Growing up in church as a church kid, I grew up hearing the stories about Jesus. I had some favorites: Jesus feeding the five thousand, because I kind of wanted to be that kid that gave Jesus my five loaves and two fishes. Probably my favorite was Jesus walking on water, not only because it was so cool, but because I really really wanted to walk on water too! I mean, can you imagine how popular I would have been in school if I could walk on water?
Anyways, there were always some stories about Jesus that we kind of glossed over growing up, stories that never really fit into the narrative of who we imagined Jesus to be. Probably the biggest story that caused me confusion growing up, the one that I could never really reconcile with who I thought Jesus was or at least should be, was the story of Jesus clearing the temple. All four eyewitness accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) record this:
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people 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 courts, 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! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” John 2:13-19
Growing up as a church kid, I had a really, really hard time reconciling angry Jesus. “My” Jesus never got angry. Or looking at it another way, when I personally got angry, I got in trouble by my parents, so why in the world was it okay for Jesus to be mad? And what made him so mad in the first place?
The whole concept of the temple was that it was supposed to be a place for people to worship God, but by the time Jesus had shown up it had turned into a huge money making enterprise. There was big money in running the temple. You had to sacrifice specific animals, and the easiest way to do it was to buy animals the temple sold at marked up prices. You couldn’t offer your own money to God, you had to exchange it for temple money, and again the temple made a killing off the exchange rates.
From their point of view, that 46-year-long building project cost a lot of money, and that money had to come from somewhere. And while the money was coming in, there was enough to skim off the top to keep the high priest and his family comfortably compensated. It was a temple system that had grown incredibly corrupt, that had replaced a relationship with God with rituals and who took advantage of and fleeced honest people trying to know God.
So when Jesus came, he did not come to establish temple 2.0. He came to institute something entirely brand new. The worship of God would no longer be centered around a place. Instead it would be centered around a person. Instead of lifeless rituals, it would be a life-giving relationship. The temple actually hindered those genuinely trying to seek God, and that’s what made him “angry” Jesus.