"It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”” John 2:13-16 (NLT)
A couple of years ago in our youth group, we were reading through the book of John together and having an ongoing discussion about it during our small groups. One of the students in my small group asked a good question about the time when Jesus gets angry at the Temple:
“This may be a stupid question but why does Jesus get so mad in this passage? Jesus didn’t really get mad at people and loves everyone so I’m a bit confused on why he’s so angry at people here but isn’t anywhere else in the Bible.”
I told her that it’s actually not a stupid question at all because like she said, from what we know about Jesus it seems a little out of character. Then, I went on to explain to her what I thought but encouraged her to do some research of her own to come to some of her own conclusions, and I gave her some additional resources.
I addressed the 2 things she brought up:
- Why Jesus gets angry (even though he loves everyone)
- Jesus isn’t angry anywhere else in the Bible
Why does Jesus get so angry at the Temple if he loves everyone? I think Jesus gets angry BECAUSE of his love for everyone. In this passage, he demonstrates a “righteous anger”. He had a good reason to be angry because of corruption and injustice that was hurting people. However, he still did not sin in his anger.
“Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.” Psalm 4:4 (ESV)
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” Ephesians 4:26 (ESV)
“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15 (NLT)
Corruption and injustice:
If it was Passover, Jews from ALL over came to Jerusalem, and custom/law required them to bring a sacrifice. Many could not bring animals that far of a distance due to the cost, inconvenience, and potential of that animal becoming injured or “blemished” in some way during the travels which would have made the animal unfit for sacrifice. Therefore they had to purchase a sacrificial animal when they arrived. Some historians say that prior to coming they would have sold an animal at home that they would have used as a sacrifice and would then use that money from the sale to purchase a replacement animal for sacrifice.
In the scripture passage, the people selling the animals and doing money exchanges (just like we have to do when we go out of the country and have to exchange currency for the local currency) were taking advantage of people and cheating people out of their money by overcharging and gouging them. I think of this like when there’s a hurricane coming and the gas stations start WAY overcharging & price-gouging for gas because they know people have to buy the gas to get out of town–so basically cheating and taking advantage of people.
The focus wasn’t on God in an area designated for worship. Then on top of all of that, they were doing this INSIDE the temple courts which would have crowded out and disrupted the worship taking place there during the Passover celebration. The focus wasn’t on God with all of the cheating and merchandising going on in the temple courts. Jesus said they turned a house of prayer into a den of thieves and called these people robbers or thieves.
“He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” Matthew 21:13 (NLT)
“He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”” Mark 11:17 (NLT)
“He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”” Luke 19:46 (NLT)
“Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”” John 2:16 (NLT)
Jesus gets angry because of sinful behavior and injustice, because people were being hurt and cheated (quite possibly even women & widows—see Mark 12:40), and because they made religion a matter of monetary profit.
Jesus isn’t angry “anywhere else in the Bible”—Actually, he WAS…As far as Jesus not being angry anywhere else in the Bible, actually, he WAS in a few different instances:
- In Mark 3:1-5 Jesus “looked around angrily & was deeply saddened by their hard hearts”.
- In John 11:33 & 38, the Bible says Jesus was angry (in fact it says “deep anger”), but this anger was directed at death.
- Mark 10:13-16 says that Jesus was “angry with his disciples” and got onto them for their mistreatment and hindrance of children coming to him (see also Luke 17:2).
- In Matthew 23 Jesus displayed a vocal/verbal anger with the Pharisees saying things like “woe to you” and “you hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “fools,” and “you snakes, you brood of vipers”.
- In Mark 11:12-14 Jesus gets angry at a fig tree for not bearing fruit and curses it (basically showing anger at unfruitfulness—not doing what you’re supposed to do).
- Then on several occasions, we can see Jesus correcting his disciples and followers.
Even though Jesus gets angry, he still maintains self-control
Even in the temple, he merely drove the people and animals out without hurting them or causing destruction. Notice in the passage that he did not let the doves out of their cages. Had he done this the owners wouldn’t have been able to retrieve them, so he was still considerate even as he was driving them out. Nor did he ruin, throw away, or steal the money of the money exchangers. The text says he merely overturned the tables. He still maintained self-control and was not destructive or harmful. He didn’t even do these things impulsively or immediately, indicated because he took the time to make a whip out of cords in John 2:15.