After this he went down to Capernaum, he and his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and remained there for a few days. The Passover of the Judaioi was near and Jesus went up to Jerusalem; and he found in the Temple people selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers enstalled there.Making a whip from bullrush cords he drove them out of the temple, he spilled out the money-changers’ coins, and told the pigeon sellers, “Get these out of here! Do not turn my father’s house into a market house!
His disciples remembered that Scripture says, ” Love for your house will eat me up.”
Then the Judaoi said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing these things?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days.”
Then the Judaioi said, “It’s taken forty six years to build this temple and you’re going to raise it up in three days!”
But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
So when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this and they put trust in the Scripture and in the word that Jesus had spoken.
If the last passge shows the water of religious ritual replaced by the wine of eternal life, this shows the temple itself replaced by the body of Jesus, who is the house where God dwells. The Gospel author is not condemning the temple ritual ; but rather insisting -as does the Letter to Hebrews in its different way- that it was only ever a sign of the more profound indwelling of God in Jesus and in those who have accepted him.
Every temple in the world has been a place of commerce also, whether for reasons of animal sacrfice, or the payment of religious taxes, or the selling of religious souvenirs. Shamefully many Christian Cathedrals, Basilcas and Churches, are more concerned to milk the tourists than to explain the meaning of Christian faith.
All four Gospels tell this story, the other three placing it near the end of Jesus’ ministry, while John places it at the start. Only John gives the vivid detail of the whip. The incident is characterful and likely enough as part of a prophetic ministry in Jerusalem. After all, Amos had prophesied God’s hatred of ritual without justice, telling the people, “Take away from me the noise of your songs!” The e rebuilding of the Temple under Ezra and Nehemiah was accompanied by a new emphasis on the Law of God. The Pharisees interpreted the rules of holiness for priests as applying to all faithful people.
Perhaps however the most relevant passge from the Hebrew Bible is Malachi 3:1:
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
This combines words which might be interpreted as referring to John the Baptist, with word that can be applied to Jesus. The Lord in Malachi is of course God who is depicted as returning to take up residence. Jesus clears away the religious clutter so that the Father can be honoured, but he is clear that God does not dwell in buildings but rather in his Son and in the lives of his people.
The challenge to destroy the temple of his body is a prophetic glance towards Jesus’ execution; and the promise to raise it a glance towards his resurrection. Again these are intended by the gospel writer to show the divine splendour evident in Jesus’ earthly ministry to those who have eyes to see, namely his disciples past and present. It is also a story of the conflict between Jesus and those of his own peope who do not accept him, in which the provocation comes from Jesus, who as it were carries the fight to the enemy, namely those whose power rests on “owning”the sacred presence of God.