John 2

The Temple at Passover (John 2.12-15)

After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days. And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables. (John 2.12-15)

The temple incident in John is, chronologically, quite different from the synoptics. In John, the event takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, during the first of three recorded Passovers. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this incident takes place at the end of Christ’s ministry, during the only recorded Passover, and it triggers Jesus’ crucifixion—it’s the straw that breaks the Pharisaic back (Mark 11.15-18, Matthew 21.15, Luke 19.45-47). There are many possible explanations for this discrepancy; perhaps Jesus cleaned the temple out more than once; perhaps there are other explanations as well. I consider that the chronological difference is intentional—very early in John’s gospel, the author places a major, familiar event in a very different time-slot, signaling his clear intention to write a different kind of gospel.

The water-into-wine miracle anticipates the woman-at-the-well discourse, the two life-altering drinks overlapping in the blood of Christ. During Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman, a bone of contention surfaces—the temple. Samaritans and Jews disagreed upon which temple was the true temple: the one in Jerusalem, or the one on Mount Gerizim. Jesus declares that the question will soon be a moot point (John 4.21-23).

The water-into-wine miracle is followed by this first Passover incident, where Jesus substitutes his own person for the Jewish temple (John 2.19-21); the Samaritan discourse in chapter four explicitly highlights the temple controversy, with its three-way debate: Jerusalem, Gerizim, or Jesus? Chapter five then goes on to make Jesus the “living waters” in Bethesda, which translates “House of Mercy or Pity.” The entire scene of chapter five puts Jesus at the center of the House of Mercy, from whence pours salvific waters; the imagery is parallel to the river in well-known New Jerusalem, where living waters gush forth from the throne of God, which vision is itself a derivative of the more-detailed vision of Ezekiel (Revelation 22.1; Ezekiel 47.1-9).

John 2 puts water-into-wine back-to-back with Jesus as the temple, anticipating the more-detailed back-to-back examination of Jesus as living water and as the center of God’s house in John 4-5. While the chronological difference here, between John and the synoptics, signals a different type of literature, the discrepancy is not only a signal of John’s stylistic differences. It serves as a foreshadowing of the larger discussion of John 4-5, giving the answers to questions long before we encounter the actual debate. While some question exists in the mind of the Samaritan woman, and in the mind of those at Bethesda, we know the truth of the matter, having been exposed to the final conclusions much earlier in the gospel. John’s chronology is mixed and mashed—not unlike Revelation—in order to demand diligence from readers and listeners, to bring them to that sudden ah-ha! moment which opens the eyes of even skeptics and doubters, to “see” Jesus with new eyes; new Christians and veteran believers alike can come suddenly upon an unexpected truth in, in moments like these, which punctuate the broad landscape of John’s gospel.