Capernaum was situated on the northwest shore of Sea of Galilee: the scene shifts to Jerusalem. Whereas each of the other three gospels feature Jesus driving out tradesmen and moneychangers from the temple near the end of his ministry, this incident reported by John is obviously towards the beginning of his ministry.
Following this obviously disruptive clearing of the temple (although it should be noted that it cannot have been seen as such a great threat to security by the Romans as no mention is made of any troops arriving from the adjacent Antonia fortress) the religious authorities unsurprisingly demand to know with what authority such an action is carried out.
The fact that the Jewish authorities ask Jesus to prove his credentials by way of a miraculous sign show that they view him as a possible prophet rather than a deranged hooligan, however they have clearly missed the significance of his action as a means of cleansing the temple in keeping with an OT understanding of prophetic zeal. The call from these religious leaders for a miraculous sign is a reoccurring theme throughout John’s gospel and most obviously highlights the desire for the spectacle of a special solar event in the skies as a proof of a great prophet like another Moses or Elijah. Of course what these people consistently fail to realise is that Jesus himself is literally a walking miracle – God made flesh!
Jesus’ enigmatic reply, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” baffles both the religious authorities and his own disciples. John tells us that it was only later he and the other disciples understood that Jesus was referring to his death and resurrection which would be the greatest of miraculous signs. In the other gospels Jesus is accused before the Sanhedrin of claiming that he would destroy the temple and in three days build another and it is likely that the various witnesses who submit this as evidence against Jesus are recalling this episode and inaccurately citing what Jesus actually said possibly two years previously.
In the clearing of the temple Jesus behaves in a manner consistent with an OT prophet but ultimately he will be the priest who administers the decisive sacrifice for sins – i.e. his own body. When Jesus died he provided a new way for man to come before God and the physical temple was therefore superseded by the spiritual reality of the finished work of the cross. Jesus was indeed the ultimate temple, priest and sacrifice for us!
Prayer: Think of someone you know who has yet to encounter Jesus or receive his grace. Write their name down on a post-it note or scrap of paper. Pray that the Lord would open their eyes to see Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Put the post-it/note somewhere you will see it and commit to pray for them over the day.