John 2:13-25 in Story Form
The Cleansing of the Temple
It was springtime and the Passover, the most important Jewish festival of the year, was just a few days away. As a devout Jew, Jesus went up to Jerusalem to celebrate it.
Jews from all over came to Jerusalem for the Passover. A festive mood pervaded the city. Everywhere, people called greetings to friends and family they had not seen for a year or more. Laughter, singing, and shouts of joy surrounded Jesus and His disciples as they strode toward the temple mount. Jesus too laughed, sang, and shouted greetings to people as they walked.
Peter and the other disciples were in high spirits.
Passover was the perfect time for Jesus to declare His mission and rally the Jews behind him. Roman tyranny could be at an end within months, and the disciples would be at the center of the action as Jesus’ closest followers.
Reaching the temple mount, with its massive walls, some rising as much as 140 feet above the street, Jesus and His disciples grew quiet as they climbed the steps that led into the outer courts of God’s Holy Temple. As they climbed, they left the sounds of joy and celebration that were on the street and entered the sounds of the temple courtyard.
Jesus’ smile disappeared as the sounds grew louder… the sounds of a market, not a sanctuary.
Bleating sheep, bellowing cattle, and screeching doves protested the cramped quarters while voicing their fear. After all, they could smell the blood from the sacrifices. Above the animal noise, men advertised their goods.
As they stepped from the stairwell into the courtyard, the noise was overpowering. But there was no joy here as there had been on the streets below. There was no sound of worship, no singing, and no praying…at least that could be heard over the den.
Peter glanced at Jesus nervously. This was the temple mount, the place where they could be closest to God.
Why was Jesus getting so upset?
He poked John in the ribs and whispered. “Somethings not right. Look at how tense Jesus is. Stay alert.”
John looked at Jesus, nodded, and then passed the message on to his brother James. In seconds, all the disciples were aware.
Jesus slowly scanned the courtyard, taking in the animal stalls, the money changing tables, and the lines of tired, angry, desperate pilgrims waiting to exchange their worldly currency for the temple shekel, or waiting to buy the approved sacrificial animal. His eyes followed those who had already purchased their sacrificial animals as they walked away. Their faces showed outrage, anger, or despair. Jesus seemed to swell before their eyes, angry tension in every line of His body.
Peter and the disciples searched the area trying to figure out what was upsetting Jesus so much. Everything looked normal to them.
“That’s outrageous! You’re charging twice what it costs on the street,” a man on their right yelled.
The argument drew the disciples’ attention.
The sheep seller smirked, “Fine, go buy it on the street and see if you can get a priest to accept it. These lambs have already been approved for sacrifice. That’s why they cost more.”
The man’s face turned red, and his hands clenched into fists. “I can’t possibly pay that much and still feed my family.”
The sheep seller shrugged indifferently, “Do without the sacrifice if you can’t afford it.”
The man’s shoulders slumped, his voice rapidly descending into despair, “But that’s the whole reason I came to Jerusalem. How can I return without making the sacrifice? My sins and the sins of my family will remain unforgiven. God’s blessing will be absent. Have mercy, I beg you.”
“That’s not my problem. You should have brought more money with you. Pay the price for the lamb or do without.” The sheep seller said.
They stared at each other for a few moments. Finally, the sheep seller sighed. “Look, if you can’t afford a lamb, go buy some doves. Now move along, there are others behind you.”
The man turned and shuffled, head down toward the dove seller.
Peter looked back to where Jesus stood. But He wasn’t there. He tensed and grabbed John’s arm.
John shrugged, looking confused as he scanned the crowd.
Peter looked at the other disciples. “We better find Him quickly. Spread out a little and look for Him. When you find Him, signal the rest of us.”
Moving deeper into the chaos of the courtyard, the disciples searched for Him. John spotted Jesus first. He had moved to the wall at the far end of the courtyard. Unable to make himself heard above the noise, he waved his arm above his head until Peter looked his way, then he pointed at Jesus. The rest of the disciples saw where John pointed and headed in that direction also.
Jesus was braiding a handful of discarded cords together. Indignation and anger radiated from Him like a physical force. The disciples slowed their steps. They had never seen Him like this. Unsure what to do, they stopped a few yards away from Him in the shadow of a marble column that supported the roof and watched with growing anxiety.
“What’s He doing?” John asked Peter nervously.
Peter shook his head and kept his eyes on Jesus.
Within minutes, Jesus had created an 8-inch handle of braided cords with about 4 feet of loose cords hanging from it. From where Peter stood, it looked a lot like a Roman whip. Grasping the handle in His right hand, Jesus looked about Him for a moment and then headed straight for the nearest cattle pen.
Grasping the gate of the makeshift pen, Jesus yanked it open and began driving the cattle out, brandishing the whip behind them.
“Hey,” the cattle owner yelled. “What do you think you are doing?” He looked wildly about for help yelling, “Guards. Stop him! Guards.” Unable to reach Jesus because of the escaping cattle, the owner turned and yelled at his assistant who stood frozen staring in shock as the cattle headed for the stairs. “Don’t just stand there. Go after them,”
Jesus turned and headed for the sheep pen.
As soon as the path was clear, the cattle owner ran after Jesus looking for all the world like he would tear Him limb from limb all by himself. Suddenly Jesus turned to face him, His whip pointing directly at him. The man stopped in his tracks, the whip mere inches from his nose.
“Take your animals out of the temple, now!” Jesus ordered in a voice that brooked no argument.
The man’s anger melted into pure terror and without even looking for his cattle, he rushed for the stairs to get away from Jesus.
Jesus watched him go, a look of sadness crossing His face, then turned back to the sheep pen. The owner was staring at Jesus, shock and anger on his face. Jesus yanked aside the gate to the sheep pen and began driving them toward the stairs. The owner moved to intervene, but Jesus looked sternly at him, waved the whip towards the animals, and commanded, “Take these animals out of here, now.”
The sheep seller fled without another word, the sheep bleating at his heels. By now, everyone in the near vicinity was turning to see what all the commotion was about.
Jesus turned His attention to the table of a money changer whose mouth hung open in disbelief. As Jesus advanced on him, he scrambled up from the table and stuck his arms out in front of him like a shield yelling, “Guards, guards. Stop this man!”
Jesus reached his table, bent, and with one arm swept the money boxes to the floor where they burst open and scattered coins in every direction on the marble floor. As He straightened, He grabbed the table’s edge and flipped it over. The sound of money was unmistakable, and the entire courtyard went silent as everyone craned their neck to see what was happening.
Jesus raised His whip and pointed at each of the sellers and money changers in turn, His voice reverberated through the courtyard as He commanded,
“Get these things out of here. How dare you turn My Father’s house into a marketplace.”
No one moved, much less breathed as they stared at Jesus. The strength and power emanating from Him were not human. Even Peter felt a tremor of fear. It was like standing in the presence of an angry God.
Jesus turned, grabbed the table of the next moneychanger, and knocked it over, scattering the boxes and coins all over the floor. Screams and wails erupted from the crowd. In their panic to escape they rushed blindly away from Jesus, often bouncing off each other or pillars. Finally orienting themselves, they ran, pushing and shoving to be the first down the stairs where the frightened animals were already scrambling to escape.
Jesus continued resolutely down the courtyard toward the dove cages. The seller and his attendants stood uncertainly between Him and the cages. Jesus grabbed on of their chairs, threw it aside, and yelled, “Get these birds out of the temple court before I turn them loose.” The seller turned and grabbed as many cages as he could reach in his haste and hurried for the stairs. His assistants wasted no time in following his example.
A holy terror filled the hearts of the remaining sellers and money changers.
As one they turned and fled down the nearest set of stairs and out into the city along with the rest of the sheep and cattle Jesus was releasing.
Peter and the disciples huddled wide-eyed next to the pillar to keep from being trampled and watched in shock and awe as Jesus continued down the outer court, opening pens, herding sheep and oxen in front of Him, overturning tables left and right. It was then that they remembered the text, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.”
Finally, the last of the animals, money changers, and sellers escaped. As Peter surveyed those that remained, he was surprised to note that most of the priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, and rulers had also disappeared.
A strange quiet settled over the temple courtyard. The only people left were the poor, the blind, the lame, and a few sincere Jews who had come to worship God.
All eyes rested on Jesus who stood with His face lifted towards heaven, the whip hanging loosely by His side.
The indignation and anger flowed out of Him like a tide and left behind a calm, peaceful spirit that slowly permeated the whole courtyard.
After a few minutes, Jesus lowered His head and looked at those who remained. He smiled warmly. Turning, He hung the whip over one of the torch anchors on one of the great marble pillars and motioned for the people to come close to Him.
This was the Jesus Peter knew. The knot of fear vanished, and he boldly walked over to stand next to Jesus. The other disciples quickly followed his lead. They wanted to be sure they were part of whatever happened next.
Jesus, exuding love and sympathy, began walking through the crowd speaking words of encouragement to the people, healing people of whatever diseases they had as He went. Soon the temple courts rang with the praises of those healed.
A few hours later, Peter noticed that a group of priests and Pharisees had returned. They stood at the back of the crowd—shame, disapproval, and anger warring on their faces.
At sunset, Jesus stood up to leave but the Pharisees waylaid Him at the exit.
“What right do you have to drive out the moneychangers and those who provide the approved sacrificial animals? What right do you have to teach in the temple courtyard?” they demanded. “If you have this authority from God, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.”
Jesus could have pointed to the multitude of people He had just healed, and to the fact that these very Pharisees had run from Him earlier, but He didn’t. Instead, He looked calmly and compassionately at them and said,
“All right. Here is the sign: destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
“What!” the Pharisees exclaimed. “It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can do it in three days?”
At the time, even the disciples were confused by what Jesus said. Only after He rose from the dead did the disciples understand that by “this temple” Jesus meant His body. But after He rose from the dead, they remembered His words. This prophecy, made at the very beginning of His ministry, cemented their faith in Jesus and the Scriptures.
Jesus returned to the temple courtyard and taught and healed people every day for the rest of the Passover celebration. It turned the Passover into a religious revival and celebration such as had not been seen in Jerusalem for generations. Many people were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah because of all the miracles He was doing. But Jesus did not put His trust in the fickle faith of the people because He knew that most would change their minds the second things got tough. No one needed to tell Him about human nature.
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