Anyone who thinks that the Old Testament is exclusively about judgement and wrath, and the New Testament is exclusively about love and grace would do well to reflect on this passage in John 2:13-22, often known as The Cleansing of the Temple.
The other gospel writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record this incident towards the end of the Jesus’ public ministry, when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for the last time. In those gospels Jesus’ cleansing of the temple becomes one of the tipping points for those who sought Jesus’ life. John, on the other hand, places his account at the beginning of his gospel. John has something very clear in mind in doing this. The Temple was the heartbeat of Judaism. It was the place here God had promised to live in the midst of his people. It was central to the national way of life. For someone to burst on the scene as Jesus did, unknown by most of the people who witnessed what happened, this would have been a tremendous shock, a shock no doubt intended by Jesus.
It was the time of Passover, when Jews came from everywhere to celebrate the Exodus, freedom, and rescue from slavery. Jesus regarded the Temple, the place meant to have been kept as God’s house, as corrupted by the religious leaders and the Jews and under God’s judgement. The Temple ought not to have had the atmosphere of a marketplace, let alone been a place where people seeking to purchase animals for sacrifice were being ripped off.
The meaning of what Jesus was doing grows when he is challenged. When the Jews ask Jesus what he thinks he is doing, and then ask for a sign, he gives an answer that speaks cryptically about his death and resurrection. Jesus is the true Temple, the place where God in his glory has now chosen to dwell. Jesus was always the reality to which the physical Temple pointed. His death and resurrection speak of a new exodus, and are the true reality that the Passover celebrations are about.
And we who are in Christ, who form the Body of Christ, who follow Jesus to the cross and to the resurrection, are also the Temple, the dwelling place of God in his glory, on both a community and individual level. What an incredible blessing this is, that God has made his home amongst his people, and that we are entrusted to reflect his glory into this world. May we know the depth, width and breadth of this truth, and live it out in every day that we have been given.