The cleansing of the temple is often pointed to as an out of character moment for Jesus. Righteous anger is the term that usually comes up and there probably was some of that going on in there. But I would like to take a deeper look into that scene because I think there are a lot of tid-bits that have largely gone unnoticed in the story. So let’s look at some of them.
1 – Jesus didn't lose his cool and suddenly flip out.
The common perception is that when Jesus walked into the temple he was suddenly filled with righteous anger and reacted like most of us do when we get cut off in the traffic. But if we rewind to Luke 19:41-44 we see that Jesus was already lamenting before he even entered the temple.
Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
2 – The cleansing of the temple was secondary in light of the bigger picture.
There is no reason to believe that Jesus was not cleansing the temple even though the sub headings in our bibles are not part of the original text. The link between John 2:17 and Psalm 69:9 seem to confirm that Jesus was zealous in his actions of driving out the offenders. Nevertheless, Luke 19:41-44 as quoted above reveals the deeper meaning behind Jesus actions.
3- Jesus was acting prophetically.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring such a catastrophe on this place, that whoever hears of it, his ears will tingle. “Because they have forsaken me and made this an alien place. – Jeremiah 19:3-4
In Luke 19:42 Jesus quotes Jeremiah 7:11 “You have made my Fathers house a den of thieves”. What is interesting about this is that Jeremiah was later commanded by God to break a flask as a symbolic act of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem (Jeremiah 19:10). Considering that Jesus prophesied just before he walked into the temple that history, as recorded in Jeremiah, would repeat itself, his actions can also be seeing as symbolic in the sense that Jeremiahs were. The text in Mark 11:18 mentions that during this episode, the Pharisees were astonished at his teaching. You would think that it would say that they were astonished at his outburst or something to that effect. This shows that the symbolism was not lost on them.
4 – Jesus never came across as physically threatening.
Immediately after Jesus' actions, we read that the lame came to him in the temple and he healed them and that the children around him rejoiced (Mathew 21:14-15). The scene that most of us picture would have the children cowering behind their parents legs in fear of the wild man. John 2 states that he had a whip which he used to drive out the sheep and oxen which would not have being something that looked violent to onlookers but fairly common to anyone who grew up around farm animals. Even though his actions were strong and would have created a stir there is no indication that he at any point lost control. The whole story seems to have being consistent with his character as seeing elsewhere in the gospels.