Sunday Message for 7 March 2021: “Temple-Tantrum?”
Posted On February 10, 2021
Today’s message focuses on a dramatic incident. All four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) reveal this peculiar episode which depicts a very different Jesus.
Jesus had visited Jerusalem during the high holy season of Passover. What Jesus saw happening in the outer temple area aroused his rage such that he made a weapon and attacked, damaging property and disrupting commerce. “Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables” (John 2:15). This is the only biblical record of Jesus being physically aggressive.
What upset Jesus? Jesus didn’t like that God’s holy Temple was being used by profiteers in conducting business. “…Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2:16b). Behind all this is a foundational problem with the strict Jewish law. The priests who controlled access to the temple and who performed the animal sacrifices required people to exchange their tainted money for ceremonially pure coins, those without the offensive image of a secular leader, like the Roman emperor, who was worshipped as a divine being.
Jews arriving in Jerusalem seeking to dutifully perform their sacrifices often arrived with only the improper coins, those emblazoned with the profile of a Roman emperor. Such money was considered unholy, pagan and corrupt. People needing to buy a sacrificial animal had to first trade-in their impure coins. Likely outraged by scandalous monetary exchange rates, Jesus decided to unleash physical attacks, driving his points home with whacks rather than with mere words.
Jesus’ whip of cords was a serious weapon, similar to the whip which Pilate later ordered used against Jesus as part of the scourging before the crucifixion. Jesus’ public violence is so out of character as to be one of the most disturbing acts in the gospel story. Christian literature refers to Jesus’ actions as “cleansing the temple.” Yet this was no routine cleaning because Jesus did more than maneuver a broom and quietly sweep tracked dirt. Truly, in this situation Jesus physically expressed his righteous wrath. Never thought that the Lord would result to violence? Well, this well-documented story of the temple fiasco proves otherwise.
If either the Romans or the Jewish authorities wanted to catch Jesus in something for which he could have been arrested then Jesus’ temple violence was it. The occupying Romans wanted peaceful submission from their subjects, and they would stop at nothing to ensure calm. Roman cohorts patrolled Jerusalem as part of the garrison protecting Governor Pilate and deterring violence. Guards who were not far away would have been alerted to the mayhem and rushed to the scene to arrest or kill an apparent madman. That Jesus wasn’t accosted in this way remains a topic of speculation.
It’s unlikely that Jesus could have eluded the authorities for what was at the very least would have been perceived as vandalism, assault, and disturbing the peace. Scripture is silent in connecting persecution of Jesus with his temple violence. Perhaps it is too embarrassing to even suggest that Jesus had an anger management issue that day or that his public violence might have contributed to his eventual demise. Yet, it is likely that Jesus’ subsequent arrest and crucifixion are inseparably tied to the temple incident.
Despite his uncharacteristic behavior in the temple, Jesus exercised restraint. After all, as the Son of God he might have done something far worse, such as calling killer angels to slaughter everyone in the temple area. It is unknown if Jesus’ closest followers were with him in the temple or if the story of the incident was later passed-down to his disciples. Whatever the case, we are left with indelible images of a different side of Jesus’ behavior.
How do you reconcile the Jesus you thought you knew with the one who wielded a weapon and attacked? What would Jesus do today? Imagine the Lord visiting the fast-food court of a megachurch, stopping by a food dive called “Blessed Burger.” What if he began overturning the greasy grills, crying, “You have turned my Father’s house into an overpriced health hell!”
Consider another modern scenario, on the societal level, about what Jesus might do in decrying economic injustices. What if he appeared on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and started pulling network cables out of the computers. Perhaps Jesus would be accusing the equities traders of greed and avarice, of placing money above loving neighbor. All these situations suggest parallels between ancient history and today’s worship of the . . . Almighty Dollar.