Here we have,
I. The short visit Christ made to Capernaum, John 2:12. It was a large and populous city, about a day’s journey from Cana; it is called his own city (Matt. 9:1), because he made it his head-quarters in Galilee, and what little rest he had was there. It was a place of concourse, and therefore Christ chose it, that the fame of his doctrine and miracles might thence spread the further. Observe,
1. The company that attended him thither: his mother, his brethren, and his disciples. Wherever Christ went, (1.) He would not go alone, but would take those with him who had put themselves under his guidance, that he might instruct them, and that they might attest his miracles. (2.) He could not go alone, but they would follow him, because they liked the sweetness either of his doctrine or of his wine, John 6:26. His mother, though he had lately given her to understand that in the works of his ministry he should pay no more respect to her than to any other person, yet followed him; not to intercede with him, but to learn of him. His brethren also and relations, who were at the marriage and were wrought upon by the miracle there, and his disciples, who attended him wherever he went. It should seem, people were more affected with Christ’s miracles at first than they were afterwards, when custom made them seem less strange.
2. His continuance there, which was at this time not many days, designing now only to begin the acquaintance he would afterwards improve there. Christ was still upon the remove, would not confine his usefulness to one place, because many needed him. And he would teach his followers to look upon themselves but as sojourners in this world, and his ministers to follow their opportunities, and go where their work led them. We do not now find Christ in the synagogues, but he privately instructed his friends, and thus entered upon his work by degrees. It is good for young ministers to accustom themselves to pious and edifying discourse in private, that they may with the better preparation, and greater awe, approach their public work. He did not stay long at Capernaum, because the passover was at hand, and he must attend it at Jerusalem; for every thing is beautiful in its season. The less good must give way to the greater, and all the dwellings of Jacob must give place to the gates of Zion.
II. The passover he kept at Jerusalem; it is the first after his baptism, and the evangelist takes notice of all the passovers he kept henceforward, which were four in all, the fourth that at which he suffered (three years after this), and half a year was now past since his baptism. Christ, being made under the law, observed the passover at Jerusalem; see Exod. 23:17. Thus he taught us by his example a strict observance of divine institutions, and a diligent attendance on religious assemblies. He went up to Jerusalem when the passover was at hand, that he might be there with the first. It is called the Jews’ passover, because it was peculiar to them (Christ is our Passover); now shortly God will no longer own it for his. Christ kept the passover at Jerusalem yearly, ever since he was twelve years old, in obedience to the law; but now that he has entered upon his public ministry we may expect something more from him than before; and two things we are here told he did there:—
1. He purged the temple, John 2:14-17. Observe here,
(1.) The first place we find him in at Jerusalem was the temple, and, it should seem, he did not make any public appearance till he came thither; for his presence and preaching there were that glory of the latter house which was to exceed the glory of the former, Hag. 2:9. It was foretold (Mal. 3:1): I will send my messenger, John Baptist; he never preached in the temple, but the Lord, whom ye seek, he shall suddenly come to his temple, suddenly after the appearing of John Baptist; so that this was the time, and the temple the place, when, and where, the Messiah was to be expected.
(2.) The first work we find him at in the temple was the purging of it; for so it was foretold there (Mal. 3:2, 3): He shall sit as a refiner and purify the sons of Levi. Now was come the time of reformation. Christ came to be the great reformer; and, according to the method of the reforming kings of Judah, he first purged out what was amiss (and that used to be passover-work too, as in Hezekiah’s time, 2 Chron. 30:14, 15, and Josiah’s, 2 Kgs. 23:4), and then taught them to do well. First purge out the old leaven, and then keep the feast. Christ’s design in coming into the world was to reform the world; and he expects that all who come to him should reform their hearts and lives, Gen. 35:2. And this he has taught us by purging the temple. See here,
[1.] What were the corruptions that were to be purged out. He found a market in one of the courts of the temple, that which was called the court of the Gentiles, within the mountain of that house. There, First, They sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, for sacrifice; we will suppose, not for common use, but for the convenience of those who came out of the country, and could not bring their sacrifices in kind along with them; see Deut. 14:24-26. This market perhaps had been kept by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2), but was admitted into the temple by the chief priests, for filthy lucre; for, no doubt, the rents for standing there, and fees for searching the beasts sold there, and certifying that they were without blemish, would be a considerable revenue to them. Great corruptions in the church owe their rise to the love of money, 1 Tim. 6:5, 10 Secondly, They changed money, for the convenience of those that were to pay a half-shekel in specie every year, by way of poll, for the service of the tabernacle (Exod. 30:12), and no doubt they got by it.
[2.] What course our Lord took to purge out those corruptions. He had seen these in the temple formerly, when he was in a private station; but never went about to drive them out till now, when he had taken upon him the public character of a prophet. He did not complain to the chief priests, for he knew they countenanced those corruptions. But he himself,
First, Drove out the sheep and oxen, and those that sold them, out of the temple. He never used force to drive any into the temple, but only to drive those out that profaned it. He did not seize the sheep and oxen for himself, did not distrain and impound them, though he found them damage faissant-actual trespassers upon his Father’s ground; he only drove them out, and their owners with them. He made a scourge of small cords, which probably they had led their sheep and oxen with, and thrown them away upon the ground, whence Christ gathered them. Sinners prepare the scourges with which they themselves will be driven out from the temple of the Lord. He did not make a scourge to chastise the offenders (his punishments are of another nature), but only to drive out the cattle; he aimed no further than at reformation. See Rom. 13:3, 4; 2 Cor. 10:8.
Secondly, He poured out the changers’ money, to kerma—the small money—the Nummorum Famulus. In pouring out the money, he showed his contempt of it; he threw it to the ground, to the earth as it was. In overthrowing the tables, he showed his displeasure against those that make religion a matter of worldly gain. Money-changers in the temple are the scandal of it. Note, In reformation, it is good to make thorough work; he drove them all out; and not only threw out the money, but, in overturning the tables, threw out the trade too.
Thirdly, He said to them that sold doves (sacrifices for the poor), Take these things hence. The doves, though they took up less room, and were a less nuisance than the oxen and sheep, yet must not be allowed there. The sparrows and swallows were welcome, that were left to God’s providence (Ps. 84:3), but not the doves, that were appropriated to man’s profit. God’s temple must not be made a pigeon-house. But see Christ’s prudence in his zeal. When he drove out the sheep and oxen, the owners might follow them; when he poured out the money, they might gather it up again; but, if he had turned the doves flying, perhaps they could not have been retrieved; therefore to them that sold doves he said, Take these things hence. Note, Discretion must always guide and govern our zeal, that we do nothing unbecoming ourselves, or mischievous to others.
Fourthly, He gave them a good reason for what he did: Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise. Reason for conviction should accompany force for correction.
a. Here is a reason why they should not profane the temple, because it was the house of God, and not to be made a house of merchandise. Merchandise is a good thing in the exchange, but not in the temple. This was, (a.) to alienate that which was dedicated to the honour of God; it was sacrilege; it was robbing God. (b.) It was to debase that which was solemn and awful, and to make it mean. (c.) It was to disturb and distract those services in which men ought to be most solemn, serious, and intent. It was particularly an affront to the sons of the stranger in their worship to be forced to herd themselves with the sheep and oxen, and to be distracted in their worship by the noise of a market, for this market was kept in the court of the Gentiles. (d.) It was to make the business of religion subservient to a secular interest; for the holiness of the place must advance the market, and promote the sale of their commodities. Those make God’s house a house of merchandise, [a.] Whose minds are filled with cares about worldly business when they are attending on religious exercises, as those, Amos 8:5; Ezek. 33:31. [b.] Who perform divine offices for filthy lucre, and sell the gifts of the Holy Ghost, Acts 8:18.
b. Here is a reason why he was concerned to purge it, because it was his Father’s house. And, (a.) Therefore he had authority to purge it, for he was faithful, as a Son over his own house. Heb. 3:5, 6. In calling God his Father, he intimates that he was the Messiah, of whom it was said, He shall build a house for my name, and I will be his Father, 2 Sam. 7:13, 14. (b.) Therefore he had a zeal for the purging of it: “It is my Father’s house, and therefore I cannot bear to see it profaned, and him dishonoured.” Note, If God be our Father in heaven, and it be therefore our desire that his name may be sanctified, it cannot but be our grief to see it polluted. Christ’s purging the temple thus may justly be reckoned among his wonderful works. Inter omnia signa quae fecit Dominus, hoc mihi videtur esse mirabilius—Of all Christ’s wonderful works this appears to me the most wonderful.—Hieron. Considering, [a.] That he did it without the assistance of any of his friends; probably it had been no hard matter to have raised the mob, who had a great veneration for the temple, against these profaners of it; but Christ never countenanced any thing that was tumultuous or disorderly. There was one to uphold, but his own arm did it. [b.] That he did it without the resistance of any of his enemies, either the market-people themselves, or the chief priests that gave them their licences, and had the posse templi—temple force, at their command. But the corruption was too plain to be justified; sinners’ own consciences are reformers’ best friends; yet that was not all, there was a divine power put forth herein, a power over the spirits of men; and in this non-resistance of theirs that scripture was fulfilled (Mal. 3:2, 3), Who shall stand when he appeareth?
Fifthly, Here is the remark which his disciples made upon it (John 2:17): They remembered that it was written, The Zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. They were somewhat surprised at first to see him to whom they were directed as the Lamb of God in such a heat, and him whom they believed to be the King of Israel take so little state upon him as to do this himself; but one scripture came to their thoughts, which taught them to reconcile this action both with the meekness of the Lamb of God and with the majesty of the King of Israel; for David, speaking of the Messiah, takes notice of his zeal for God’s house, as so great that it even ate him up, it made him forget himself, Ps. 69:9. Observe, 1. The disciples came to understand the meaning of what Christ did, by remembering the scriptures: They remembered now that it was written. Note, The word of God and the works of God do mutually explain and illustrate each other. Dark scriptures are expounded by their accomplishment in providence, and difficult providences are made easy by comparing them with the scriptures. See of what great use it is to the disciples of Christ to be ready and mighty in the scriptures, and to have their memories well stored with scripture truths, by which they will be furnished for every good work, 2. The scripture they remembered was very apposite: The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. David was in this a type of Christ that he was zealous for God’s house, Ps. 132:2, 3. What he did for it was with all his might; see 1 Chron. 29:2. The latter part of that verse (Ps. 69:9) is applied to Christ (Rom. 15:3), as the former part of it here. All the graces that were to be found among the Old-Testament saints were eminently in Christ, and particularly this of zeal for the house of God, and in them, as they were patterns to us, so they were types of him. Observe, (1.) Jesus Christ was zealously affected to the house of God, his church: he loved it, and was always jealous for its honour and welfare. (2.) This zeal did even eat him up; it made him humble himself, and spend himself, and expose himself. My zeal has consumed me, Ps. 119:139. Zeal for the house of God forbids us to consult our own credit, ease, and safety, when they come in competition with our duty and Christ’s service, and sometimes carries on our souls in our duty so far and so fast that our bodies cannot keep pace with them, and makes us as deaf as our Master was to those who suggested, Spare thyself. The grievances here redressed might seem but small, and such as should have been connived at; but such was Christ’s zeal that he could not bear even those that sold and bought in the temple. Si ibi ebrios inveniret quid faceret Dominus! (saith St. Austin.) If he had found drunkards in the temple, how much more would he have been displeased!
2. Christ, having thus purged the temple, gave a sign to those who demanded it to prove his authority for so doing. Observe here,
(1.) Their demand of a sign: Then answered the Jews, that is the multitude of the people, with their leaders. Being Jews, they should rather have stood by him, and assisted him to vindicate the honour of their temple; but, instead of this, they objected against it. Note, Those who apply themselves in good earnest to the work of reformation must expect to meet with opposition. When they could object nothing against the thing itself, they questioned his authority to do it: “What sign showest thou unto us, to prove thyself authorized and commissioned to do these things?” It was indeed a good work to purge the temple; but what had he to do to undertake it, who was in no office there? They looked upon it as an act of jurisdiction, and that he must prove himself a prophet, yea, more than a prophet. But was not the thing itself sign enough? His ability to drive so many from their posts, without opposition, was a proof of his authority; he that was armed with such a divine power was surely armed with a divine commission. What ailed these buyers and sellers, that they fled, that they were driven back? Surely it was at the presence of the Lord (Ps. 114:5, 7), no less a presence.
(2.) Christ’s answer to this demand, John 2:19. He did not immediately work a miracle to convince them, but gave them a sign in something to come, the truth of which must appear by the event, according to Deut. 18:21, 22.
Now, [1.] The sign that he gives them is his own death and resurrection. He refers them to that which would be, First, His last sign. If they would not be convinced by what they saw and heard, let them wait. Secondly, The great sign to prove him to be the Messiah; for concerning him it was foretold that he should be bruised (Isa. 53:5), cut off (Dan. 9:26), and yet that he should not see corruption, Ps. 16:10 These things were fulfilled in the blessed Jesus, and therefore truly he was the Son of God, and had authority in the temple, his Father’s house.
[2.] He foretels his death and resurrection, not in plain terms, as he often did to his disciples, but in figurative expressions; as afterwards, when he gave this for a sign, he called it the sign of the prophet Jonas, so here, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Thus he spoke in parables to those who were willingly ignorant, that they might not perceive, Matt. 13:13, 14. Those that will not see shall not see. Nay, this figurative speech used here proved such a stumbling-block to them that it was produced in evidence against him at his trial to prove him a blasphemer. Matt. 26:60, 61. Had they humbly asked him the meaning of what he said, he would have told them, and it had been a savour of life unto life to them, but they were resolved to cavil, and it proved a savour of death unto death. They that would not be convinced were hardened, and the manner of expressing this prediction occasioned the accomplishment of the prediction itself. First, He foretels his death by the Jews’ malice, in these words, Destroy you this temple; that is, “You will destroy it, I know you will. I will permit you to destroy it.” Note, Christ, even at the beginning of his ministry, had a clear foresight of all his sufferings at the end of it, and yet went on cheerfully in it. It is good, at setting out, to expect the worst. Secondly, He foretels his resurrection by his own power: In three days I will raise it up. There were others that were raised, but Christ raised himself, resumed his own life.
[3.] He chose to express this by destroying and re-edifying the temple, First, Because he was now to justify himself in purging the temple, which they had profaned; as if he had said, “You that defile one temple will destroy another; and I will prove my authority to purge what you have defiled by raising what you will destroy.” The profaning of the temple is the destroying of it, and its reformation its resurrection. Secondly, Because the death of Christ was indeed the destruction of the Jewish temple, the procuring cause of it; and his resurrection was the raising up of another temple, the gospel church, Zech. 6:12. The ruins of their place and nation (John 11:48) were the riches of the world. See Amos 9:11; Acts 15:16.
(3.) Their cavil at this answer: “Forty and six years was this temple in building, John 2:20 Temple work was always slow work, and canst thou make such quick work of it?” Now here, [1.] They show some knowledge; they could tell how long the temple was in building. Dr. Lightfoot computes that it was just forty-six years from the founding of Zerubbabel’s temple, in the second year of Cyrus, to the complete settlement of the temple service, in the 32nd year of Artaxerxes; and the same from Herod’s beginning to build this temple, in the 18th year of his reign, to this very time, when the Jews said that this as just forty-six years: okodomethe—hath this temple been built. [2.] They show more ignorance, First, Of the meaning of Christ’s words. Note, Men often run into gross mistakes by understanding that literally which the scripture speaks figuratively. What abundance of mischief has been done by interpreting, This is my body, after a corporal and carnal manner! Secondly, Of the almighty power of Christ, as if he could do no more than another man. Had they known that this was he who built all things in six days they would not have made it such an absurdity that he should build a temple in three days.
(4.) A vindication of Christ’s answer from their cavil. The difficulty is soon solved by explaining the terms: He spoke of the temple of his body, John 2:21. Though Christ had discovered a great respect for the temple, in purging it, yet he will have us know that the holiness of it, which he was so jealous for, was but typical, and leads us to the consideration of another temple of which that was but a shadow, the substance being Christ, Heb. 9:9; Col. 2:17. Some think that when he said, Destroy this temple, he pointed to his own body, or laid his hand upon it; however, it is certain that he spoke of the temple of his body. Note, The body of Christ is the true temple, of which that at Jerusalem was a type. [1.] Like the temple, it was built by immediate divine direction: “A body hast thou prepared me,” 1 Chron. 28:19. [2.] Like the temple, it was a holy house; it is called that holy thing. [3.] It was, like the temple, the habitation of God’s glory; there the eternal Word dwelt, the true shechinah. He is Emmanuel—God with us. [4.] The temple was the place and medium of intercourse between God and Israel: there God revealed himself to them; there they presented themselves and their services to him. Thus by Christ God speaks to us, and we speak to him. Worshippers looked towards that house, 1 Kgs. 8:30, 35. So we must worship God with an eye to Christ.
(5.) A reflection which the disciples made upon this, long after, inserted here, to illustrate the story (John 2:22): When he was risen from the dead, some years after, his disciples remembered that he had said this. We found them, John 2:17; remembering what had been written before of him, and here we find them remembering what they had heard from him. Note, The memories of Christ’s disciples should be like the treasure of the good house-holder, furnished with things both new and old, Matt. 13:52. Now observe,
[1.] When they remembered that saying: When he was risen from the dead. It seems, they did not at this time fully understand Christ’s meaning, for they were as yet but babes in knowledge; but they laid up the saying in their hearts, and afterwards it became both intelligible and useful. Note, It is good to hear for the time to come, Isa. 42:23. The juniors in years and profession should treasure up those truths of which at present they do not well understand either the meaning or the use, for they will be serviceable to them hereafter, when they come to greater proficiency. It was said of the scholars of Pythagoras that his precepts seemed to freeze in them till they were forty years old, and then they began to thaw; so this saying of Christ revived in the memories of his disciples when he was risen from the dead; and why the? First, Because then the Spirit was poured out to bring things to their remembrance which Christ had said to them, and to make them both easy and ready to them, John 14:26. That very day that Christ rose form the dead he opened their understandings, Luke 24:45. Secondly, Because then this saying of Christ was fulfilled. When the temple of his body had been destroyed and was raised again, and that upon the third day, then they remembered this among other words which Christ had said to this purport. Note, It contributes much to the understanding of the scripture to observe the fulfilling of the scripture. The event will expound the prophecy.
[2.] What use they made of it: They believed the scripture, and the word that Jesus had said; their belief of these was confirmed and received fresh support and vigour. They were slow of heart to believe (Luke 24:25), but they were sure. The scripture and the word of Christ are here put together, not because they concur and exactly agree together, but because they mutually illustrate and strengthen each other. When the disciples saw both what they had read in the Old Testament, and what they had heard from Christ’s own mouth, fulfilled in his death and resurrection, they were the more confirmed in their belief of both.