The First Cleansing of the Temple
Soon after His baptism and victory over the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus attended the Passover of A.D. 28. At this feast He cleansed the temple the first time. In this action Jesus announced the beginning of His ministry.
The following references are given to document the order of events so we can better understand their significance. The first of His miraculous signs Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him. After this He went down to Capernaum with His mother and brothers and His disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (See John 2:11–13.)
The apostle John continues by explaining what took place at this most important feast of the Jews.
In the temple courts Jesus found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves He said, Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a market! (See John 2:14–16.)
The setting here indicates that this was the Passover that followed the first miracle Jesus performed at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.
First cleansing of the temple
- a) John 2:11–25
- b) The Desire of Ages, 154–166 – In His Temple
The Spirit of Prophecy gives us more insight as to what took place at this first Passover.
“As Jesus came into the temple, He took in the whole scene. He saw the unfair transactions. He saw the distress of the poor, who thought that without shedding of blood there would be no forgiveness for their sins. He saw the outer court of His temple converted into a place of unholy traffic. The sacred enclosure had become one vast exchange.
“Christ saw that something must be done. Numerous ceremonies were enjoined upon the people without the proper instruction as to their import. The worshipers offered their sacrifices without understanding that they were typical of the only perfect Sacrifice. And among them, unrecognized and unhonored, stood the One symbolized by all their service. He had given directions in regard to the offerings. He understood their symbolic value, and He saw that they were now perverted and misunderstood. Spiritual worship was fast disappearing. No link bound the priests and rulers to their God. Christ’s work was to establish an altogether different worship.” The Desire of Ages, 157.
“The confusion is hushed. The sound of traffic and bargaining has ceased. The silence becomes painful. A sense of awe overpowers the assembly. It is as if they were arraigned before the tribunal of God to answer for their deeds. Looking upon Christ, they behold divinity flash through the garb of humanity. The Majesty of heaven stands as the Judge will stand at the last day—not now encircled with the glory that will then attend Him, but with the same power to read the soul. His eye sweeps over the multitude, taking in every individual.” Ibid., 158.
The references above tell us that Jesus recognized a number of problems in the worship service as He entered the temple. He saw
- Unfair transactions
- The distress of the poor
- That the outer court of the temple was a place of unholy traffic
- That the people were not properly instructed concerning the ceremonies
- That the worshipers did not understand the meaning of the sacrifices
- That they did not recognize the One symbolized by the service
- That the offerings were perverted and misunderstood
- That spiritual worship was disappearing
- That no link bound the priests and rulers to their God
Jesus, seeing all of this, knew that it was His work to establish an altogether different worship.
“In the cleansing of the temple, Jesus was announcing His mission as the Messiah, and entering upon His work. … In cleansing the temple from the world’s buyers and sellers, Jesus announced His mission to cleanse the heart from the defilement of sin, from the earthly desires, the selfish lusts, the evil habits, that corrupt the soul. ‘The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? for He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver’ (Malachi 3:1–3).” Ibid., 161.
To summarize, in the cleansing of the temple, Jesus
- Announced His mission as the Messiah
- Announced that He was entering upon His work
- Announced His mission to cleanse the heart from the defilement of sin
- Came suddenly to His temple
- Shall sit as a refiner and purifier
In the above references we see described the work of Jesus and the different type of worship He came to establish. The primary issue was not the physical cleansing of the temple. It had a much deeper meaning—the spiritual cleansing of the heart from the defilement of sin. “From eternal ages it was God’s purpose that every created being, from the bright and holy seraph to men, should be a temple for the indwelling of the Creator.” Ibid.
What was the attitude and response of the priests and rulers, the leaders of the church, to this work of Jesus? “But the Jews had not understood the significance of the building they regarded with so much pride. They did not yield themselves as holy temples for the Divine Spirit. The courts of the temple at Jerusalem, filled with the tumult of unholy traffic, represented all too truly the temple of the heart, defiled by the presence of sensual passion and unholy thoughts.” Ibid.
“For a time they were convinced that Christ was a prophet; and many believed Him to be the Messiah. The Holy Spirit flashed into their minds the utterances of the prophets concerning Christ. Would they yield to this conviction?
“Repent they would not. They knew that Christ’s sympathy for the poor had been aroused. They knew that they had been guilty of extortion in their dealings with the people. Because Christ discerned their thoughts they hated Him. His public rebuke was humiliating to their pride, and they were jealous of His growing influence with the people. They determined to challenge Him as to the power by which He had driven them forth, and who gave Him this power.” Ibid., 162.
To summarize the attitude of the leaders, we see that
- They did not understand the significance of the temple
- They did not yield themselves as holy temples for the Divine Spirit
- The unholy traffic of the temple courts represented the temple of the heart, defiled by sensual passions and unholy thoughts
- They initially were convicted that Christ was a prophet
- They would not yield to this conviction and would not repent
- They hated Christ because He discerned their thoughts
- They were jealous of His influence
- They were determined to challenge His authority
As the people observed the cleansing of the temple, there were two types of reactions to this work of Christ. It is important to identify the attitudes and positions of these two groups.
Of the larger group of people, the crowd that fled the temple and later slowly returned, Inspiration states, “They had partially recovered from the panic that had seized them, but their faces expressed irresolution and timidity. They looked with amazement on the works of Jesus, and were convicted that in Him the prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled. The sin of the desecration of the temple rested, in a great degree, upon the priests. It was by their arrangement that the court had been turned into a market place. The people were comparatively innocent. They were impressed by the divine authority of Jesus; but with them the influence of the priests and rulers was paramount. They regarded Christ’s mission as an innovation, and questioned His right to interfere with what was permitted by the authorities of the temple. They were offended because the traffic had been interrupted, and they stifled the convictions of the Holy Spirit.” Ibid., 163, 164.
Here we see the attitude of the larger group of people; they
- Recognized that in Him the prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled
- Were comparatively innocent
- Were impressed by the divine authority of Jesus
- Allowed the influence of the priests and rulers to be paramount
- Regarded Christ’s mission as an innovation
- Questioned His right to interfere with the authorities of the temple
- Were offended because the services had been interrupted
- Stifled the convictions of the Holy Spirit
Now let’s look at the attitudes of a smaller group of people, the faithful believers: “The poor remained behind; and these were now looking to Jesus, whose countenance expressed His love and sympathy. With tears in His eyes, He said to the trembling ones around Him: ‘Fear not; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me. For this cause came I into the world.’
“The people pressed into Christ’s presence with urgent, pitiful appeals: Master, bless me. His ear heard every cry. With pity exceeding that of a tender mother He bent over the suffering little ones. All received attention. Everyone was healed of whatever disease he had. The dumb opened their lips in praise; the blind beheld the face of their Restorer. The hearts of the sufferers were made glad. …
“At the crucifixion of Christ, those who had thus been healed did not join with the rabble throng in crying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him.’ Their sympathies were with Jesus; for they had felt His great sympathy and wonderful power. They knew Him to be their Saviour; for He had given them health of body and soul. They listened to the preaching of the apostles, and the entrance of God’s word into their hearts gave them understanding. They became agents of God’s mercy, and instruments of His salvation.” Ibid., 163.
To summarize the attitude of this smaller group, the faithful believers
- Looked to Jesus
- Pressed into Christ’s presence
- Appealed for His blessing
- Received His attention
- Afflicted were healed
- Praised the Lord
- Did not join with the rabble throng in the crucifixion of Christ
- Were in sympathy with Jesus
- Knew Him to be their Saviour
- Listened to the apostles
- Received God’s word which gave them understanding
- Became agents of God’s mercy
- Became instruments of His salvation
The reactions, positions and attitudes of these three groups of people at the first cleansing of the temple, the leaders, the large group of people who allowed the influence of the priests and rulers to be paramount, and the smaller group of faithful believers should cause us to consider our present position.
Summary – The significant points are
- Jesus announced the beginning of His ministry as the Messiah by cleansing the temple at the first Passover following His baptism, A.D. 28.
- This was an announcement of His work to cleanse the heart from the defilement of sin
- It was a fulfillment of Malachi 3:1–3 that He would “sit as a refiner and purifier” “to purify the sons of Levi”
- The priests and rulers rejected the cleansing work offered by Jesus and decided to challenge Him
- The majority of the people were convicted that Jesus was the Messiah, but with them the influence of the priests and rulers was paramount
- A small group of faithful believers knew Jesus to be their Saviour, and they received the cleansing He offered
It would be well to contemplate the attitude of the larger group of people as compared with the attitude of the smaller group, the faithful believers. Where do you fit in?
Maurice Hoppe is Director emeritus of the Steps to Life training programs and a member of the Steps to Life Board. The Training Program for Ministers and Church Leaders is a correspondence course that prepares individuals to serve as pastors or Bible workers. Preparing for the Final Conflict is a correspondence course for the laity. Both of these courses teach present truth that will be an anchor for the soul during the storm of opposition and persecution just ahead. He and his wife also have a correspondence course offered through Revelation Ministry. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.