In my previous post, I made several points. One, we should be very careful about how we approach rendering “of the Jews” in verse 13. Jesus was a Jew, headed to the Temple to observe Passover. We cannot read this passage as supersessionist as if Jesus intended to do away with the covenants given to the people. Instead, he is the fulfillment of the covenant promises, and the Temple which once housed God’s presence is now made flesh in Jesus, giving us access to God in which the covenant is written upon our hearts, and God tabernacles within us by the power of the Spirit.
Two, I added verses 24 and 25 to the reading because I think they are critical. Jesus doesn’t entrust himself to those who are awed by the sign he gives them in this passage because he knows all to well our tendency towards idolatry and faithlessness. Given half a chance, the same hardness of heart that resulted in Malachi’s despair that the presence of the Lord was no longer to be felt in the cultus of Temple worship (1:10; 2:2, 13-14; 3:5, “then I will draw near…”) would also look at God’s dwelling place made flesh, Jesus the Christ, as an idol resulting in empty worship and praise. In fact, I think an entire sermon could be written on exactly this point concerning the despair of many of our churches that God has “left” our buildings. This tendency towards idolatry, and by extension faithlessness, can be seen in the person of Judas who betrays Jesus, or Peter who denies him.
There are many other points of entry into the text like the various references Jesus and the onlookers make to the Temple ranging from Temple (iero) to house (oikos) and sanctuary (naon). On one level, Jesus’ interlocutors seem to look upon the Temple and its entire apparatus as the location of worship and dwelling of God, worthy of protection as it stands with its attending cultic apparatus employing money changers and animal retailers. Jesus, on the other hand, references the Temple as being his Father’s “house” (oikos), suggesting intimacy of fellowship/filial relation within himself between him and the Father, empowering him with zeal for the Father’s interests. The religious authorities cannot recognize this about Jesus, and so their appeals to preserve Temple practice fall short because it will always reference the building and its trappings, blinding them to the true “sanctuary” (naon; intimate, holy space; holy of holies) that stands in front of them.
In other words, John is employing a word play here, toying with the readers’ definitions and expectations of what the Temple was really all about. The Temple wasn’t just a particular place with a set of rites associated with it. Those cultic practices and the sanctity of place always pointed beyond itself to God’s deep longing to dwell among us. Here, John fully resonates with the prophets. Consider the glorious vision of Isaiah and Israel fully restored in 65:24: “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.” The day that is coming will be one in which God will reside so intimately with the people, God will be closer to us than we are to ourselves. It is the gift of grace to the believer that they have eyes to see that the Temple has come in its fullness as the sanctuary of the Most High in Jesus, who empowers us to be temples of the living God. From this vantage point, we as dwelling places for God are under the same imperative to stop making our hearts — our Father’s house — a marketplace for other idols and gods.
And the only way to get there from here is exorcism. Yes, you read that right: exorcism.
Verse 14 sets the stage. As Jesus walks into the Temple complex, he sees all the intricate details of exchange and purchase. While not explicit in this text, what Jesus sees is a monopolistic exploitation of the people who have come to worship, make sacrifice and honor God. For example, those who would have brought their own sacrifices were sure to be accosted by a priest that would insist that their “outside” offering had a blemish, thus unworthy of God. They would then have been directed to purchase from among the “approved” sellers of “prime” condition animals that, in reality, may have been of equivalent levels of perfection, or possibly in worse shape, and certainly more pricey.
The money exchangers (kermatistes, Greek; shulhani, Hebrew) were agents of the Temple and its vaults/cash reservoirs, and there was no mistaking the fact that they were raking in the dough. The money changers had three primary duties: (1) exchanging foreign currencies for shekels, (2) changing large denominations of money to small denominations, and (3) banking, or optimizing returns for the Temple cash reserves. These Temple bankers carried out this operation of collecting the annual Temple tax of half a shekel, as well as other offerings to the Temple cult apparatus. While the Mosaic Law prohibited the taking of interest on money and its exchange, it was permissible to charge a fee to exchange shekels for other currencies (kolbon), as well as set the rate of exchange. Human nature being what it is, and with evidence of the exploitation of exchange rates and fees by modern day bankers, it is pretty safe to assume that Jesus perceived the money exchangers as exploiting the letter of the Law so as the completely abuse its spirit. This particularly hit the poor and vulnerable to whom the half-shekel Temple tax would have already been an enormous burden.
In a sense, you might say that Jesus perceived that Mammon had taken up residence within the Temple, and was devouring the poor by exploiting the sincere piety of the faithful. The spirit of wealth is a jealous god, and it drives its faithful towards a piety of domination, exploitation, power, control and consumption. We see temples to Mammon today in our round-the-clock-shopping at your local strip mall, emporiums raised in honor to its king. In fact, emporium is exactly the word Jesus uses to describe what the Temple has become, charging them all to leave and take these things out of the Temple because their idolatry is profaning the holy. (2:16)
Jesus, now angered and armed with a whip of cords, “drives out” (exebalen) all of those engaged in these exploitative behaviors, “spilling out” (execheen) the coins, and “upending” (anetrepsen) their tables. These are not calm words, but instead suggest great force and violence. The most interesting word is exebalen, or “cast/drive out.” In Matthew 8:16, Jesus casts out (exebalen) the demons infesting the neighborhood and causing sickness among its residents. In John 12:31, God speaks from heaven declaring that the Son will be glorified, and because of it, Jesus announces that the ruler of this world will be “cast out” of his place of primacy. I maintain that this passage in John 2 is nothing less than Jesus’ exorcism of Mammon from the Temple, an act of liberation from the old pointing to the new thing God has done in the living Temple of the living God, Christ Jesus.
Yet, amidst the chaos, many assembled are still blinded, unable to see Jesus as he is, the new sanctuary, the new Temple of the living God made flesh which promises to us the indwelt Spirit. In verse 18, they ask him by what “sign” (semeion) he does these things. In other words, by what authority can you do this, Jesus? Who gave you the power? Can’t you see that you threaten the whole operation of getting close to God?
And it is here that both the assembled of Jesus’ day and the faithful of our day need to listen closely. The sign that Jesus gives is his impending resurrection. Using the Temple as backdrop, Jesus foreshadows his coming death, but more importantly, it will be by God’s raising of Jesus that he is established as Lord of all. In his resurrected body, God’s plan for humanity and for the whole creation will be perfected — God’s kingdom rule will break into the world in a radical new way. In his resurrected glory that shines with a great radiance, we see the perfection, purification and glorification of our own bodies and all the natural “stuff” of the world that will now be able to perceive, receive and house (oikos) God’s very presence and glory. The people of God who once communed with God in a tabernacle, then later in a Temple made by human hands, claim a final victory over the powers of sin and death in Jesus’ resurrected body wherein they are cloaked in imperishability, bearing the image “of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:49)
This is the sign; this is the wonder of our faith that draws all humanity unto Jesus. (John 12:32) The great compassion and love for us that draws the nations to understand that him laying down his life for his friends (John 15:13) is the instrumentality by which God will fulfill what was alluded to in the old (the tabernacle; the Temple). And by the power present in Jesus’ being raised up by the glory of God, the righteousness and covenant faithfulness of God to rescue all creation from its bondage is put on display for all to see.
Exorcism, or the driving out of Mammon and the other gods and idols we make and worship as the center of our concerns, makes room for Christ’s resurrection power to fill us so that we might be made new and so reflect the glory of God for which we were made.