Maybe you’ve heard someone use this verse in defence of their behaviour when it’s less-than-excellent. You know, something like this: ‘well, Jesus flipped tables in John 2.15, so if He can express anger like that, (what I did) is no problem really…’. Is that what that verse teaches us? Let’s see…
“He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.”
Many Jews were in Jerusalem for Passover (Exodus 12.14-20, Deuteronomy 16.1-8) to remember and celebrate God’s grace in delivering them from bondage in Egypt. On arrival, Jesus finds many people selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. What was most likely started out of consideration for the incoming pilgrims had developed and descended into a commercial operation where profit was more important than people. Jesus saw what had happened to His Father’s house and was overcome with righteous indignation and moral outrage. This manifested itself in His [overturning] their tables and [driving] them all out of the temple.
Does this justify our own emotional outburst of poor behaviour?
Are we free to flip tables at, and drive people out of, any establishment we choose?
If we read carefully, we see that this was the manifestation of the zeal Jesus felt for His Father’s house, a zeal that was predicted many years before in Psalm 69:
His disciples remembered that it was written,
“Zeal for your house will devour me.”
N.T. Wright shares some brilliant insight into zeal in his book ‘Paul: A Biography’. As simply as possible, this is the passion, energy, dedication, and the associated behaviour for God and His will, His Word, and His ways.
Seeing profiteering in the temple courts stirred Jesus to act.
Seeing dedicated pilgrims being extorted stirred Jesus to act.
Seeing the Father’s house turned into a market stirred Jesus to act.
Does John 2.15 excuse our poor, petulant, or or permissive behaviour? No, it doesn’t. John 2.15 shows us that, in the Lord Jesus, we serve someone who was willing to do anything and everything in His power for the will of the Father to be done (Matthew 26.24, Luke 22.42, for example). Without His great zeal for the house and for the will of God, you and I would still be estranged from our heavenly Father. In His ultimate act of zeal, Jesus took upon Himself the sins of the world and laid down His life as an atoning sacrifice (1 John 2.2b, John 19.30).
Does John 2.15 excuse our poor behaviour? No, but it does show us the lengths Jesus was willing to go to for the will of the Father to be done.