So far we've covered 22 of the approximately 154 events of Jesus' life in chronological order. The last chapter reviewed what Jesus did during His early ministry around the northern area of Galilee where He was raised. In this chapter we begin with Jesus' appearance in Jerusalem and watch as His ministry starts to build momentum.
23. Jesus cleanses the temple
The first glimpse we have of Jesus as a young boy is when He is at the temple discussing the Law with the scribes and Pharisees. He was concerned about "My Father's house" at that time, but as a boy, remained in subjection to His parents and elders and leaders.
As a man, however, He still has a zeal for the Father's house but now expresses it in a much more dynamic way since He has begun His public ministry.
There is a debate whether or not there is one or two "cleansings" of the temple. John puts this incident at the beginning of Jesus' ministry and Matthew, Mark and Luke put it at the point where Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly and goes directly to the temple to do this. There are good arguments on both sides – my own view is that if John put it at the beginning and Matthew, Mark and Luke put it at the end; there were two similar incidents. This would be like the two incidents where Jesus performed the miracle of multiplying the bread and the fish. If He did this miracle twice, why not two cleansings? There was more than one miracle, more than one sermon; there could easily be more than one cleansing. Both times however, the reasons were similar for Jesus' actions in cleansing the Temple:
1. Violation of the Law
The Jews were selling animals and exchanging money in the court of the Gentiles. This desecrated the place where the Gentiles came to worship. The temple had a series of courtyards where people prayed, offered sacrifices and received teaching. The most inner courtyards were reserved for the priests, then as they extended outward there was a courtyard for Jewish men, another separate one for Jewish women and finally, the furthest out was one where Gentiles who had converted to Judaism or sympathetic to the Jewish religion could go. The money-changers and herdsmen set up their tables there in order to service the worshippers who bought animals, thus ruining their worship and place to gather. This was blatant discrimination and disobedience.
Jesus creates quite a stir by making a whip out of cords and driving out the money-changers, herders and animals out of the temple area. This is done as a sign that the temple was meant to be pure and holy in every section.
2. He also did this to establish the idea that the temple as magnificent as it was, would one day be destroyed and a new temple, His body (the church), would be established.
The Messiah comes to His house and finds it unprepared for His sudden arrival.
This is the "type" for all the parables that speak of the judgment to come. It is also a living prophecy for the Jews (their judgment is at hand), and also for Christians today (Jesus can come at any time). The issue for us is the same as it was for them, "Will we be ready when Jesus comes?"
During this explosive time He also teaches and performs miracles and begins to draw His first disciples from the area of Jerusalem.
24. A visit from Nicodemus
It is natural that His tumultuous arrival at the temple, His signs and His teachings would draw the interest of not only the crowds, but also the religious leaders. At the temple some leaders were questioning His right to do what He did and wondered what He meant by the idea that His "temple" would be raised in three days if it was destroyed. They saw Him as a troublemaker and wanted Him silenced.
Some, however, like Nicodemus came to Him secretly to learn more. Nicodemus knew He was special, but was slow to come to faith. Jesus showed him that even he, a teacher and scholar, required the "new birth" in order to enter the kingdom. John's baptism was for everyone. Nicodemus didn't understand at first. Later on, however, we see him trying to defend the Lord when the Jewish leaders were accusing Him unjustly. Finally, at Jesus' death, he provided the costly spices to properly bury Him. Nicodemus was a slow and cautious disciple, but he eventually came around.
25. Jesus returns to northern Judea
After this dynamic appearance, Jesus travels back to Samaritan territory in the northern part of Judea to work with John who was there preaching and baptizing.
For a short period their work overlapped. Note on the map (in the first chapter of this book) that they worked at the Jordan River in the Aenon region.
Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples did as He preached. For a time their message (John and Jesus) was the same, "Repent and be baptized for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
26. John's second witness
At the beginning, John points to Christ as He is revealed by the Father and Holy Spirit. While near Jerusalem he then encourages his disciples to follow Jesus.
Now that they are working in north Judea, side-by-side, John's disciples notice that Jesus is baptizing more people than John. They question him about this. John answers them by acknowledging that the purpose of his ministry was to prepare the way for Jesus' ministry and that it is proper that Jesus' ministry grows and his diminishes. John knew and rejoiced to see Jesus arrive and do what He was supposed to do. John happily accepted his lessor role. At this point he knew that he had succeeded in his mission - but later on he would doubt.
27. John's imprisonment
John was a preacher of judgment to come. The theme of his preaching was "repent" and so much of his sermons had to do with sin and the disobedience of the people. He didn't talk about the church or love of the brethren or other issues, he was a one topic preacher.
His preaching stepped on everyone's toes. He addressed the common man, the Roman soldiers, prostitutes, businessmen, even religious leaders and their sins. He got into trouble when he meddled in the affairs of the king. Herod had stolen his brother's wife and divorced his own to marry her (she was his niece). John publically declared that this was against the Law and Herod needed to repent. This caused embarrassment to Herod and his wife, Herodias. John's continued accusation would lessen their position with the people (which wasn't very good to begin with). In order to silence him and stop him from stirring up the bad publicity, Herod had him put into prison.
28. John's inquiry of Jesus
John the Baptist believed that the Messiah he was preparing the way for would come and usher in a great period of judgment and prosperity for the Jews. His "view" of the kingdom may have been similar to his fellow Jews of the time.
As a prophet, and like most prophets, he knew the order and general nature of the things he prophesied about in the future, but not necessarily the time frame.
- First he comes to prepare the way.
- Next the Messiah comes with spirit and power.
- Then a judgment comes on the people.
- Then a period of blessing (kingdom).
What he didn't know was how far apart these things would be in time and the exact nature of each of these events. He sees and recognizes the Messiah according to the signs God provided him in order to confirm his preaching. Then he witnesses the growth of his ministry and the number of people who begin to follow Him.
But now he's arrested and put into prison – no judgment comes down on the evil king. As a matter of fact, nothing in the "big picture" changes.
When neither judgment nor a great new order of things appears right away, John begins to doubt. He had the sequence right, but the time frame was wrong. Just like the Thessalonians who assumed that Jesus was returning in their lifetime and became distressed when this didn't happen.
At this point John sends his disciples to question Jesus. He thinks maybe that he's made a mistake and Jesus isn't the one since his concept of what was supposed to happen didn't materialize. There are many people like that, if their lives don't work out like they think it should, they begin to question and doubt God.
John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the One or should we look for another?" Jesus replies that He was doing all the things the Scripture said that the Messiah would do when He came: teach, heal, raise the dead. These were the signs given to create faith in those seeking the Messiah, and John should trust in these (not his idea of how things should be).
Then Jesus rebukes those who rejected John because of his appearance and what happened to him.
29. John's death
Three of four writers record John's death at the hands of Herod. Herod had an interesting relationship with John:
- As part Jew, he was familiar with the Jewish religion and recognized John as a powerful preacher and righteous man.
- He was naturally drawn to him.
- He kept John in prison for a time and would bring him to hear him preach in private.
He was also a worldly man as well as a shrewd politician and ruthless leader so he was in great conflict about what he should do with John.
His wife sensed this and ultimately tricked him into executing John in order to save face. When Jesus hears about John's death, He leaves the area of Judea He was working in and returns home to Galilee, a safer and friendlier place for the time being.
30. The Samaritan woman
We know that He was in Samaritan territory, baptizing with John. John is taken away and killed.
During this period, on His way home, he meets a Samaritan woman at a well and speaks with her. She is not only a Samaritan despised by the Jews, she is also a much divorced woman who is living with her boyfriend which makes her not much liked by the Samaritans either.
Jesus reveals His true person to her by knowing her past and by showing her kindness in spite of it. His acceptance of her and His answers to her questions win her over and she, the outcast, gains the courage to go tell her neighbors and friends about Jesus. We find out that because of this He stays extra days in the area (delaying His return) in order to teach and preach to these people.
31. Public ministry in Galilee
After He finishes in Samaria the writers tell us that He returned to His home region and officially begins His public ministry there. Before, with the calling of disciples and miracle at Cana, He was still acting privately among family and friends.
Once John has died, Jesus goes home and begins there to preach and teach not only about the kingdom, but now about His role in ushering that kingdom.
At first they were happy to hear Him because many had seen Him cleanse the temple in Jerusalem and so wanted to hear Him preach in their hometown (John 4:43-45).
32. Another miracle at Cana
Jesus returned, probably to the friend or relative where the wedding had been held, for a visit. While there a royal official (one of Herod's household?) comes to Him to heal his son lying sick across the lake at his home in Capernaum. Jesus sends him home telling him his son is well and while on his way the man learns that the child was healed at the point where Jesus said for him to return.
This is the only miracle recorded during this period of His Galilean ministry. It is interesting to note this is the first time that the writers associate faith in Jesus with the miraculous healings. The man and his entire household became disciples after this incident.
This is the end of this section, after this miracle and teaching in the area Jesus will return to Jerusalem for the second Passover in His ministry. The events covered in this chapter took place over a period of approximately one year.
1. Jesus was not soft
A lot of images show Jesus as soft, all love and tenderness, forgiving and kind. He is all of these things, but His appearance at the temple showed that He is also a zealous Lord who hates sin, hates unholiness, hates worldliness, hates hypocrisy.
We must not forget that when Jesus returns, He will not do so as a suffering savior, but as the Lord of Lords coming to judge and punish the unfaithful and wicked, and reward those who have been true to Him.
2. Christians must be ready to pay the price
John lived like a hermit, he preached an unpopular message; his job was to prepare the way for the glory of another, not himself; he died as a martyr for his faith. We all pay a certain price to follow Christ (different with each person), however, when we go into the waters of baptism to bury our old man of sin and die with Christ – what we must realize is that we've given up the claim to own or control our physical lives. God may permit us to have it for a while, or He may just require us to give it up for Christ in one day.
When you become a Christian you are either going to give your life to God:
- One day at a time in service, worship, giving, suffering, or
- Give it to Him all at once if He requires you to be martyred.
Either way, it belongs to Him and He will require it of us somehow.
Whether it's one day at a time or all at once, let's be like John: happy and joyful that we must decrease so that Christ can increase.
READING ASSIGNMENT FOR CHAPTER 5
- John 5:1-47
- Luke 14:14-30
- Matthew 4:13-17; Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:31-37
- Matthew 8:14-17; Mark 1:29-34; Luke 4:38-41
- Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11
- Matthew 4:23-25; Mark 1:35-39; Luke 4:42-44
- Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16
- Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26
- Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32
- Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39
- Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5
- Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11
- Matthew 12:15-21; Mark 3:7-12
- Matthew 10:1-42; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-19
- Why did Jesus take the action to cleanse the Temple? What can we learn from this event today?
- Who was Nicodemus and what was significant about his visit with Jesus? What can we learn from this today?
- How did John's message and the message of Jesus complement each other?
- What was significant about John's response to his disciples' concerns that Jesus was baptizing more people than John? What can we learn from John's response?
- What can we learn from John's imprisonment?
- What would lead John to have doubts about the identity of Jesus as the Messiah and what can we learn from this?
- Summarize the interaction Jesus had with the Samaritan woman from John 4:4-42 and answer the following questions:
- Why did the Jews avoid the Samaritans?
- How did Jesus view the Samaritan people?
- What was significant about Jesus' response to the woman about her husband?
- What can we learn from this woman and her interaction with Jesus?
- What are the similarities between John's questions of Jesus, Nicodemus' misunderstanding and the Samaritan woman's questions? How do these apply to us?
- What was significant about the miracle at Cana (John 4:46-54)? What lesson we can take from it?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?