John 2:13-25 – Why Did Jesus Attack the Money Changers?

Why were there money changers in the Temple?

Pastors often declare these people were making an outrageous profit by selling sacrifices in the Temple, on the analogy of the vendors at an airport or sports arena. Since they had a captive market, they were free to price-gouge. However, “There is no evidence the animal merchants and money-changers or the priestly authorities who allowed them to use the outer court were corrupt companions in graft” (Carson, John, 179).   While Jesus calls the Temple a “den of thieves” in the Synoptic gospels (Matt 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46), that is not the charge here. Jesus cites Scripture to condemn the merchants in the Temple courts, but it is not because of excessive profiteering.

The term used  in John 2:14-15 is ἱερόν and refers to the whole Temple complex, while the word used in John 2:19 is ναός, referring to the Temple building. The sellers are not “in the Temple” since they would have no access beyond the Court of the Men. Selling was restricted to the court of the Gentiles, a much larger area.  Köstenberger therefore suggests the main point of Jesus’s attack is that the sellers were taking up the only area of the Temple where the Gentiles could worship (Köstenberger, John, 106).  I am not sure how many Gentiles came to Passover to worship and not is certain the sellers took up the entire area, The Court of the Gentiles was 300×450 meters (slightly less than 1000×1500 feet for the American reader); larger than the size of four football fields. Was the whole area one gigantic flea-market? This seems unlikely, although at Passover the area would have been extremely crowded.

Money changersJesus disrupts the sellers by overturning tables and driving animals away.  He “pours out” the coins, using the verb ἐκχέω, normally associated with the pouring out of blood during a sacrifice (in the LXX, Exod 25:6, for example). In Rom 3:15, for example, Christ’s blood is poured out for us, but in Acts 2:17-18, 33 and Titus 3:16 the Holy Spirit is “poured out” on God’s people.

He makes a whip and drives animals out of the court. Since the Temple authorities did not permit weapons in the Temple courts, this is an improvised whip. Jesus used the whip to drive animals, not the merchants. Raymond Brown suggested Jesus made the whip from rushes used for bedding animals.

To explain his actions, Jesus alludes to several texts from the Hebrew Bible in his condemnation of the sellers in the Temple (Zech 14:21, Mal 3:1, 3, Psa 69:9).  Jesus quotes Psalm 69:9, “zeal for the house of the Lord” in order to explain his violent response and the defilement. (See this post on the meaning of zeal in the New Testament.)

The allusion to Zech 14:21 is more subtle. In the coming eschatological age, the Temple will be either rebuilt or purified and there will be no need for “merchants.” Several observations are important for understanding Jesus’s allusion to this text. First, Zechariah has the future restored Temple in mind, not the present “second Temple.” All the nations will come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. Second, word translated “merchants” in Zechariah 14:21 could be translated as “Canaanites” (as in the NIV 2011, but not the ESV). The name Canaanite means something like merchant and in the verse’s context it seems likely the original point was there will be no need to sell sacrificial animals since every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be equally pure as the Temple Mount. Third, this is the final line of the prophecy of Zechariah, it is the “finale” of his prophecy of the coming ideal age. Canonically, Malachi 3:1-3 is not far removed from this text in the Hebrew Bible.

By alluding to these verses, Jesus is announcing the beginning of the new age of the Messiah.  The vendors must leave the Temple since the time is coming when they will not be needed.  Jesus’ action at (a coming) Passover will solve the problem of sin and render these sacrifices superfluous.

Jesus is not condemning the Temple or the sacrificial system in this protest, he was looking forward to a coming time when the Temple will be ultimately purified, when all of Jerusalem and Judah are “holy to the Lord.  The object of this action in the Temple authority which condoned (and perhaps profited) from economic activity in the Temple courts.

If I am right here, then Jesus’s actions are similar Jeremiah 7. The prophet protests against a dangerous misunderstanding of the Temple. And like Jeremiah, the Temple aristocracy will pay close attention to Jesus as a threat to the central symbol of Jewish faith in the first century.

But is there an economic edge to this protest? Beyond the theological symbolism, does Jesus have something to say about the use and abuse of money at the Temple? What are some contemporary ramifications of Jesus’s condemnation of the money changers  in the Temple?

18 thoughts on “John 2:13-25 – Why Did Jesus Attack the Money Changers?

  1. Brandon, I am not sure what you are talking about, since the Jews were not permitted to mint their own coins. They did so during the revolt, but that is not until 66, and to be honest, I am not sure that they did mint coins during that revolt. I am pretty sure the coins I have seen are form the Bar Kokhba revolt, AD 132-135.

    What were you thinking of? (By the way, great to hear from you, even if it is a cryptic comment on shekels!)

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  2. P Long, I love you sir. I’m glad to hear from you. My response comes from an sweet documentary called The Money Masters: How International Bankers Gained Control of America http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXt1cayx0hs (*see minute 11:00 in video). My fiance’ said she also herd from a sermon that the king had built his house next to the temple and his pagan “influence” had crept into the temple?…this is such an interesting passage. Btw is this your blog?

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  3. After exploring a few of the blog articles on your web page, I honestly appreciate your way of blogging. I book marked it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back in the near future. Take a look at my web site as well and let me know your opinion.

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  4. Today we had an auction in our gym which is attached to the sanctuary. A person questioned, ” isn’t. this buy and selling in the temple and isn’t it forbidden”.

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  5. While I agree that a large part of the temple clearing had to do with Gentile worship and the prophetic allusion that Jesus will be the future temple, I also believe that the economic edge had a part in it as well. Jesus says the money changers made it a “den of thieves” (Mark 11:17), certainly invoking the idea that there is something economical going on in this situation. Kostenberger says “in part, Jesus is opposing the subversion of religious worship into commerce” (Kostenberger, 61). I don’t believe Jesus’ problem was so much that they were overcharging temple worshipers for their sacrifices, but rather that the Temple was selling anything at all. The bringing of a sacrifice to the temple was a huge part of Jewish tradition and was necessary for a Jew to be in right relations with God. A Jew would have to find a spotless lamb, perfect in every respect, and since these sheep were considered perfect, they were wanted for reproduction purposes. It cost a lot for a Jew to have to give up something that they want and give it to God, what it means to sacrifice something. When they introduced the selling of sacrifices in the Temple, it took away much of the heart behind the sacrifice; it became something that they did because it was tradition, rather than being an act of worship that the giver was sacrificing they wanted. It doesn’t carry the same weight or meaning when it becomes convenient for you.

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  6. Another large reason for Jesus’ righteous anger was the injustice to the Gentiles that came to worship. God said that “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isa. 56:7). The temple was just as much a place of gentile worship as it was Jewish worship. But the money changers made it more difficult for Gentiles to worship in the temple. These merchants were set up in the Court of the Gentiles, the only place in the temple Gentiles were allowed to enter. To have the commotion of merchants trying to sell sacrifices going on around you as you pray and worship God would make it very difficult to do so. Kostenberger says that it was turning “the temple into a Jewish nationalistic stronghold, where Gentile worship was obstructed rather than facilitated and encouraged” (Kostenberger, 61). Instead of trying to foster an atmosphere where Gentiles could worship God in a proper way, they effectively destroyed any chance at creating that kind of relationship with them. And it is not like the Gentiles could worship elsewhere because the temple was considered the only place that proper worship could occur, and that court was the only place they could go. So the merchants in the temple went against God’s desire for His temple, prompting Jesus’ righteous anger.

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  7. Aside from the theological symbolism of the abuse and money use in the temple Jesus’ righteous anger was geared towards them because the Temple was a place of worship. The Temple was not to be used as a house to sell things out of and take advantage of, as Cole said above it was there so the Israelites and Gentiles could worship God. It was there for everyone to have that privilege though they could only go to certain parts of it, that was still its purpose. With the all the merchants set up and the crowds that flooded the place trying to buy their lamb on time for the official sacrfice made; Christ was mad, and rightfully so because that was not the temples intention. Not only were they selling in the place of worship, they were, they were going against the commands; unlike today where we can just go to the church down the road they unfortunately did not have the option of doing that. The moneychangers were ruining the peace the temple offered as well. Going off of the use of the money, the changers did not intend on giving that money to God they were going to keep it for their own selfish use, which is beyond me when you are selling things in the House of God. I mean the only reason why there are there in the first place is to give a sacrfice to God. Often people would tithe money over to God, yet in this case they were only using it for their purposes. The only way Jesus could get their attention was to flip the tables, so that everyone would stop and see what they are doing and how foolish they are acting. Jesus would hope they realized that they disobeyed Gods command and what He wanted them to use the temple for its initial is not what they were doing.

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  8. Yes, indeed I think there was an economic edge to the merchants and money changers who were stationed in the temple court. As discussed in class, the temple was the hub where all nations meet to pay debts, exchange money, and participate in the activities of the temple. Having that much foot traffic in one area would certainly grab the attention of merchants and vendors. Not to mention Jesus’s outburst happened during the days in preparation for the Passover in the temple. It could have been that the vendors and merchants were benefiting greatly from a festival that honors Gods act of provision and deliverance (Kostenberger, 77). Jesus was offended by what he saw and understood that the merchants and vendors had a wrong understanding about the temple. For Jesus, the use or abuse of money had no place in the house of God and went against His motives behind the temple. As Kostenberger explains, God had a specific desire for his temple and it was for the temple to be called a house of prayer for all the nations (Kostenberger, 75). However, the activities that were transpiring in the temples were changing the meaning behind the name God had giving his temple. The temple was well on its way in becoming an economical hotpot for trade before Jesus stepped in.

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    • I really liked your post and what you had to say in it. even today people want a primetime spot to start growing their business. and sometimes we see these companies sponsoring church events or youth events. it can bring its positives and negatives and in todays day and age people are craving money and power so I think its a good thing to reflect on and start to notice these things going on in the church today as well.

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  9. Money and its proper use, it seems like more than anything else in the Bible, is highly misunderstood. This example, along with of course 1 Timothy 6:10, is often cited to accuse the Christian religion as condemning money. But of course, particularly the Timothy passage, is clearly misinterpreted–and even often misquoted. The “love of money is the root of all evil”, but most individuals conveniently omit the verb “love” to make their point. Even within Christianity, people consider the above passage in John, where Jesus turns over the tables of the moneychangers, as God’s judgement on people who attempt to profit from church functions and take advantage of the generosity of church attendants. However, I do not believe that Jesus was concerned with the fiscal framework of the merchants in the temple; he was agitated that they were perhaps inhibiting the Gentiles from entering into worship. By all means, the merchants, selling sacrifices to make the life of the worshippers more convenient on the Passover, were not corrupt or greedy people. They were merely doing their job, albeit at the expense of some Gentile worship–which is precisely what provoked Jesus. Moreover, Jesus was also making a point–perhaps looking ahead to the confrontation with the religious elites of the city–that He was going to fulfill the sacrificial system and that there would be no need for it. Perhaps Jesus was vexed by the utter futility of man trying to atone for his own sins by mere animal blood–especially considering that He was thinking about the time when He was to shed His own blood for the same purpose. Nevertheless, before interpreting this passage as an outrage at the greediness of man, it is wise to look into the allusions and implications Jesus was obviously communicating.

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  10. Reading this article there was a couple good points that I didn’t think about in this story. As Jesus talks much about the temple in his ministry he is then looking forward to a time in the world where the temple will finally be back to being pure in the sight of God compared to the sinful and corrupt temple it is now. Although Jesus is the Messiah and the “New Temple” he still can’t stand to see the temple being disgraced and used as a place of exchanging money and animals for sacrificing. With that the coming time is Passover which in this time Jesus would go to be crucified taking away of all the consequences of sin thus no longer needing to go make sacrifices and not needing to go to the temple to have a pure sacrifice. Another idea that struck me was the idea that Jesus spread out the coins and money he said a word that meant “poured out” this is unique because in the old testament there was many sayings from the prophets that Christ’s blood shall be poured out. Although these are different meanings for each I still find it interesting that Christ has poured out everything and cleaned out everything to make us perfect in the sight of God.

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  11. I like what you brought up with the economic side of Jesus’ rage. Was this more than just Jesus being upset about them setting their stage inside the temple? I want to say that there could have very well been some sort of economic side to why Jesus had done this. If we know about what Jesus says about making the temple a holy place, and presenting it as sacred, we know that setting the temple up like this is a complete disgrace. I do like what Jesus calls the temple when he approaches it and sees the money changers. The Bible records the words ‘den of thieves’, a phrase used to describe somewhere people who would steal and hangout are at. This is what he used to describe the temple, a place where we know is supposed to be sacred and holy. I think I am more concerned with the fact that people were gathering to sell stuff in the temple. This was the problem in my opinion, and I don’t think that it had much to do with anything else. The temple should not have been used as a place of “shopping” if you will. It is a place of worship, and should be used so.

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  12. I like what you said about how Jesus’ purpose was to purify the temple.
    I can imagine Jesus coming into His father’s house and seeing people dishonor it by selling sheep, cattle and doves.
    Today, we do not have markets with animals and so this can be hard to relate too or understand.
    So I asked God to give me clarity.
    I got a picture in my mind of me going to my parents house.
    I am walking up to the front door and envisioning in my mind already what it is going to be like.
    I can already smell the warm chocolate chip cookies in the oven, fruit on the center island and fuzzy blanket on almost every couch.
    A smile appears on my face, as I recall all the lovely, pure-hearted people that have gathered in my house.
    As I open up the door my face grows hot as I see a different image than in my mind.
    There are a lot of strangers here, who I don’t know.
    They have money in their hands and they are wearing black clothes.
    As I am about to speak, I realize just how loud that they are.
    My stomach drops, as I see that the strangers in my parents house.
    They are taking my dad’s watch, belts, shirts and other precious positions that belong to him.
    A righteous anger stirs within me.
    What are they doing in my father’s house and with my father’s things?

    I then begin to grab my Dad’s things out of the thieves hands and shout,
    “This house is to be pure!
    This house is to be holy!
    This is my Father’s house!”

    The reason why I share this, is to make the story more understandable.
    This story also shows the reason why Jesus drove the animals away,
    flipped the tables of the money changers and raised His voice.

    Jesus cares deeply about purity.
    He longs for His Father’s house to be pure and holy.
    He desires for His Father’s house to be honored.
    Therefore, we are to do the same.
    We are to honor our relationship with God.

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  13. I really enjoyed this read. I find that very often people use this passage of scripture to say that God lost his anger. and in some ways, if you were to just read this passage with no background of who Jesus is you may think that Jesus lost his anger as well. but we know from scripture that Jesus is God incarnate, or God raped in flesh. God cannot sin. We as Christians would say that when Jesus was clearing out the temple that he did not lose His anger. Jesus had sovereign anger at this time. And we can explain that by saying that Jesus did that to declare that this was the coming messiah.
    I definitely Like Köstenberger’s reasoning to, and not just because I like his name. I like his reasoning because if the money changers, and people selling animals for sacrifice right in the outer part of the temple where the gentiles could worship. This makes a lot of sense to me why Jesus did not want this to happen. Jesus came into the world to make way for people groups like gentiles, and really so everyone could worship Jesus, as lord. This story does not make me question Jesus for having righteous anger or pushing people’s stuff over, it makes me love Jesus even more because he came and made away for me to worship Him.

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  14. I found this post very intriguing. I do not believe that Jesus was protesting the economy I believe he was just stating the facts that what was taking place in the temple was wrong. The temple was meant to be a holy place where God was worshipped. Everything was supposed to be clean and holy and money really is the opposite of clean. Jesus had righteous anger towards the money changers because they were defiling the temple of God.
    Jesus had a right to get angry based on the wrongdoing of the money changers. On top of that Kostenburger thinks that this money changing was taking place right in the outer temple where the Gentiles were supposed to worship. How could they worship if the temple was being defiled like that? They could not and so Jesus took a righteous stand for them so that the temple as a whole could be holy and so that the gentiles’ place of worship was not taken over. Many Critics would point to this and say that Jesus sinned here because he got angry but really quite the opposite happened. He had righteous anger for the wrongdoings of the money changers.

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