When the wedding celebration in Cana came to an end, Jesus decided to go down to Capernaum rather than back to Nazareth. After witnessing the miracle, the disciples were so excited that they would have followed Jesus anywhere. Even Mary was so enthusiastic about her Son’s work that she also followed Him to Capernaum. The brothers of Jesus, since they had not yet come to faith in Him, were not enthusiastic about their brother’s work, but they were curious, and deciding not let their mother travel so far without escorting her, off they went.
Jesus remained in northern Galilee for several days, teaching, performing miraculous healings, and meeting the friends and family members of His disciples who were from there. It was spring, and there was a restless energy in the air. No one had their mind on their work because the Passover was near.
The Passover was one of the three major festivals that every Jewish man was required to go to Jerusalem to attend. But it wasn’t just a man thing. Many of them took their wives and children as well. It was estimated that the population of Jerusalem swelled to over two million people during Passover.
For the Roman governor, Passover was a security nightmare. He was responsible for maintaining order and keeping the peace when the city was bursting at the seams with passionate people boiling over with nationalistic fervor. The disciples were especially excited about the Passover. It would be the perfect time for Jesus to do some great miracle and show everyone that He was the King of Israel.
“Just one good miracle in front of all those people,” Rock said privately to Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, “and the whole nation will rise up and crown Him king!”
“He could make more wine!” John said excitedly.
“We don’t want ‘em drunk, brother,” James chided.
“I agree with James,” Rock chuckled and patted John good-naturedly on the shoulder. “I don’t know what it needs to be, but Jesus has to do some powerful public sign so that everybody can see who He is and what He stands for.”
“I don’t care how much you tease me,” John shot back. “I’m excited! We know Who Jesus is! Hardly anyone else knows, but we do! That means that when Jesus is recognized as the king, we will be known as His followers…His ministers! No more of this ‘John the fisherman of Bethsaida.’ If we stick with Jesus, we’re gonna be somebody…all of us!”
“Maybe He’ll make you the court fool,” James said and smiled in a way that he knew would make John furious, which it did.
As the time for the Passover drew nearer, Jesus and his disciples joined the large crowd making the trip to Jerusalem. Jesus had acquired several more followers. Among them were Levi the tax collector, who nobody really liked but Jesus, and Simon, who in private conversation let it slip out that he had been one of the assassins who had been trying to kill Roman soldiers. When Simon found out that Levi had been collecting the Roman taxes from the people, there was immediate tension between them. The fact that both of them were committed to following Jesus was the only thing that kept peace.
“If worthless people like you wouldn’t help the Romans do their dirty work,” Simon said, taking another jab at Levi, “we could have gotten rid of them long ago.”
“And if cutthroats like you would leave the Romans alone, so many innocent people would not have died,” Matthew, as he now preferred to be called, shot back.
”I think both of you are a couple of fish heads,” said Judas of Kerioth disdainfully. “Why the Teacher lets you stay with Him is beyond my comprehension. You’re nothing more than outcasts. Think about it. What can either of you do to benefit His kingdom? He needs less people like you and more people like me—educated, intelligent, and connected.”
“Come on, Judas,” young John said as he walked along nearby listening to the three of them. “Just because you’re the only one of us from Judea instead of Galilee and you’ve been educated, doesn’t mean you’re better than the rest of us.”
“What are you thinking, young one?” Judas shot back confidently. “Of course it does! That’s why I’m in charge of the money box and not one of you. Jesus is going to really need accomplished people like me to be His councilors, advisors…hmm, or maybe His treasurer!
“Oh, don’t worry,” Judas continued, putting a hand on John’s shoulder, “Jesus will always have plenty of grunt work for people like you Galileans. I’ll tell you what, John, you stick close to me, and I’ll teach you some of what I know. I’ll make you the smartest fisherman in…uh…wherever you’re from.”
It was well into the afternoon when Jesus and his party topped the Mount of Olives and saw the city of Jerusalem spread out below them. The Temple, with its beautiful white stones rising majestically from the top of Mount Zion, looked like a sparkling diamond in a gorgeous setting. The group stopped to take in the awe-inspiring view.
Jesus led them down the slope and across the Kidron Valley to the entrance to the city. Hurrying up the hilly streets, they entered the Temple complex, crossed the large courtyard with the large altar, and entered the outer court.
The noise was deafening: sheep bleating, calves bawling, and those selling them and the doves for sacrifice haggling for the best price.
“It stinks in here!” John announced as he viewed the chaos filling the Court of the Gentiles. “What is all this?”
“You are only allowed to sacrifice an animal that the priests have approved,” Judas answered.
“I knew that,” John returned. “The animal you offer has to be without a blemish of any kind.”
“Well, it’s become common for the priests to reject a lot of the animals people bring with them. That means they have to buy an approved one. These in here are the ‘approved ones.’ Any sheep, bull, or dove you purchase from these sellers comes with a tag that says the animals are pre-approved by the priests for sacrifice.”
“That sounds like a racket,” John answered. “Why do the priests even allow this?”
“It is a racket,” Judas returned. “The priests allow it because they are the ones who set it up. Annas and Caiaphas, the chief priests, get a nice cut of the profits that these sellers rake in. The money changers are part of it too. Everyone is required to pay the Temple tax, but the Hebrew sheckle is the only coin that’s accepted. If you don’t have Hebrew coins, the money changers will be happy to exchange your foreign money for some.”
“For a hefty fee, I expect,” John said.
“Of course,” Judas returned. “The priests get a big cut out of that money as well.”
Jesus stood taking in the scene for several minutes, then turned and quickly strode out of the Temple. They made a stop in the market to buy some bread, after which Jesus led them to the Mount of Olives. He headed to the small garden located on top, eventually sitting down under an ancient olive tree.
“We’ll spend the night here,” the teacher announced.
The bread was quickly passed around, but Jesus didn’t take any. He was deep in thought.
Finally Rock broke the silence. “Teacher, there are a lot of people in Jerusalem right now, and I think this would be the perfect opportunity for You to announce Who You are. Here’s what I think you should do…”
“Do you know where My Heavenly Father’s temple is?” Jesus asked, cutting off his disciple.
“Well, yeah,” Rock answered. “It’s right over there.”
“My Father’s temple is the place where He dwells,” Jesus returned, “and He doesn’t dwell in that beautiful building you pointed at. My Father dwells in the hearts of those who truly love Him, who humble themselves before Him and seek His face. He dwells here.” When He said this, Jesus pointed at Rock’s heart and then at the chests of the others.
“Now if God dwells in your hearts, that makes your bodies His temple.”
When he heard these words, Rock began to smile and stand tall. As he considered that his rough, calloused body was a temple of God, a feeling of pride and a sense of honor spread over him. It was like John had said; he really was somebody!
Suddenly the look on Jesus’ face turned fierce. “DO NOT BRING FILTH INTO MY FATHER’S HOUSE!”
The disciples were shocked at the change.
“MY FATHER IS HOLY! YOU MUST BE HOLY ALSO!” As soon as He said this, Jesus walked away from them a short distance and dropped to His knees to pray.
The pride Rock and the others had felt was gone. In its place came a serious examination of their lives. Rock remembered the many times he had cursed and took God’s name in vain. He remembered the times he had hidden his boat in order to sneak out to fish at night without paying the port tax. On more than one occasion, he had spoken abusively to his wife and children. As he considered the utter sinfulness of his life, a wave of discouragement swept over him. How in the world could he ever be holy? “I can’t do it!” he finally concluded. “There’s no way! If I’m a temple of God then I must be made out of sand. I can never be holy!”
Early the next morning Jesus woke the others with one word, “Come!”
They jumped to their feet and hurriedly threw their cloaks on as they rushed to catch up with their master. No one knew what was happening, but from the look on His face, Jesus clearly had a firm purpose in mind.
They marched down the hill, through the gate, and up the street that led to the Temple. Without pause the Teacher went straight into the Court of the Gentiles. The merchants were in their places and were yelling their prices to those who entered to worship. Draped over one of the stalls was a bundle of cords used for tying up the animals. Jesus grabbed a handful and doubled them as He strode purposefully to the far end of the large court. When he reached the last of the animal stalls, he yanked open the gate and began lashing the animals and their sellers, driving them before Him.
“YOU WILL NOT MAKE MY FATHER’S HOUSE A STOCKYARD!” He yelled. The fierce fire of passion in His eyes ended all resistance. He moved back and forth across the court, going from one set of pens to the next, lashing with His makeshift whip and yelling His righteous fury at everyone in His way.
“Well, you wanted some great sign to make Him popular,” James said to Rock as they stood with the others watching the display of unleashed anger.
“This wasn’t it!” Rock cried in despair as he rubbed his face with his large hands.
“Stop Him, Simon!” John cried. “This isn’t what we wanted! The people are going to hate Him!”
“I can’t stop Him!” Rock shot back. “Look at His face! No one can stop Him!”
“The chief priests are going to kill Him!” Judas added.
When Jesus got to the money changers, he flipped over their tables, scattering coins everywhere. As the terrified men scrambled to collect their coins, Jesus rushed to those who sold doves. The men jumped on top of the cages to keep the angry Teacher from tearing open the lids and releasing the birds.
“GET THESE THINGS OUT OF HERE!” He yelled to all of them. “THIS IS MY FATHER’S HOUSE, NOT A MARKET!”
The whole episode only took a few minutes. Once the sellers and money changers realized that Jesus meant business, they ran out with all they could carry. Jesus was left standing in the court, red-faced and breathing hard.
“We need to get Him out of here,” Rock said to the others.
“Too late,” Judas announced as he looked up and saw a delegation of very angry priests marching straight towards them.
“See here!” one of the priests called loudly as they arrived. “What is the meaning of this?”
“That’s exactly what I want to know!” Jesus shot back, the fire beginning to flash in His eyes again. “What is the meaning of this? This place is a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of thieves!”
The righteousness of Jesus’s words destroyed any argument the men were going to make, so they changed the subject. “Who do you think you are…some prophet or something? Prove yourself! Give us some sign to show us who you are!”
John began elbowing James in expectation of something big that would follow.
Still breathing hard, Jesus looked each of the priests in the eyes, placed His hand on His chest, and answered, “You want a sign? Okay, here’s your sign, destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up!”
“It took forty years to build this Temple, and would you raise it up in three days?” the spokesman fired back. “Preposterous!”
“He’s obviously crazy,” one of the others said.
Turning to the disciples, the priest said, “Get him out of here!” Then the delegation stormed out, leaving Jesus, the disciples, and the wreckage behind.
Still flushed from His exertion and with sweat streaming from His face, Jesus looked at each of His followers. Finally He said, “Cleansing the Temple is not your work. I will make you holy.”
By Alan W. Harris
(Based on John 2:13-22)