Few of us own up to being jealous. It’s not an attractive quality. It rarely does any good. It’s embarrassing to admit to. It can be an ugly emotion. Consider a man was sentenced to 16 years in jail. His girlfriend had dropped him for someone else, so he drove his car into a crowd and killed two people.
Can anything good come from jealousy?
One thing is clear: that God never apologizes for being a jealous God. God is a jealous God. God is jealous when Israel seeks after other gods. Just as husband or wife is right to be jealous when their partner has been unfaithful, so God is jealous for his people’s faithfulness to him.
God is also jealous for his name’s sake. “I am the LORD, that is my name; I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8 NASB). It’s right to be jealous for the good name of others. I hope you won’t sit back and do nothing when someone is badmouthing your friends. That is good, Godlike jealousy.
In our passage, John 2:13-22, we will see that Jesus is jealous for his Father as he cleanses the temple. Of all the temples that have been built in the history of the world, this was the only one built for and by the true God. It alone carried his name.
The temple played an important place in the life of Jesus. Eight days after his birth, Jesus’ parents dedicated him at the temple. At the age of twelve, Jesus had stayed behind in Jerusalem, and of all places he is found in the temple asking questions.
Now Jesus is driven back to the temple as the Passover feast draws near. Jesus expects to offer true worship at the place where his Father allowed his name to dwell. But when Jesus turns up to the temple, what Jesus finds looks more like a place of profits than a place of prayer. John 2:13-14:
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. (NIV)
What Jesus found in the temple was not the problem. The pigeons, oxen, and sheep were necessary for the temple sacrifices. People were required to pay the temple tax, and Jesus himself in Matthew 17 pays it—though not everyone could pull a coin out of the mouth of a fish to pay it! The money-changers changed the various coins into one acceptable currency that didn’t bare the name or image of Caesar—who claimed to be a god. Again all of these things were required for the administration of the temple.
So why does Jesus create such a fuss? The problem was the place where these things were being done. This was all happening in the temple courts, the place reserved for prayer. But instead of the sound of praise, and of souls asking God for forgiveness—“have mercy on me, a sinner”—the constant chorus being sounded was “Old Macdonald had a farm”.
This was the place where God would dwell with his people. No other culture, no other nation, no other temple had the blessing of God. Only here would God accept sacrifices. God only promised to answer prayers directed to this place, and from this place. Worse still, all of these activities were taking place in the outer courts, which were the only places of the temple that the foreigner could enter. When Solomon opened the temple a thousand years before Jesus, he prayed this prayer, found in 2 Chronicles 6:32-33:
As for the foreigner—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your name. (NIV)
Doing business in those places stopped foreigners praying to Jesus’ Father. They had forced the rest of the world out of the temple by making the house of prayer into a house of profit.
And Jesus is angry about this. He is fuming. He is motivated by ‘zeal’—his passion for his Father’s house and his jealousy that his Father be worshipped properly. So we see Jesus’ action in response, in verses 15-16:
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!” (NIV)
It’s clear that Jesus wasn’t expecting to find the temple so abused. He doesn’t carry a whip like a cowboy, looking for a fight. Jesus came to pray, not to judge. The whip that he makes, he only makes after he sees what was going on. Jesus is not like a crazed lover, out of control. He is like a jealous lover, and he will stop at no lengths to put right that which is wrong. He overturns tables, he throws out the money-changers, he drives out the animals, he rebukes those involved in the business. He has come as one with authority. He is driven by what is right.
Notice that, for Jesus, the temple is not merely ‘God’s house’, but he calls it “my Father's house”. So as the Son, he has the right to do what he does in his Father’s house. He stands in a special relationship with his Father. Remember that Jesus was at the Father's side for all eternity.
His disciple saw Jesus’ glory in turning the water into wine. Now they see his authority in cleansing his Father’s house. The first sign John records at Cana, is followed by a second ‘sign’, just as significant, and just as much a ‘sign’ for those with eyes to see—though it may not technically be what John elsewhere means by the word ‘sign’. But the act of cleansing the temple is just as revealing of Jesus’ identity to those who know their Old Testaments as any of his other miraculous signs and works of power that John records for us. The authority of Jesus who changed water into wine is now seen in his authority to get the animals out of the temple.
In verses 17 and 18, we see the response of both the disciples and the Jews to Jesus bold act and claim to authority.
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?” (NIV)
The disciples see in these actions Jesus’ devotion for the house of God. Their minds go to the scriptures, to Psalm 69.9:
For zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me. (NIV)
The Good News Version helpfully puts it, “My devotion to your house, O God, burns in me like a fire”. There is the difference. The disciples see what Jesus does, and believe he is sent from God to do it. The authorities see what Jesus does, and it doesn’t even cross their minds, they can’t even comprehend, that maybe he has a point. The question of the Jewish leadership is simple: “Who the heck does Jesus think he is?” The guy is not even a priest! “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus is a nobody from nowhere.
Now, if Jesus had been spaying graffiti in the temple courts, you could understand their question. But the fact is that they had done nothing about the situation that Jesus set about fixing, and probably because they were creaming off the profits. All in all, they showed their own lack of zeal. Jesus by his zealous action was showing them up. They had no real desire to worship God, so they ask for a sign. But if they had eyes to see, they had one right in front of them. The cleansing of the temple was the sign. Is that not what God promised that he would do, in Malachi 3:1-2:
“I will send my messenger [i.e. John the Baptist], who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord [i.e. Jesus] you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. "But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” (NIV)
The messenger—John the Baptist—had come, and suddenly, the Lord God himself—Jesus Christ, God the one and only, who was God—turned up at the temple and cleansed it. If they had eyes to see, the Jewish leaders would have recognized that Jesus was behaving as one who is devoted to the house of God. Then they too, like the disciples, could have remembered the psalm, and bent the knee in worship. They didn’t need a sign.
So in response to the Jewish leaders’ foolish question, Jesus issues them a challenge, in verse 19:
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (NIV)
The Jewish leaders take Jesus’ words literally, and are, not surprisingly, confused. Verse 20:
They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (NIV)
As we will see again and again in John’s Gospel, people frequently misunderstand Jesus’ words. So here, Jesus speaks of destroying ‘the temple’, and they take him to mean the building that has taken 46 years to build. In John chapter 3, Jesus talks of the need of being born again, and Nicodemus imagines someone returning to the womb of his mother. In chapter 6, Jesus speaks of the need for his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and the crowd are repulsed by the cannibalism of it. In each of these instances of misunderstanding, the answer is given for those who have ears to hear. And so too, here, in verse 21:
But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
Jesus’ body is the temple of God. Jesus is the place where God dwells with his people. So Colossians 2:9 tells us, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (NIV).
When Solomon opened the temple he had built, he asked a rhetorical question in his prayer, recorded in 2 Chronicles 6:18: “But will God really dwell on earth with humans?” John’s Gospel answers with a resounding ‘yes’! God will dwell with humans, but not in the temple at Jerusalem. Solomon then goes on to consider the logistics of God inhabiting temples, in 2 Chronicles 6:18: “The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
One thousand years before Jesus, and just as King Solomon was opening the temple which had nearly sent the country broke to build, he is saying that the temple will never be more than a symbol. It can’t do the job. From the very beginning, the temple was built to be thrown away. The temple was like my old commodore—it was built to become obsolete. Right there from its very beginning, God had placed a big red self-destruct button on the temple, and it was waiting for Jesus to come and press that button. God dwells not in a building but in the body of Jesus. He is the gate to heaven, and he is the house of God.
With Jesus’ coming, the sacrifices that God requires will no longer be pigeons, sheep, and oxen. Jesus is the real Passover lamb, who has come to the temple at Passover time. No wonder Jesus sent the animals out of the temple, because with his coming as “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, they won’t be needed anymore. Jesus is the willing sacrifice for ours sins, not just for the Jews, but for the world. No foreigners will be shut out anymore, for Jesus is the saviour of the world.
The irony is that Jesus’ riddle—“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (v. 19)—is itself a prophecy. And by the end of John’s Gospel, we will see that the Jews will in fact take him up on the offer. They will destroy Jesus’ body. Jesus is the true temple of God, and his zeal for his Father will consume him to the point of his own death on a cross. But as Jesus says later, in John 10:18:
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. (NIV)
In fact, it would be Jesus’ resurrection that would clear up the misunderstanding once and for all for his disciples. Verse 22:
After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (NIV)
The resurrection of Jesus recorded for us in John chapters 20-21 is the climax to Jesus’ seven signs recorded for us in John chapters 2-12. And here, the disciples see Jesus’ zeal for his Father house, and they believe both Jesus and the Scriptures. So far so good.
There is a lot of ‘believing’ in Jesus happening during this first Passover visit to Jerusalem (John 2:22-3:2). The disciples would believe Jesus’ words and the Old Testament Scriptures (v. 22)—but it is still early days for them, and they had a long way to go. The crowd in Jerusalem at the festival would believe Jesus because of his signs (v. 23)—not the cleansing of the temple, but the miracles that John says that he did there—but Jesus would not believe them. “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people” (v. 24). Only the test of time will show whether such ‘believing’ responses are genuine.
But for now, Jesus is establishing that true worship is tied to himself as the true temple of God. The one who cleansed that temple is the one who replaces every temple. The old has now gone and the new has come. Jesus is the temple of God.
What else in the New Testament is given the name ‘the temple of God’? If you are a Christian, your human body is a temple of God (1 Cor 6:19). And we the people of God are the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16-17). For God’s Spirit dwells both within us individually and among us corporately.
It was a sad day when Christianity was turned into a religion, and where church buildings ended up looking like temples, and were then treated like temples. It was a sad day when buildings then became the obsession of the church, and not the lost souls the buildings were meant to serve. Buildings are important, and good servants, but terrible masters. They exist to serve people and seeking the lost. That is why we can hire a school or community hall and be no less than the temple of God.
In our passage we have seen Jesus consumed by jealousy for his Father. Have you lost your fire? Has your zeal been choked out by worries and the pleasures of life? Proverbs 23:17 tells us, “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.”
What burns in you like a fire? What gets you excited? What did you see your parents get excited about? A new lounge? A new car? An exciting new investment proposal? Or seeing someone come to Christ?
What do you see in yourself? Are you jealous that the world comes to know Jesus and treat him properly? Are you jealous for your own holiness? Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. What sins do you need to drive out of your life? Your body does not belong to you? It belongs to Jesus. Jesus does not say that if your hand causes you to sin, get a manicure! He said to cut it off! You know what you need to do to that thing that causes you to sin—so do it for Jesus’ sake. Don’t watch that show, click that link, play that game, read that literature, go to that place, or be with that person. Cut it out of your life.
Are you jealous for the Jesus’ people—for we are the temple of God? We can’t love Jesus and not love his people. Look how jealous how God is for his church. 1 Corinthians 3:17:
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person, for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
Are you are a unifier or a divider of God's church. This church is the temple of God. If you love Jesus, and you want to serve Jesus and glorify Jesus, then you need to love your church, and pray for your church and serve your church and give to your church for God glory. God wants jealous lovers who are jealous for Jesus. They are jealous for personal holiness. They are jealous for Jesus’ people. Let us ask God that the jealous passion we have seen in Jesus will be seen in us.
We see that Jesus is the true temple. He is God dwelling with us. We see Jesus’ jealousy for his Father, and we say, thank you, Lord Jesus, for letting that jealously take you to the cross.
Forgive us for our lack of passion for Jesus, and for our holiness and that of our church. We can see that for some of us, our passion is being choked out by the worries of this world, and for others, by the pleasures of this world.
Cleanse our hearts and our church from being numb to our Lord.
In Jesus’ powerful name, Amen.
 Consider Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey in his final week in John 12. That might not be technically a ‘sign’ in the sense of a miraculous work of power, but it no less signifies who Jesus is to those with eyes to see than Jesus’ raising Lazarus or walking on water.