Cleansing The Temple
A few weeks ago during worship service I read the first Scripture reading for that day, John 2:13-22. The passage was about Jesus cleansing the temple. And, as I said at that time, it was about Jesus cleansing the temple the FIRST time! Yes, as I said then, the Scripture passage in John was about Jesus cleansing the temple the first of two times! In the other three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, the synoptic gospels, they speak of the second time Jesus cleansed the temple. Now, there are at least a couple of messages embedded within these events/stories that should be of note to those who have "eyes to see." Permit me to explain.
Once again, and as I have noted many times before (to the point of nausea, I think) without understanding 1st century Jewish culture, history, customs, Mosaic Law, etc, much of what Jesus did and said and what is recorded in the New Testament will not be fully understood. So let us start with the settings of both the first and second cleansing of the temple as they existed in 1st century Judea.
Both events, the first cleansing in John and the second cleansing in Matthew, Mark and Luke, took place just before the actual and annual Feast of Passover. And, such is quite significant in as much as every "observant" family and household in Israel/Judea at that time, according to Mosaic Law, was purging leaven from every nook and cranny within their homes. It was a requirement of the Mosaic Law to purge leaven from one's home BEFORE the Passover which takes place on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. (Around April/March Roman months.) It was equally important for the following Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th day of the same month of Nisan. To realize this, one needs to be familiar with the Mosaic Law as revealed in Ex 12:14-20.
That's right! All leaven must be purged from one's house BEFORE the Passover and the following (next day) Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Now, in Scripture leaven is a metaphor and symbol for sin and opposition to God and His way. (That metaphor is an important matter for another time, so let us just accept that symbolism for now.) What Jesus was doing in both depictions of his cleansing the temple was to purge his Father's House of "levean", that is, all the Mercantile activities taking place where they should not have been, compromising the spiritual integrity, the purity, of the temple. And this purging took place right before the Festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread just like every other house in Israel/Judea was being "cleansed." Jesus was fulfilling the Mosaic Law in his Father's house. This he was destined to do. One reason, of course, was to "fulfill all righteousness." (See Matthew 3:15) And, as just mentioned, it was done so he could be revealed by the fulfillment of the Law as God's Anointed One. Amazing stuff, no? But, it goes further -- and deeper.
To see the depth of the cleanings, and their relation to one another, we need to consider a couple of things. One, contrary to what everyone at that time wanted Jesus to be, an avenging king, he did not at his first advent come to be a king. Yes, even though he was "born to be king" his time to be such was not then and there. His time to reign as king was yet far into the future. His purpose during his first advent was to be a serving priest! And, by looking at one of the Mosaic duties of a priest we can understand more fully what it was that Jesus was doing the two times he cleansed the temple. Let us consider Leviticus 12:33-57. It says:
33 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 34 “When you have come into the land of Canaan, which I give you as a possession, and I put the leprous plague in a house in the land of your possession, 35 and he who owns the house comes and tells the priest, saying, ‘It seems to me that there is some plague in the house,’ 36 then the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest goes into it to examine the plague, that all that is in the house may not be made unclean; and afterward the priest shall go in to examine the house. 37 And he shall examine the plague; and indeed if the plague is on the walls of the house with ingrained streaks, greenish or reddish, which appear to be deep in the wall, 38 then the priest shall go out of the house, to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days. 39 And the priest shall come again on the seventh day and look; and indeed if the plague has spread on the walls of the house, 40 then the priest shall command that they take away the stones in which is the plague, and they shall cast them into an unclean place outside the city. 41 And he shall cause the house to be scraped inside, all around, and the dust that they scrape off they shall pour out in an unclean place outside the city. 42 Then they shall take other stones and put them in the place of those stones, and he shall take other mortar and plaster the house.
43 “Now if the plague comes back and breaks out in the house, after he has taken away the stones, after he has scraped the house, and after it is plastered, 44 then the priest shall come and look; and indeed if the plague has spread in the house, it is an active leprosy in the house. It is unclean. 45 And he shall break down the house, its stones, its timber, and all the plaster of the house, and he shall carry them outside the city to an unclean place."
From reading the passage above we can see that it was the obligation of God's priest to go into the house of one who believes his house is "sick" and calls upon the priest to come examine the house. And if upon finding the house sick, the priest must either cleanse or condemn it. Such is exactly what Jesus, God's high priest, was doing when he entered God's house, first in the gospel of John, and then later in the three synoptic gospels, to examine God's house, the temple, for corruption (sickness) and either cleanse the house (the temple) or condemn it.
As was depicted in the Mosaic instructions in Leviticus 12, the priest was to examine and cleanse the sick house in question twice -- just like Jesus did in his Father's house. Ultimately, if the 2nd cleansing should prove unsuccessful, the house was to be condemned and raised to the ground -- just like the corrupted temple was raised to its foundations 40 years later in 70 A.D. after Jesus' 2nd and failed cleansing in 30 A.D. (See Matthew 23:38)
Jesus always fulfilled the Mosaic Law in all his actions and words (even if we might not readily recognize every example of such at every turn.) Even more than that, Jesus is the personification of the Mosaic Law, just as Philip declared to Nathaniel when taking Nathaniel to meet Jesus. (See John 1:44-45)
So, in conclusion, we can now see that the question of whether there was one or two occasions where Jesus cleansed the temple is pretty much resolved. And this in itself should be a no brainer just in light of the simple fact that John recorded Jesus cleansing the temple at the beginning of his ministry and the synoptic gospels record a similar action by Jesus taking place in the closing days of his ministry three and a half years later. And, we can know why Jesus did these cleansings and what the ultimate result of them was by understanding the Mosaic Law and the Old Testament. (It is sad that part of the Bible, the Old Testament, is called such. Being known as "Old" gives it an obsolete sort of air; and that could not be further from the truth. It is very much alive and revealing of truth for this day as id the so called New Testament is.)
Be that what it may. The point here is that Jesus did what he was required and predestined to do: Fulfill the Mosaic Law. That Law, among other things, was first to reveal him as the promised Messiah; and secondly, again among many other things to reveal to those willing to see (those with "eyes to see") what was to be fulfilled regards Jerusalem and the earthly temple made of stone by the hands of men. To be assured, the New Testament really holds very little that is "new." But as Jesus demonstrated with his cleansings of the temple -- along with all the other things he did and said during his ministry -- his cleansing of the temple was planned to be accomplished far, far in advance of his birth in 4 B.C. But, he is yet even today quite active in his temple cleansing business. For he works diligently to cleanse the temple that is his Church and his temples who are we, his disciples! May his Church, and we his disciples, not be found as corrupt stones of his Father's house needed to be removed and discarded, but to be found as healthy, living, sanctified stones, each a part of His holy and eternal temple. (See 1 Peter 2:5)
And with that my friends and brethren…
...Amen. Amen. And, Amen!