Jesus' Fathers house a house of trade

Wed, 11/03/2009 - 11:37 -- James Oakley

John 2:16 reads, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade."

In the parallel incident in Mark 11:15-19, Jesus says “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” He quotes Isaiah 56:7, but the cross references in my ESV point me to Jeremiah 7:11 for the latter half of that verse, “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?”

We will revisit, in a moment, the question of how much this can be carried across from Mark 11 to John 2. However the context in Jeremiah 7 is interesting. The people are presumptuously thinking that they won’t be judged and destroyed because they have the temple. However God points them to his prior destruction of the Shiloh tabernacle site, and to the fact that this house is now a den of robbers. God will do to his temple what he did to Shiloh.

So when Jesus quotes this passage in Mark 11, before decimating the temple forecourt, he’s not just finding a poetic way to say that the temple is not what it should be. He’s forecasting its destruction.

Jesus’ words in John 2 are not so devastating. He doesn’t directly quote Jeremiah, describing the temple of his day as a house of robbers; he merely calls it a “house of trade.” That could be because this is earlier in his ministry, and the final rejection of Jesus in Jerusalem and the consequent fall of the temple is further off.

Nevertheless, we can conclude that: (i) In adopting the metaphor of trade, there is an allusion in the text to Jeremiah 7. This is not yet trade that is corrupt (“robbers”), but it is nevertheless trade rather than prayer. Jesus is drawing attention to the fact that the temple is corrupt. (ii) The Jews will destroy the temple of Jesus’ body (verse 19). The corruption of the temple establishment will become so severe that the Jews destroy the true temple. (iii) In adopting the language of “temple” to describe himself, Jesus raises a deliberate ambiguity in verse 20. The Jews will destroy Jesus’ body, the true temple. Consequently, they will destroy the temple they think is the only one. Just as in Jeremiah’s day the corruption of the temple building will lead to the downfall of that building.

So the words Jesus uses in John 2:16 point us to the Jeremiah 7 reference, which in turn starts the reader thinking of Jesus’ overturn of tables as an enacted prophecy of the downfall of the temple itself.

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