Jesus Cleanses the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” – John 2:13-17 ESV

Jesus gave a taste of who he was to his disciples with the little water to wine trick at the wedding, but he stayed behind the scene. Now he uncovers who he is for the authorities to see. He steps out and says “Here I am”.

This is probably one of the most classic sections of the bible that people refer to when they have a bit of a temper; when they want to justify their desire to get mad. For years I had always thought that this was just a sample of Jesus righteous anger and how he cleared the temple of bad people. Now as we understand the culture, the scene and the scriptures, so much more comes to the top.

For timing and clarification, we can clearly see that John’s account of the temple cleansing is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. When we cross reference the account to the synoptic gospels, the temple cleansing was all done the week leading up to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  There has been much debate of whether there was a single incident or if Jesus caused a scene in the temple more than one time.

We do know that Jesus’ ministry spanned three years and we also know that Jesus was a devoted Jew and would take the Passover ceremony very seriously.  Passover was a commemoration of the Lord’s passing over the Jewish slaves’ homes when He slew the firstborn in Egypt. Passover was an annual event and was hosted at the temple in Jerusalem. The synoptic gospels do not place Jesus in Jerusalem at all during his adult life, so the final journey is the only place where their version of the cleansing can occur. John, however has Jesus going to and from Jerusalem a good deal throughout his ministry.

Knowing Jesus passion for the Passover, makes it clear that there were 3 Passover events that Jesus attended, and John outlines them. This particular opening ceremony of his ministry, then again in chapter 6 and the final scenes in chapter 11-13. The theory that Jesus did clear the temple in the outset of his ministry does explain some things: or instance, people came from Jerusalem to Galilee to check I’m out (Mark 3:22, Mark 7:1). Also the hightpriest finally decided it was time to act, they already felt they had a case against him (John 11:47-53), a repeat offender.

The Temple

We can lose a lot of the intensity of this passage in our times, being much removed from the times when the event took place. The temple was a grand establishment.


The cleansing did not take place in the Holy of Holies, or even the inner courts. The tables and vendors were set up in the outer courts, the Gentiles’ courtyard. The courts where it was common to purchase sin offerings as you arrived.  People who had traveled from a great distance fro the festival could hardly have brought their sacrificial offerings with them; traders took advantage of that by selling animals for sacrifice in the outer courts. People likely paid exorbitant prices for the convenience of buying at the temple. (can you say peanuts at a Brave’s game?)

With money to be made, worship easily became corrupted. The money changers. Jesus came in protest by turning of His Father’s house into a market.

The illustration above was the completed temple, but was not in this state when Jesus cleared the temple (30-32AD verses 62-64AD). When Jesus later references that he was going to rebuild the temple if it was torn down, caused confusion with the Jews because the temple was just getting rebuilt, and in such a grand fashion than before.

As you can see, Herod’s family was making a great effort to create a grand temple, but Jesus made it clear, it was not in alignment with His Father’s desires. Just like many of us, we try to take a basic concept and give thanks by making it “special”.  We take forms of transportation and make them our dream on wheels, we attempt to show how much we honor and love something, but then the thing we end up with gets in the way of the relationship we were attempting to honor in the first place.

Have you ever experienced a situation where something was glamorized and lost it’s whole intention?

Premeditated Visit

It was the inappropriate actions in this specific location that so incensed Jesus. Thus, when He came into the house of God and saw that it was being used for something other than that for which it had been consecrated, He fashioned his whip and took action. It was not like Jesus would just pull a whip out his belt or bag, or grab one from his friend; it just was not his character or lifestyle to carry such items. This meant that Jesus had to locate the materials and then make his whip.  He had time to think of his feelings, his motivation and contemplate what his next actions were going to be.

Can you share a time when you either had an opportunity to delay some immediate actions and you were grateful you had time to think about it before acting? Or do you have the unfortunate situation where you just responded immediately without thinking and ended up regretting it?

It is easy to act like Jesus, it is very difficult to re-act like Jesus. – Mark Batterson

It is premeditated because this event is actually the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy from Ps 69:9

For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me. – Psalm 69:9

Quoting from the psalm and applying the image of the righteous sufferer, David, to Jesus, some expected the Messiah to purge Jerusalem of unbelievers, but Jesus is more concerned about believers, or supposed believers condition before God as well. We need to understand there was a limitation for many to participate, either they did not have the money asked by the merchants or they were cast aside because of their status in town. With this act, Jesus declares the current state of the temple to fall vastly short of God’s plan for the temple; the worship of God is being impeded by commerce.

A whip

John says that Jesus made a whip (2:15), and the other gospels do not. He didn’t just pick one up or grab one from a table or out of a merchant’s hand. He hadn’t brought one with Him. Why would He? Jesus did not carry around a whip or any weapons, and a whip was not a common thing at the temple, so he had to make the whip. Perhaps taking the time to make a whip gave Jesus time to cool off. Certainly what He was about to do was thought out and deliberate.

Imagine the free-for-all that broke out as the money hit the ground. The individuals running around attempting to get their livestock, the merchants scampering to get their money that had been scatted all over the place. The bystanders that were interrupted and maybe some that took advantage by gathering some of the coins are snagging an animal unjustly. Surely this wasn’t some nice, religious do-gooder. Jesus was angry. It was a righteous anger that carried a punch.

Here is a person with no acknowledged power or authority but with the courage to disrupt the status quo. He was unassisted and armed with only a scourge of small cords, but He served notice. His majestic rage injected terror into those who had taken liberties with the Law. It did not matter to Jesus at this moment that these actions were supported by the priests and religious leaders.

Have you ever been involved with something where someone without given authority stood up, spoke up and made a difference for good?

The Temple and the Sacrifice

The very symbolic situation that unfolded in the fiasco is that Jesus proclaimed to a wide audience who he was and the individuals really did not understand what he was saying.

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. – John 2:18-22 ESV

Once again we see the church leaders come and ask for a sign of what is going. Remember how they did this same inquiry with John the Baptist (John 1:25).  Since the outer courtyards and porticos were not completed until 66AD, it is more likely that the officials are referring to ongoing construction efforts.

But he was speaking about the temple of his body. – John 2:21 ESV

The book of John provides many insights to the misunderstandings of Jesus day. John regularly records Jesus’ hearers misunderstanding His sayings, sometimes requiring further elaboration as in the case of Nicodemus, that we will experience in chapter 3.

Our hindsight of this scene almost makes this a grand comedy act.  We have learned that when Jesus came onto the scene, the need for a physical building as a temple was eliminated. Jesus was the temple. God dwelt within Him, because He was God.  We will see where this interaction is recalled at Jesus’ trial where they declare that His statement of destroying the temple and raising it again is evidence for His persecution.

This situation is also a pivotal moment where the one and only sacrifice to be came in and disrupted the sacrifices of the past. People were buying and selling animals for sacrifices, but the one true sacrifice, the Lamb of God, was present and his price had been paid by God himself.

What are some of your insights to the Cleansing of the Temple and how Jesus is introduced to society? How does it relate to other prominent people in history?


  • R. C. Sproul. John (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary). Kindle Edition.
  • Nicholas Thomas Wright. John for Everyone. Kindle Edition
  • David Foster & Brett Burleson. Praying the Gospel of John. (2012). Worthy Media Inc.
  • The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  • New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
  • Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.