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Jesus' authority questioned - John 2:18-22

We left off with Jesus coming to the temple and clearing it out.  He was passionate and aggressive, but not violent.  He used a whip to run off the animals and he turned over the money tables, but he didn't harm anyone.  The scene was likely chaos, as people ran after their animals and clamored to gather their money.  He clearly expressed his distaste over a place of worship becoming a place of greed.

As the common folks clear, the authorities approach Jesus and they want to know who gave him the authority to do this.  They ask for a sign.  They see themselves as in charge, so this is likely a rhetorical question before they call for legal action from Rome.  Their response is interesting because they don't challenge his claim, they simply change the subject.  They make no attempt to justify the merchants taking advantage of those that have had to travel so far.  They make no attempt to justify the money changers making the problem worse.  They just change the subject to one of power.

Don't we do the same thing all the time?  "Who does she think she is..."  "Who are you to tell me..." Doesn't this sound familiar?  When we ask these questions, we are usually asking the wrong question?  We question authority and knowledge when we can't counter a claim.  We ask who they think they are, because their claim has merit, but we don't like that they had the guts to make the claim.  These are questions of defeat.

Jesus responds by getting right to the heart of their poor focus.  He tells them "destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days".  They had taken the focus away from the temple and onto him, by asking about his authority instead of challenging his claim.  They had no good reason to do this because any believer had the right to challenge greedy practices within the temple.   He kept the focus on him, giving them a traditional Jewish proof.  In the Old Testament God would protect those that were doing his work.  Jesus is essentially telling them that they can test God by trying to destroy him, and like Daniel in the lion's den, or Jonah in the whale, he will be protected because he is doing God's work.  They could not hear this because their focus was still on the material.

The Pharisees instantly started talking about how impossible of a task that would be because of how long the temple had taken to build.  They did not hear Jesus, they were focused on the material world while Jesus was focused on the spiritual.  Jesus had challenged the greedy practices of the merchants and money changers because they were out for material gain rather than helping people to practice their faith.  Similarly, the Pharisees had the same focus on the material so they could not hear Jesus' claim to be a prophet.  According to this story, even his disciples struggled to understand this until after his death.  Given his disciples focus on who would be in charge of the coming kingdom...it is understandable that they were stuck in the same mindset as the Pharisees at the time.

It is worth noting that Jesus eventually takes the place of the temple.  In fact, in John 4 we will read about him telling a woman that a day is coming when people will no longer worship at the temple, but they will worship in spirit and truth.  This little story might be leading us towards that truth.

Overall the common theme in this story is an urge to move away from the material and towards the spiritual.  I feel like this is a particularly important claim for our day when the material seems to be all we know.



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