This post is part of an ongoing series in the study of John we are doing during January. Subscribe to the blog for daily updates in the Bible Study posts. Subscribe to the podcasts to hear our discussion of the book of John throughout this month. Join us in your daily devotions as we travel through this fascinating account of the life of Christ.
Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. John 2:13-22 (NKJV)
This passage represents one of the more famous scripture passages in the New Testament. As already stated in our study of the gospel of John, the writer did not worry too much about chronology. The other accounts of this scene when Jesus cleansed the temple describe it taking shape near the end of his ministry, whereas John presents it at the beginning. The order of the story is not essential. What is important is what we learn about the nature of Christ, the Word made flesh, in this account.
We find the central takeaway from Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in John’s gospel in verse 17. “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” We don’t know if the disciples remembered this passage from Psalm 69:9 immediately after Jesus cleansed the temple or when they reflected upon it after His resurrection. But when they saw Jesus in the temple that day, they saw a righteous zeal for the house of God.
The cleansing of the temple is a timely message for the Body of Christ today. In the first century Jerusalem, the temple did not become full of businesses and marketers overnight. It happened gradually. One compromise at a time, for the sake of convenience, appeal, and what no longer seemed problematic, people more interested in the treasures of this world rather than the treasures of the kingdom of God came to dominate the environment of the house of God.
Today, we can find this same spirit active in many facets of the Christian world through so-called Christian television channels, ministries, and even weekly church programs. Earth-based desires and priorities have compromised the zeal for the house of God.
The Zeal of Phinehas
There is another significant reference to zeal for the house of God in the scripture found in Numbers 25. In this account, while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness:
…some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the LORD’s anger to blaze against his people. Numbers 25:1-3 (NLT)
This sinful behavior involved sexual immorality combined with idolatry. It went so far that one of the unnamed Israelites even brought one of these prostitutes of Baal into the Tabernacle of God, apparently with the intent of committing sexual immorality there.
Just then one of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman into his tent, right before the eyes of Moses and all the people, as everyone was weeping at the entrance of the Tabernacle. Numbers 25:6 (NLT)
At this point in the story, Phinehas, grandson to Aaron, the high priest, took action. He did not wait for instruction from Aaron or Moses. He did not wait for approval. Righteous anger burst forth from the young priest at the sight of the defamation of the house of God – and he struck!
When Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest saw this, he jumped up and left the assembly. He took a spear and rushed after the man into his tent. Phinehas thrust the spear all the way through the man’s body and into the woman’s stomach. Numbers 25:7-8 (NLT)
There is reason to surmise that due to the nature of the arrangement of the children of Israel and their tribes at this point in the history of their wanderings in the wilderness, the unnamed man who came into the house of God could have been a relative of Phinehas. Families lived and operated close to one another. Phinehas had easy access to the defiler of the house of God because the man lived in close proximity to Phinehas. If that is the case, Phinehas also overcame any familial or friendly loyalty in his actions. In any event, this action by Phinehas was smiled upon by God.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest has turned my anger away from the Israelites by being as zealous among them as I was. So I stopped destroying all Israel as I had intended to do in my zealous anger. Now tell him that I am making my special covenant of peace with him. In this covenant, I give him and his descendants a permanent right to the priesthood, for in his zeal for me, his God, he purified the people of Israel, making them right with me.” Numbers 25:10-13 (NLT)
A zeal for the house of God is a highly valued character trait that God looks for among His people. When He finds that attribute, He blesses and honors it.
Jesus’s response to the businessmen and marketers in the temple in the first century echoes the actions of Phinehas thousands of years ago as he honored the house of God against idolatry and sexual immorality.
- The temple of God today is the hearts of His people. What does zeal for the house of God look like today?
- What immoralities and idolatry have sought to penetrate the house of God in our generation?
- How can I demonstrate a zeal for the house of God in my lifestyle?
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