John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: August 17

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: August 17

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The Traders Driven from the Temple


John is the only one of the evangelists who relates this miracle at Cana of Galilee; and he goes on to state that “after this He [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, He and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples;” that is to say, all the party connected with Him, by natural or religious ties, which had been present at Cana. Of Capernaum we may find another occasion to speak; and it will at present suffice to state that it seems to have stood on the north-west shore of the Lake of Tiberias, about twenty-five miles north-west from Cana. This place afterwards became our Lord’s usual residence, so far as He can be said to have had any fixed abode; but his stay there was, on the present occasion, very short, owing to the approach of the Passover, which He purposed to attend. The reason of his going so much out of his direct way for so short a visit is not easily seen, unless He had always made this place his home, or unless some of his disciples, residing in this quarter, had returned to their homes, while He and the others had proceeded to Cana, and that He had appointed to be joined by them here, before going together to Jerusalem. That the mother and brethren of Jesus went thither also, instead of going back to Nazareth (which, however, they may have all done intermediately), suggests that they also meant to attend the Passover, and wished to do so in his company—not only because they had been used to do so in former years, but because they might wish to observe his proceedings, now that He had manifestly reached the turning-point in a career which had so long been a mysterious expectation to them.

The visit to Jerusalem at this Passover is not recorded by any other evangelist than John; and it is remarkable that the memorable incident which he connects with it is the same which the other evangelists assign to the last Passover our Lord attended. This was driving the traders out of the temple. We have, therefore, to suppose that He did this on two different occasions. Nor is there any difficulty in this supposition; for as we find Him repeating, at different times and to different audiences, the same sayings and discourses, there is no reason why the same significant and symbolically instructive action should not be repeated at a distant interval of time—the repetition giving intensity to the meaning. If, however, this incident happened only once (and no one of the gospels records it twice), we must assume that either John or the other evangelists relate it out of the chronological order. This is less possible of the others than of John, whose narrative is all of a piece; and therefore, if we had to choose, we should prefer to ascribe it to the first Passover, as he does. But we really see no difficulty in the repetition of the act, comparable to that which would arise from supposing that some of the evangelists ascribe to one Passover what belonged to another: and that some of the other evangelists record this as having also happened at the first Passover, is sufficiently explained by the fact that the visit to Jerusalem at this Passover is entered in their records.

During the feast at Jerusalem, and in presence of the multitudes there assembled from all quarters, Jesus openly stood forth, in the exercise of his high ministry, and attested his mission by various miracles. These are not particularly recorded, but were doubtless of the same character as those which we afterwards find him performing—healing sundry kinds of diseases by his mere word. He had, therefore, already acquired a general reputation in the city as “a teacher sent from God;” if not, as the more enlightened might conjecture, something more than that, when He cleared the temple of the traffickers who encumbered its sacred courts.

For the convenience of the Jews who repaired to Jerusalem from a distance, and wished to offer sacrifices, the usage had grown up of allowing booths to be set up and stalls kept in the temple courts, where everything requisite for the purpose might be had; and as the half-shekel tribute to the temple, due from every adult male, and which was usually paid at this time, could only be received in Jewish money, the worshippers needed to exchange for it the Greek and Roman coins which were in general circulation, for which purpose the money-changers also were permitted to pitch their tables in the temple courts. These courts were thus made no bad emblem of the then existing state of the Hebrew theocracy. For although the custom had, in its origin, the excuse of public convenience, and the traffic had at first been conducted with that subdued decorum which the sacred place exacted, yet, from the progressing corruptions of the people, many foul indecorums had crept in; and the merchants and brokers, with the eager cupidity which had already become their characteristic, soon made everything subservient to their avarice; and their noisy toutings and keen huckstering not only defiled the sacred courts, but greatly disturbed those who came to worship at the temple.

It was part of the ministry which Christ had undertaken, to denounce the corruptions of the secularized theocracy, and to declare judgment against them; and as the general desecration of all that was holy was aptly represented by these profane doings in the temple, He first of all manifested against them his holy anger. Threatening the traders with a scourge of small cords that He had provided, He drove them before Him out of the temple; the tables of the more tardy moneychangers he overturned; and to those that sold doves He said, “Take these things hence: make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.”

Let it not be thought that it was the arm of a single man against many, or the dread of his whip of small cords, that caused the traffickers to withdraw in haste from the temple. It was the Divine indignation that flashed from eyes usually so full of love and pity; it was the strong language (of which there was more, probably, than is written) with which He denounced their wickedness; it was from the belief that He acted under a prophetic mission, and beheld in his uplifted scourge a symbol, after the manner of the old prophets, of judgments to come, which their consciences, smitten and roused by his acts and words, told them they had well deserved.

No miracle is claimed in all this. It was not needed. But let those who question the possibility of such a transaction call to mind what is often seen in this country—that a single officer of the law, strong only in the consciousness of right and duty, confronting and dispersing before him a mischievous or excited rabble, weak only in the consciousness of wrong-doing. But it may be said, that this is a public officer; whereas Jesus was only a private man in the view of these people. Not so. He was already regarded as a prophet, or one who claimed to be such. That character gave authority to his act in their eyes; for they felt it was an act suited to that character, and such as might have been expected from some of the ancient prophets.

The priests, who felt bound to take notice of a transaction so distinctly involved in their jurisdiction, and whose profits from allowing the traders to establish themselves in the temple courts interested them in the maintenance of the existing usage—even they, when they came to question Jesus, did not deny his authority to act as He had done, in case He were a prophet; but they required Him to give more distinct proof than He had hitherto afforded of the prophetic mission, which could alone justify Him in taking such authority upon him.

His answer to this demand was at once a reproof and a prophecy: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” He meant, as St. John assures us, “the temple of his body;” and spoke prophetically of his resurrection from the dead, which would be a proof of a Divine mission such as no saint or prophet ever gave. He doubtless laid his hand upon his breast as He spoke. That body, in which the Godhead visibly dwelt, was a temple holier than that at Jerusalem. This temple they would destroy, and lay it in the dust; yet in three days would He himself, by his own power, raise it up, in all, or more than all, its former strength and beauty. It was a glorious parable, which it is not surprising that they did not comprehend; for John himself frankly confesses that the disciples themselves did not understand it till after the resurrection, which is indeed true of many other things that they had heard their Lord utter.