Chapter 4 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 6
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE
'THE SIGN,' WHICH IS NOT A SIGN.
(St. John 2:13-25.)
It has been said that Mary understood, and yet did not
understand Jesus. And of this there seems fresh evidence in the circumstance
that, immediately after the marriage of Cana, she and the 'brethren of Jesus'
went with Him, or followed Him, to Capernaum, which henceforth became 'His own
His stay by the Lake of Galilee. The question, whether He had first returned to
Nazareth, seems almost trifling. It may have been so, and it may be that His
brothers had joined Him there, while His 'sisters,' being married, remained at
Nazareth.2 For the
departure of the family from Nazareth many reasons will, in the peculiar
circumstances, suggest themselves. And yet one feels, that their following
Jesus and His disciples to their new home had something to do with their
understanding, and yet not understanding, of Him, which had been characteristic
of Mary's silent withdrawal after the reply she had received at the feast of
Cana, and her significant direction to the servants, implicitly to do what He
bade them. Equally in character is the willingness of Jesus to allow His family
to join Him - not ashamed of their humbleness, as a Jewish Messiah might have
been, nor impatient of their ignorance: tenderly near to them, in all that
concerned the humanness of His feelings; sublimely far from them, in all
connected with His Work and Mission.
1. St. Matt. iv. 13; ix. 1; St. Mark ii. 1.
2. St. Mark vi. 3.
It is almost a relief to turn from the long discussion (to
which reference has already been made): whether those who bore that designation
were His 'brothers' and 'sisters' in the real sense, or the children of Joseph
by an earlier marriage, or else His cousins - and to leave it in the
indefiniteness which rests upon it.3
But the observant reader will probably mark, in connection with this
controversy, that it is, to say the least, strange that 'brothers' of Jesus
should, without further explanation, have been introduced in the fourth Gospel,
if it was an Ephesian production, if not a fiction of spiritualistic tendency;
strange also, that the fourth Gospel alone should have recorded the removal to
Capernaum of the 'mother and brothers' of Jesus, in company with Him. But this
by the way, and in reference to recent controversies about the authorship of
the fourth Gospel.
3. In support of the natural interpretation of these terms (which I frankly own to be
my view) not only St. Matt. i. 25 and St. Luke ii. 7 may be urged, but these two questions may be put, suggested by Archdeacon Norris (who himself holds them to have been the children of Joseph by a former marriage): How could
our Lord have been, through Joseph, the heir of David's throne (according to the genealogies), if Joseph had elder sons? And again, What became of the six young motherless children when Joseph and the Virgin went first to Bethlehem, and then into Egypt, and why are the elder sons not mentioned on the occasion of the visit to the Temple? (Commentary on the New Testament, vol. i. p. 117.)
If we could only feel quite sure - and not merely deem it most
probable - that the Tell Hûm of modern exploration marks the site of the
ancient Capernaum, Kephar Nachum, or Tanchumin (the
latter, perhaps, 'village of consolation'), with what solemn interest would we
wander over its ruins.4
We know it from New Testament history, and from the writings of Josephus.5
A rancorous notice and certain vile insinuations6
of the Rabbis,7
connecting it with 'heresy,' presumably that of Christianity, seem also to
point to Kephar Nachum as the home of Jesus, where so many of His
miracles were done. At the time it could have been of only recent origin, since
its Synagogue had but lately been reared, through the friendly liberality of that
true and faithful Centurion.8
But already its importance was such, that it had become the station of a
garrison, and of one of the principal custom-houses. Its soft, sweet air, by
the glorious Lake of Galilee, with snow-capped Hermon full in view in the North
- from a distance, like Mount Blanc over the Lake of Geneva;9
the fertility of the country - notably of the plain of Gennesaret close by; and
the merry babble, and fertilising proximity of a spring which, from its teeming
with fish like that of the Nile, was popularly regarded as springing from the
river of Egypt - this and more must have made Capernaum one of the most
delightful places in these 'Gardens of Princes,' as the Rabbis interpreted the
word 'Gennesaret,' by the 'cither-shaped lake' of that name.10
The town lay quite up on its north-western shore, only two miles from where the
Jordan falls into the lake. As we wander over that field of ruins, about half a
mile in length by a quarter in breadth, which in all probability mark the site
of ancient Capernaum, we can scarcely realise it, that the desolateness all
around has taken the place of the life and beauty of eighteen centuries ago.
Yet the scene is the same, though the breath of judgement has long swept the
freshness from its face. Here lies in unruffled stillness, or wildly surges,
lashed by sudden storms, the deep blue lake, 600 or 700 feet below the level of
the Mediterranean. We can look up and down its extent, about twelve miles, or
across it, about six miles. Right over on the other side from where we stand -
somewhere there, is the place where Jesus miraculously fed the five thousand.
Over here came the little ship, its timbers still trembling, and its sides and
deck wet with the spray of that awful night of storm, when He came to the weary
rowers, and brought with Him calm. Up that beach they drew the boat. Here,
close by the shore, stood the Synagogue, built of white limestone on dark
basalt foundation. North of it, up the gentle slopes, stretched the town. East
and south is the lake, in almost continuous succession of lovely small bays, of
which more than seventeen may be counted within six miles, and in one of which
nestled Capernaum. All its houses are gone, scarce one stone left on the other:
the good Centurion's house, that of Matthew the publican,11
that of Simon Peter,12
the temporary home which first sheltered the Master and His loved ones. All are
unrecognisable - a confused mass of ruins - save only that white Synagogue in
which He taught. From its ruins we can still measure its dimensions, and trace
its fallen pillars; nay, we discover over the lintel of its entrance the device
of a pot of manna, which may have lent its form to His teaching there13
- a device different from that of the seven-branched candlestick, or that other
most significant one of the Paschal Lamb, which seem to have been so frequent
over the Synagogues in Galilee.14
4. Robinson, Sepp, and, if I understand him aright, Lieut. Conder, regard Khan
Minyeh (Tent-Work in Palest. vol. ii. pp. 182 &c.) as the site of
Capernaum; but most modern writers are agreed in fixing it at Tell Hûm.
5. Jewish War iii. 10. 8; Life 72.
6. The stories are too foolish, and the insinuations too vile, to be here repeated. The second of the two notices evidently refers to the first. The 'heretic' Jacob spoken of, is the bete noire of the Rabbis. The implied charges against the Christians remind one of the description, Rev. ii. 20-24.
7. Midr. on Eccl. i. 8. and vii 26. ed. Warsh. vol. iii. p. 80 a and 97 a.
8. St. Matt. viii. 5, &c.
9. The comparison is Canon Tristram's (Land of Israel, p. 427.)
10. This is another Rabbinic interpretation of the term Gennesaret.
11. St. Mark ii. 15; comp. iii. 20, 31.
12. St. Matt. viii. 14.
13. St. John vi. 49, 59.
14. Comp. especially Warren's Recovery of Jerusalem, pp. 337-351.
And this then, is Capernaum - the first and the chief home of
Jesus, when He had entered on His active work. But, on this occasion, He
'continued there not many days.' For, already, 'the Jews' Passover was at
hand,' and He must needs keep that feast in Jerusalem. If our former
computations are right - and, in the nature of things, it is impossible to be
absolutely certain about exact dates - and John began his preaching in the
autumn of the year 779 from the building of Rome, or in 26 of our present
reckoning, while Jesus was baptized in the early winter following,15
then this Passover must have taken place in the spring (about April) of the
same year.17 The
preparations for it had, indeed, commenced a month before. Not to speak of the
needful domestic arrangements for the journey of pilgrims to Jerusalem, the
whole land seemed in a state of preparation. A month before the feast (on the
15th Adar) bridges and roads were put in repair, and sepulchres whitened, to
prevent accidental pollution to the pilgrims. Then, some would select this out
of the three great annual feasts for the tithing of their flocks and herds,
which, in such case, had to be done two weeks before the Passover; while others
would fix on it as the time for going up to Jerusalem before the feast 'to
- that is, to undergo the
prescribed purification in any case of Levitical defilement. But what must have
appealed to every one in the land was the appearance of the 'money-changers' (Shulchanim),
who opened their stalls in every country-town on the 15th of Adar (just a month
before the feast). They were, no doubt, regularly accredited and duly
authorised. For, all Jews and proselytes - women, slaves, and minors excepted -
had to pay the annual Temple-tribute of half a shekel, according to the
'sacred' standard, equal to a common Galilean shekel (two denars), or about 1s.
2d. of our money. From this tax many of the priests - to the chagrin of
the Rabbis - claimed exemption, on the ingenious plea that in Lev. vi. 23
(A.V.) every offering of a priest was ordered to be burnt, and not eaten; while
from the Temple-tribute such offerings were paid for as the two wave loaves and
the shewbread, which were afterwards eaten by priests. Hence, it was argued,
their payment of Temple-tribute would have been incompatible with Lev. vi. 23!
15. a.d. 27.
16. Wieseler and most modern writers place the Baptism of Jesus in the summer of 27 a.d., and, accordingly, the first
Passover in spring, 28 a.d. But it seems to me highly improbable, that so long an interval as nine or ten months should have elapsed between John's first preaching and the Baptism of Jesus. Besides, in that case, how are we to account for the eight or nine months between the Baptism and the Passover? So far as I know, the only reason for this strange hypothesis is St. John ii. 20, which will be explained in its proper place.
17. 780 a.u.c. or 27 a.d.
18. St. John xi. 55.
But to return. This Temple-tribute had to be paid in exact
half-shekels of the Sanctuary, or ordinary Galilean shekels. When it is
remembered that, besides strictly Palestinian silver and especially copper
Tyrian, Syrian, Egyptian, Grecian, and Roman money circulated in the country,
it will be understood what work these 'money-changers' must have had. From the
15th to the 25th Adar they had stalls in every country-town. On the latter
date, which must therefore be considered as marking the first arrivals of
festive pilgrims in the city, the stalls in the country were closed, and the
money-changers henceforth sat within the precincts of the Temple. All who
refused to pay the Temple-tribute (except priests) were liable to distraint of
their goods. The 'money-changers' made a statutory fixed charge of a Maah,
or from 1½d. to 2d.20
(or, according to others, of half a maah) on every half-shekel. This was called
qolbon. But if a person tendered a Sela (a four-denar piece, in value
two half-shekels of the Sanctuary, or two Galilean shekels), he had to pay
double qolbon; one for his half-shekel of tribute-money, the other for
his change. Although not only priests, but all other non-obligatory officers,
and those who paid for their poorer brethren, were exempted from the charge of qolbon,
it must have brought in an immense revenue, since not only many native
Palestinians might come without the statutory coin, but a vast number of
foreign Jews presented themselves on such occasions in the Temple. Indeed, if
we compute the annual Temple-tribute at about 75,000l., the bankers'
profits may have amounted to from 8,000l. to 9,000l., an immense
sum in the circumstances of the country.21
19. Simon Maccabee had copper money coined; the so-called copper shekel, a little more than a penny, and also half and quarter shekels (about a half-penny, and a farthing). His successors coined even smaller copper money. During the whole period from the death of Simon to the last Jewish war no Jewish silver coins issued from the Palestinian mint, but only copper coins. Herzfeld (Handelsgesch. pp. 178, 179) suggests that there was sufficient foreign silver coinage circulating in the country, while naturally only a very small amount of
foreign copper coin would be brought to Palestine.
20. It is extremely difficult to fix the exact equivalent. Cassel computes it at one-fifth, Herzfeld at one-sixth, Zunz at one-third, and Winer at one-fourth of a denar.
21. Comp. Winer's Real-Wörterb. I have taken a low estimate, so as to be well within bounds. All the regulations about the Tribute and Qolbon are enumerated in Sheqal. i. I have not given references for each of the statements advanced, not because they are not to hand in regard to almost every detail, but to avoid needless quotations.
But even this does not represent all the facts of the case. We
have already seen, that the 'money-changers' in the Temple gave change, when
larger amounts than were equivalent to the Temple-tribute were proffered. It is
a reasonable, nay, an almost necessary inference, that many of the foreign Jews
arriving in Jerusalem would take the opportunity of changing at these tables
their foreign money, and for this, of course, fresh charges would be made. For,
there was a great deal to be bought within the Temple-area, needful for the
feast (in the way of sacrifices and their adjuncts), or for purification, and
it would be better to get the right money from the authorised changers, than
have disputes with the dealers. We can picture to ourselves the scene around
the table of an Eastern money-changer - the weighing of the coins, deductions
for loss of weight, arguing, disputing, bargaining - and we can realise the
terrible truthfulness of our Lord's charge that they had made the Father's
House a mart and place of traffic. But even so, the business of the Temple
money-changers would not be exhausted. Through their hands would pass the
immense votive offerings of foreign Jews, or of proselytes, to the Temple;
indeed, they probably transacted all business matters connected with the
Sanctuary. It is difficult to realise the vast accumulation of wealth in the
Temple-treasury. But some idea of it may be formed from the circumstance that,
despite many previous spoliations, the value of the gold and silver which
from the Temple-treasury amounted to the enormous sum of about two and a half
millions sterling. Whether or not these Temple money-changers may have
transacted other banking business, given drafts, or cashed those from
correspondents, received and lent money at interest - all which was common at
the time - must remain undetermined.
22. 54-53 b.c.
Readers of the New Testament know, that the noisy and
incongruous business of an Eastern money-lender was not the only one carried on
within the sacred Temple-enclosure. It was a great accommodation, that a person
bringing a sacrifice might not only learn, but actually obtain, in the Temple
from its officials what was required for the meat, and drink-offering. The
prices were fixed by tariff every month, and on payment of the stated amount
the offerer received one of four counterfoils, which respectively indicated,
and, on handing it to the proper official, procured the prescribed complement
of his sacrifice.23
The Priests and Levites in charge of this made up their accounts every evening,
and these (though necessary) transactions must have left a considerable margin
of profit to the treasury. This would soon lead to another kind of traffic.
Offerers might, of course, bring their sacrificial animals with them, and we
know that on the Mount of Olives there were four shops, specially for the sale
of pigeons and other things requisite for sacrificial purposes.24
But then, when an animal was brought, it had to be examined as to its Levitical
fitness by persons regularly qualified and appointed. Disputes might here
arise, due to the ignorance of the purchaser, or the greed of the examiner. A
regularly qualified examiner was called mumcheh (one approved), and how much
labour was given to the acquisition of the requisite knowledge appears from the
circumstance, that a certain teacher is said to have spent eighteen months with
a farmer, to learn what faults in an animal were temporary, and which
permanent.26 Now, as we
are informed that a certain mumcheh of firstlings had been authorised to
charge for his inspection from four to six Isar (1¼d. to about 2d.),
according to the animal inspected,27
it is but reasonable to suppose that a similar fee may have been exacted for
examining the ordinary sacrificial animals. But all trouble and difficulty
would be avoided by a regular market within the Temple-enclosure, where
sacrificial animals could be purchased, having presumably been duly inspected,
and all fees paid before being offered for sale.28
It needs no comment to show how utterly the Temple would be profaned by such
traffic, and to what scenes it might lead. From Jewish writings we know, that
most improper transactions were carried on, to the taking undue advantage of
the poor people who came to offer their sacrifices. Thus we read,29
that on one occasion the price of a couple of pigeons was run up to the
enormous figure of a gold denar (a Roman gold denar, about 15s. 3d.),
when, through the intervention of Simeon, the grandson of the great Hillel, it
was brought down before night to a quarter of a silver denar, or about 2d.
each. Since Simeon is represented as introducing his resolve to this effect
with the adjuration, 'by the Temple,' it is not unfair to infer that these prices
had ruled within the sacred enclosure. It was probably not merely controversial zeal for the peculiar teaching of his master Shammai, but a motive similar to
that of Simeon, which on another occasion induced Baba ben Buta (well known as
giving Herod the advice of rebuilding the Temple), when he found the
Temple-court empty of sacrificial animals, through the greed of those who had
'thus desolated the House of God,' to bring in no less than three thousand
sheep, so that the people might offer sacrifices.30
'The Temple and its Services, &c.,' pp. 118, 119.
24. Jer. Taan iv. 8.
25. M. Derenbourg (Histoire de Palest., p. 467) holds that these shops were kept by priests, or at any rate that the profits went to them. But I cannot agree with him that these were the Chanuyoth, or shops, of the family of Annas, to which the Sanhedrin migrated forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. See farther on.
26. Sanh. 5 b.
27. Bekhor. iv. 5.
28. It is certain that this Temple-market could not have been 'on both sides of the Eastern Gate - the gate Shushan - as far as Solomon's Porch' (Dr. Farrar). If it had been on both sides of this gate, it must have been in Solomon's Porch. But this supposition is out of the question. There would have been no room there for a market, and it formed the principal access into the Sanctuary. The Temple-market was undoubtedly somewhere in the 'Court of the Gentiles.'
29. Ker. i. 7.
30. Jerus. Chag. 78 a.
31. It is, however, quite certain that Baba ben Buta had not 'been the first to introduce' (Dr. Farrar) this traffic. A perusal of Jer. Chag. 78 a shows this sufficiently.
This leads up to another question, most important in this
connection. The whole of this traffic - money-changing, selling of doves, and
market for sheep and oxen - was in itself, and from its attendant
circumstances, a terrible desecration; it was also liable to gross abuses. But
was there about the time of Christ anything to make it specially obnoxious and
unpopular? The priesthood must always have derived considerable profit from it
- of course, not the ordinary priests, who came up in their 'orders' to
minister in the Temple, but the permanent priestly officials, the resident
leaders of the priesthood, and especially the High-Priestly family. This opens
up a most interesting inquiry, closely connected, as we shall show, with
Christ's visit to the Temple at this Passover. But the materials here at our
command are so disjointed, that, in attempting to put them together, we can
only suggest what seems most probable, not state what is absolutely certain.
What became of the profits of the money-changers, and who were the real owners
of the Temple-market?
To the first of these questions the Jerusalem Talmud32
gives no less than five different answers, showing that there was no fixed rule
as to the employment of these profits, or, at least, that it was no longer
known at that time. Although four of these answers point to their use for the
public service, yet that which seems most likely assigns the whole profits to
the money-changers themselves. But in that case it can scarcely be doubted,
that they had to pay a considerable rental or percentage to the leading
Temple-officials. The profits from the sale of meat- and drink-offerings went
to the Temple-treasury. But it can hardly be believed, that such was the case
in regard to the Temple-market. On the other hand, there can be little doubt,
that this market was what in Rabbinic writings is styled 'the Bazaars of the
sons of Annas' (Chanuyoth beney Chanan), the sons of that High-Priest
Annas, who is so infamous in New Testament history. When we read that the Sanhedrin,
forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, transferred its meeting-place
from 'the Hall of Hewn Stones' (on the south side of the Court of the Priest,
and therefore partly within the Sanctuary itself) to 'the Bazaars,' and then
afterwards to the City,33
the inference is plain, that these Bazaars were those of the sons of Annas the
High-Priest, and that they occupied part of the Temple-court; in short, that
the Temple-market and the Bazaars of the sons of Annas are identical.
32. Jer. Sheq. i. 7, last 4 lines, p. 46 b.
33. Rosh haSh. 31 a, b.
If this inference, which is in accordance with received Jewish
opinion, be admitted, we gain much light as regards the purification of the
Temple by Jesus, and the words which He spake on that occasion. For, our next
position is that, from the unrighteousness of the traffic carried on in these
Bazaars, and the greed of their owners, the 'Temple-market' was at the time
most unpopular. This appears, not only from the conduct and words of the
patriarch Simeon and of Baba ben Buta (as above quoted), but from the fact that
popular indignation, three years before the destruction of Jerusalem, swept
away the Bazaars of the family of Annas,34
and this, as expressly stated, on account of the sinful greed which
characterised their dealings. And if any doubt should still linger in the mind,
it would surely be removed by our Lord's open denunciation of the Temple-market
as 'a den of robbers.'35
Of the avarice and corruption of this High-Priestly family, alike Josephus and
the Rabbis give a most terrible picture. Josephus describes Annas (or Ananus),
the son of the Annas of the New Testament, as 'a great hoarder up of money,'
very rich, and as despoiling by open violence the common priests of their
The Talmud also records the curse which a distinguished Rabbi of Jerusalem (Abba
Shaul) pronounced upon the High-Priestly families (including that of Annas),
who were 'themselves High-Priests, their sons treasurers (Gizbarin), their
sons-in-law assistant-treasurers (Ammarkalin), while their servants beat the
people with sticks.'37
What a comment this passage offers on the bearing of Jesus, as He made a
scourge to drive out the very servants who 'beat the people with sticks,' and
upset their unholy traffic! It were easy to add from Rabbinic sources repulsive
details of their luxuriousness, wastefulness, gluttony, and general
dissoluteness. No wonder that, in the figurative language of the Talmud, the
Temple is represented as crying out against them: 'Go hence, ye sons of Eli, ye
defile the Temple of Jehovah!'38
These painful notices of the state of matters at that time help us better to
understand what Christ did, and who they were that opposed His doing.
34. Siphré on Deut. § 105, end. ed. Friedmann, p. 95 b; Jer. Peah i. 6.
35. St. Matt. xxi. 12.
36. Ant. xx. 9. 2-4.
37. Pes. 57 a.
38. Pes. u. s.
These Temple-Bazaars, the property, and one of the principal
sources of income, of the family of Annas, were the scene of the purification
of the Temple by Jesus; and in the private locale attached to these very
Bazaars, where the Sanhedrin held its meetings at the time, the final
condemnation of Jesus may have been planned, if not actually pronounced. All
this has its deep significance. But we can now also understand why the Temple
officials, to whom these Bazaars belonged, only challenged the authority of
Christ in thus purging the Temple. The unpopularity of the whole traffic, if
not their consciences, prevented their proceeding to actual violence. Lastly,
we can also better perceive the significance, alike of Christ's action, and of
His reply to their challenge, spoken as it was close to the spot where He was
so soon to be condemned by them. Nor do we any longer wonder that no resistance
was offered by the people to the action of Jesus, and that even the
remonstrances of the priests were not direct, but in the form of a perplexing
For it is in the direction just indicated, and in no other,
that objections have been raised to the narrative of Christ's first public act
in Jerusalem: the purgation of the Temple. Commentators have sufficiently
pointed out the differences between this and the purgation of the Temple at the
close of His Ministry.39
Indeed, on comparison, these are so obvious, that every reader can mark them.
Nor does it seem difficult to understand, rather does it seem not only fitting,
but almost logically necessary, that, if any such event had occurred, it should
have taken place both at the beginning and at the close of His public ministry
in the Temple. Nor yet is there anything either 'abrupt' or 'tactless' in such
a commencement of his Ministry. It is not only profane, but unhistorical, to
look for calculation and policy in the Life of Jesus. Had there been such, He
would not have died on the Cross. And 'abrupt' it certainly was not. Jesus took
up the thread where he had dropped it on His first recorded appearance in the
Temple, when he had spoken His wonder, that those who knew Him should have been
ignorant, that He must be about His Father's business. He was now about His
Father's business, and, as we may so say, in the most elementary manner. To put
an end to this desecration of His Father's House, which, by a nefarious
traffic, had been made a place of mart, nay, 'a den of robbers,' was, what all
who knew His Mission must have felt, a most suitable and almost necessary
beginning of His Messianic Work.
39. St. Matt. xxi. 12, &c.; St. Mark xi 11, &c.; St. Luke xix. 45 &c.
40. It must, however, be admitted, that even Luther had grave doubts whether the narrative of the Synoptists and that of the fourth Gospel did not refer to one and the same event. Comp. Meyer, Komment. (on St. John), p. 142, notes.
And many of those present must have known Jesus. The zeal of
His early disciples, who, on their first recognition of Him, proclaimed the
new-found Messiah, could not have given place to absolute silence. The many
Galilean pilgrims in the Temple could not but have spread the tidings, and the
report must soon have passed from one to the other in the Temple-courts, as He
first entered their sacred enclosure. They would follow Him, and watch what He
did. Nor were they disappointed. He inaugurated His Mission by fulfilling the
prediction concerning Him Who was to be Israel's refiner and purifier (Mal.
iii. 1-3). Scarce had He entered the Temple-porch, and trod the Court of the
Gentiles, than He drove thence what profanely defiled it.41
There was not a hand lifted, not a word spoken to arrest Him, as He made the scourge
of small cords (even this not without significance) and with it drove
out of the Temple both the sheep and the oxen; not a word said, nor a hand
raised, as He poured into their receptacles the changers' money, and overthrew
His Presence awed them, His words awakened even their consciences; they knew,
only too well, how true His denunciations were. And behind Him was gathered the
wondering multitude, that could not but sympathise with such bold, right royal,
and Messianic vindication of Temple sanctity from the nefarious traffic of a
hated, corrupt, and avaricious Priesthood. It was a scene worth witnessing by
any true Israelite, a protest and an act which, even among a less emotional
people, would have gained Him respect, approbation, and admiration, and which,
at any rate, secured his safety.43
41. And so He ever does, beginning His Ministry by purifying, whether as regards the individual or the Church.
42. Canon Westcott calls attention to the use of two different terms for money-changers in vv. 14, 15. In the latter only it is kollubisthV, of which the Aramaic form is qolbon. It is this qolbon-taking against which the Hand of Christ is specially directed.
43. Yet Renan ventures to characterise this as a sudden, ill-advised outburst of ill-humour.
For when 'the Jews,' by which here, as in so many other places,
we are to understand the rulers of the people - in this instance, the Temple
officials - did gather courage to come forward, they ventured not to lay hands
on Him. It was not yet the time for it. In presence of that multitude they
would not then have dared it, even if policy had not dictated quietness within
the Temple-enclosure, when the Roman garrison so close by, in Fort Antonia,
kept jealous watch for the first appearance of a tumult.44
Still more strangely, they did not even reprove Him for what He had done, as if
it had been wrong or improper. With infinite cunning, as appealing to the
multitude, they only asked for 'a sign' which would warrant such assumption of
authority. But this question of challenge marked two things: the essential
opposition between the Jewish authorities and Jesus, and the manner in which
they would carry on the contest, which was henceforth to be waged between Him
and the rulers of the people. That first action of Jesus determined their
mutual positions; and with and in that first conflict its end was already
involved. The action of Jesus as against the rulers must develop into a
life-opposition; their first step against Him must lead on to the last in His
condemnation to the Cross.
44. Acts xxi. 31, 32.
And Jesus then and there knew it all, foresaw, or rather saw it
all. His answer told it. It was - as all His teaching to those who seeing do
not see, and hearing do not hear, whose understanding is darkened and heart
hardened - in parabolic language, which only the after-event would make clear.45
As for 'the sign,' then and ever again sought by an 'evil and adulterous
generation' - evil in their thoughts and ways and adulterous to the God of
Israel - He had then, as afterwards,46
only one 'sign' to give: 'Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise
it up.' Thus He met their challenge for a sign by the challenge of a sign:
Crucify Him, and He would rise again; let them suppress the Christ, He would
triumph.47 A sign
this which they understood not, but misunderstood, and by making it the ground
of their false charge in His final trial, themselves unwittingly fulfilled.
45. St. Matt. xiii. 11-15; St. Mark iv. 11, 12.
46. St. Matt. xii. 38-40.
47. I cannot see in the words of Jesus any direct reference to the abrogation of the material Temple and its services, and the substitution of the Church for it. Of course, such was the case, and implied in His Crucifixion and Resurrection, though not alluded to here.
And yet to all time this is the sign, and the only sign, which
the Christ has given, which He still gives to every 'evil and adulterous
generation,' to all sin-lovers and God-forsakers. They will destroy, so far as
their power reaches, the Christ, crucify Him, give His words the lie, suppress,
sweep away Christianity - and they shall not succeed: He shall triumph. As on that
first Easter-day, so now and ever in history, He raises up the Temple, which
they break down. This is the 'sign,' the evidence, the only 'sign,' which the
Christ gives to His enemies; a sign which, as an historical fact, has been
patent to all men, and seen by them; which might have been evidence, but being
of the nature of miracle, not explicable by natural agencies, they have
misunderstood, viewing 'the Temple' merely as a building, of which they fully
know the architecture, manner, and time of construction,48
but of whose spiritual character and upbuilding they have no knowledge nor
thought. And thus, as to that generation, so to all which have followed, this
is still the 'sign,' if they understand it - the only sign, the Great Miracle,
which, as they only calculate from the visible and to them ascertained, these
'despiser behold, and wonder, and perish,' for He worketh 'a work in their
days, a work which they shall in no wise believe.'49
48. From the expression (St. John ii. 20) 'Forty and six years was this Temple in building,' it has been inferred by most writers that this Passover was of the year 791 a.u.c., or 28 a.d., and not, as we have argued, of the year 780 a.u.c., or 27 a.d. But their calculation rests on an oversight. Admittedly the rebuilding of the Temple began in the autumn of the eighteenth year of Herod's reign (Jos. Ant. xv. 11. 1-6). As Herod's reign dates from 717 a.u.c., the Temple-building must have commenced in the autumn of the year 734-35. But it has already been explained that, in Jewish reckoning, the beginning of a new
year was reckoned as a year. Thus if, according to universal opinion (comp. Wieseler, Chronolog. Synopse, pp. 165, 166), the Temple-building began in Kislev 734, forty-nine years after it would bring us to the autumn 779, and the Passover of 780, or 27 a.d., would be regarded
and spoken of as 'forty and six years.' If a Jew had calculated the time at the Passover 781, he would not have said 'forty-six' but 'forty-seven years' 'was this Temple in building.' The mistake of writers lies in forgetting that a fresh year had begun after the autumn - or at any rate at the Passover. It may here be added, that the Temple was not finally completed till 63 a.d.
49. Acts xiii. 41.
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