The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods






Section V

the first messianic attendance of Jesus on the Passover, and the purification of the temple

(Joh 2:12-25)

From Cana Jesus directed his course to Capernaum, accompanied by His mother, His brethren, and His disciples. There were various reasons for going down from the mountain district to the sea-shore. Most of the new friends of Jesus lived near the sea; and as they had not yet given up their wonted occupation, their presence at home might be required not only by their families, but by their business. Thus, for instance, Peter was a householder in Capernaum (Mat 8:14). It was natural that the Lord should give His company to His friends, as they had accompanied Him, when they had to leave their own home. At Cana a fellowship had been formed between His first natural family and the new spiritual family which now belonged to Him. This fellowship was celebrated by their travelling together, when the Lord’s spiritual associates surrounded Him full of admiration and hope. But the approach of the Passover formed a special reason why Jesus and His followers should go to Capernaum. Probably a large company of pilgrims set out from that place, and already pilgrims began to flock thither. And as it would be a point of consequence to Him to move in a circle which would give full scope for His exertions, He would greatly prefer going up to Jerusalem in the centre of such a caravan.

Though Jesus stayed only a few days in Capernaum, this time was sufficient for an opportunity of manifesting His Messianic spirit and calling. Among the excited crowds in that city, whose attention must have been directed towards Him by the testimony of His devoted adherents in the first festive joy of their faith, He must have performed a succession of miracles. For when, after a longer stay in Judea, He first of all visited Nazareth, the people there were disposed to blame Him for bestowing His blessings on Capernaum in preference to His own town, and therefore more eagerly expected from Him miraculous performances (Luk 4:23). Those miracles have not been reported in detail. The chief narrators of the synoptical accounts were not yet among the followers of Jesus, and the few disciples whom He had already gained were probably very much taken up with household matters in the short interval between the two great journeys. This was probably the cause that no more distinct testimonies have been given of these events.

The most memorable act of Jesus in Jerusalem at this time was the purifying of the temple. John relates it at once, in order to indicate that by this act the Lord had entered on His public ministry in the very centre of the theocracy. He found in the temple—that is, in the precincts of the sanctuary, in the court of the Gentiles1—the dealers in oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers sitting at their tables. These malpractices had gradually arisen from the wants, usages, and notions of the Jewish nation. Those persons who attended the festivals, or generally the Israelites who offered sacrifices, required animals for that purpose; and thus a cattle market was held. Besides this, according to Exo 30:13, the Jews paid a temple-tax, and in the temple coinage, a half-shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary; hence the money-changers were needed.2 Probably this temple-market was originally in the neighbourhood of the outer court, and gradually brought within it. But how can the circumstance be explained, that the strict pharisaical Jews in the time of Jesus could allow such a desecration of the temple to creep in?

This circumstance may be explained from the spirit of Pharisaism; and we must first enter into its meaning, in order fully to understand the indignation of Jesus. In the same degree in which Pharisaism looked with increasing contempt on the Gentiles, it valued the sacrificial animals, since they had a relation to the temple, more highly, and at last esteemed them as the nobler of the two; for, according to the later Jewish theology, an Israelite might be defiled by intercourse with Gentiles (see Act 10:12, &c.) They stood, in this respect, on a level with unclean beasts, while the sacrificial beasts served for purification. It was, therefore, quite in accordance with the spirit of Pharisaism when these animals were allowed to expel the Gentiles from their court. But, on the other hand, it was quite in accordance with the spirit of Christ when His zeal was roused against such a disorderly proceeding. He combated the false temple-service in the temple itself, because it desecrated the temple and marred its most peculiar design.

His mode of proceeding is remarkable. He makes ‘a scourge of small cords.’ This scourge He wields, not against the men, but against the oxen and sheep, and against these animals naturally, not merely symbolically.3 It is a mark of His superiority that He drives the cattle out directly, as if they had run of their own accord into the temple.4 In the same way He overturns the tables of the money-changers quite simply, since He proceeds in a straightforward manner, and takes for granted that no tables ought to stand there, and thus scatters about the money of the exchangers. But he did not like to overturn the dove-cages, because they contained living creatures; nor could He scare the doves away, because they sat in the cages;5 so He commanded their owners, ‘Take these things hence,’ and then gives the cause of His zeal both in reference to them and the rest: ‘Make not My Father’s house an house of merchandize.’ When Jesus had accomplished this act of zeal, His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up.6

The Jews7 could not deny the theocratic fitness of Christ’s act; they must have allowed it to be a purification of the temple. But they desired to know what authority He had for performing it. Certainly, every Jew might come forward as a zealot against illegal abuses in the national life.8 But the greatest zealots generally justified their proceedings as prophets and workers of miracles.9 And in the present case the Jews believed that they were bound to make peculiarly strong demands, since the Lord by His act had rebuked the whole nation, and the Sanhedrim itself. They demanded, therefore, a sign to legitimate His proceeding.

Jesus replied to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.’ The Jews understood His words of their visible temple, as their answer proves: ‘Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt Thou rear it up in three days?’10 John repudiates this interpretation with the explanation, ‘Jesus spake of the temple of His body.’ This explanation was not immediately disclosed to the disciples, but first became clear to them at the resurrection of Jesus; and this fulfilment of so remarkable a prophecy contributed to strengthen their faith.

In modern times, it has been thought needful to correct the exegesis of John, or of the disciples generally, in the explanation of this passage, by remarking that the destruction of the temple must mark the destruction of the theocracy which the Jews merited, but its rebuilding, the higher restoration of the theocracy by the work of Christ; and it is supposed that the three days may be regarded as the concrete designation of a short time.11

It ought, at the same time, to have been perceived that the Old Testament theocracy could be really destroyed, and was destroyed, only by the rejection and crucifixion of Christ, and that His resurrection founded the real restoration of a new and higher theocratic order, a higher temple.12 The exposition of the Evangelist is distinguished from the aforesaid modern one in this, that he seizes the fact in question, of the destruction and rebuilding of the true theocracy, clearly on its innermost substance, in its special life-principle; while the same fact floats so dimly in its outward extent before the modern exposition, that it never succeeds in estimating the substance of the fact in its real significance, and in comprehending it in its unity with this outward extension. The saying of the Lord was certainly not easy to be understood by the Jews; with their judaizing disposition, they persisted in supposing that He meant the material temple on Mount Zion. From this carnal conception there was only a single step to the slanderous misrepresentation which we find again in the mouth of the false witnesses at the judicial examination of Christ. But for Christ the temple had from the first its spiritual existence in the theocracy; and that He referred to this, the better disposed must have surmised. But the best disposed also found in the fulfilment of this surmise that His personal life was the quintessence of this theocracy, and therefore His body was properly the temple.

The three first Evangelists narrate another perfectly similar purification of the temple, which the Lord performed on the last Passover He attended. In the present day, it is generally assumed that this event could not have happened twice. But for this assumption there is no sufficient reason. Rather there is great probability in favour of the opposite supposition, which adheres to the account in the Gospels. It is difficult to suppose that Jesus would allow so crying an abuse to exist without animadversion up to the time of His last visit. He combated it at once. But let it be supposed that He combated it with permanent success, and we must admit such a single great result of His agency in the Israelitish cultus as could not easily fall to His lot according to the whole remaining bearing of the Jewish theocracy towards Him.13 If, then, the old irregular practice soon revived, the question would be, whether Christ could have endured the repeated observation of a public scandal, peradventure for the reason that His first denunciation of it had been of so little avail. It is, we allow, possible that the one remembrance of the disciples might have added to the one act of Jesus some traits taken from other similar acts.14 Yet the difference of the two accounts is not to be mistaken. The act in both cases is the same; only that, on the second purification, Jesus, according to Mark (11:16), would not allow the vessels to be carried through the temple. But the saying with which He accompanied His act in the two cases is wholly different. The tone of the saying in John is quite mild: ‘Make not My Father’s house a house of merchandize.’ The second saying in the synoptic Gospels is marked by great severity. ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.’ This sentence is a vigorous blending of two prophetic passages, Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11. ‘Is this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?’ the Lord asks His people by Jeremiah, for this reason, that the people came to His house in an ungodly state of mind, many of them murderers and adulterers. Jesus availed Himself of this language in its freest application. On the other hand, in Isa. 56 the announcement is made, that the Gentiles should be fellow-worshippers with Israel in the temple; and in this sense it is said, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.’ This was the design of the court of the Gentiles, to represent the living germ of Universalism in the Old Testament religion and Church quite palpably and visibly in the arrangements of the material temple. Hence Mark reports the words of Jesus most correctly in their full extent: ‘My house shall be called of all nations a house of prayer.’ And it was quite in keeping with the whole character of the transaction, that Jesus should bring home to the pharisaic spirit, at the second and more unsparing purification of the temple, the ultimate ground of His conduct. He now declared, without reserve, that He meant to advocate the right of the nations, of the Gentiles, to the temple, against the pharisaic spirit, which would have dislodged the Gentiles from their lawful position by the pressure of their sacrificial traffic. The consequences of the two acts were also essentially different. At the first purification, the Jewish party left it still undecided whether the proceeding was right or not; Jesus only justified His zeal by a sign of prophetic spiritual power and authority. At the second purification, matters took quite a different turn. The space which had been left free by the expulsion of the cattle was occupied by the blind and the lame whom Jesus healed, and by pious children who chanted their hosannas in His praise; while, on the other hand, the chief priests and scribes retired with renewed animosity to conspire against His life.

Thus the first great public act of Jesus was one of the most beautiful zeal, of reverence, and love; it was an act of inspired wrath, in which He contended for the divine honour and the spirit of devotion against the profane disposition that desecrated the sanctuary, and by which, at the same time, he asserted the rights of humanity against the spiritual arrogance which treated with contempt the claims of the Gentiles, who, though still at a distance, were called to salvation. He came as the Lord to His temple, according to the prophecy of Malachi (3:1); the outward, special purification of the temple was an emblem of the great universal temple-purification which He accomplished by His whole work of redemption.

This act was miraculous in its religious, moral, and psychical operation; only the physical element, which completes a miracle in the stricter sense, was wanting. It was a miracle, as an act of extraordinary spiritual illumination and power, as an act of religious and moral majesty which operated on the people with irresistible power,15 alarmed the traffickers, paralyzed adversaries, agitated the popular mind, and elevated the souls of the pious, though it filled them with anxious forebodings. Such a foreboding seized the souls of the disciples of Jesus, and brought to their recollection that solemn expression in the Psalms which represented zeal for God’s house as a consuming fire terminating in death.

John does not relate the other miracles which Jesus performed in Jerusalem at the Passover. But he alludes to them when he says, ‘Many believed in His name, when they saw the signs (σημεῖα) which He did’ (Joh 2:22). But Jesus was too deeply conversant with the essential quality of human nature in its sinfulness and weakness, to be able to trust Himself to those men, who in the first fervour of their emotions had declared themselves for Him. He knew them all, that is, He knew the Adamic type of man fundamentally, so that He needed not that any one should give Him information respecting the peculiar character of the generation among whom He lived. This collective body stood before Him as one man; and what was in man He already knew, He was aware of it, He saw through him. And owing to the inconstancy of the Adamic man in his noblest flights and aspirations, it was evident to Him that He could not immediately reveal and trust Himself to His admirers without being unfaithful to Himself and His cause. For the sake of their salvation, He was obliged meanwhile to conceal Himself in many ways, and to impart and trust Himself to them under the laws of the holiest reserve. This important feature in the plan of Jesus appears in John as well as in the three first Evangelists.



1. If, in accordance with the Gospel tradition, we admit the repetition of the purification of the temple, it will be easily understood that the second must be by far the most important for the synoptists, since it was witnessed by all the disciples, and therefore occupied a conspicuous place in the Gospel tradition. But then John found that the first only required yet to be reported, and he reported it in preference to the other, since according to the whole composition of his Gospel the admission of the second was more out of his way.

2. Against the reference of Christ’s words, ‘Destroy this temple,’ &c., to His death and resurrection, several remarks have been made, which may all be settled by one answer. It has been forgotten that the terms employed first of all ought to sound as if Jesus meant only to say, ‘Demolish this material temple, and in three days I will rebuild it,’ since He wished to intimate something deeper under the covering of this paradoxical expression. Hence (1) He must say λύσατε, though this was not a proper expression for the crucifixion of His body; hence (2) He says τὸν ναὸν τοῦτον with a reference to the temple, though He had in His mind the theocracy, and His own body as the organ of the theocracy; hence (3) He says ἐγερῶ, though in a strict sense He did not raise Himself, but was raised by the Father (yet so, that His resurrection was at the same time an act of His own life, according to Joh 10:18). Also, the remarks, that the Jews had as yet done nothing which indicated the design of putting Jesus to death, and that they could not have understood such an intimation as that given by Jesus, may be obviated by the rejoinder, that here the most distinct relation exists between the outer and the inner, the general and individual relations of the theocracy;—first of all between the temple, the body of Christ, and the theocracy;—then between the desecration of the temple, the crucifixion of Christ, and the destruction of the ancient theocracy;—lastly and thirdly, between the purification of the temple, the resurrection of Christ, and the establishment of the New Covenant. To this we must add, in conclusion, the relations of time. The Lord required only a few moments to cleanse the temple—He required three days for the resurrection—He required a short time in order to exhibit the new temple in His pentecostal Church. Therefore Bruno Bauer’s requirement (Kritik der evang. Geschichte des Joh., p. 82) is satisfied; the second, deeper meaning of Christ’s words lies really in the direction of the first meaning. That three days may signify a short space of time, Hos 6:2 has been adduced to prove; and it has been justly remarked, that the expression generally has something proverbial, since Jesus did not remain three days in the grave in a strict sense, but rose again on the third day.

3. ‘This multitude of persons, who might be certain of the protection of the priesthood, would not let themselves be ejected from the temple by a single man, without any ado.’ This dictum belongs to the well-known standing canon of a critical foregone conclusion, which always treats as improbable the manifestations and operations of spiritual majesty.



1) See Lücke, Commentar, i. 479 [or Tholuck, p. 105]

2) This tax might be paid out of Jerusalem, Matt. xvii. 24; but persons who attended the feast generally preferred paying it in Jerusalem.

3) See Ebrard, Gospel History, 219; also Maier's commentary on the passage.

4) In this, as it appears to me, consists the peculiar legality of the act. Jesus drove out the cattle with the scourge, both sheep and oxen—πάντας—as if they were a shepherdless multitude which had run into the temple. The sellers would, of course, rush out with the cattle, and quite as naturally the buyers with the sellers.

5) See Rosenmüller’s Scholia on the passage. Also Schweizer, das Evang, Johan., p. 135. It would be strange to admit that those that sold doves had a greater right than the rest to desecrate the temple, on the ground that the doves were intended for the poor, or, according to Stier, because Jesus saw in them an emblem of the Holy Spirit.

6) Ps, lxix. 9, compared with John xv. 25, xix. 28, 30; Acts i. 20.

7) As ‘the Jews’ here, for the first time, meet the Lord in this hostile manner, we may remark once for all, that John uses the expression neither in the sense of national distinction, as a designation of the Jews in a narrower sense, nor as a designation of the members of the Sanhedrim, The Jews, in John’s Gospel, are rather Hebrews who judaized in opposition to Christianity, whether in Galilee or in Judea, whether they belonged to the people or to the Sanhedrim. The passage in John v. 41 favours this view. See vol. i. p.175 of this work.

8) Num. xxv. 7.

9) 1 Kings xviii, 23.

10) They evidently mean the building of the temple by Herod, the rebuilding of the temple erected by Zerubbabel after the captivity, and reckon the forty-six years from the beginning of the building in the eighteenth or fifteenth year of Herod, including the interruptions. The building was completed under Herod Antipas.’—Lücke, Commentar, i. 487.

11) The treatises on this subject have been fully noticed by Lücke, Commenter, i.

12) Compare Ebrard, p. 220; and Stier, Words of the Lord Jesus, i. 71. The author of this work has not overlooked (vol. i, p. 171) that Ebrard had already found the solution of the ancient problem.

13) See Ebrard, Gospel History, p. 378.

14) [This is barely consistent even with what the author has already said of the sacred remembrance of the life of our Lord by His disciples, and does certainly not allow for a more than ordinary distinctness of remembrance. Neander is of opinion there was but one cleansing of the temple ; but this idea seems to be now very generally given up as untenable. ED.]

15) [Πράγμα πολλῆς αὐθεντείες γέμον.—Cramer's Catena, in loc. ED.]