When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
An angry Jesus is not an image we’re comfortable with. The world sees this passage and cringes. “See?” They say. “Jesus is just another angry prophet out to get those against him.” Even for Christians, the picture of Jesus with a whip and roar is a little scary. We like the hurting Jesus, one who weeps over Jerusalem or looks on a sinner with compassion. Those images we can handle.
But it is the image of an angry Jesus which drives home to us the magnitude of sin’s disruption in our world and our need for deliverance. It’s the anger of Jesus that proves He’s the Rescuer.
Consider, this passage takes place during Passover. As Christians, we romanticize the deliverance of Egypt, emphasizing the saving of Israel and the miracle of the Red Sea parting. But Passover was an experience of judgment, too. God was judging Pharoah and Egypt for failing to obey the command to let Israel go free. Plague after plague had not convinced Egypt to honor Yahweh, and so one final plague was announced to Moses. The Angel of Death would slay the firstborn son of every household—unless the blood of the Passover lamb was smeared above the doorway.
The beautiful deliverance of Passover has a price: the blood of a lamb.
When Jesus enters the temple expecting to see reverent worship, but instead sees a selfish display of consumerism, He responds as Passover Judge. The temple had been turned into a marketplace, a place of personal gain. How ironic that on the festival that celebrates freedom, vendors were selling and making money off worshippers, as if salvation could be earned. Such an affront on grace could not be tolerated by Jesus, the lamb that buys our freedom.
Jesus’ display of anger reinforces to us that sin has consequences. It warns us to take seriously his sacrifice. It pairs for us the Passover meanings of Judgment and Deliverance.
And it leads us to ask hard questions:
How have we turned the Father’s House into something other than what He has intended?
Have we used God’s sacrifice for our personal gain?
Have we lost our zeal for true worship?
What have Christians turned the institution of church into and how has this affected the watching world?
May you find comfort that because sin has been judged, your deliverance has been gained. May you also find strength to honor the call to worship in Spirit and truth.