "shepherds." Their question as to His authority is really like so many of their questions in this story of Jesus: they wish to entrap and condemn. But all of that forms the mystery into which we are invited to investigate; a better word for our action might be to discern. God's story, in some sense told throughout all of the Scripture both Old and New, invites us in to ask our own questions, and beckons us to participate by finding the answers that are there for us, hidden in plain sight. It's a story that continually invites us in for more, a mystery that beckons us to go deeper. As one Christian education teacher I know is fond of saying, "This isn't your story or my story. It's God's story." And that's why we have to pay attention. But God's story is the one that asks us in to participate, in relationship with Him. And that is the whole point. Let's begin with this first great public act of Jesus' ministry placed here in John's Gospel. What is it telling you? How does it invite you in to think about your life, in His light? What do we go to His house for? And whom do we worship there?