When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” – John 2:13-16
Did Jesus lose his temper here?
The vendors and money-changers were not OUTSIDE of the temple. They were inside, in the courtyard where Gentiles were allowed to come and worship the Lord (this is the area where Ahmose-Nebetta meets Jesus in my story, The Cat Who Looked at the King.)
Jesus makes a whip out of cords and drives them all away. He chastises them in a voice that must have sounded like thunder and maybe even made some people fear for their lives. We seldom see Jesus angry during his earthly ministry. So his actions this day must have been a true terror to behold, for it was a taste of the wrath of God Himself! I wish I could have seen it, but at the same time maybe I’m glad I didn’t.
Many, many years ago in Ireland I met a very cute Catholic boy named Stephen. How we got onto this topic I will never remember, but for some reason this passage came up. He believed that Jesus actually sinned here, because he lost his temper. I said no, it was righteous anger, then Stephen said it’s never okay to lose your temper. That little exchange has bothered me all these years, mostly because I knew he was wrong but, as usual, I am total crap at apologetics.
But now I see where Stephen was mistaken. Firstly, Jesus did not lose his temper. Anger at injustice is not the same as flying off the handle for no reason.
Secondly, this was not a knee-jerk reaction of the moment. In Mark’s account of this story (Mark Chapter 11), after the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday, Jesus went into the temple and looked around at everything, then left. The next day he came back and drove everybody out.
This gave him time to decide on a plan of action. I will bet that night, back in Bethany, he got some cords of rope from Lazarus and while everyone was sitting around, laughing and singing and telling stories, Jesus was calmly making his whip, taking his time and making it a good one. One or two people have have asked him, “Master, what are you doing?” or joked, “I hope that’s not for me, Lord!” And Jesus probably smiled and kept at his task. The next morning they were probably all curious and a little nervous why he brought his new whip with him when they went back to Jerusalem. Or, perhaps he did tell them his plans, and they were eager to see the show but then got the living crap scared out of them when Jesus sprang into action.
Whatever happened, this was NOT Jesus “losing his temper.” Jesus never lost control of anything, ever, and he never will. This was a deliberate plan and also a teaching moment. He was showing God’s character yet again. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not a “religion” that’s up for sale. The Temple was a sacred place, where people from all nations of the earth could come and worship the true and living God.
And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?” – Mark 11:17, quoting Isaiah 56:7)
That day in springtime, two thousand years ago, Jesus drove the greed and corruption out of HIS temple.