The Zeal of Jesus

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

December 5, 1999

The Zeal of Jesus

John 2:12-25

What is Jesus like? As we enter into the Christmas season, the common perception focuses on Jesus as the innocent baby lying in a manger. The greeting card pictures drawn of the scene are of a cute, smiling baby lying in a beautiful manger – often it is more like a cradle – and surrounded by cute animals – often baby animals. This is Jesus meek and mild who would not and could not harm anything.

The Scripture is clear that Jesus’ character is that of a meek and mild lamb. In Matthew 12:18-21, which is a quote from Isaiah 42, we find God describing Messiah as follows: "Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 "He will not quarrel, nor cry out; Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. 20 "A battered reed He will not break off, And a smoldering wick He will not put out, Until He leads justice to victory. 21 "And in His name the Gentiles will hope." Matthew quoted this passage to explain why Jesus would often withdraw from conflicts with the religious leaders and continue his work in a more quiet manner among the people.

That is often the prevailing view of Jesus. He is so mild that He would never get angry, never raise His voice or stand in open opposition to anyone. He would bring about His reformation of the worship of God in a quiet manner through passive resistance, somewhat like the more recent Ghandi of India. In the genre of our own society, Jesus is often thought of and even proclaimed to be the ultimate example of tolerance.

That view of Jesus is idolatry for it makes Him out to be something that He is not. That is not the Jesus of the Bible. That is not the Jesus that came to earth just over 2,000 years ago to redeem man from sin. This tolerant Jesus is a product of human imagination from men who desire an escape from His judgement.

Jesus was always kind and offered forgiveness to the humble regardless of their sin such as the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Yet, Jesus was also very quick to oppose those who were spiritually proud and pronounced woes upon them and called them names. His condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 would be a good example of this. In that passage Jesus calls them, among other things, "hypocrites," "blind guides," "fools," "serpents," "brood of vipers," and "son[s] of hell" sentenced to hell. That is not tolerant or passive. Consider as well Jesus’ very intolerant statement in John 14:6 which we had on our church sign this week: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." That is a very exclusive and intolerant declaration.

What is your Jesus like? Is your Jesus the one described in the Bible? Does your understanding of Him include these passages? Or is He someone created in your own mind according to your own desires?

This morning we are going to look at John 2:12-25 and see the expression of Jesus’ zeal for God displayed in a way that most people find surprising because of their misunderstanding of Jesus’ nature. In looking at this passage we will not only gain a clearer picture of Jesus, but also a better idea of what our own behavior should be like. Christians are not to be passive wimps who tolerate everything around them. We are to be a loving people who are meek, but with a zeal for God that can only be described as consuming.

As we begin our study this morning remember that Jesus had begun His public ministry only a short time before when John baptized Him in the Jordan river. Jesus has been tested by the devil in the wilderness and had returned to Bethany, beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing and had chosen His first disciples. Jesus and His disciples had then traveled up to Cana of Galilee where they attended a wedding where Jesus demonstrated His deity, and hence a proof of His messiahship, by turning the water into wine. A miracle of the first order since it required the creation of elements that were not present. Only God can do that.

We pick up the story in John 2:12. After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother, and [His] brothers, and His disciples; and there they stayed a few days.

The "after this" gives the time designation that this occurs after the wedding in Cana. This is important because it helps to identify which Passover is being talked about in verses 13-22. It is Spring 27 A.D. Jesus comes down from Cana, which is in the hills of Galilee, to the lower elevation of Capernaum which is on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Lake of Gennesaret.

With Jesus are his mother, brothers and disciples. Contrary to religious traditions which teach that Jesus was the only child of Mary, the Biblical accounts are clear that Jesus had brothers and sisters. In fact, Jesus had at least 6 siblings. Matthew 13:55 names Jesus’ four brothers as James, Joseph, Simon and Judas and verse following states that He had sisters – plural.

Now it should not seem strange that Jesus and His family along with His disciples would go to Capernaum. Remember that James and John lived in Capernaum and that their mother, Salome, was Mary’s sister. Jesus was their cousin. Andrew and Peter also lived in Capernaum (Mark 1:21,29). As verse 13 states, the Passover was at hand, so it would have made sense for them to travel to Jerusalem together. Notice in verse 12 that they only stayed a few days.

Every male Jew who was 12 or older was expected to go to Jerusalem for Passover. Passover was the celebration of the God freeing the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt by His mighty hand. If you recall the story in Exodus, God brought upon Egypt 10 plagues to demonstrate that He was the only true God and cause Egypt to submit to His command to let His people go. The last of the plagues was the death angel who came and killed every first born that was within a home that had the blood of a lamb spread on the door posts. When the angel saw the blood, he would "passover" that house and those inside were safe. God commanded that this even be celebrated every year with a re-enactment of part of the preparations made on the first Passover including the slaying of a lamb and eating bread without leaven. The Passover ceremony is very interesting, but we will not take time to go into more details today. Perhaps sometime in the future we will host again a Passover Seder dinner so that you can understand it all better.

The Passover was followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread which lasted for seven days. This also was in commemoration of the

God’s deliverance of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were so closely tied together that both were often referred simply as the Passover. For example, Luke 22:1 states, Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. The Old Testament also will refer to both as simply Passover. For example, Ezek. 45:21 describes the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten." This is the usage of the term here in John 2. This is important because it explains what Jesus saw as He came into Jerusalem and entered the Temple with His disciples. During this feast, many animals would be sacrificed, when Jesus came into the Temple, that is what He saw. The temple had become a marketplace selling all the different sacrificial animals.

Look at verse 13 & 14. And the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated.

Let’s get a picture of what is occurring. Jesus and His disciples have traveled from Capernaum, along the Sea of Galilee and down the Jordan Valley. It is Spring and the countryside is beautiful. At Jericho they would start up the steep road going out of the Jordan Valley and up into the Hills of Judea. Jerusalem sits on a ridge in these hills at an elevation of about 2,500 feet. That is why people go "up" to Jerusalem. The Jericho road comes over the North ridge of the Mount of Olives and then through the north end Kidron Valley. Jesus would then have entered Jerusalem either through the Sheep Gate on the North, or through the East gate and directly onto the Temple Mount.

Steps led up to the temple mount and to the outer most court, often referred to as the court of the Gentiles. The temple area was broken up into several courts by walls and buildings. Each court become more restricted as you get closer to the Temple itself and the Holy of Holies within the temple. Gentiles were allowed only in the outer most court. An inscription in Greek and Latin was placed at each entrance to the next court warning Gentiles that to enter farther than the Court of the Gentiles would be upon pain of death.

The next court was the court of the Women and beyond that was the court of Israel which was in front of the Altar. The Court of the Priest surrounded the Temple itself, and only the High Priest could go into the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year.

As Jesus came onto the temple mount and into the Court of the Gentiles, His senses were not filled with the activities of people worshipping God. They were instead assaulted by the sights, sounds and smells of a street bazaar. There were bulls, oxen, goats, sheep, and cages full of pigeons and turtle doves for sale to be used for sacrifices. Other men were hawking incense and grains to be used in offerings. These things were bad enough, but in the midst of all of them were the money changers.

Spring was marked by preparations for Passover. A full month before the celebration work began to repair the roads & bridges, sepulchers would get a fresh coat of whitewash to make sure no one would accidently touch them and make themselves ceremonially unclean. Various rituals of purification would get started. Then there was the money changers who would set up shop in the towns and villages throughout the country.

The money changers were needed because the annual temple tax, which was to be paid by every adult male, could only be paid in exact half-shekels of the Sanctuary or ordinary Galilean shekels. In addition, many of the merchants in Jerusalem would only accept Jewish currency. All foreign currency – and Persian, Tyrian, Syrian, Egyptian, Grecian and Roman money circulated freely in Palestine – would have to be exchanged and the money changer would charge a fee for his lucrative service. They were regarded as not much better than thieves. A couple of weeks before Passover, these money changers would leave the small towns and set up shop in Jerusalem.

To make matters worse, the High priest, Annas, and his family controlled what happened in the Temple Markets. In fact, the Temple-market was called the Bazaars of the Sons of Annas. They were paid part of the profits of the money changers and merchants.

Now you might think that this might have been for convenience, but it was not. The merchants gained access to what was nearly a monopoly. All the animals that were to be sacrificed had to be inspected by an official examiner to be sure it met the Levitical qualifications. A fee would be paid to this examiner, and if he did not like your animal, you had to bring another. Corruption here was also prevalent with the result that the people basically had to buy their sacrificial animals from Annas’ merchants in Jerusalem at greatly inflated prices.

This was the scene that Jesus came into when He came to the Temple and entered the Court of the Gentiles. It would have been bad enough if it had just been a case of honest merchants offering their products and services in an inappropriate place. But the practice of these merchants was corrupt. They were thieves. A couple of years later they return to the same practice and Jesus calls them thieves and quotes Jer. 7:11. This generation was just as corrupt as those of Jeremiah’s day. They had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers.

What did Jesus do? Verses 15. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove [them] all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables;

This scene is a shock for those that thing of Jesus as a weak, tolerant, passive, mild man whose great purpose is to make it so that sinful man is not held accountable for his wickedness. Some refuse to believe what they read. R. Kent Hughes reports a commentator that said of this passage, "catching up some of the reeds that served as bedding for the cattle, he twisted them into the semblance of a scourge, which could hurt neither man nor beast. He did not use it." Yet, what is written is very plain and understandable.

Jesus picks up some of the rope that would have been lying around with so many animals being led to sacrifice. He knots some of them together and makes a scourge – a whip. He then drives all of these people out of the Temple. The idea that He does not use the whip is absurd. Does anyone really think these people who were making a lot of money in their business and vastly outnumbered Jesus even if all His disciples were with Him, would have simply left the Temple because Jesus asked them too and threatened them with cattle bedding? Jesus’ anger is very plain and evident in His pouring out the coins of the moneychangers and overturning their tables. This is a scene of a man who is very angry and letting everyone know it. You can be sure that the whip He made was being used. Remember that Jesus would have been working as a carpenter, the trade of Joseph. And while carpentry has become less physically demanding in our time due to the tools available, even now, does anyone here think the average merchant will want to get into a physical altercation with an angry carpenter?

I think we can all get the picture. The scourge is flying and the sheep and ox are bleating and lowing and trying to get out of there. There are coins scattered everywhere while tables are being overturned. Men are fleeing and then Jesus comes to those selling doves. Verse 16 – 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise." What do you think these merchants did? I am sure they complied very quickly. And what a stinging rebuke. "Stop making my Father’s house a house of merchandise." The statement not only reproaches them for their evil practice, but it also declares to them His identity. The Temple is Jesus’ Father’s house. Jesus is declaring His deity. His Father is God.

Why was Jesus so angry? Verse 17. His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Thy house will consume me." Jesus disciples recalled that David said this in Psalm 69:9 in describing the his own godly character. This particular Psalm has several Messianic elements. What was applied to David was also applied to his greater son, the Messiah.

The godly have a zeal for all that is associated with God. There is a fervent devotion to Him and a jealousy for upholding His righteous character. The root of the word probably comes from a word that means "to boil." That is a good description of the passion and emotion of zeal. It carries you the extra step when others would have quit. It moves you to action when others are fearful. It keeps your focus on what is really important in life rather than being distracted by the ordinary.

Jesus was filled with zeal for God and that which was associated with Him – the Temple. The description here is that it "consumed" Him. It was eating Him up. Jesus was committed to the cause of God and it took up His time, energy and thoughts. His actions were all directed toward the work of the Kingdom of God. So should it be for all who are godly.

The Christian should have a zeal for God. We should be consumed with Him and therefore live for Him. This should not even be considered radical for the real radical change occurred when God took we who were dead in our trespasses and sin and made us alive in Christ (Eph. 2). Tragically, most professing Christians separate their "religious" life from everyday life. Jesus is Lord on Sunday morning, but the rest of the time He is given little thought. Many such people are going to be surprised when they enter eternity and Jesus denies knowing them (Mt. 7:23; 10:33). The true Christian has been crucified with Christ and no longer lives, but Christ lives in them (Gal.2:20). It should be considered normal, not radical, for a Christian to be consumed with Jesus and living for Him so that everything in life is seen in terms of glorifying God. Do you have a zeal for God?

Why was Jesus so angry? The Court of the Gentiles was supposed to be the place where those who did not know God could come and learn of Him and be instructed in how to worship Him. It was supposed to be the place were the worship of God was showcased before the unbelieving that they might believe. It was where the Godly gentile could worship the true God. Instead it had become a place no different from what was around any pagan temple. The worship of God was turned into a money making venture.

There is a time and a place for Christians to be angry and moved to strong action. It is not when we are personally attacked, for we are to be those who bless when cursed, who love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us. It is not when our personal empire is threatened, for God said He would provide for our needs if we seek first on His kingdom and righteousness. Jesus told us that in this world we would have tribulation, but we can take courage and have peace because He had overcome the world (John 16:32,33). Jesus did not react when He was personally attacked, but when those who were supposed to teach others about God were perverted or that which was set apart for God’s glory was desecrated, then Jesus became angry and hot words and actions followed. We often use the term, "righteous indignation" to set this anger apart from the anger of man which does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:20). This is an anger that results from a zeal for God. It is the anger the godly have when they hear someone claim to be a Christian, but openly live as the ungodly, or they hear someone perverting the Scriptures. It is the anger the godly have when they hear the beautiful name of the Lord used in vain or as a curse. There is a time when a Christian must boldly declare the truth without consideration of the other person’s feelings, for their feelings are of no consequence when God’s glory and honor is at stake.

In verse 18 we find the response of the Jews to Jesus’ actions.

The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?" The particular people questioning Jesus are not defined. It could have been the scribes, priests, temple-guards, Anna’s representatives or any mixture of them. Their question is borne out of the prophecy of Malachi 3 that Messiah would come suddenly to His temple and begin a work of purification. Yet, their question is both stupid and evil. It is stupid because Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple was the sign. It was evil because they fail to admit any guilt for their wicked practices. They should have fallen before Him and begged to be forgiven. Instead they challenge His authority to drive out those who had desecrated the Temple. Jesus’ answer just confuses them more.

John 2:19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."

This is a mashal, a paradoxical saying that makes a veiled, but pointed remark. It is often given in the form of a riddle. Since they are standing in the physical Temple is all they can think of, so they answer in verse 20, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"

Herod started work on the Temple in the 18th year of his reign – 20 or 19 B.C. It was now 46 years later (27 A.D.) and the work was still not done. It would not be finished until just before it was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D. They are incredulous that Jesus would make such a statement. Later, they even misquote Jesus and accuse Him of saying He was going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days (Mt. 26:61).

They did not understand Jesus’ mashal and that he was speaking of a type and antitype. Even His disciples did not understand the meaning until after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Look at verses 21,22. But He was speaking of the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.

Israel’s physical temple was the dwelling place of God and was the type of what Jesus’ body was in a far superior sense. The terms used can be used for both the temple and the body. The term "destroy" (lusate / lusate) can be used for tearing down a building or the destruction of a human body. The term for the temple (ton naon touton /ton naon touton)) refers to a sacred area which could include the Temple and its grounds or a human body viewed as the dwelling place of the Spirit. The term "raise it up" (egerw / egero) can be used to describe the reconstruction of a building or the resuscitation of an individual.

The saying is actually very pointed and powerful and the meanings intertwined. The Jews were already destroying the purpose of the Temple by their desecration of it into a market place. When they would crucify Jesus, they would also end the purpose of the temple. Recall that the veil in the Holy of Holies was torn from the top down at Jesus’ death. The final sacrifice had been paid and man could now approach God through Christ instead of the Temple sacrificial system. When Jesus rose from the dead three days later a whole new temple, the church (Eph. 2:21), was started. When the Jews crucified Jesus, they also destroyed the Temple system, and three days later Jesus when Jesus rose from the dead He also began a new temple, the church.

After Jesus’ resurrection the disciples remembered what Jesus had said and understood it. The result was a greater understanding and trust in what the Scriptures and Jesus had said. Jesus was who He claimed to be. The Messiah, the son of God, who redeemed mankind with His own life and through the power of His own resurrection can offer eternal life to those who will believe in Him.

Jesus stayed in Jerusalem throughout the rest of the feast and continued to minister. Verses 23-25, Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man.

Jesus did do other signs, but there is no indication that these affected the Jews that challenged Jesus about cleansing the temple. It did make an impression on others and believed in Jesus in the sense that they began to accept what Jesus was saying. They did not have saving faith at this point as verses 24 and 25 indicate. Jesus did not trust them because He knew what was in their heart and how fickle people can be. Those that shouted "hosanna" to Jesus on one day would also shout "crucify him" a few days later.

Jesus’ omniscience is again in view. He knew what was in man and did not need testimony from anyone else to know what is in a person’s heart. The amazing thing is that Jesus knows what is our hearts as well, and yet He still loved us so much that He died in our place. He knows all our failings and still loves us. But never forget that His love also means that He will not allow us to continue as we are, but He will continue to change us to be more like Himself.

What is your Jesus like? I hope you have not made an idol out of Him – made Him into a product of your own imagination. I pray that all of us would be more like the Jesus of the Bible. That will will continue in the process to become more like Jesus Christ in His love, His humility, His gentleness and kindness and in His zeal for the things of God.

Sermon Study Sheets


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Explain what "zeal" means. How many times was it used in the sermon? Talk with your parents about your own zeal for God.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

Describe what you think Jesus’ character was like? What do you base your view upon? What is the context of John 2:12-25? Why would Jesus go to Capernaum? Who was with Him? Who else lived there? Why did Jesus go to Jerusalem for Passover? Describe Passover? Describe the Feast of Unleavened Bread? What did Jesus find when He came into the Temple? What should He have found? What did Jesus do? Does this surprise you? Why was Jesus so angry? What does "zeal" mean? How did this demonstrate Jesus’ zeal? What zeal should Christians have? How should that zeal be manifested? Are you zealous for Jesus? How do you manifest it? What should have been the response of the Jews? What was their response? Why was their question stupid and wicked? What was the meaning of Jesus’ answer to them? Why did they not understand it? When did Jesus disciples understand it? What was the response of the people to Jesus’ signs during the Feast? Why wouldn’t Jesus trust them? How do you respond to Jesus’ omniscience about you? Do you want to be like Jesus, including His zeal?

Sermon Notes – 12/4/1999 a.m.

The Zeal of Jesus – John 2:12-25


The Context (vs.12)

Passover (vs. 13)

What Jesus Found (vs. 14)

Jesus’ Response (vs. 15 – 16)

The Reason for Jesus’ Response (vs. 17)

The Jews’ Challenge (vs. 18)

Jesus’ Answer (vs. 19)

Their Confusion (vs. 10)

The Meaning of the Mashal (vs. 21,22)

Jesus’ Omniscience (23-25)

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