A close look at the Gospel accounts reveals that Jesus cleansed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem on two occasions. The first time is described in John 2 following His first recorded miracle of turning water into wine at a Jewish wedding in Cana. John 2:14-15 notes, "In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables." This took place before Jesus met with Nicodemus (John 3) and the woman at the well (John 4).
Why did Jesus cleanse the temple? Did Jesus cleanse the temple more than once?
Three years after this first temple cleansing, Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the Passover, entering in triumph in what has become known as Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-11). On that day, the Sunday before His crucifixion, "Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, 'It is written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer," but you make it a den of robbers'" (Matthew 21:12-13).
Why did Jesus cleanse the Jewish temple on these two occasions? During His first cleansing, John 2:16 notes, "he told those who sold the pigeons, 'Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.'" Jesus clearly cleansed the temple because those selling pigeons, sheep, and oxen were doing so as a business rather than as a spiritual service. God's law demanded that His people bring animal offerings at the temple during Passover. Because many Jews came from long distances for this event, it became common for Jews to bring money and then buy animals when in Jerusalem. Sellers then began profiting from the system. This misuse of the temple system of worship was what angered Jesus.
During the second cleaning, Jesus again rejected the Jewish system of moneymaking from God's Passover. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. The temple was to be known as a house of prayer, not as a place where merchants took economic advantage of people.
Some of the major differences between these two cleansings include: The first cleansing involved Jesus making a whip of cords, immediate questioning from the Jewish leaders, and Jesus speaking of destroying the temple and rebuilding it in three days (referring to His body). The second cleansing involved the healing of the blind and lame, children crying out in the temple to Him, the scribes and chief priests telling Jesus to rebuke the people, and Jesus soon leaving the city to stay in nearby Bethany.
Jesus cleansed the temple both near the beginning and near the end of His public ministry, making clear He rejected the distortions of temple worship as well as His authority over those in the temple. He ultimately proved His role as Messiah through His death and resurrection from the dead in this same area of Jerusalem.
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