Short Meditations in John 2: 11. God in Action
Jn 2:15 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.
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild. So a children’s song might go, but not on this occasion! To say that Jesus was annoyed would be an understatement. To purposefully make a whip and then drive all the animals out of the temple area, took perseverance and strength of will and character to resist the opposition that there would have been. This was a forceful and possibly violent event.
Now there is a question mark over this event because the three Synoptic Gospels all record it happening at the end of Jesus’ three years of ministry whereas John places it firmly at the beginning. Possibilities put forward are that it was at the end but John put it here to signify God’s judgment coming through the Messiah, or very simply that there were two times when Jesus came to the temple and cast out the market. The details of the first and last events are actually different in small ways.
It is unlikely that the three synoptic writers got it wrong because of the variety of sources they used. Likewise it is unlikely that John got it wrong because in all other ways he exhibits such a clear mind and clear memory. We tend to lean towards the latter explanation and suggest that he cleared them out at the beginning of his ministry but over the space of three years the practice of the market continued.
It is consistent with the story that Jesus came to the Temple and did this twice. At the start of his ministry, having had the affirming encounter at his baptism, then performing the miracle of the water into wine, he is clearly ‘under way’ as far as his ministry is concerned and it is not simply to be nice to people but to reveal God to the world and to bring the truth of His being to the world. That God is holy, the Old Testament has no doubts. That He is a God who warns and warns again and then takes disciplinary action, again there can be no doubt.
It should not surprise us, therefore, to find Jesus bringing corrective action when he finds an abuse of the temple. He will do it again in three years time but then it will also be, not only because the abuse has continued, but even more to act as provocation to stir up the authorities against him to bring about his final arrest etc. Is the God we worship one who tolerates wrong or acts against it?