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The first cleansing of the Temple

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The First Cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-22)

Jesus came proclaiming the rule of God, and this proclamation of necessity confronted and alienated the religious establishment of His day. Religion, particularly the Christian faith, may be institutional in either a good or a bad sense. Christianity is institutional in a good sense when its institutions are prophetically alive and instantly alert to God's presence. Christianity is institutional in the bad sense when it simply absorbs its culture, becomes an entrenched establishment, and perpetuates itself.

The first thing Jesus did the first time He came to Jerusalem pointedly confronted establishment religion. His cleansing of the temple dramatically demonstrates God's reaction to cultural, merely institutional, establishment religion. Christ comes again to His temple, the church, to cleanse and to challenge. What are some marks of establishment religion?

Religion Can Forget Its Own Purpose

Both John and the Synoptics connect Jesus' act of cleansing the temple with His first visit to Jerusalem. It was protest at first sight. Jesus passed by many good things that could have been done in Jerusalem to do the best thing, set His Father's house in order. The Old Testament ends with the promise that the Messiah will come suddenly to His temple (Mal. 3:1). Jesus is identified with that prophetic tradition.

Jesus found the outer court of the temple occupied by the "Bazaars of Annas," a fraudulent con game, a tourist trap for the rural pilgrims. Most grievous was the fact that these "money-changers" had set up shop in the one place set aside for Gentile worship, the outer court. Those responsible for the temple had forgotten its very purpose—a place where needy worshipers meet God. Jesus' response is one of the most aggressive of His entire public ministry. With His own moral authority He literally drove those out who misused His Father's house. There is literally nothing else like this in His life and work. It demonstrates the intensity of His desire that His people remain true to the purpose of His church. These are words to us when we make central that which should be peripheral, and peripheral that which should be central.

Christ Can Restore Purpose to Religion

For a golden hour, the temple in Jerusalem became what God intended it to be. With money scattered on the floor, tables overturned, and animals bleating in the confusion, the Son of God becomes the center of His temple. The face, a moment ago hard with indignation, is now radiant with compassion, as the temple becomes a place of healing for the blind and the lame. The little children gather about Him to say, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" They look in wonderment at the Godlike face of the Christ, and then on the healed sufferers. At least for a moment, God's temple was what the Father had intended; a place of instruction and healing for all men.

Religion Can Miss the Presence of the Christ

The reaction of the religious establishment was unbelief (v. 20). They found no fault in clinking coins and the bleating of nasty animals in the house of God, but they could not see the Son of God when He came. The physical temple had blinded these to the spiritual temple. We must always beware of missing the Christ.

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