The Authority of Jesus
What came to the minds of Jesus’ disciples when they saw His anger? They may not have been book smart, but they knew their Bibles. That’s how they spent almost all their time in synagogue school—memorizing the Old Testament Scriptures. So that’s what came to their minds as they watched Jesus, the Son of David, cleanse the Temple . . . David’s words in Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for Thy house will consume me.”
In other words, this could destroy our Master if He’s not careful. And they were right, for notice what John goes on to write in verse 18! He says, “The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” You see, there was no question in the minds of the religious rulers. This was a direct challenge to their authority, for they were the ones who ran the Temple and made the rules for others to obey.
By the way, critics of the Bible have a heyday with this passage because when they read the first three Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke – they put the Temple’s cleansing at the end of Jesus’ ministry, whereas John puts it at the beginning. “So what’s the deal?” they say. “Let’s see you explain that. This is just one more example of a contradiction in the Bible!”
So here goes. This is the explanation, and it isn’t at all complicated. Jesus cleansed the Temple two times—once at the start of His ministry and again just days before His death. In fact, His second cleansing of the Temple is what finally forced their hands and fulfilled His promise that He would die for our sins. For when the high priest and his cronies saw Him cleanse the Temple a second time, there was still no admission of wrong on their part. Repentance never crosses the minds of the unrepentant! Their only question is: Who gave you the authority to do these things?
Why such a reaction on their part? You’d think the religious leaders would be among the first to welcome Him as Messiah! Not so! They had at least five reasons for rejecting Him: 1) He was a “nobody” who lived in humble obscurity the first 30 years of His life with no credentials for what He did. He wasn’t a priest. (Nor did He ever try to join in their “reindeer games.”) Nor did He look special. No Superman or Messiah logo under His shirt.
Of course, they could have asked John the Baptist to vouch for Him or checked their Temple records to see where He was born and what His lineage was. Born in Bethlehem of the House of David and the Tribe of Judah, just as the prophets predicted! “But don’t confuse me with the facts! I’ve already made up my mind!” Besides, credentials didn’t matter to them. John the Baptist was a priest’s son, and they didn’t listen to him!
2) They were sure when Messiah came He’d attack their enemies the Romans. But instead He attacked them for failing to keep God’s commandments! Of course, if they had read their Bibles, they would have known what to expect. Malachi 3:1 warned them, “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple…and who can stand when He appears!”
3) He hit them where it hurt. I heard another preacher say that there’s a major nerve running from the pocketbook to the pain center in the brain, which is why people start to squirm when you talk about money in church. But Jesus didn’t hesitate to do so. He talked more about money than any other topic, for what we do with money is the #1 indicator of what’s important to us. And money was of utmost importance to the high priest and his cronies. For they didn’t just tolerate buying and selling in the Temple; they were the ones behind it—rich Jewish thugs who got a kickback from everything that was bought or sold in the Temple, and ready to break legs if they didn’t get their cut.
4) But the most infuriating thing Jesus did was call the Temple “My Father’s house.” Don’t get confused about this! Jesus didn’t come to set an example for us or teach us a new way of relating to God. He came to assert a new truth about Himself, and He did so from the outset of His ministry. What truth was that? “I am God manifest in human flesh!” And they knew He was claiming that. That’s why they wanted to kill Him, because He, a mere man (they thought), was claiming to be God.
That will become even clearer in John 10:33 where Jesus says to the same religious thugs, “I and My Father are One.” To which they respond by picking up stones to stone Him. Jesus will say to them, “I showed you many good works from My Father, for which of them are you stoning Me?” And they will answer (John 10:33), “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy because You, a mere man, make Yourself out to be God.” They knew what He was claiming, and they were right! He was claiming to be God.
So they ask for a sign. John 2:19—The Jews said to Him, “What sign do You give us, seeing that You do these things?” Jesus said to them, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews therefore said, “It took forty six years to build this Temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” Herod’s Temple had taken 46 years to build at this point and, in fact, when it was finally destroyed by the Romans 40 years later, it still wasn’t finished.
But as John explains, that isn’t what He was talking about. Jesus was referring to the Temple of His body. The Jews misunderstood that and misquoted Him and the gossip, as it usually does, went viral, so that three years later at His kangaroo trial, false witnesses were still accusing Him of saying, “I will destroy this Temple and raise it up in three days.” But that isn’t what He meant. He was referring to His body, and notice – He didn’t say that He would destroy it. He said they would destroy it—another evidence of His Deity in that He knew they were going to kill Him even before they knew they wanted to.
5) He also claims to be omnipotent. For He adds, “Destroy this Body, and I” (Not the Father, though you can never separate Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) But “I will raise it up!” How can a dead man raise himself from the dead? Not a problem if you’re God, and that’s who He is! Jesus is God! That’s becoming more and more obvious to His disciples, and I hope to you as well, especially as they witness the third mark of His Deity. We’ve seen His anger and His authority. In the final part of this study, we will take a closer look at His omniscience! Be sure to join us for it.