John 2:12-25 Turning the Tables

Written by Paul J. Bucknell on September, 24, 2019

John 2:12-25 Turning the Tables

John 2:12-25 shows the need to deepen one’s faith in Jesus rather than trusting the failing religious structures and systems about us.

When Jesus upset the merchandise tables in the temple courtyard, He signified that what they saw before them, including the glorious temple with its sacrifices, had become impure. God deemed Moses’ old system and the Law as inadequate; it needed replacement by something which is incomparably better.

Although Jesus esteemed and kept the Old Covenant, he knew what was in man’s heart. The Law was insufficient to save His people (Jer 31:31).[1] The prophetic signs were not meant to be ends in and of themselves but pointed to something higher—their fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ in the cross and resurrection. So Jesus would soon inaugurate the New Covenant by sacrificing Himself as the Lamb of God (John 1:29). People equally would need to see the inadequacy of the present system and put aside their trust in it or any religious system by transferring their allegiance to Jesus and the saving work He would do on their behalf.

Anyone that has lived in a growing city knows that construction and growth come at a cost. The old must be torn down. Not everyone agrees that that which existed and played such a crucial role in the formation of the society to that point should be axed. Planners, like God Himself, look into the future and see the genuine needs to usher the society to reach its pinnacle. If the Lord would conduct perfect and eternal fellowship with His people, they needed a perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God, to atone for their sins. Jesus, the Son of God, equally knew He was the Lamb of God to be sacrificed exactly three years down the road at an upcoming Passover.

We might want to cling to our religious hopes and experiences but will not find that which meets our deepest needs. The Old Testament not only shows the inadequacy of the kings, prophets, and judges of the Old Testament but points ahead with hundreds of prophecies and signs to the glorious age of the Messiah. Now it has come, and Jesus marks off His coming by showing the inadequacies and corruptness of the old system. John calls his readers to discover the uniqueness of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, and to believe on His Name.

“30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31)

12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother, and His brothers, and His disciples; and there they stayed a few days. 13 And the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise. 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR THY HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.” –John 2:12-17, NASB

1.) Jesus’ Shocking Revelation (John 2:12-17)

The first thing that shocks us is Jesus’ overturning the moneychangers’ tables and chasing them out. Immediately, upon viewing the events taking place and Jesus’ part in it, we wonder what is happening? Who is Jesus? Why is Jesus doing these things in this way?

John carefully placed these two signs after chapter 1 and before chapter 3. Chapter 1 surprisingly states that “those who were His own did not receive Him” their promised One (John 1:11). While chapter 3 introduces Jesus’ message of new life—the necessity to be born again to see the kingdom of God. Chapter 2 serves as a transition chapter, partly alerting us to the unique person of Christ (John 2:1-11) and partly revealing the great decline of the glorious temple of God where wickedness took place in the Court of the Gentiles (2:12-25). Instead of offering life and presenting Christ to the world, the Jewish people merely reflected the world to the world. How disappointing!

There is no doubt that this casting out the merchandise from the temple, then, displays how religiosity deadened the hope of God’s people. If Israel has become like the world—“without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12), what about the Gentiles themselves?

Another question comes to our mind. Shouldn’t others have responded this way? Jesus stated that God was His Father by saying the temple was my Father’s house (2:17). His disciples immediately received a scripture that popped up in their minds, “His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR THY HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME”” (2:18). [2]

Corruption always reaches down into the hearts of mankind. This passage, therefore, reveals man’s wickedness. It is not just institutions that go bad but the people that comprise the institutions. It is for this contrast between the inner compromises and outer corruption that Jesus, in John 3, can openly speak of the need to be born again. All our old hopes and trusts crumble when tainted by our compromised persons.

So I again ask, did the Israelites not care about the purity of God’s house? The reason His people rejected Jesus was the same reason they advocated the selling of merchandise in the temple area and the profiteering from the currency exchange.[3] It brings to our mind that religiosity will kill the best of intentions. Man cannot worship God and mammon (Mat 6:24).
This passage should have us consider if and where that toleration of evil has entered our hearts. Have we compromised in our worship of God?

18 The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things? 19 Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 The Jews therefore said, It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days? 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken. – John 2:18-22


This passage should have us consider if and where that toleration of evil has entered our hearts. Have we compromised in our worship of God?

2.) Jesus’ Stunning Sign (John 2:18-22)

We go from shocking to stunning. Jesus is not only revealed as a Liberator but curiously presented as the hope for a coming generation. The Jews couldn’t recognize or openly agree with Jesus and so hid behind the scene by asking for a sign. These Jews skirted behind the image of those seeking “proof.” The truth is that the Jewish rulers behind this money profiteering scheme were afraid of the reaction of the people because they cheated them. The problems with buildings and institutions are that they allow for a sense of pride that cause people to forget the reason they came into existence. Hospitals, for example, began as an outreach to care for people. They increasingly have become profit-making enterprises. Schools and churches follow the same track of the world, caring not about the education of the poor but a mechanism to control public funds and trends.


Jesus breaks from this pattern by inaugurating a whole new way. The old needed to be torn down before the new is built.
Jesus often speaks with hidden speech as He did in this case. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The sign Jesus stated was not one that anyone there would understand. The Jews could only think of the reconstructed temple that took 46 years for Herod the Great to complete.[4] The temple was undoubtedly spectacular. Huge 100 ton stone blocks were installed to increase the building space due to the cliffs. The disciples themselves didn’t know what to think about His words.

Jesus’ Significant Sign

But think about this. The temple that Zerubbabel and Herod so diligently worked on was a disaster in providing what the people genuinely needed. A temple does not bring forgiveness of sins but only provides a place, year after year, where sacrifices would be made.

Only three years later, upon Jesus’ resurrection, would His disciples remember Jesus’ words. Then it all clicked. They understood.

21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.

These words of John, early in the Gospel, form1 part of the intriguing plot making us think what would happen to Jesus. All along, John has us wonder who Jesus is so that we could rightly respond to Him.

At this point, John’s readers begin wondering about Jesus’ death and what it means that He was raised from the dead. John provides his readers a significant lead. Only by looking ahead at the purpose of Jesus’ death, could they begin to gain insight into the grand scope of God’s salvation compared to the temple built by these pagan kings (Zerubbabel and Herod).

All the way through the Gospel of John, John scatters seeds of faith so that the readers might be convinced that Jesus is Savior and Lord so gain eternal life.

How stunned are you by the Gospel of Jesus Christ? We can be astounded by the tremendous and beautiful cathedrals, but they will crumble before the Lord’s holy presence. What can they do for your needy soul? Frankly, nothing. The worth of all these grand buildings and carvings is only derived from how much they excel in declaring the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Salvation comes only from Him so that you and I can find forgiveness and eternal life.


There are many who are attracted to their temples and ceremonies as these Jews were. They adore their buildings and ceremonies. They love religious pretension, but sin is a dirty business. Sinners putrify every holy temple—no matter the religion. There is no room for the syncretism of Jesus with the world or Jesus with religion.

And so, you face a difficulty: either ignore your sin, thinking you have a chance of being good enough to get to heaven or admit and repent from one’s sin and place your full trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Do you believe in religion or in Christ? Where does your peace originate? From a tranquil-looking religious scene or the bloody death of Jesus? If you place your hopes on religious garb, you will shy away from Jesus’ sacrifice, but if you must admit your heart’s evil, then you will cherish the innocent one who died in your place, taking your sin upon Him.

[1] “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31).

[2] Psalm 69:9 “For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.” Note how John did not mention the second half of the verse, but the last half also could form a sign. When people reject Jesus, they reject God Himself.

[3] Jesus did not call them a “den of thieves” here but in the other Gospels.

[4] The 46 years refers to Herod’s grand reconstruction by Herod the Great, starting in 22 BC and being completed around 24-29 AD during the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Corruption derives from compromise

3.) Jesus’ Surprising Observation (John 2:23-25)

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man (John 2:23-25).

John 2:12-25 journeys from the shocking, to the stunning, and now to the surprising. John doesn’t hold back from grabbing the attention of his readers. He first returns to the general context of the Passover feast with a summary but then leads us into uncharted waters.

Back in verse 13, we read of Jesus’ original reason for going to Jerusalem. Jesus, along with all other twelve-year-old males and older, were mandated by Old Testament law to proceed to Jerusalem. Those from around the world came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast. Verse 23 continues by mentioning the numerous signs that Jesus had done. As a result, “many” believed in His Name.

You might wonder if they held a survey to see how people viewed Jesus after the cleansing after the temple. It seems that the people (different from the religious Jews) gained a better view of Jesus. They began to trust Him and see what He stood for—at least on the superficial level. After all, in just three years, the people would turn against Jesus and agree to have Him condemned as a criminal. Their belief, evidently, was a quasi-belief and led to the last two verses of John 2, where John records his interesting observations of Jesus.

First, Jesus did not share openly of His person and purpose. We can ascertain that from His prophecy in verse 19. No one knew what Jesus meant by His words. But the people were looking for someone to stand up against the Romans who occupied their land. Perhaps they thought Jesus would bring them some measure of liberty. Or else, maybe they hoped for some restoration of Judaism.

What do you hope Jesus would do for you? Why were you baptized? Many of us have beliefs but are not very aware of them. They direct us as unconscious masters. In any case, many Jews came to trust Jesus, but this is where John’s penetrating insight surprises us. Jesus doesn’t trust those that trust Him! How interesting!

John’s conclusion follows his previous statement in chapter one, where His own did not receive Him. Some would believe Jesus if He somehow could benefit their lives, but their faith was superficial. By the way, I am not suggesting these signs, including the wine, were in any way wrong. But for our hopes to rest on these things that come and go are inconsequential. We need to see where these signs as a whole point. This level of confidence in how Jesus could help them is not the faith needed to believe in Jesus Christ (John 20:30-31).

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus was not winning a popularity poll but set on a mission that would raise a greater temple replacing the old broken system. Jesus was going to raise the temple and fulfill all the Old Testament images and promises in His death and resurrection. Jesus knew what was in man. He understood their motives and ways—this was and is the world.

Syncretism Accommodates Falsehood

Jesus cleansed the temple area two times, once at the beginning and once at the end of His earthly ministry. The other three gospel writers used the cleansing of the temple incident that happened late in His ministry. John used the early episode as a statement of Jesus’ life purpose. John’s words teach that our faith can go only as deep and strong as our love for God. This shocking picture stirred up the Gospel readers to seriously consider who Jesus Christ was.

Let me explain how this all works together in The Belief Chart.

The Belief Chart (see below)

The Unbelief signifies some people, like the Jewish leaders in this passage, will never believe (2:20). Even when Jesus exposed their sins, we see no confession or brokenness. Jesus might have called God His Father, but they did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God representing God’s concerns to them.

The Seekers are those mentioned in John 2:23-25 who have put some measure of confidence in God. They believe. We are not trying to say that their confidence is of no value. Actually, even those who saw the sign of Jesus’ turning water to wine helped the disciples believe (2:11). This small measure of faith is what we see among many. God might heal or otherwise help some person. They are delighted and in someway associate this help with Jesus. But we are the fools if we take these signs as our final designation. These mini-signs lead to the greatest sign of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Don’t miss where the signs point!

The Believer (far right) include all those who believe Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. They are willing to give up all the small help they have found along the way, as needed if only to gain this one true faith in Jesus. These people have a common discovery of their sin. They have failed God and need Jesus’ righteousness.

John pushed us so that we might want to know who the real Christ is. But we need to be careful. The context is everything. We do not see Jesus acting like this at other times. Only here. Why? John shows us how wretched God’s people had gotten in His day. Evil was openly conducted right in the presence of God. If God’s people were brazenly selling goods in the temple court, what do you think they would act like at home?

But as believers, we hopefully will find some warning. After all, our intimacy with God can go only as deep as we put aside our sin. But some of us have accommodated evil within our hearts. This personal compromise has corrupted our churches. Do we deserve any less than what happened to the temple of God?


In many ways, Christianity has devolved much like the Second Temple, which was later destroyed in 70 AD. The church in some places lives for its buildings and ceremonies. In other areas, it lives to make money and fame. As long as people attach themselves to these worldly purposes, they demonstrate their willingness to support these worldly movements. Jesus, however, decisively interrupts the parade to let them know the kingdom of God was in their midst. Jesus not only used His prophecy to signify the destruction of the temple but of the limited days of the then Old Testament age. Something greater and more grand was coming and, indeed, in the person and work of Christ has now come.

Further reading?

Redemption Through the Scriptures: Gaining a Clearer Picture of Christ and His Saving Work by Paul J. Bucknell highlights the numerous schemes the Bible presents Jesus’ glorious redemptive work. Lots of charts.

For another article with more description on the facts in John 2:12-25: Opening Up Our Lives to Christ also by Paul J. Bucknell.

The Belief Chart shows the three categories of belief from John 2:18-22 in Christianity. Where are you?

John 2:12-25 Study Questions

Paul J. Bucknell

1) Record all the actions Jesus took in verses 12-17.

2) What surprises you most from this account? Why?

3) Why might Jesus have taken all those drastic actions?

4) What are the implications of Jesus calling the temple “My Father’s house?” (2:16)

5) How might the readers be impacted by learning early on in the Gospel of John the importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection statement (2:21-22)?

6) How might this passage lead into John 3 and the need of being born again to enter God’s kingdom?

7) What are the many signs for in John’s Gospel? Do you think this is true of the Old Testament prophecies too as the disciples discovered (John 2:17)?

8) Christians are God’s holy temple (1 Cor 3:16. 6:19). What are some sinful things the Lord is not pleased about the church at large right now?

9) Review The Belief Chart above. Explain where you are on the chart and an event that might have contributed to you being there.

10) Integrity occurs when our inner persons are consistent with our outward lives. Share one area that you struggle with in being a person of integrity and pray together.


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