The beginning of Jesus' public ministry (John 2:1-4:54) - Continue

B. The cleansing of the temple: the promise of the seventh sign (2:13–25);

John often refers to the festivals as festivals “of the Jews” - because many of his readers would be Gentiles and so not familiar with the details of the Jewish liturgical year.

There are four Jewish festivals mentioned in John’s Gospel:

  1. Sabbath (John 5:10).
  2. Passover (John 2:13 -the first; John 6:4 - the second; John 11:55; 12:1; 19:14 - the third). Based on this information we assume a three-year ministry of Jesus.
  3. The feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2) - Jesus will give the streams of living water.
  4. Hanukkah (John 10:22) - the feast of the “rededication of the Temple” (see 1 Maccabees 4:36–59).

The Gospel records four visits of Jesus to Jerusalem (2:13; 5:1; 7:10; 12:12).

During this first trip,

(1) Jesus starts his public ministry with a dramatic, prophetic action in the Jerusalem temple (2:13–25).

(2) Then a prominent Jewish leader - Nicodemus - realised that there is something extraordinary about Jesus and so paid him a visit. Jesus engages him in a dialogue to lead him to a deeper faith (3:1–15).

(3) Then, the evangelist proclaim Jesus’ role in salvation history (3:16–20).

(4) John the Baptist gave his final testimony about Jesus (3:22–30).

(5) Finally, we have another theological reflection from the Evangelist.


The Passover commemorates Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. It was (and is) celebrated yearly on the anniversary of that deliverance, 14 Nisan (at the March-April full moon), and it was followed immediately by the week-long festival of unleavened bread (15–22 Nisan).

This is the first Passover mentioned in the Gospel. Perhaps it was in AD 28, and Jesus kept the family tradition of yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem for that great feast (cf. Luke 2:41).


The action must have taken place in the so-called the court of the Gentiles.

In the first-century Mediterranean world, corporate entities such as “the temple” were often invested with social significance and personified. By dishonouring the temple, one also dishonoured all of its personnel - the high priests, the priests, and the levites - and the one who commanded to construct the temple and was supposed dwell in it - God.

The oxen, sheep and pigeons were the animals used in sacrificial worship at the temple. To buy them so near to the place where they were to be sacrificed was very convenient for the worshippers. But setting up the stalls for this purpose in the outer court of the temple must have taken up much room that could have been used for prayer. And of course, the noice and destruction that such business with the temple created for the worshippers.

The money-changers also performed a convenient service for the visitors to the temple. The pilgrims brought with themselves all sorts of money, but in the temple only one coinage (currency) accepted was known as Tyrian, because of the exceptional purity of its silver content and because it did not have an image of the emperor on it (Mk 12:15–17). Moreover, usually, the during the passover, the pilgrims coming for the festival from all over the world paid the annual temple tax - helf-shekel - for the maintenance of the temple - the tax was for all Jewish men of twenty and above (see Mt 17:27). Around 25 days before Passover, exchange tables for this purpose were sent up in Jerusalem and the commission charged could be 12.5 %.

2:15–16 - perhaps, we should see this passage as a fulfilment of Mal 3:1–4 and Zech 14:21.

Zech 14:16 - speaks about the nations coming to the temple to worship God. The only place they could do that was the outer court. But, if it was occupied with the sacrificial animals and the money-changers, then it could not be used for worship.

The word “house” appears twice. The Father’s “house” and the house of business.

For the first time, we read the phrase “my Father”. Jesus action is in relation to the Father (Is 56:7; Zech 14:21). The Father is the source of Jesus’ authority and his mission of salvation.

Jesus - the Lamb of God replaces all sacrifices, and Jesus’ Body - replaces the temple built out of stones.


When did they remember that scripture passage from Ps 69:10a? Immediately or after the resurrection (cf. John 2:22)?

In Ps 69:10a - the text says: “For zeal for your house has consumed me”, but John has the statement in the future: “will consume me”. Jesus’ zeal for the Father is one of the principle reasons that he will be ‘consumed’ on the cross.

In verse 69:8, the psalmist declares that it is on account of God that “shame [dishonour] covers” his face and in 69:9, he says that he has become “a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s sons”.

That is how Jesus is depicted in the Gospel. We have here a confirmation of Luke 24:44 - that the entire scriptures speak about Jesus.

In the course of the Gospel, Jesus’ claim about his relationship with the Father and his actions that follow from it will be the cause of controversy between him and the Jerusalem religious authorities throughout his life and will lead to his death.

Interestingly, Paul in Rom 15:3 quotes the second half of that verse from Ps 69:10b: “the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me”, and refers it to Christ. If John and Paul, who probably did not know each other works, used the same passage, it can only indicate the the first Christians considered certain passages as testifying to Jesus (Lk 24:44).


The Jews here refers to the temple authorities (cf. Mk 11:25). They consider themselves to be the authority in the temple, so by what higher authority Jesus did what he did? They are asking for ‘sign’.


In Mk 14:58 Jesus is charged with making a similar statement: “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” But, their testimony was not consistent.

It seems that what Jesus actually said at that time is recorded here. Jesus’ words provided a motif which was taken up later in the Church - the replacement of the material temple (cf. Acts 6:13–14) by a new and spiritual temple (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21–22; 1 Peter 2:4–5).

It is worth noting that in John 2:14–15, the word for ‘temple’ is “ἱρος” - denoting the whole complex of buildings and courts, in 2:19–21 the word is “ναὸς” - denoting the sanctuary proper - the holy place and the holy of holies

It was the second, rather than the first as a whole, that was regarded as the dwelling place-place of God.

Also, the reader is supposed to see two temples, with the former being replaced by the real one (cf. Heb 8:7–8; 9:11, 24; 10:9).

The reconstruction of the temple began in 19 BC by Herod the Great. The main part was completed in ten years, but other parts were still being carried out till 63 AD and some even suggest that until 70 AD, the year of destruction. The “46 years” of 2:20 are reckoned from the beginning of the reconstruction.

Since the time of St. Irenaeus, some treated this passage together with John 8:57 as indicating Jesus’ age at the beginning of his ministry (add three years of his ministry and you get 49 years 7x7 - the great sabbath year followed by the jubilee year!).

Thus the ‘sign’ is clear - the death and the resurrection of Christ. 2:19 - there is a grammatical connection between the destruction and raising of “this temple”. Unless the destruction happens, the raising cannot take place. Jesus’ death and resurrection cannot be separated. They are one unified event - Jesus’ glorification (cf. 1:14; 2:11; 7:39; 12:23).

This is also considered by some as the “seventh” and final sign by which Jesus “revealed his glory” (2:11). It shall be the final and conclusive proof of Jesus’ identity and authority.

The Evangelist explains that the words of Jesus referred to his body, the living habitation of God on earth, which in fact was raised from the dead within three days of death and burial. This explanation could not have come to his mind until the historical fulfilment had taken place, as indeed he goes on to say explicitly.


This applies to much that is recorded in this Gospel: only in the light of later events was the significance of all appreciated (cf. John 12:16), and that by the aid of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; cf. Luke 24:25–27, 44–45). The disciples’ “remembering” will be guided by the Holy Spirit in them after Jesus’ resurrection.

The “scripture” can either refer to Ps 69 or to the entire OT fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry, death and the resurrection (John 5:39).

The question of the chronological relation of John’s account of the temple cleansing to the Synoptic version which dates it during Holy Week is not easy to answer.

Few scholars claim that there were two temple cleansing - the first one recorded by John at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the second recorded by the Synoptics at the end of Jesus’ ministry.

Majority think that John - for theological purposes - took it out of its chronological sequence. Jesus’ resurrection is the key to fully understand the Scriptures. If the readers understand the significance of this incident, they will know what the ministry was all about.

2:23–25 - superficial faith.

We are told that Jesus performed some “signs” during the festival - although we are not told what kind of sings (cf. John 21:25). Those signs led many to believe in him, but was it a genuine faith (cf. John 4:48; Mk 8:11–13)?

To see Jesus as a wonder-worker and do not understand the deep meaning of the signs is to miss the point. Jesus made a clear distinction between those who were superficially impressed because they saw the signs and those who penetrated beneath the surface and grasped the truth that was signified by the signs (John 6:26).

Jesus is not being ‘fooled’ by the newly acquired fame and the “many who believed in him” (2:22). Jesus knew what they did not know - he knew them. This statement clearly reveals the divine identity of Jesus (cf. Ps 139). Jesus knows the complexity of human heart (cf. Jer 17:9–11) - the hidden depths of every heart lie open to his penetrating insight.

It shall be clearly revealed in the following conversations with Nicodemus, with the woman of Sychar, with the invalid at Bethesda. In each case, Jesus goes straight to the point. Thus, for example, in the opening sentence of chapter 3, Jesus pays little attention to Nicodemus’ complimentary salutation, but insists on the truth which Nicodemus most needed to learn - the necessity of being born anew.

It is worth noting, that they “believed” in Jesus but Jesus did not “entrust” himself to them. In Greek, these words look nearly identical:

They “ἐπίστευσαν” in his name - Jesus did not “ἐπιστευεν” himself to them.

In the Synoptics Jesus “entrusted” himself to the apostles only after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ (Mk 8:29). From then on, Jesus began to speak about his death and resurrection (Mk 8:31ff). The faith of those “many” has not yet truly grasped the true identity of Jesus. Here, we encounter a perplexing question: what does it really mean to believe in Jesus’ name?

It seems that there are two levels of believing in Jesus: (1) one mentioned in John 1:12, and (2) one mentioned here (John 2:24). The first one involves grasping the true identity of Jesus as Lord and Saviour of the Word (John 4:42), committing one’s life to him (Mk 8:34–38) and obeying His commandments (John 15:10).

Home | Previous | Next