A key feature of this passage is it stands in dramatic contrast to the classic, westernised picture of Jesus as the ‘meek and mild, lamb-on-the-shoulder, socks and sandals’ kind of guy. Instead we have a picture of Jesus who makes a weapon, a whip of chords, and drives out those who were buying and selling in the Temple.
One member of my youth group responded to this passage by saying, ‘Well, He didn’t actually hit anybody though did he?’ It’s true, nothing is technically said about him physically ‘attacking’ anyone, however he has a weapon, he is driving people out, turning over tables, and scattering money. Thus it takes a lot for us to think Jesus was being careful not to hit anyone.
This represents much of what is taught to youth and children in churches these days. For instance, if a young person in a Sunday School (particularly a boy) shows any sign of aggression, immediately this young person is told off. Even if this aggression was defence from subtle and more worrying manipulation from another child, the aggression must be immediately snuffed out; rather than contextualised, replaced, corrected, or disciplined.
So because of this, when we get to the Temple cleansing, we need to first say, however obvious it may seem, that weapons making and using, table turning, and money scattering is an act of aggression.
Next we need to affirm that Jesus was totally without sin, never disobeyed the law, and only did what He saw His Father doing. Thus this act of aggression and its origins were not wrong or sinful.
So finally we need to think through the origins/motives of this aggression. Where did it come from, what did it spark? Lets start with what Jesus says…
“My house will be called ‘a house of prayer for all nations’, but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” [Mark 11:17].
This we know is zeal for His Father’s house consuming Jesus (John 2:17), but His choice of quotation is very important. The Temple was a whole load of things; it was a house of prayer, but perhaps more clearly it was a house of worship, of sacrifice, of meeting, of teaching; it was the house where God’s glory dwelled, etc.; so why does Jesus pinpoint on a house of prayer for all nations?
Jesus focus is on clear communication with God. This is what the Temple was, a place of communication with God. In fact, when you really think about it, all the Temple was was a place of communication with God. Sacrifices, worship, fellowship, teaching, were all used for the purpose of opening the people up to hear God's voice clearly, and then respond to Him appropriately.
In the same way now, Jesus, our Temple, is our place of communication with God. Godward Communication is clear, open, and not cluttered by hidden things. A ‘den’ of ‘robbers’ in contrast to this is a hiding place for people who wish to hide themselves, and hide their loot.
Thus, Jesus’ aggression is driven by responding to a cluttering of the means of communication with God. Its origins are to open up the communication channels.
This is especially important in light of the latter part of the first quote, ‘for all nations.’ All nations includes those outside Jewish nations who understand the Temple, the law, and the language of communication with God. The house of prayer should be so clear a communication space so all nations can find God accessible.
Furthermore, Jesus creates space in the Temple. He doesn’t just drive out the people; he drives out the animals, and turns the tables. He makes space. The aggression in Jesus made space; space for clear communication with God.
This seems to me to be a good parable of and test for Godly aggression. Is aggression always wrong, and where can it be right? Jesus used aggression here; it was motivated by responding to a cluttering of a means of prayer/communication with God. Put another way, it was motivated by seeing a lot of hidden things in a place where everything should be clear; the prayer space.
Jesus aggression came from and concluded with a longing to be close to, talk to, and hear from God clearly. Thus aggression can glorify God if it seeks to make space for God to be God, and to speak clearly. This can probably be applied in a variety of ways; I believe it should validate those who feel guilty because they know that should someone attack their wife/children, they would aggressively respond in order to protect. If it creates space for God’s love of justice, leadership, care, and self-sacrifice, then defending a loved one can be a righteous aggression.
However there is one far more accessible application from the passage and that is aggressively defend your prayer space. This doesn’t mean set booby traps around your bedroom; however it does mean passionately guard your heart and its space. Satan is a robber that desires your heart to be His den, and he will try to clutter up the space in your heart which should be used for prayer. Defend your prayer space. Spend time actively creating -space- to pray; go for walks so you can talk with God, get up the hour early, spend time looking at and mediating on God’s Word and God’s creation. Ask God to talk to you more clearly and show you hindering clutter. Meditate on the God you’re praying to, allow that to fill you up, and believe in the majestic privilege of prayer. Defend your prayer space.
Just one more application linked to this; defend your Jesus. In the same passage (John 2:19-20) Jesus refers to Himself as the Temple. Our house of prayer now is Jesus Christ. He is the Temple, the only way to the Father. It is through Him we come to God. Spend time with Jesus and you will spend time in the perfectly clear house of prayer. So read His word, meditate on His life, and think deeply about His last days on earth.
This deep thinking, meditating, getting up and hour early, forcing our minds on the Bible etc., takes a good deal of heart, and dare I say a deal of aggression also. Godly aggression creates space and that space is space to talk to and hear from God. So don’t simply snuff out aggression, instead ask yourself, ‘does this aggression make things hidden, or create space for God.’ The beauty of this question is it takes a lifetime to work with and grow with; so start with God. Why don’t you pray now that God will teach you about all the areas and reflexes of your heart so you can more fully and completely know Him.