TEXT OF VIOLENCE

2.2 Jesus and the cleansing of the Temple

The Bible is an important book for Christians. It is not a book with one story like Narnia. Nor is it a book full of poems, such as some of Shakespeare’s works are. In addition, it is not a book that contains only facts. No, it is a book that consists of many different types of texts: stories about Jesus, letters from Paul, poetic texts in the Psalms and some texts that are to us such as Revelation. This diversity of biblical texts makes that the Bible raises a lot of questions about what they mean for us today.

This lesson concerns a story of Jesus that still raises many questions about how we should live. This story is contained in the Gospel of John (2:13- 17). It tells how Jesus and his disciples go to the Temple in Jerusalem. There he finds sellers and moneychangers at work in the Temple court. He chases them away from the Temple court with a whip. Then he talks to the leaders of the Jews who are on the Temple court.

Exercise 1

Read the story about Jesus on the Temple court below. Did you already know this story and what do you think it means? Write this down below.

John 2:13–21.

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?”

2.3 The world of the Bible

Jesus lived 2000 years ago at a time when life was vastly different from life today. You can probably imagine that people interacted differently without the internet. There are many more things that make our world completely different from theirs. We can say that they are not alike at all. Knowing what the world of Jesus looked like is important to understand a biblical text. Only then can the meaning of a text become clear for us today. We call the world of the context. The exercises and texts that follow deal with parts of the world of Jesus.

Exercise 2

Imagine that there is a time machine at school. You are lucky and allowed to travel to the time of Jesus. What would you like to learn about the time when Jesus lived?

2.3.1 Jerusalem and the temple

Jesus was born in Bethlehem at about the beginning of our era and lived in the area the Romans called “Palestine” (a region in the Middle East). One place Jesus visited a few times in his life was Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the capital of Palestine.
In the Old Testament it is described that David, the second king of the people of Israel, made Jerusalem his capital. Jerusalem has since that time remained an important place in the religious life of the inhabitants of the area. David’s son, Solomon, built a temple to God in Jerusalem. A temple is a place where people worshipped gods in Old Testament times. This Temple was the center of the religious life of the people of Israel.
The Bible books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and 2 Kings describe that the Babylonians destroyed the Temple because the people had not remained faithful to God and began to worship other gods. This destruction of the temple is dated to 586 BC. A part of the people of Israel was led into exile. Exile means that a large part of the people was forced to live in a different place, far away from where they had grown up. Eventually, the period of the Exile ended when the later rulers, the Persians, allowed the exiles to return and build a new temple.

The construction of this Second Temple is described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. This Temple was less grand and impressive than the first Temple. Around the year 19 BC, Herod the Great initiated a major renovation of the Temple. This renovation was to restore the Temple to its former glory. The new Temple became so impressive that even the Romans considered it a special building. The period after the construction of the second temple is called “second temple Judaism”. This is the period when Jesus wandered in Jerusalem and its surroundings.
The temple consisted of several courts and buildings. As you can see in figure 2.3 the main temple building was surrounded by a large court. On this court also non-Jews were welcome. Inside the main temple complex, there were the Courts of the Women and of the Priests that restricted access to only Jews and priests, respectively. On the Court of the Priest animals were slaughtered and sacrificed. The Holy place was the place where the priests did all their temple work.

Figure 2.3 Photo of a Replica of the Temple of Herod in the Holyland Model of Jerusalem. Source: Wikimedia Commons Exercise 3

Consider why the Jews would have liked to have the Temple rebuilt after the first one was destroyed.

Exercise 4

Consider why the Jews would have liked to have the Temple rebuilt after the first one was destroyed.

A place of worship and sacrifice

The temple at the time of Jesus' life

The temple built at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah

Forced to live in another country, because you are not allowed to live in your own country.

Name of the region where Jesus grew up.

Capital of Palestine

Empire that destroyed the temple in 586 BC.

The court around the Temple building where non-Jews were welcome.

2.3 The world of the story

The Bible contains several books that describe the life of Jesus. We call these books the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each Gospel gives a testimony of the life of Jesus and each writer shows his own perspective. The story of Jesus cleansing the temple appears in all four Gospels. We are going to look at the story as John described it.

Did you know that ‘gospel’ comes from old English ‘godspel’, based on the Latin translation of the Greek word ‘euangelion’? This means ‘good news’ and refers to the good message brought by Jesus Christ.

Did you know that the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke are remarkably similar in order and content? Because of this similarity, they are also called the Synoptic Gospels. ‘Synoptic’ comes from the Greek ‘synoptikos’ which means ‘seen together’. The Gospel of John looks vastly different and contains several stories that you will not find in the other three Gospels

John tells the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple court at the beginning of his ministry. The three other Gospels, on the other hand, tell this story at the end of Jesus’ life, just before he enters his last days. In this story, Jesus travels to the city of Jerusalem and visits the temple. When Jesus enters the Temple, he sees how animals are sold in the Temple for sacrifices and money is exchanged.

When you read a Bible text, you can ask the question: what do I notice about the text? The first thing to notice is that this text is a story. Something else that you can notice is that this story is about Jesus doing something strange himself. This is striking because in most stories it is others who do things that Jesus tells us about.

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.

Money changers exchanged travelers’ money to adequate coins to enable them to pay the temple tax.

This story most likely takes place in the Court of the Gentiles. This was a large court where non-Jews were also welcome. The market was probably in a corner of this court.

Exercise 5

At the beginning of the story, Jesus travelled to Jerusalem. According to the text, why did Jesus go to Jerusalem?

When you are reading a Bible text, it is advisable to look at what is written before or after the text. In the story that precedes the cleansing of the Temple in the Gospel of John, Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. This wedding took place in Cana, a place in the Galilean region where Jesus grew up. After the wedding, Jesus went to Capernaum and a few days later when the Passover feast was approaching, Jesus left for Jerusalem. When Jesus arrived, he went to the Temple and found traders and moneychangers there.

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.”

Exercise 6

How did Jesus respond to what he saw in the Temple? How would you describe his actions? What do you think of this response?

The biblical text does not state that Jesus got angry. Yet, Jesus is often described as angry when people talk about this story. Although it is not stated, the text can be interpreted like this. There seems to be legitimate a reason for Jesus to become angry, namely the presence of merchants and moneychangers in the Temple. It is important to look at what is actually written in the Bible. Sometimes we read a text and see things that are not actually in the text. For instance, there are other ways to describe Jesus’ actions. Jesus could also be described as being sad about the situation in the Temple court. Reading a Bible text to understand what it says is called interpretation.

Exercise 7

What other descriptions of the reaction of Jesus can you think of other than angry and sad?

Jesus makes a whip to chase traders and moneychangers out of the temple. You could imagine Jesus as someone whipping around forcefully with the whip. As you read this, you may be startled by what Jesus does. In the world today, it is hard to imagine anyone doing this in a temple.

The Bible text says that Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers. Jesus also has a whip in his hands. Yet it does not say exactly how Jesus expelled the merchants from the Temple. It is unclear at first glance whether Jesus used physical violence against humans and animals.

If you compare this story with the same story in the other three Gospels, it is striking that these three do not mention a whip. These accounts thus seem less violent than the narrative in John.

Exercise 8

Jesus calls the Temple his father’s house. Who is Jesus referring to? Why would he do this?

The disciples of Jesus remembered a verse from the Old Testament. This text is from Psalm 69 verse 10. In this Psalm, a person is talking who is in a period of suffering due to following God. He lists several difficulties he is experiencing and calls on God to punish his enemies. After Psalm 110, this Psalm is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament.

The disciples respond with a Bible text that says something about Jesus’ actions. The students want to understand why Jesus cleared the Temple court.

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?”

After Jesus sent the merchants and moneychangers from the Temple court, the leaders of the Jews went to Jesus. Jesus was asked what sign proves that he was allowed to do what he did. Asking for a sign meant that the leaders wanted to know by what authority he had acted. Jesus had to demonstrate that he had a good reason and was allowed to drive the merchants and moneychangers out of the Temple. Jesus responded to this question by making a statement about the Temple. He claimed that if they demolish it, he could rebuild the Temple in three days. This is a striking response because it is impossible for the Jews to demolish the Temple so that Jesus can demonstrate his authority.

In the Gospel of John, “the Jews” usually refers to the leaders of the Jews. These are the leaders of the Temple in this case.

When Jesus was alive, many different groups were expecting a different and renewed Temple. The words of Jesus, like for most Jews, would have been blasphemous even to these groups. The rebuilding of the Temple started by Herod the Great and was still ongoing during the life of Jesus. Construction started in 19 BC and was not finished until AD 64.

Exercise 9

Think about what Jesus’ reaction is doing to you. Write down some words that come to mind. What do these words say about how you look at the

We have just covered the familiar part of this story. Jesus talks at the end of this section about breaking down the Temple and rebuilding it in three days. What does this have to do with expelling the merchants and moneychangers? To answer this, you need to read further in the story. At the end of the story, everything would become clear to the disciples.

But he was talking about the temple of his body. After his resurrection from the dead, his disciples remembered saying this, and they believed the Scriptures and all that Jesus said.

John tells in the text what Jesus meant by breaking down and rebuilding the Temple. According to John, Jesus referred to his own body when he referenced to the temple. The temple in Jerusalem was an important place where God’s presence dwelt. Jesus is depicted as a person who disrupted the temple ministry. A possible interpretation is that he wanted to draw attention to the future. John showed throughout the scene and questions that he saw Jesus as the new true temple that replaces the old temple. What this means is that the presence of God has been moved from the original temple to Jesus. Jesus became a new way of getting closer to God, without the need for rituals in the old temple. In his response to the leaders Jesus spoke about his own death, because through his death he showed who he really was. The disciples eventually understood this all when Jesus died on the cross and rose again on Easter.

Exercise 10

Why does Jesus not want the Temple court to be a marketplace?

Exercise 11

What do you think of this story? Do you think Jesus was violent?

Exercise 12

What would you like to ask Jesus about this story?

Figure 2.4 Depiction of Jesus Cleansing the Temple as Stained Glass in the St. Janskerk in Gouda, Netherlands. Source: Wikimedia Click on the finish button to complete the course!

2.4 GLOSSARY

In this glossary, you will find more information and an explanation of certain terms.

Cana
In ancient times, Cana was a small village in Galilee. Galilee was a Jewish region in what was then Palestine (a region of the Middle East). According to the New Testament, Jesus was present at a wedding in Cana, where he turned water into wine.

Capernaum
In ancient times, Capernaum was a small village in Galilee. Galilee was a Jewish region in what was then Palestine (a region of the Middle East). According to the New Testament, Jesus lived in Capernaum. He taught in the synagogue of Capernaum.

Exile
Exile means that a large part of a people group is forced to live in a different place, far away from where they grew up.

Galilee
At the time of Jesus, Galilee was a Jewish region in what was then Palestine. This area was slightly smaller than Belgium today. Jesus spent most of his life in the region of Galilee.

Gospel
The writings of the New Testament in the Bible tell us more about the life of Jesus, about his words and deeds. The New Testament begins with the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These Gospels are written based on faith and serve to demonstrate faith in Jesus as the Messiah. They bear witness to personal faith in Jesus. The words and stories of Jesus are brought together in these writings.
‘Gospel’ comes from old English ‘godspel’, which is based on the Latin translation of the Greek word ‘euangelion’? This means ‘good news’ and refers to the good message brought by Jesus Christ.

Herod the Great
Herod the Great was a vassal king under the Romans who ruled over the region of Judea from 37 BC to 4 BC. Herod the Great did not have the favor of the people. By starting a renovation of the Temple in 19 BC, he hoped to gain the favor of the people.

Holy
Holy is a concept that indicates purity and the separate status of God and everything that belongs to the divine. Holiness was an important concept in Judaism. The most important building of the Temple whole complex was called ‘The Holy Place’.

Interpretation
Interpretation is the act or process of explaining or understanding the meaning of something. When you read the Bible, interpretation occurs when you try to understand what the text means.

Jerusalem
In the time of Jesus, Jerusalem was the capital of Palestine. Jerusalem had not only a temple but also synagogues: this is where the Jews came to pray. Even today, Jerusalem remains an important city for Jews all over the world.
Jerusalem is also an important city for Christians and Muslims. In Jerusalem, Jesus was condemned, crucified, and buried. Christians also believe that he was resurrected here. The apostles began to tell the stories of Jesus in Jerusalem. According to the Islamic tradition, the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven from Jerusalem.

Middle East
Jesus lived in the Middle East. That is why Christianity has its origin in this region. The term ‘Middle East’ refers to the countries of Southwest Asia and some parts of North Africa, such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and so on.

Passover
Passover is a Jewish festival that commemorates the end of slavery in Egypt and the exodus out of Egypt. It is a celebration that commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery. It is celebrated on the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar and lasts seven or eight days.

Palestine
In the time of Jesus, Palestine was a region in the Middle East. After Herod the Great became vassal ruler of this area, it was enlarged. As a result, Jesus lived in Palestine, because Bethlehem, Nazareth and Galilea all lie in Palestine.

Second Temple
The second Temple is the name for the Temple of Jerusalem built at the end of the Exile. It was continuously remodeled from 19 BC to about 64 AD. In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed this Temple. Only one wall of the Temple remained: the western one. This wall / place is now known as the Wailing Wall.

Temple
A temple is a building devoted to the worship of a god or multiple gods. Temples have been built throughout the whole world by different societies for a wide variety of different religions.

Temple of Jerusalem
When Jesus lived, the Temple of Jerusalem was the heart of Judaism: all devout Jews came here to pray and sacrifice. Only Jews were allowed to enter the Temple. Jesus also came here regularly. The Temple used to be the most important building in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the capital / center of Palestine.

REFERENCES

The world of the Bible
Caldecott, W. Shaw and James Orr. 1915. ‘Temple’. In The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia ed. By James Orr et al., 2937-39. Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company.
Dosker, Henry E. 1915. ‘Herod’. In The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, ed.by James Orr et al., Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company. 1379-80.
Earle, Ralph.1966. “The Gospel according to St. Matthew,” in Matthew-Acts, vol. 4, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 35, 40, 52.
Hauser, Alan J. and Earl Kellett. 2016. ‘Herod’s Temple’. In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. by John D. Barry et al. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Herodes de Grote. 27 September 2017, 21:44. In Christipedia. Available from https://christipedia. miraheze.org/w/index.php?title=Herodes_de_Grote&oldid=10289.
Masterman, E. W. G. 1915. ‘Judaea’. In The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia ed. James Orr et al., Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company. 1757
Shepherd, C.E. 2016. ‘Jerusalem’. In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. by John D. Barry et al. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Tempel van Herodes. 20 February 2020, 07:04. In Christipedia. Available from https://christipedia. miraheze.org/w/index.php?title=Tempel_van_Herodes&oldid=22404.
Tempel. 18 August 2018, 06:55. In Christipedia. Available from https://christipedia.miraheze. org/w/index.php?title=Tempel&oldid=15793.
Warrior, Marten. 2016. ‘Exile, Babylonian’. In The Lexham Bible Dictionary ed. by John D. Barry, et al. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Source of the images
2.1 Map of Palestine is an adapted version of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:First_ century_Iudaea_province.gif, released under CC BY-SA 2.5
2.2 Photo of the model of the Temple of Herod is from Wikipedia Commons and is in public domain.
The world of the story
Ådna, Jostein. 2013. ‘Temple Act’. In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Second Edition, 947-52. IVP Bible Dictionary. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.
Beasley-Murray, George. 1999. John, vol. 36, Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated. 37-42.
Bernard, J. H. 1929. A critical and exegetical commentary on the Gospel according to St. John, red. Alan Hugh McNeile, International Critical Commentary. New York: C. Scribner’ Sons. 86.
Earle, Ralph.1966. “The Gospel according to St. Matthew,” in Matthew-Acts, vol. 4, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 35, 40, 52.
Keener, Craig. 1993. The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. Joh 2:18-20.