12 ¶ After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days. 13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, 14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: 15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; 16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. 17 And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. 18 Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? 19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21 But he spake of the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.
Jesus, his mother, brothers, and disciples all go to Capernaum. From there Jesus went to observe the Passover at Jerusalem. The phrase, “at hand,” in verse 13, means that it was an event to happen soon. Notice in the following verse how Isaac’s death is coming soon;
Genesis 27:41 And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.
“At hand,” can also be near. “Nigh,” meaning near, is often used before the phrase for emphasis;
John 19:42 There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.
What follows is a controversial episode in this gospel. It appears, from a literal reading of all four gospels, that there would have been two times when Jesus ran money changers out of the temple, in the beginning and at the end of His ministry.
Here, He says;
16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.
In Matthew 21 He said, alluding to Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11;
13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
He does the same in Mark 11:17 and Luke 19:46 which makes these instances somewhat different from John’s gospel. The key here is how you view the Bible. If you view it from the point of view of what it says about itself, being, “given by inspiration of God,” then there really is no problem with this passage.
2Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
Job 32:8 But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.
2Peter 3:15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
In fact, some heavy-hitters in the history of Bible commentary also saw that there must have been two separate events where Jesus caused an uproar in the temple with this type of action. Both Augustine and Chrysostom are both reported to have agreed on this.
Modernists of all persuasions will declare one of two things; the liberal will say it is a mistake on John’s part and proof the Bible is unreliable while the fundamentalist will say it is a mistake but doesn’t matter as it doesn’t change the message. Both of these parties received their talking points from German theology and so-called Higher Criticism of the 18 and 1900’s through heretics like David Strauss, Albert Schweitzer, and Hermann Reimarus.
A similar lack of reading comprehension is found in any study of the popularly named, “Sermon on the Mount.” The modernist will say that there are two accounts of the same sermon, one found in Matthew 5 and one found in Luke 6, even though they are two completely different sermons given at different times under different conditions. They have a similar ring to them so the modernist who lacks basic reading comprehension skills is unable to distinguish between the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain.
Verse 17 is a reference to Psalm 69:9.
The Jews, in keeping with what was said before about Israel being born in signs and wonders, required some kind of visible proof that Christ had the authority to do what He did. Christ replied with a reference to His body which the Jews misunderstood and then misused the misunderstanding maliciously.
Matthew 26:61 And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.
Jesus did not say His body was “like” the temple which would have been a figure of speech called a simile or that His body was the temple which would have been a metaphor. He used a figure of speech which E.W. Bullinger called in his voluminous Figures of Speech Used in the Bible a hypocatastasis, where Christ’s body represented the temple. (5)
It can be said, in the Bible, that the struggles, failings, and triumphs of Israel represent each Christian’s life which is a microcosm of the road Israel took, always remembering that in the end God never abandoned His people regardless of how backslidden they were. But, they caused themselves immense tribulation by disobedience as we do. It can also be said that the kingdom of Israel’s history is a microcosm of the world at large and we can see the failings and corruption of all human government within the framework of Israel’s history.
The physical temple that was part of this reference was built under King Herod’s, the Roman puppet ruler, command. As his crowning effort to try to placate and please the Jews he erected a magnificent temple for them which was, “so transcendently beautiful that Josephus [the most significant Jewish historian of the first century] seems tireless in describing its splendors, and even Titus [the Roman general and future emperor who destroyed it], out of regard for its magnificence, was anxious to spare it when the city fell in 70 A.D.” (6)
The figure of speech was explained in verse 21 and yet neither the Jews nor His disciples believed this until His disciples did, after His Resurrection.
(5) E.W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible: Explained and Illustrated (London: Grapho Press, 1898), 746.
(6) Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1962), 61.