Cleansing the Temple - Part 1

When taking all of the gospels together, we find that Jesus cleansed the temple, not once, but twice.  John records a time in which Jesus did this at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-22).  Matthew, Mark, and Luke, on the other hand, record Jesus cleansing the temple a few years later—less than a week before His crucifixion (Mt. 21:12-13; Mk. 11:15-18; Lk. 19:45-47).

Jesus did not cleanse the temple with soap and water.  It wasn’t dirt that was the problem.  It was people.  Because of their actions, they needed to be removed from the premises.  “He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.  And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned Their tables” (John 2:14-15).

It must have been quite a scene to behold.  Tables overturned.  Money going everywhere.  The sound of a whip cracking.  People fleeing from the temple.  Chaos.  And at the center of it all, Jesus.  

It’s probably not the normal way the world pictures Him.  Most people, I suspect, think of Jesus being filled with compassion and healing the sick.  They think of the man who surrounded Himself with children.  They think of the teacher who embodied love through His teachings and His actions.  All of those are accurate, but they aren’t a complete picture.  He also cleansed the temple.

It is a mistake to think of love and judgment as being contradictory opposites.  Jesus did not need to transition from one to the other.  After cleansing the temple, we are not told that Jesus took several deep breaths to compose Himself or that His scowl softened into a smile.  Matthew 21:12-13 records the cleansing, and the very next verse says, “And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple and He healed them” (Mt. 21:14).  At the same place—some were running from Jesus; some were coming to Him.  

Matthew records these two events immediately following the question, “Who is this?” (Mt. 21:10).  Some answered with a name.  Jesus answered with action.  He is the one who cleanses the temple AND heals the blind and lame.  This is who Jesus is.

Many people approach Jesus as though He is a multiple-choice question: what is Jesus like to you?  As though you get to decide and pick, according to your preference, whether you believe in a Savior who would heal the sick or in a judgmental Lord who would kick people out of the temple.  But that isn’t how faith in Jesus works.  We don’t get to decide who Jesus is.  He did both.  He is both.  To pick either one and ignore the other is to reject Jesus.  

The same thing happens with people’s views of God.  Some focus on the compassion and love of God.  They aren’t wrong.  After all, God is love (I John 4:8).  Others see God as being strict and judgmental.  He is that too.  After all, God is vengeful and a consuming fire (Heb. 10:30-31).  So which one is He?  Loving or Judgmental?  Like Jesus, He is both.

Notice that the passages regarding God’s nature are from the New Testament.  It is a common mistake to think of God as being harsh in the Old Testament and merciful and kind in the New Testament.  He is both in both.

There is a lot more to consider and learn from the cleansing of the temple, but let us begin with this basic question.  Do you have an accurate view of Jesus, or have you tried to force Him to fit your own preferences?  If you do not fear Jesus’ judgment, then you do not know Him.  If you are afraid to run to Jesus for help and compassion then you don’t know Him either.