Jesus Cleanses the Temple: The First Cleansing
After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there for a few days.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone." (John 2:12-25)
Two great Temples have stood in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount. Into the Second Temple Jesus went twice: once at the beginning of his public ministry, and again during His final visit to Jerusalem. He was outraged at the chaotic state of affairs in the temple courts. The background of both events is detailed here, drawing on sermons by Ray C. Stedman.
Ray writes, John gathers the first event around three factors: where Jesus was; what he did; and what the disciples learned by watching what he did. Beginning in Chapter 2, Verse 12, John condenses about a week of time into two short verses concerning Jesus' whereabouts:
After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples; and there they stayed for a few days. The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (John 2:12-13 RSV)
We can safely fit into Verse 12 some of the other gospel accounts of our Lord's second calling of the disciples. Matthew, Mark and Luke record that as Jesus was walking along the sea of Galilee he saw the brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and Peter and Andrew, the sons of Simon, fishing, and he called them to follow him.
That must have occurred on this occasion when, after the miracle at Cana of Galilee, near Nazareth, Jesus moved down to the sea and stayed for awhile with his mother and his brothers in Capernaum, at the north end of the sea of Galilee. Then, having called these disciples to a more permanent relationship with himself, he left with them for Jerusalem to celebrate the first Passover as the acknowledged Messiah, the Promised One to come.
Our Lord had been in Jerusalem many times during the years before his public ministry began. He had been to the temple and had seen many of the sights which he saw on this occasion, but he had taken no action in response. Now, however, he is going to Jerusalem as the Messiah, and he will fulfill Malachi's prophecy about the Messiah, "The Lord whom you see shall suddenly come to his temple," (Malachi 3:1b RSV), ... "and he will purify the sons of Levi," (Malachi 3:3b RSV). This is the background for what our Lord did when he arrived in Jerusalem.
John tells us what that action was.
In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the moneychangers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers, and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." (John 2:14-16 RSV)
Jesus is clearly angry at what he found in the temple. He takes drastic action to cleanse it, not only of trafficking in money-changing and selling animals, but also of the extortion and racketeering that went along with it. The other three gospels record that our Lord cleansed the temple at the end of his ministry, in that pregnant last week before his betrayal and crucifixion. Some of the scholars feel that John's account is of the same event, but John records it as having occurred at the beginning of our Lord's ministry.
That is very difficult to reconcile with our belief that the Scriptures are without historic error. It is hard to understand why John would use language that sounds as though it were something that occurred at the beginning of our Lord's ministry. The answer, of course, is that there were two cleansings of the temple: Jesus cleansed the temple both at the beginning and at the end of his ministry.
A close look at the other gospel accounts reveals that there is a considerable difference in these events. A different Scripture is referred to; there is no mention of a whip; and our Lord makes a different claim for himself in that cleansing of the temple at the end of his ministry. On that final occasion our Lord made a great and final pronouncement in regard to the nation of Israel. Standing in the temple, having for the second time driven out the merchants and the money-changers, he spoke these dramatic words: "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. You shall not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,'" (Matthew 23:38-39, Luke 13:34-35). Then he went out to the mount of Olives, and from there to the upper room, to the betrayal and the crucifixion the next day. Here in John's gospel, however, is an account of violent action and of evident anger on the part of Jesus at the beginning.
Note that John says this occurred at a Passover feast. Doubtless he wants to remind us that at the Passover, every Jewish household spent the day before the feast meticulously going through their house seeking out any kind of yeast or substance that could cause fermentation and cleansing every such manifestation from their home. That was an absolute necessity in order to properly celebrate the Passover. Yet in a city that was given over to cleansing every house, when Jesus came into the temple, the house of God, he found it filled with clutter and noise, dirty-smelling animals, money-changers and merchandise, and no one seemed concerned about it. But our Lord was.
Not only was he angry at the confusion, the clutter, the noise and the smells, but primarily he was angry at the extortion and racketeering that was going on. Once a year, every Jewish male had to go to the temple and pay a temple tax. (It may be encouraging to us to realize that taxation is nothing new.) There was no escape; every male Jew was required to pay a half-shekel tax at the Passover season. Further, that tax could not be paid in Roman or Greek coin but had to be paid in a special temple coin. So it was necessary to change the Roman or Greek coins that were commonly employed into this special temple tax. That in itself was fine; money-changers were required for that. Having them available for the people was a convenience that was right and proper. But what was wrong was that there was an exorbitant price being extorted for making this exchange, so that sometimes almost as much as half of the value of the money being exchanged was paid to the money-changers for their service. The temple was making enormous revenues from this practice. At Passover season sometimes as many as two million people were in the city of Jerusalem, so there was a tremendous racket going on.
Furthermore, a sacrifice offered at the Passover season had to be made with an animal without blemish or imperfection. If, for instance, the animal was blind in one eye, if it had a tear in the skin, whatever, it was to be rejected. Scholars have discovered that in those days if someone brought an animal of his own to offer it had to be examined by the priests and it would almost certainly be rejected; the priests would find something wrong with it. This meant that the only animals that could be offered were those which were bought from the temple herd that was kept in an open courtyard in the court of the Gentiles. These animals had already been approved by the priests. But again, a tremendously inflated price was demanded for those animals. In fact, a bird could be brought outside the temple for the equivalent of 15 cents of our money, but the same bird, bought within the temple from the authorized purveyors of animals, would cost as high as $15! This barefaced extortion, this demand for money from even the poorest of the poor was what aroused the flaming anger of our Lord...
I am sure this is something of what moved our Lord when he saw this collection of merchants, swindlers and schemers who in the name of religion were extorting money from the poor by means of a religious scam. So great was his anger that he made a whip out of the cords that held the animals together and drove these extortioners out of the temple.
Do not diminish or minimize the anger and the violence which Jesus manifested at this time. This is a different Jesus than many people imagine him to be. Oftentimes we think of him as so loving and understanding that he lets you get by with anything; that seeing your evil he puts his hand upon your shoulder and says, "It's all right. It doesn't matter." Many people think of him that way. But this action clearly indicates that our Lord was angry. He drove these people out of the temple.
Yet his anger was under control. He wasn't raging furiously, striking out against everybody around him. In fact, he did not actually deprive anybody of anything. The animals he drove out could easily be collected again; the money he poured out on the temple floor could be gathered up and recounted; he did not open the cages of the birds and let them loose, but ordered them to be taken away. But he made his point, which was clearly: do not turn a place which is devoted to the worship of God and the cleansing of people, into a flea market. The word John employs is, literally, "emporium," a place where people are concerned about making a fast buck. The temple rather was the place where human values were to be considered supreme.
The climax of his action comes in what the disciples learned from it. Three lessons burned themselves unforgettably into the disciples' minds as they watched our Lord. The first was an immediate impression, Verse 17.
His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." (John 2:17 RSV)
Can you imagine what the disciples felt while this was going on? How embarrassed they must have been by the actions of Jesus! They had not been with him very long; they did not know him very well. They had been attracted by the amazing things he said and the things he did. They believed with all their hearts he was the expected Messiah; they saw even deeper that there was a divine quality about him that reflected the very character of God himself. They had not worked out all the theological puzzles that that must have raised in their minds, but they were committed to following him. Yet the first thing he does is to embarrass them with this uncalled-for activity.
Imagine going into the temple where this practice had been going on for decades and, without any appeal to authority, taking on himself this action of driving out money-changers, pouring out their money, driving out the animals, and even driving out the people with a whip! The disciples were highly embarrassed. But they were probably also fearful of what the authorities would do about this flagrant challenge to them. They knew these self-righteous Pharisees would not let Jesus get away with this. Perhaps the disciples even felt a little anger at the Lord himself for being so unsocial, for being so uncooperative with the establishment. Yet, knowing who he was, they may have felt reluctant to judge him. So they had mixed feelings about this whole episode.
But as they watched him do this, there came flashing into their minds a verse from the 69th Psalm. It is clearly evident that even at this early date the 69th Psalm was regarded as a Messianic psalm. The psalm describes the suffering and the agony of the One who was to be the Messiah. There came into their minds this one verse, "The zeal of thy house has consumed me" (Psalms 69:9a RSV) -- has burned me up, has seized hold of me and devoured me and made me to act. There came for the first time, perhaps, the quiet realization in these disciples' hearts of the divine refusal to put up with inward impurities. They began to understand that God does not compromise with evil.
This touches one of the great paradoxes of our Christian faith. Throughout this Gospel of John we will see plainly how anyone can come to Christ, no matter what his background, no matter how far he has gone wrong, no matter how evil he has been -- murderers, prostitutes, swindlers, liars, perverts, drunkards, self-righteous prigs, bitter, hard-hearted cynics, religious hypocrites, proud self-sufficient snobs -- anyone who realizes there is something wrong in his life, that something has seized him, gripped him and introduced evil, hurt, pain and heartache, anyone who wants to be free can come to Jesus. "Come unto me all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest," Jesus said (Matthew 11:28). Anyone can come.
But now the disciples understand, perhaps for the first time, that if you come, be assured that Jesus is not going to leave you the way you are. He is not going to settle for clutter, compromise, extortion and racket, whatever may be defiling and corrupting the temple courts. He may leave you alone for awhile. Many young Christians have misunderstood that. Because he brings us in love and he deals with us in patience, we think that he is going to let us get by with some of the comfortable but wrongful habits we have built into our lives. But he will not. If we mistake that delay for acceptance, we are in for a surprise. If we refuse to deal with what he puts his finger on, one day we will find him coming with flaming eyes and with a whip in his hand, and we will find all that traffic in immorality is driven out whether we like it or not.
This explains what happens to many Christians who, like the Pharisees, make their outward actions look good, but allow sinful habits -- pornography, a bitter, unforgiving spirit towards another, an evil lustful habit, a private indulgence, a compromise with expediency in business -- to be hidden in their lives. As surely as people do that, one day they will discover that their Lord has changed his attitude towards them. He is no longer tolerant, understanding and patient. His eyes are aflame; and he means business -- and their life begins to fall apart. All the evil they thought was hidden is exposed. "That which is done in secret is shouted from the housetops," (Matthew 10:27, Luke 12:3). People who think they are successfully hiding what they are doing are suddenly revealed before all. That is what the disciples learned: "Zeal for thy house will consume me." (Psalms 69:9a RSV)
The second lesson the disciples learned was a delayed reaction, Verses 18-22:
The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22 RSV)
It is amazing how blind everyone was at first to the meaning of this event! The Jews expected the Messiah to give them certain signs, and one of the signs the prophet Malachi prophesied was that the Messiah would suddenly come to his temple and purify the sons of Levi. The Messiah had just done that, but they did not recognize him. Instead, they said to him, "What sign do you have that you are the Messiah?" Our Lord's answer, of course, was to give them the only sign that would have any meaning to them -- the sign of his own resurrection.
But even the disciples missed it. Notice how blind they are. They did not catch the meaning of his answer until after the resurrection, when the risen Lord stood in their midst. When they saw the prints of the nails in his hands and the wound in his side, and realized, incredibly, that he was alive again, they talked this over among themselves. One of them probably said, "Remember when he first cleansed the temple he said, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again'? We didn't know what he meant then but now we can see. The real temple was not the building; it was his own body!" They learned that bodies are the temples of God; a building is merely a figure, a shadow.
Across this nation today great cathedrals have been erected -- typically, in Southern California, a glass cathedral, costing over 15 million dollars! Every one of those buildings has on it somewhere a brass plaque that says, "Erected to the glory of God." I always feel irritated when I see that. The Scriptures teach that God is not glorified by buildings. No building is the house of God. It never was, it never will be. Even this building in Jerusalem was not really the house of God. When Solomon dedicated the temple he acknowledged that fact. He said, "Heaven, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!" (2 Chronicles 6:18 KJV).
Buildings have always been but pictures of the house of God. The real temples are bodies -- human beings -- of body, soul, and spirit. That is where God has created a place where he can dwell. The Apostle Paul caught this truth. In the 6th chapter of First Corinthians he reminds us, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, which you have from God? You are not your own;" (1 Corinthians 6:19 RSV). You do not have the right to run your life, to regulate it and make all the ultimate decisions as to what you ought to be or where you ought to go. Paul continues, "You are not your own, you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body," (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20 RSV). That is where God is glorified.
Chapter 4 of John's gospel relates the story of Jesus' conversation with a woman at the well of Jacob. She raises the question, "Where should we worship God? On the temple mount in Jerusalem, or here in this mountain in Samaria?" (John 4:20). Jesus' answer was, "The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father," (John 4:21 RSV) "God is a Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth," (John 4:24 RSV). That is where God is glorified.
When I was a little boy I was told, "Now when you go to church you have to behave yourself. You can't whisper, you can't talk, you can't make any noise, you can't crawl around under the seats or anything like that. You have to behave yourself in church." It was not until years later that I realized that, if that is true, a believer is never out of church; he is always in the temple of the living God. The revelation the disciples learned was that the Lord of that temple cares about the inward clutter, confusion and immorality that may be there, and he will not make peace with it. This is taught by John himself later on in his epistle, when he says of Jesus, "as he is, so are we in this world," (1 John 4:17b). Jesus was the temple of God which, if destroyed, God would raise again in three days. So are we: we are temples of the living God.
There is further significance to this in the fact that John puts this account back-to-back with the miracle of the changing of water to wine. That miracle says to us that when we obey God he gives us something to do, something human, ordinary, a commonplace thing that we as human beings can do. We can fill the jars with water, and when we draw from it we will discover that something has happened to it: it has become full of flavor, fragrance, effect and zest. It has become wine; it is no longer water. Human ability put into God's hands, touched by his touch, will accomplish far greater things than mere human beings could ever do.
But here Jesus is saying the opposite. Let human beings do their worst, let them oppose God, let them destroy the temple of God, let them carry out their rebellion to the utmost, and when they have done everything they can, God will touch it and will change it; he will work and it will still accomplish his purpose.
This is what the disciples are learning: the fear of God! That phrase is frequently found in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New: "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom," (Psalms 111:10a, Proverbs 9:10a). Understand that the God to whom you have come, that loving, healing Lord with the warm, accepting and understanding eyes who touches you with forgiveness and cleansing is nevertheless unwilling to put up with the continuance of sin; he will cleanse his temple whether you like it or not. Hebrews tells us that if the Father loves us he will scourge us and chasten us out of his love until we begin to be what he designed us to be (Hebrews 12:5-7, 12:11). Some get upset at God for this. We feel he ought to settle for what we think is holy enough, but he does not. He has in mind a temple where he can be glorified, where our deepest human desires will find satisfaction and fulfillment, and that requires cleansing. He will bring that about.
The third thing the disciples learned John records in Verses 23-25:
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and he needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25 RSV)
As the disciples watched him doing miracles -- healing the sick, touching the lame and opening the eyes of the blind (which the other gospels tell us occurred in this early ministry) -- they noticed that, though many were believing in Jesus because he was the miracle worker, Jesus did not seem to commit himself to them. That is a strange phenomenon in the Christian world yet. How many people come to Christ and ask him to be their Lord, yet they do not seem to be changed; there is no reality about their Christian living; they go right on much as they were, even, eventually, drift away, and never come back. Why is that? John explains it here. He says it is because Jesus knew Man, therefore he knew what a man or woman was like.
This is not a manifestation of a miraculous power; it is not divine omniscience. Rather it is the fact that as the perfect Man, Jesus could read all the signs that telegraph what we are. We are always indicating, by the looks on our faces, the tones of our voices, the positions, the stances we take with our bodies, what we really are like inside. None of us can read those signs adequately enough to be able to see through the facades and insincerities of others. But Jesus could. Therefore he was never deceived, never fooled, about anybody. Though they came to him and said they wanted to follow him, he could read their hearts and know whether it was real or not...
It is clear in this account that many of the people involved in the traffic in the temple were unaware there was anything wrong with it. Money-changing was necessary, selling animals was necessary. But that could have been carried on outside the temple courts and been just as effective. Through the years and through tradition, however, it had all crept inside the temple until people were probably unaware that anything was wrong with the practice. But our Lord knew. He refused to compromise with it, or put up with it, and forced the issue so people saw what God saw when he looked at the temple. This is what John wants us to remember. We are dealing with a God of reality, a God who cannot be fooled, a God who will always deal in loving forgiveness with anyone who does not defend his evil. When we admit it, when we come asking to be cleansed, and freed, he never turns us away, he never deals with us harshly. But when we come justifying our actions, excusing them, fooling ourselves, we find him refusing to commit himself to us.
Thus the disciples learned in this account very wonderful things about God. They learned to fear God, to realize that though he is a God of mercy he is also a God of majesty. They looked at our Lord with different eyes as they walked away from this scene. They felt the full warmth of his acceptance, but they felt the thrust of his justice and his majesty as well. That is what being a disciple must come to mean.
(From Ray C. Stedman: The Temple Cleanser)
And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?”
So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”
So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of thieves.’ ”
And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. When evening had come, He went out of the city.
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of thieves.’ ”
Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?”
And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?”
Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there.
Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, “It is written, My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of thieves.’ ”
And He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.
(Matthew 21:23–27; Mark 11:27–33)
Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders,
confronted Him and spoke to Him, saying, “Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?”
But He answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me: The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men?”
by Ray Stedman
John's account of our Lord's so-called triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem is very brief:
The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes In the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written,
"Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on an ass's colt!" (John 12:12-15 RSV)
The traditional view of this event is that it was a well-deserved recognition by our Lord of his Messiahship; that at last he was receiving a proper welcome as a King, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah which is quoted here. The crowd cried out, "Hosanna!" which means, "Save us now!" They saw him as a conqueror and acknowledged him to be the king of Israel. Most of us have grown up with the traditional idea that this was indeed a moment of joy and triumph for our Lord; that he was at last being received as he ought to be.
But that is to misunderstand what is happening here. Many of us have learned more from tradition than from Scripture, and tradition is usually grossly distorted. A reading of the other gospels makes clear that this was not actually a welcome by the inhabitants of Jerusalem. John himself tells us in Verse 12, "a great crowd who had come to the Feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem." These people who welcomed Jesus were not residents of the city, but pilgrims, in the city for the feast, many of them perhaps from other countries. In fact, in Matthew's account of this incident, he says that the whole city was stirred when they saw this procession coming down the Mount of Olives. But instead of joining in the "Hosannas! " they suspiciously asked, "Who is this?" The crowd making up the procession had to inform them, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth."
No one seems to have truly understood the nature of this event, as John makes evident in the next verses:
His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they had heard he had done this sign. The Pharisees said to one another, "You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him." (John 12:16-19 RSV)
Even the disciples were bewildered by this turn of events. They had been with Jesus in Galilee when the crowd had tried to crown him king following the feeding of the five thousand, but he would have nothing to do with that. Here, however, they see he is willing to receive the plaudits of the crowd. They must have been very confused at what was going on. In fact, we are told they did not know what this meant until after Jesus was glorified.
Here also was the bedazzled multitude, caught up with the exciting news that Jesus had raised a man who had been dead four days. They were all anxious to see the Wonderworker who had done this amazing thing. Then there were the belligerent Pharisees who had decided (we learn from the other gospels) not to take Jesus prisoner during the Passover feast because they feared the reaction of the multitude. But now, as they see the whole populace seemingly swept along by this appearance of Jesus, they say, "You see that you can do nothing (i.e., their plans to delay arresting Jesus were unavailing); look, the whole world has gone after him." This event changed their schedule. They had to act now.
So not only is this not a welcome to the city of Jerusalem, it's not even a spontaneous demonstration. Most of us have felt that when Jesus appeared the crowd became excited and spontaneously began to break the branches off the palm trees to welcome him. But a careful reading of all four gospels indicates that this was a carefully planned demonstration, orchestrated by none other than Jesus himself! He was the one who was timing events according to his schedule. The other gospels indicate that he had made arrangements weeks in advance for a donkey to be available to him, He told the disciples they would find an ass with its colt tied beside it. "Loose them and bring them both to me" (Matthew 21:2), he told them. "If anybody asks you what you are doing, tell them, "The Lord needs them," (Matthew 21:3). This is exactly what happened. It is clear that some weeks earlier, during a quick visit to Jerusalem, he had made these arrangements. During that visit he also arranged to rent a room in which he and his disciples would celebrate the Passover together. And he had known weeks or months, perhaps even years earlier, the exact day when this would take place.
How did Jesus know that? Well, he knew that the prophet Zechariah had predicted that Messiah would come, riding into the city on a colt which no man had ever ridden. That is a remarkable feat in itself. I speak from experience, having grown up in Montana and having ridden colts which had never been ridden before. I even broke horses occasionally. I once got on a two-year-old colt which had never been ridden and I remained on him about two-and-a-half seconds! But so complete was our Lord's control that this unridden colt behaved as meekly as if he had often been ridden.
More than the prophecy of Zechariah, however, Jesus had read in the ninth chapter of Daniel, in one of the most amazing prophetic passages of the Old Testament, that a special period of 490 years of Jewish history would begin to run its course when the command was given to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity. When 483 of those years had elapsed, Messiah, the Prince, would then be presented to his people. Two very interesting books by Sir Robert Anderson, "Messiah the Prince," and "Daniel the Prophet," trace the fulfillment of this prophecy, pointing out that on the very day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem 483 years had elapsed from the time of the issuing of the commandment to build the walls of Jerusalem! This was a strategic day in the history of Israel. Our Lord was fully aware of it and that is why he had chosen this day.
Not only was this not a spontaneous demonstration, it was not even a triumphal entry. Although it had all the outward appearances of one, it was far from that in our Lord's thoughts. We find proof of that in these words from Chapter 19 of Luke's gospel: "And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it," (Luke 19:41).
When he came over the brow of the mountain and saw the city spread beneath him, tears rolled down his cheeks. Not only was he not happy or excited, rejoicing in the acclamation of the multitude, he was actually weeping. He then said,
"Would that even today [note the special significance that day] you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation." (Luke 19:42-44 RSV)
They did not believe the calendar of events which Daniel the prophet had outlined would occur. Jesus uses this occasion to predict the coming of the Romans, 40 years later, and the destruction of Jerusalem, exactly in line with his words. That is hardly a triumphal entry...But this was a tearful entry by Jesus. He was coming as King, not to receive a throne, but in tears to pronounce a sentence of judgment upon the nation. The other gospels say that he went immediately to the temple. Standing there, having once again cleansed it of the greedy moneychangers, he pronounced these words, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. You will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,'" (Luke 13:35 RSV). According to John's account, that is what the crowd coming down the mountainside had been saying. But that was a crowd of strangers, not the residents of Jerusalem...
But when Jesus came, in fulfillment of the prophecies that he would come as King, he was not riding on a war horse but on a donkey, a symbol of peace. His only scepter was a broken reed, his only crown a crown of thorns, his only throne a bloody cross. This whole scene is telling us that outward appearance means nothing to God when the heart is defiled and unyielded to him.
That is why John goes on immediately to link this with another event which probably occurred a day or two later in this strategic week -- the visit of certain Greeks to the feast:
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:20-24 RSV)
The disciples must have been amazed at this reaction of our Lord. These Greeks probably had come into contact with the teaching of the Old Testament, drawn by its purity, its monotheism, its clear message of the nature and the greatness of God. Though they had not become Jews they did go up to the feast to celebrate along with the Jews. Remember that the outer courts of the temple were called "the courts of the Gentiles." Many Gentiles would go up at times like this to celebrate, although they could not go beyond those courts on pain of their life. These Greeks picked out the two disciples who had Greek names, Philip and Andrew. Philip, we are told, was from Bethsaida, on the northern side of the lake of Galilee, the area where the Gentiles had most fully settled. These were sincere people, not curious tourists, who said to Philip, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."
Preachers often see this phrase written inside pulpits, offered as a message that hopefully reflects the desires of the congregation. I have seen these words in many pulpits and have been humbled and challenged by them.
Here, however, these words awaken an unusual response from Jesus. He has not been pleased by the triumphal entry, but when he hears that a group of Gentiles want to see him, his response is remarkable. Immediately he declares, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified!" Several times in this gospel we have heard Jesus say "My hour has not yet come." When his mother came to him at the wedding at Cana and asked him to help with a problem he said to her, "Woman, ... my hour has not yet come," (John 2:4 RSV). He did not mean he would not help her, because he did. He meant that what he would do would not accomplish what she desired because his time had not yet come. On several other occasions he made the same point. But the moment he hears of these Gentiles wanting to see him he responds in these words, "The hour has come..."
He goes on to utter words introduced by what I have described as the formula of focused attention: "Truly, truly, I say to you." When you see these words, pay close attention to what follows. "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone." What does he mean by that? He is talking about himself. He is the grain of wheat. Unless he is willing to die, unless he goes to the cross, which he seems looming in the immediate foreground now, his whole purpose in coming to earth will have been wasted, he will remain alone. "But if it dies, it bears much fruit." He sees these Greeks as the first fruits, the symbol of the great harvest of earth for which he came.
Perhaps he thought something like this: "These Greeks have asked to see me. What does it mean to 'see me'?" Picture a grain of wheat in your mind. Can you see that grain, so tiny, so obvious? Outwardly you can see what it is, but can you really see it? No. In order to see it you have to plant it in the cold, dark earth. If you watch it, eventually a green sprout will appear, then the blade, then the plant, then the stem, and finally a head. At last it turns golden; the harvest has come. But have you seen everything in that grain of wheat? No, not yet. You must plant those grains again and again. At last, when you stand one day beside a shimmering field of wheat, rippling in the breeze, golden in the sunshine, you can say you have seen a grain of wheat. You have seen all the possibilities of it; all of it has been unfolded and now is visible to the eye. That is what Jesus meant. The world would not see the full outcome of his work and his life until he went to the cross.
If he had not died we probably would not know any more about him than we know of any other great religious leader, like Buddha, Mohammed, or Confucius. We may not have heard of him at all, so meager were the results of his teaching. Only a relative handful stood with him to the end. Because of the cross he was able to do something he could never have done otherwise: He was able to share his life with millions of people. How do we explain men like Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli and others who changed the entire Western world during their lifetime? How do we explain the impact of men like the Wesley brothers? In our own day, how do we explain the change in the hatchet-man of the Nixon administration, Charles Colson, who is now changing the prison system of this country in the name of Jesus? How do we explain Solzenityn, Mother Teresa, and millions who daily evidence an altered life, a changed outlook? All has come about because of the cross of Christ. God is saying to us in this account that the only way to true glory is to die.
Jesus applies this to us in the next two verses:
"He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also [the servant will not be any different than Jesus; he will have to go the way Jesus went]; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him." (John 12:25-26 RSV)
Here is the great Christian paradox, the unmistakable mark of an authentic gospel: It begins with dying, with a cross. If the gospel that you hear preached on the radio, the television, or wherever, does not begin with a cross, does not begin by telling you that something in you has to die, it is not the true gospel. This is the identifying mark. How these words of Jesus cut across the philosophy of life today! Every television program, every magazine, every popular song, all present the philosophy, "Your life is your own! Live it the way you please! Watch out for No. 1! Do your own thing! Live so that you can join with Frank Sinatra singing, 'I Did It My Way'!" But Jesus declares that if you follow that philosophy you will lose everything. Life will slip through your fingers no matter what you do. You can gain all the material abundance you could ever wish for, the plaudits of the crowd, recognition by the whole world, but if you live that way you will end up with nothing; your life will be a total waste of time.
"He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." That doesn't mean you have to hate yourself. It means you must recognize that living for yourself will never supply what you really want out of life. Only as you surrender to the Lordship of Christ can that be brought about. That is why the gospel includes a cross, and why the cross has become the symbol of Christian faith. If the message you are hearing today does not begin there, then it's a false gospel. If you are being told that the way to gain a deep and wonderful sense of self-esteem is to simply come to Jesus and let him build you up and make you feel good about yourself you are not hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. It does not begin that way. It starts with a cross.
Let me share with you the words of Dr. A. W. Tozer, the great preacher of a few decades ago:
The cross is the symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of the human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck swift and hard and when it had finished its work the man was no more. That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane. We leave it at a cross. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the gospel.
Also it's not the end. The end is, "If it dies, it bears much fruit." That is where life begins. There is a life we are all born with that must end. It is a self-centered life, that thinks only of itself, seeks advantage for itself, is ambitious and proud. That life has to die. That is the beginning of the gospel. But if it dies, then another life takes its place, a life that is gracious, loving, lovely, peaceful, filled with joy, gladness and a deep sense of self-esteem, knowing who it is and what it was made to be. That is the rest of the gospel. You cannot reverse these two, although people try to. They jump immediately to the end of the gospel -- life in Christ -- without first going to the cross. But that cannot be. Jesus said so: "If any one serves me he must follow me, and where I am there shall my servant be also. He must go where I've gone."
In terms of daily, practical experience, what does Jesus mean, "He who comes after me must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me"? (Luke 9:23). What does it mean to bear your cross daily? It means two things: First, it means a once-for-all decision; and secondly, a continuing series of choices. That is what the cross stands for:
First, it is a surrender of the rule of your life to Jesus. It is a recognition that your life is not your own. The key words of the Christian faith are, "You are not your own, you are bought with a price," (1 Corinthians 19b-20a). Actually, you never were your own. That is an illusion that the world is perpetrating upon us through the media. They tell us that we belong to ourselves, that we have a right to ourselves. That is a lie. It's not true. It never was. "You are not your own; you are bought with a price."
This is the beginning of true life: To recognize that fact, to surrender your claim to yourself, to give up your right to run your own affairs, and to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, to do what he says, and to stop what he says to stop. That hurts. It cancels out your own plans. It confounds your ambitions at times. It feels like death. It is death; it's a form of dying.
It also means to daily follow up on that decision. Keep doing what is right. Stop doing what is wrong, and do it all in the strength of Jesus' love and companionship! The result is that you will truly begin to live. New power will come, to do what is right. New joy will be yours, an inner peace that nothing can take away, a new ability to love even those you could not love before, because a new life is yours. You have found a new Lordship and a new life.
Our Lord uses this symbol of a grain of wheat not only of himself but of everyone who follows him. Have you ever heard a grain of wheat talking to itself? I'm going to stretch your imagination a little and ask you to imagine a grain of wheat looking at itself, admiring itself. So round, so brown, so fully packed, and saying to itself, "This philosophy I hear asks me to fall into that dark, cold ground and lose myself. I don't want to do that. I like myself. I want to stay what I am. I want to hang on to myself, I want to be myself."
Does that sound familiar? If the grain of wheat wants to remain the same, it has that right. But, according to the word of Jesus, it will never change. Three thousand-year-old grains of wheat found in the tombs of the Pharaohs were found to be absolutely the same as any grain of wheat today. In fact, when they were planted they began to grow. They were totally unchanged for 3,000 years or more.
But supposing the grain of wheat said, "Well, I'm told there is more to come, a lot more than I'm experiencing, and the only way I can have it is to fall into that dark ground and die. So I guess I'll do it." And it does so. It falls into the ground and is covered up. It's dark and unpleasant there. The grain of wheat begins to think, "What a fool I was! Why did I ever listen to that idea? Look what's happened to me! I don't like this at all." But then it begins to feel a tickle on its back. It turns around and sees a white sprout coming out. It says, "What is this that's happening? I didn't anticipate this at all. I've got to hold a committee meeting with myself and decide what to do about this. I'm in charge. I've got to determine whether that thing is going to go sideways, up or down, or whatever."
While it's trying to determine that, it discovers there is a hidden lordship which began to take over the moment it fell into the ground. This lordship directs the process quite apart from what the grain of wheat may feel, directing that a certain part goes down, while another part goes up and soon breaks through into the sunlight. Then the grain begins to say, "Oh, this is better. I'm beginning to enjoy this. It's not as bad as I thought." The sprout comes, then the blade, then the stalk, and finally the head. The grain of wheat says, "I feel fulfilled." (Filled full, is the idea.) Then those grains in the head fall into the ground and they go through the process again and again until at last a great, shimmering field of wheat is growing, beautiful, rippling and golden in the sun. The grain of wheat says, "Ah, this is life as it was intended to be." Fruitful -- that is what the end of the gospel is.
If you belong to Jesus, every day will have its cross, every day will have something you ought to do but you don't feel like doing. That is your cross. "He who follows me must take up his cross daily and follow me," Luke 9:23). Every day has its bit of death in order that it might bring forth life. The end result is a life so glorious, so complete, so obviously what we were made for that I can hardly find the words to describe it. But the testimony of millions is that it's all true. Life comes only out of death.
You will find this thought everywhere in Scripture. It doesn't make any difference whether it's the Old Testament or the New Testament. But you will find this only in the Bible! No other book on earth will tell you that this is the way to life; only the Bible, only the words of Jesus. But his word is true, as he has demonstrated, and as the testimony of almost 2,000 years bear witness, he brings life through death. This is the choice that lies before us. If we choose to die with Him, then we shall live. "Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Ray Stedman, Triumph Or Tragedy?
How would you like to know the future? Who does not want to lift, if possible, the curtain that hides the things to come, and read the future as well as he can the past? Many are trying it today with varying degrees of success, but the only book with a batting average of 1.000 is the Bible. That's one of the things that makes it such a fascinating book. It is always up-to-date and filled with the most pertinent, often exciting information. In fact, it is more than up-to-date-it is ahead of the times.
There are many predictive passages in both Old and New Testaments, but none is clearer or more detailed than the messaged delivered by Jesus himself as he sat on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem during the turbulent events of his last week before the cross. These words have immense significance for us for they are a revelation of the ultimate fate of earth. From his point in time (about A.D. 32) he looks ahead to foretell the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the disturbances connected with that singular event. He looks on across the centuries and outlines the perils that lie between his first and second coming, thus describing the very age in which we live. He looks past the present day to that time which he calls "the end of the age" and sets its events before us in searing and vivid detail, culminating in his own return to earth and the ushering in of a new day.
As we read his perceptive words we shall discover that what is coming is but the unfolding of events which will grow out of movements and processes already at work in human society. The future has already begun, and our Lord's outlining of its course will greatly help us to understand what is taking place in our own day. In this first chapter we shall look only at three verses which introduce Christ's amazing message to us and provide for us the key to its structure and the events out of which it came. They are the first three verses of Matthew 24:
"Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, 'You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.'"
"As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, 'Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?'"
It sounds strange to us that the disciples should come of Jesus at this time and point out to him the beauty of the Temple buildings. He had often seen the Temple and the disciples had frequently been with him as he taught in its courts. Why then this sudden interest in the buildings? It all grew out of the astonishment of these disciples at the recent actions of the Lord. The chapter opens with the pregnant phrase, "Jesus left the temple." When he left the Temple on this occasion he never entered it again. He left it after having pronounced upon it a sentence of judgment, recorded in the closing words of chapter 23:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house [the Temple] is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
All of this comes at the close of the most blistering sermon he ever delivered. It was addressed to the scribes and the Pharisees, and consisted of a series of "woes" pronounced upon the hypocrisy of these religious leaders. They were supposed to be the teachers of the people but were actually hindering them from knowing the truth of God. Jesus began his ministry with a series of eight blessings (the Beatitudes, Matthew 5), and he ended it with a series of eight woes.
Nothing arouses more vehement anger in the heart of God than religious hypocrisy. Throughout the Scriptures, God's most scorching terms are reserved for those who profess to know him but who behave quite contrary to their profession- especially for the self-righteous.
Cleansing the Temple
Having completed this sermon, Jesus for the second time, cleansed the Temple of the money-changers. John records the first occasion (2:13-21) which occurred at the beginning of the Lord's ministry. Many do not realize that he did this twice, but Mark records that when he came to Jerusalem for the last week, he went into the Temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold. Further, Mark records a most significant action of our Lord's. Mark says, "he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple" (Mark 11:16).
This strongly suggests that he stopped the priests who bore vessels through the Temple in order to bring the blood of the sacrifices offered in the outer court into the holy place where it was to be sprinkled before the altar. Jesus arrested this procession. He brought to a close, for the first time since the days of the Maccabees, the offerings of Israel! They were later resumed by the Jews but without meaning or divine sanction. When Jesus himself became upon the cross "the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world," he thereby declared all other sacrifices as no longer of any meaning or value.
Then, having stopped the sacrifices, the next day the Lord stood in quiet dignity and pronounced the official sentence of rejection,
"Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
Having said this he left the Temple, and the disciples went with him. Silently, they walked down through the valley of Kidron and up the other side to the Mount of Olives. There Jesus took his seat, upon one of the rocks that overlooked the city and the Temple area. The disciples were troubled and confused. They could not understand his actions or his words concerning the Temple. The Temple was the center of the nation's life and they regarded it with holy awe as the very dwelling place of God among his people. Its beauty was famous throughout the earth and they could not believe that God would allow any harm to come to it. So they began to point out to Jesus the strength and beauty of the Temple.
To this he responds with words which distress them even further:
"Truly I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down."
They cannot believe that this will happen. They knew, of course, that the nation was under the bondage of Rome. They had no final authority in their own city or land. But it was well known that the Romans were lovers of temples. It was their boast that they preserved, if at all possible, the temples and monuments of any country they conquered. They had been in power in Palestine for many years and they had not destroyed the Temple. There seemed no good reason, therefore, why this Temple should ever be destroyed. But Jesus solemnly assures them that there would not be one stone left standing upon the other.
Test of a Prophet
We shall surely miss the full meaning of this sentence if we fail to see that Jesus is giving here his credentials as a prophet. The law of Moses required that whenever a prophet essayed to foretell the future it was necessary that he give a sign by which his prophecy could be tested. That requirement is found in Deuteronomy 18. In the midst of a prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah, Moses said, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren-him you shall heed." Then, a little later, he quoted God as saying: "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him." (Deuteronomy 18:18, 19)
Many Bible scholars agree that this prophecy was a foreview of the coming of Jesus Christ. He was that prophet, raised up of God among the people of Israel, who would be like Moses and would speak words that the nation should hear. Moses went on to say:
"'...but the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.' And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?'-when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him." (vv. 20-22)
In the practical carrying out of that admonition it became customary for the prophets to give the people a prediction of something that would occur in the near future. When it came to pass as foretold, the people would know that this was indeed an authenticated prophet. But if the sign did not occur as predicted, the prophecy in its entirety was to be rejected as not from God, and the prophet was exposed as false. So Jesus predicts the downfall of the Temple in the near future as a sign that all else he includes in this discourse is true. This is what lay behind the request of the disciples for a sign associated with his coming.
In Luke 21:20, we have other details of this predicted overthrow of the city and the Temple. There Jesus adds, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near." Forty years later, the Roman armies under Titus came in and fulfilled the prediction to the very letter. With Titus was a Jewish historian named Josephus who recorded the terrible story in minute detail. It was one of the most ghastly sieges in all history. When the Romans came the city was divided among three warring factions of Jews, who were so at each others' throats that they paid no heed to the approach of the Romans. Thus, Titus came up and surrounded the city while it was distracted by its own internecine warfare. The Romans assaulted the walls again and again, and gave every opportunity to the Jews to surrender and save their capital destruction.
During the long siege a terrible famine raged in the city and the bodies of the inhabitants of the city were literally stacked like cordwood in the streets. Mothers ate their own children to preserve their own strength. The toll of Jewish suffering was horrible but they would not surrender the city. Again and again they attempted to trick the Romans through guile and perfidy. When at last the walls were breached Titus tried to preserve the Temple by giving orders to his soldiers not to destroy or burn it. But the anger of the soldiers against the Jews was so intense that, maddened by the resistance they encountered, they disobeyed the order of their general and set fire to the temple. There were great quantities of gold and silver which had been placed in the Temple for safekeeping. This melted and ran down between the rocks and into the cracks of the stones that formed the Temple and the wall around it. When the Roman soldiers finally took the city, in their greed to obtain this gold and silver they took long bars and pried apart these massive stones. Thus, quite literally, not one stone was left standing upon another. The Temple itself was totally destroyed though the wall supporting the area upon which the Temple was built was left partially intact and a portion of it remains to this day, called the Western Wall.
In this remarkable fulfillment, confirmed so strongly by secular history, is convincing proof that God will fulfill every other part of this amazing message fully and literally. As Jesus himself said in the discourse, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." With the certainty of its fulfillment underscored so strongly, let us now note the clue to the structure of the discourse, as given in these opening verses.
Three Tough Questions
There are actually three questions which the disciples ask the Lord. The first is,
"Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?"
They mean of course, the destruction of the Temple. As we have already seen, the answer is recorded by Luke. It would be when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies. A number of them were still living when Titus fulfilled the prediction.
The second question is, "What will be the sign of your coming?"
The third is "[What will be the sign] of the close of the age?"
These questions are perfectly natural in view of the instruction of Moses to ask for a sign when prediction is attempted. Without a doubt there is a great deal of difference between what the disciples had in mind when they asked these questions and what we are thinking of when we read them. They asked out of confusion. There were many things they could not see, or would not believe, and so their questions were difficult to answer. They were much like the little boy who asked his father: "Daddy, why does the sun shine in the daytime when we don't need it, and not at night when we do?" That kind of question is difficult to answer, not because the answer is so hard, but because the question is so wrong. To some degree, that was the problem here.
In many ways we can understand much better than they what their questions meant, for we have the history of twenty centuries to look back upon. Also we accept the importance of Christ's death and resurrection, against which they were in revolt. Therefore, they could not understand all that he said to them. He had been puzzling them for months and they were now quite out of harmony with him. He had told them plainly of his coming death and resurrection, but they refused to give heed. Since they would not allow themselves to face the terrible specter of his death, they could not have any clear idea of what he meant when he said he was coming again.
Thus, when they asked him here about his coming they did not have in mind a second advent. They did not picture a descent from heaven to earth, nor anything at all of what we mean when we speak of Christ's second coming. They had in mind a political revolution and the crowning of Jesus as King and his subsequent presence among the nation as its acknowledged King and Messiah. They used a very interesting word for coming. It is the Greek word, "parousia." This word appears four times in this passage, in verses 3, 27, 37, and 39. It is not the usual word for coming. It means more than the mere arrival of some person; it also implies his continuing presence after he arrives. This is important, for much of the understanding of this discourse will turn upon the meaning of this word. The English word "coming" appears other times in the message, but it is not the same Greek word and has a different meaning.
Even after the resurrection these disciples were still asking Jesus questions that reflected a political concept of his coming. In Acts 1:6 they asked, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" They were obviously still thinking of a political rule over the nations of the earth. He did not deny that this will eventually occur, but simply reminded them that the times and seasons are the Father's prerogative to determine. Thus, when they asked him on the Mount of Olives, "What will be the sign of your coming?" it is not a question about his coming again, but of his presence in the nation as its king. But, as we shall see in our Lord's answer, he treats it as a legitimate inquiry concerning his second advent.
The Close of the Age
They also ask for a second sign, concerning the close of the age. It is not, as in the King James Version, "the end of the world." It has nothing to do with the end of the world. The world will go on for a long time after the events of the Olivet Discourse are fulfilled, but the age will end with those events. In this matter they were much more clearly informed, though they unquestionably felt that it was a time that lay immediately ahead. They were sure that they were living in days approaching the end of the age and that they were about to enter the events that would mark the close of the age.
We must remember that these men were well acquainted with the Old Testament. They also had heard Jesus teaching the parables of the kingdom (Matthew 13) and had heard him speak of a close of the age when he would send his angels throughout the earth to gather men to judgment. They knew the Old Testament predictions of Messiah's rule and reign over the earth. Doubtless they knew, too, of Daniel's remarkable prophecy (Daniel 9) that there would be a period of 490 years, (seventy weeks of years, or 490 years), from the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity until the time of Messiah the Prince. From the prophecy they may well have known that the 490 years were almost completely expired, and it was little wonder that they expected the close of the age to be very near.
What they could not see and could not be expected to see was that there would occur a wide valley of time between the hour in which they asked their question and the close of the age in the far distant future. We cannot blame them for this, for it is difficult to distinguish the two comings of Jesus in the Old Testament prophecies. Peter wrote that the prophets foresaw "the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory." But to them it seemed as if they were one great event. What looked to them to be one great mountain range of fulfillment was actually two widely separated ranges with a great valley of time in between.
For instance, in Isaiah 9 there is a well known prediction of a coming child. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given." That is a prophecy of our Lord's first advent as a baby in Bethlehem. But the rest of the verse says, "...and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called 'Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.'" That is clearly referring to his reign in the days of the kingdom which would cover the earth. It will not be fulfilled until the Lord returns to earth again, but these two events are brought together into one verse with no hint of any intervening time.
The Sign of the End of the Age
The Lord now takes their questions and in answering their questions and in answering them reverses the order. They asked about the sign of his presence and the sign of the end of the age. He answers the last one first. The sign of the close of the age is found in verse 15, "the desolating sacrilege...standing in the holy place." We shall examine that much more fully later on. The sign of his coming is given in verse 30, "then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven." This, too, we shall examine in detail in due course, but throughout this whole passage the Lord takes pains to make clear to his disciples that the end of the age lay far in the distant future.
Here in this great prediction are illustrated two great principles of prophetic fulfillment. First, there is often an unspecified interval of time which may operate to delay final fulfillment far beyond what may otherwise be expected. Jesus warned in Acts 1 that "the times and the seasons [are] not for you to know," but remain always in the Father's sovereign choice. The second principle is that of double fulfillment. When Jesus predicted encirclement of Jerusalem by hostile armies and its conquest and overthrow, it was fulfilled to the letter less than forty years later. But that historic fulfillment became in turn a preview of another day in the far distant future when again Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies and would face its hour of destruction on a greater scale than ever before. Then it will be the close of the age. The age which is thus to be closed is the age in which we now live.
Notice that Jesus speaks to these men as though they would live to see all the events he predicts. Obviously, therefore, he is speaking to them as representative men. Some of them saw the destruction of Jerusalem as he had foretold it, but none would live to see the close of the age, and none would pass through the Great Tribulation. They were uniquely representative men. They were representatives both of Israel and the church. At the time he spoke to them they were Jewish believers, men of Israel, all of them. As such they represented the nation and God's dealings with that remarkable people. But after the cross and Pentecost they were Christians, part of the Church, neither Jew nor Greek. They would then belong to a unique body which has a task to fulfill throughout the intervening centuries before the end times. Thus the message includes truth for the church in its relationship to the present age, and also truth for Israel in its time of trouble to come at the end of the age. These disciples are representatives of both groups and our Lord speaks to them as such.
As Jesus sits looking out over the city he is facing the darkest hour of his life. He knows the scheming of his enemies and the opposition that even then is sharpening against him from almost every quarter. He knows what Judas is planning. His enemies think they are doing their nefarious deeds in secret, but he knows it all. He knows the frailty of his friends and that he can never depend upon them. These very disciples who cluster around him on the mountain will in but a few hours forsake him and flee. One of them will even deny him with curses. He knows all that. He sees the darkness of the coming centuries but he looks through them to the light beyond. When all around him seems utterly hopeless he quietly declares what the end will be, without the slightest uncertainty or doubt.
All things, he says, all events, will find their significance and meaning in relationship to him. Any event which is not related to his purpose in the age is worthless and useless, without real meaning or significance. As we listen to his declaration of what the course of human history will be, we must each face the inevitable question: In what way is my life related to the great events that Jesus says will take place? Am I contributing to what will ultimately eventuate in anarchy and distress among men and in the failing of hearts for fear of what is coming to pass? Or am I contributing to the program of God which is moving through history to bring the age to its appointed climax and to bring again from heaven the Son of God to establish his kingdom over the earth? It is one or the other.
We do not live our life in an isolated segment of time. What is happening today in the affairs and councils of men is bringing to pass what our Lord says will occur. We can often trace the connection if we see the events of our day in the light of what he says in this discourse. The great and supreme question is not, what shall I do with my life, or what can I make of it, but, how does it relate to what God is doing? When God is through with history, this is the way it will be. What part will I have played in the process? These are the questions this Olivet Discourse forces upon us. --Ray Stedman, The Long Look Ahead.
The “Akedah” the binding of Isaac for sacrifice on Moriah, is seen in the cleansings of the Temple that “bound” Jesus crucifixion.
The words “love” and “worship” first appear in Genesis 22, and in direct juxtaposition.
The Baptist’s other word: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” ---- “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!”
The final climactic trial of Abraham—if Isaac is Jesus, then Abraham is the Father. Ten testings of God by Israel in the wilderness, god’s final trial is the surrender of His Son. It is God the Father who SO loved the world that He gave us His Son. It was not that the Father wanted to kill us, and Jesus loved us so much that for our sakes He let Himself be killed. Christ's’s first object, goal, and motivation was love and obedience for his Father—in that sense, we and our salvation are a secondary consideration. We were already dead, and there was NOTHING love-able or mercy-motivating about us! The death of Jesus—the Only Begotten and Beloved Son—was the ultimate trial for God the Father! We are “accepted in the Beloved”.
The second time was not that He put a stop to to the ceremonies and/or sacrifices, but that He prevented people carrying things through the Temple courts—either as a convenient shortcut (making the place a worship a convenience to get to another intended destination—boy, that will preach!), or less likely to my mind is that He was enforcing the ban on manual labor (including lifting, carrying, transporting goods) in the place where God’s people should be /enjoy the most freedom from labor and toilsome burdens (that would preach in a different direction, but also is dangerously close to the Pharisaic legalism of objecting to the healed man carrying his mat on the Sabbath). Also, the second time there was no whip. Those were the primary outward differences.And what of the intervening year? Was His action at the first Passover enough to bring a temporary moratorium the following Passover? If so, then the merchants must have “appealed” and got the ban rescinded in order to be back in operation the third year. That would have been easy enough, since the entire enterprise—from the raising of approved sacrificial animals, to the licensing of the money-changers (for a cut of the profits, then the sale and sacrifice of the animals—all of it was the family business of "Annas and Sons, Inc.” The high priest, with his sons and sons-in-law who held the high priesthood from Herod the Great to just before Jerusalem’s destruction, owned and ran and raked in enormous person profits from their monopoly on access to participation in the ordained ceremonials—and the people found themselves required to pay out-of-pocket again and again at each step of the process. God’s flock was being milked and shorn to enrich the official priesthood, who were the “thieves and robbers” Jesus referred to as the object of His righteous indignation. The cleansings were intentionally provocative personal slaps-in-the-face to Annas, designed on purpose to provoke their hostility and provide the motive that ultimately led them into the trap of crucifying Jesus. The Lord was fully aware of this from the start of His ministry: it was at the *first* cleansing that He spoke the saying about His bodily death that was used at His final trial.
The “inner” difference between the two cleanings is revealed in the Scripture quotations Jesus made. In the first, He comes as representative of the Father “My Father’s house”, and in the second He quite in the first person “My house” showing He now came in His own right as the about-to-be murdered vineyard owner’s son of the parable. All fulfilling the prophecies of Malachi and the Baptist (among others) about cleansing, purifying, and thoroughly purging His threshing floor. In fact, the Baptist’s word may actually have pointed up the DUAL cleansings—to say in Hebrew, “He will thoroughly purge” would be “purging He will purge” (as to Adam “dying you will die”). At the very least the verbal form points to both a process and an event. the Temple represented the nation, and Christ’s works and words were a binding of the strong man for them to have freedom to choose or reject Him unhindered. And He warned them hat rejection would bring their seven-fold demonization and bondage to Satan.
A storm is now breaking upon us that will test the truth and the integrity of each one’s faith.
"His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
"For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”
Lambert asks Bryce: I wonder if the second cleansing will be further fulfilled at the end of the present age? The church is supposed to be the temple? What is your take? (8/1/22)
Bryce responds: There is a typological argument that could be made for that. The first was of “My Father’s house” (Israel?) but the second was of “My house” (the Church?). But one needs to be cautious in doing so — metaphoric info in the Bible (similes, historical types and symbols, parables, etc.) cannot be directly used to draw conclusions of that kind. The clear, plan, and literal statements of Scripture must always determine Truth to be accepted. Then the metaphors or types can be interpreted only within that framework. It is very easy to become mystically engrossed in such extrapolations that demonstrate more human ingenuity than divine revelation (Origen was a prime example!). The primary purpose of the historical narratives is precisely that, to narrate the historical truth from God’s view. The Gospels surely do have the same sort of import for us as the OT prophetic writings (and may well often be themselves more prophetic in nature than is commonly recognized). When Paul take special note of this, he bases his exhortation on the specific historical instances as providing present moral instruction (he does not revert to typological interpretation, but direct application by historical parallel).
"Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:6-13 NKJV)
Still, the idea is enticing. I’ll ponder this one for a bit.
More Notes: (8/2/22) Bryce Self has been a close friend for more than thirty years. He is an impeccable student of the Bible. I asked him this week if the Temple Cleansings might have implications for a end-time cleansing of the true church? This idea did not sound quite right somehow. Then I remembered that Jesus was scheduled to rule the nations from Jerusalem. He would build the Fourth Temple--described in the final chapters of Ezekiel, during the Millennium. Kings from every nation will then visit Jerusalem annually:
"And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain. If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles." (Zechariah 14:16-19)
There are two Jerusalems described in the Bible. See Jerusalem Above, Jerusalem Below.
The Church Jesus is building must be a Virgin Bride to be worthy to be the Bride of Christ.
The cleansing of the two Jewish Temples shows that future Temples on earth must be holy, not just the church. But the Church will be evidently be made holy by a different program compared with the Temple building in Jerusalem. Bryce and I are now on the same page, thankfully. Your comments are welcome of course.
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