Jesus was Deeply Moved with Zeal

Jesus was Deeply Moved with Zeal

Jesus was Deeply Moved with Zeal.

“When the time of the Jewish Passover was near Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple He found people selling cattle and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting there. Making a whip out of cord, He drove them all out of the Temple, sheep and cattle as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over, and said to the dove sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop using my Father’s House as a market! Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves!’ Then His disciples remembered the words of Scripture: ‘I am eaten up with zeal for your House.” (John 2:17 and Psalm 69:9).

Zeal in New Testament – zelos (dzay-los) = The Greek word that means spiritually fervent to the point of being hot, seething; the root word refers to boiling water, a glowing solid, or something that is so hot it is bubbling to the surface.

Zeal in Hebrew Bible – qinah (kin – naw) = the Hebrew word that means intense fervor, fiery passion, an emotion that is greater than mere anger.

Jesus was indeed deeply moved when He saw the Temple being desecrated with cattle, sheep, doves, and dishonest money changers in the Temple courtyard. In fact, He was seething, He was boiling mad with righteous indignation. Various translations put this down as a fiery passion that consumed Him, a zeal that ate Him up and devoured Him. The Hebrew word for zeal and for jealousy come from the same root word and are linked in intensity and purpose. Jesus was zealous on behalf of the Father. Jesus knew that the marketplace in the Temple insulted God, kept others from worship, and so Jesus took it personally for the Father’s sake. Jesus was jealous for the Father’s honor.

 The area of the Temple being used as a marketplace was the Court of the Gentiles. It was the only precinct in the entire Temple that allowed non-Jews to come from all over the world to worship the God of the Israelites. With all the commerce being conducted, and all the animals and furniture and crowds of people doing business, the Gentiles were being excluded from worship. Jesus vehemently rejected this idea, and strongly believed that excluding the Gentiles was offensive to God, and violated the sanctity of the Temple. Jesus well-understood the importance of Gentiles hearing the Word of the Lord and worshiping. Jesus was serious about having the Temple welcoming to non-Jews. The Court of the Gentiles must be taken back for proper worship and prayer. With Jesus, it was as good as done. The non-Jews couldn’t have found a better advocate.

Here’s the problem. Jesus has seen that Temple use has become defiled through its compromise with commercialization. He wants the Temple to return to its roots, pure and holy, a place set apart for Yahweh and prayer. The Temple has become sullied, and Jesus is taking this very personally. The merchants are overcharging for animals purchased for sacrifice. They are charging exorbitant prices for their oxen, sheep and doves. Temple-goers don’t have a choice but to pay up if they want to make sacrifice in order to follow the Law of Moses. What’s going on is a racket, and everyone knows it, but nobody can do a thing about it. On top of that, the Temple doesn’t allow Roman coins to be used in the Temple commerce, since the head of Caesar is on the coin, which would defile the Temple. So there are profiteers taking advantage of this, money changers who deal in exchanging Temple coins for those forbidden Roman coins, and overcharging in the exchange. Once again, what can one do to get around that? Nothing. So the poor who come to the Temple are exploited, and then are excluded if they can’t afford the prices. If they decide to pay the exorbitant prices, they have very little left for their daily needs. Also, the Temple raked in the profits through the Temple taxes that everyone had to pay to conduct business. The Temple made out like bandits in that tax system. There were dishonest and disingenuous profits everywhere in this process. In modern terms, this is called an organized crime syndicate, and it continued because the Temple had all the authority in this case. Jesus exploded when he saw this whole dishonest scenario. It insulted God, it tainted the Temple, and it was unjust to the poor and the Gentiles. The whole system was corrupt and it was done with impunity. It’s easy to see why St. Jerome described Jesus this way as he thought about the cleansing of the Temple… “For a certain fiery and starry light shone from his eyes, and the majesty of God gleamed in his face!” According to Scripture, Jesus purified the Temple in this way twice, once at the beginning of his ministry, and once close to the end. If He had lived any longer, He no doubt would have done it a third time. That’s how much He must have hated anything that violated the purity and sanctity of the Temple, especially if it was unjust, dishonest, and exclusive.

Watching Jesus in anger mode, the disciples remembered Ps. 69:9. It has been translated in various ways. “Zeal for your house has eaten me up.” “My passion consumes me for your house.” And even, “Concern for God’s house will be my undoing,” which is very interesting. He was expressing a righteous anger that is alien to us other humans. We are told not to be angry, and for good reason. Jesus has an utterly pure heart without mixed motives. He has God’s heart. He can express all the anger He wants, because it will never devolve into sin. In matters of justice, especially, we can feel a spark of righteous indignation that truly does reflect the heart of God. But be careful, watch yourself when that happens. For most of us, it is a slippery slope from righteous indignation to unrighteous indignation. Our hearts are not pure enough, our motives are mixed and our emotions tainted. Scripture tells us very clearly to confront injustice. But our hatred for an injustice can turn quickly to a hatred for the people involved and an activism that devolves into destruction. We are wise to refrain from following Jesus into the temple-cleansing business.

In the midst of His fury, Jesus quoted two verses from the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah 56:7, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” And Jeremiah 7:11, that His house has become a “den of thieves.” We just assume that Jesus had the Word of God on the tip of His tongue as if the Word was put there by osmosis. As if by virtue of Jesus being Messiah, He had merely been downloaded Scripture, through no effort of His own. The fact is He was raised in an orthodox Jewish home and He had thus been raised in Scripture from infancy. He had to learn the Word like any other person… Study, discussion, prayer, memorization. Jesus had been exposed to His Bible since birth, and He had gone to the trouble of memorizing it. By the time He was thirty, He could quote any verse for any occasion. He worked hard to learn Scripture. The entire Hebrew Bible was probably hidden in His heart.

Safe. How does one describe the personality of Jesus? There’s so much we don’t understand about how He operated from one moment to the next. The “Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) does indeed give us a picture of His personality, but not the whole picture. For example, here we find Jesus with a scary flash of fire in His eyes. He is extremely frustrated and angry. He is consumed by zeal, a “fiery passion.” And yet, immediately following His display of righteous temper, we find Him welcoming the blind, the crippled, and many children! One moment He is fashioning a whip to use on merchants, and the next moment He is tenderly healing the blind and the crippled, and appreciating the praises of children. He was a person to avoid one minute, and then a safe place the next. How does one explain that? What would that look like? The personality of Jesus is never described fully in the Gospels. We are even more left in the dark if we don’t study those scenes in which He was “deeply moved.” But in this incident we see quite a lot. Being both God and man, His personality was pretty much indescribable.

After Jesus disrupted business and cleared out the Temple, the outraged Temple leaders asked Jesus a question. Who gave Him the authority to do such a thing? It is curious that the Temple had their own Temple guards, and priests, and scribes, and law scholars, all watching this whole event in the Temple. And yet they seemed dumfounded and frozen during Jesus’ tirade. Here was this upstart rabbi acting like a king. He was in control of the scene, disrupting Temple business, wiping out their money-making system, and in a sense rebuking the whole Temple priesthood for cooperating in this system. Yet they all just stood there and didn’t lift a finger to stop it. Roman soldiers were certainly standing around as well and listening to the huge ruckus, but there was no attempt on their part to intervene. Everyone seemed paralyzed. Finally, when the cleansing was finished, someone had the obvious question for Jesus. Who gave you the authority to do such an audacious thing? Jesus decided to not state the obvious, that He had God’s authority, since they wouldn’t have believed that any way. Jesus decided to be coy, and gave them a non-answer. Jesus chose to leave them all scratching their heads.