8 March 2015

John 2:13-22

“Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” (v. 15)

Psalm: Psalm 19


This passage about the cleansing of the Temple appears in all four Gospels. However, Matthew, Mark and Luke all place it much later, soon after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we remember on Palm Sunday. Here John has it close to the start of the Gospel, just after Jesus calls the first disciples and his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. There is still discussion about whether these are recording the same event or if there were two different events.

The driving of the animals and overturning the tables is one of two passages that have been used to justify violence by the followers of Jesus (the other is Luke 22:36 when Jesus instructs his disciples to sell their cloak to buy a sword if they don't have one - and yet he then says a couple of swords is enough and even then does not allow them to be used). Here John refers specifically to Jesus driving out the sheep and cattle with the "whip of cords" rather than seeing it as any show of violence towards people. The angry actions of Jesus to the money changers also hardly constitute violence towards people. However, since the time of Augustine (AD354-430) the Church has struggled to be consistently non-violent. Using this passage to justify violence towards others seems both a stretch and contrary to the rest of the teaching of Jesus (for example, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5).

When asked to justify himself, Jesus talks of his body replacing the Temple. This fits neatly with his description of future worship in the story of the woman at the well (John 4:21-24). However, even though he is looking to replacing worship in the physical Temple building with worship of him in spirit, the way people behave towards that Temple (and perhaps especially to those who are being exploited by that behaviour) still matters for the moment and drives him to anger.

To Ponder

  • How do you feel about Jesus and violence?
  • Jesus challenges people's understanding of the Temple. How does this fit with your views on Church buildings?
  • Jesus acts when he sees the Temple being abused and people being exploited. How does that challenge you today?


Bible notes author

The Revd Dave Warnock

Dave Warnock is a Methodist minister in the Leicester North Circuit based in Syston, Leicester. He is passionate about lots of things (including Scripture, discipleship, gender/sexual equality, pacifism and cycling) and loves being part of the Methodist people.