The Cleansing of the Temple
John 2:12-17 MKJV After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples. And they did not stay there many days. (13) And the Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (14) And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers sitting. (15) And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, also the sheep and the oxen. And He poured out the moneychangers' money and overthrew the tables. (16) And He said to those who sold doves, Take these things away from here. Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise. (17) And His disciples remembered that it was written, "The zeal of Your house has eaten Me up."
“Take these things away from here. Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise.” The New Testament makes clear that we cannot server both God and Mammon (Matt 6:24) and godliness is not a matter of “much gain” in the financial sense (1 Timothy 6:5-10).
The commands of Jesus are very anti-materialistic “Do not worry about what you shall eat or drink.” “Do not store up treasure on earth” “You cannot serve both God and Mammon” “Beware of all kinds of greed” and so on. No materialistic person can fully enjoy the Kingdom of God. In fact materialism is flat-out disobedience.
The traders in the Temple were opportunists, using the fact that people from out of town could not readily bring a bull or a sheep with them to worship, so they sold often diseased animals (see Malachi 1) at outrageous prices for sacrifices. The corruption it introduced defiled the priesthood and especially the High Priests whose greed was so rampant that they would send out armed gangs to collect tithes by force – especially from the Greek-speaking Jews.
The Temple had become the most greedy, dishonest and corrupt place in all of Israel – and Jesus had to cleanse it, but He did so gently but firmly, with a whip of small cords that did nothing more than sting. It was probably His moral force that really carried the day.
Christians are to be zealous for the things of God and should protect them from defilement and commercialization. And they are to act with scrupulous honesty when dealing with finances in the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately embezzlement by church officials is very common and according to one source exceeds $16 billion – (yes billion with a “b”) per year.
Not only does such embezzlement of church funds hinder the work of God, it also defiles those involved in it and brings disrepute on the name of the Lord. God’s view of Christian financial dishonesty and lying can be seen in the case of Ananias and Sapphira who were struck dead (Acts 5:1-11). Christians involved in such financial dishonesty should repent, confess and restore the funds.
On a deeper level the Temple can be taken as a symbol of the Inner Temple of the Christian – the spirit. Because God the Holy Spirit dwells in us and is one with the Christians spirit (1 Corinthians 6;17) we are not to defile our spirit through greed, which is idolatry (Ephesians 5:3-5) or through immorality (1 Corinthians 6:19).
God wants us to be a “house of prayer” inwardly and to honor God in our deepest thoughts. However materialism sets up a rival temple to Mammon and is idolatrous and Jesus will scourge and discipline you until you repent of it (Hebrews 12).
Materialism in the heart often appears as envy or as a questioning of the justice of God, which we expect to be delivered in material form e.g. “why is that pastor driving a brand new car while I drive an old bomb when my theology is better”. As the parable of the laborers makes clear we are not to envy another person because God has been generous to them. (Matthew 20:1-16)
Our spirit is not to be a “house of merchandise’, an inner world of wheeling and dealing and trading and unethical opportunism, rather it should be a holy place of love and purity where the things of God receive priority.
The key to this is the same as it was for Jesus “zeal for My Father’s house”. If we are passionate about God and His honor then we will readily remove these spiritual obstacles. Zeal is spiritual energy for spiritual things. It is not just for missionaries and new Christians but is to be a characteristic of all Christians (Galatians 4:18, Titus 2:14, 1 Corinthians 12:31, Revelation 3:19) In the Revelation reference zeal is the correct antidote to the Laodecian’s lukewarm and materialistic faith.
Progress in life is not measured in cars and houses and lands and titles or by dollars in the bank. Progress in life is simply progress in Christ.
For many of us there is a need to repent, and to be holy and cleanse ourselves from all materialistic greed, covetousness and envy and to develop a true zeal for the things of God in that holy place, which is our spirit.
Blessings in Jesus,