“Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”
The story of Jesus clearing the money changers out of the temple is well known. It has been the subject of numerous works of art, ranging from classic works to modern memes and, because of its inherent drama, the scene is almost always included in plays or movies about the life of Christ. But many may not realize that Jesus actually did this twice, once at the beginning of his ministry and once at the end. This is probably because the first incident is only recorded in John’s gospel and John makes no mention of the second one, so many people confuse the two separate incidents as having happened at the same time.
After having performed the miracle of turning water into wine in Cana, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover. When Jesus entered the temple courts in Jerusalem, he found it filled with people selling livestock (both sheep and cattle!) and others selling doves in cages. There were also moneychangers sitting at tables stacked with coins, busily exchanging foreign money for that which could be used in the temple.
This would not have been an unusual sight for Jesus. The fact that he had lived in a devout Jewish family for his entire life meant that he would have traveled to Jerusalem dozens of times before this. And these merchants did not just turn up overnight; their businesses had been going on for some time, and provided a convenience for devout pilgrims who had traveled long distances in order to fulfill their religious obligations. It was much easier for them to buy a sacrificial animal on site than to bring one from home, and in order to pay for anything in the temple, they must first have the proper kind of currency, so the moneychangers really came in handy.
But this time was different. This time Jesus took action by fashioning an impromptu whip out of cords, which he then used to drive out the sheep and the cattle and the people who had brought them. He overturned the tables of the money changers, scattering their coins onto the floor. He rebuked the dove sellers, telling them, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”
Wow! What a dramatic scene! Nevertheless, the gospel writer is careful not to accentuate the drama in his narrative, and does not provide his readers with any descriptions as to Jesus’s demeanor or emotions. The only clue we are given in regards to these is in an oblique reference to Psalm 69:9, when he writes, “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.'” (John 2:17)
Let us go back and read the rest of that verse in context, for it will provide us with some further insight into the life of our Saviour as he stepped away from his former life of quiet obscurity, and set out to fulfill the purpose for which he was sent, even to the point of estrangement from those within his own family.
I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s children; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me. (Psalm 69:8,9)