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The Message of John (Lesson 8)
The Clearing of the Temple | John 2:14-15
"So, he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables."
This is not the portrait of Jesus we expect.
Here we have the Savior, meek and mild, kind and gentle, displaying violence—holy violence.
Holy violence? How can violence be holy? To be holy is to be morally pure and without ill motive. How can violence be morally pure?
It depends on the type of violence.
Most of the violence with which we are familiar is anything but morally pure. It is evil, born of hateful motives to harm, kill, and destroy. Physical violence usually expresses uncontrolled anger lashing out at an undeserving victim.
This is the vile eruption of unrighteous rage we see manifested in domestic abuse. Whether meted out upon a spouse or a child, it is not only illegal, it is evil, wrong, and condemnable. No wonder the concept of holy violence seems like the ultimate oxymoron.
However, there is violence not related to sinful human aggression, such as a car accident or someone tripping down the stairs.
There also is a kind of violence that helps us get closer to understanding the potential for holy conflict. For example, when police storm into a home to rescue a kidnapped child or when firefighters smash in windows and doors to enter a burning home.
These kinds of violence are not only permitted but required by those whose jobs demand they do whatever is necessary to bring about the blessing of those in danger, even if it requires personal sacrifice.
Now we’re ready to grasp holy violence.
It is holy because, unlike unrighteous anger, holy anger is the enacting of justice that brings about righteousness—or rightness. We could say, it is holy violence that sets to right what was wrong with an act of judgment that results in blessing.
This is why Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple courts was holy violence.
In the early 1st century, folks would come to the temple to worship, bringing something to sacrifice that would represent atonement. Blood would be shed for the remission of sins.
Many were too poor to bring a living sacrifice. They didn’t possess livestock. They were day laborers, serving in the fields of others. With no sacrifice in hand, they’d be forced to purchase a small animal or bird at the temple. Knowing the poor worshippers were desperate, the money changers would charge the peasants more than the animals were worth.
You know what this is like. Consider being at the movies and having an itch for a snack. You go to the concession stand for a bucket of popcorn and a Coke.
“That will be $14.”
What? This is criminal. Exactly. Now you get what was happening at the temple.
The effect is the poor were being robbed. Those who couldn’t pay and had no sacrifice to offer at all would turn away in despair. Rather than a place where pilgrims would find God’s grace available through the shadow of the substitutionary sacrifice of an animal, the temple had become a center of burden where the rich took advantage of the poor.
In view of such oppression, Jesus was filled with righteous indignation and literally overturned the injustice with holy violence. But this wasn’t the only table that would be overturned this week.
Looking ahead to the cross, Jesus knew it wasn’t the inability of a peasant to pay for a pigeon that would require holy violence. It was the inability of sinners to pay for their sin debt, a burden far exceeding the purchase of a symbolic sacrifice in the temple.
He would be the fulfillment of all those shadow sacrifices. Every drop of blood shed for over a thousand years had pointed to the cross, where the sacrifice would be presented, not by the people to God, but by God for the people.
What is the difference between holy violence and unrighteous anger?
How do Jesus's actions in the temple relate to his ultimate sacrifice on the cross?
What does it mean that God presents the sacrifice we need?
How does it make you feel knowing God has provided all you need to approach him, not with fear but as a beloved child?
Read Hebrews 4:14-16. Why do you think God's throne is called a throne of grace rather than a throne of judgment for those who belong to Jesus?
A Suggested Prayer
Dear Father in heaven,
We thank you for the sacrifice of Jesus for us. What an act of love! You fulfilled justice so we could receive mercy. Help us demonstrate that mercy to others as a testimony of your kindness to us.
In Jesus' name, Amen.