That I May Dwell in the House of the Lord Forever
In one of his psalms, David says, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (27:4). It is a heartfelt prayer from devotion and love, the desire of the godly for the only thing that satisfies, which is God, Himself. Nothing else will do.
Here in John’s gospel, we read of the first of two occasions in which Jesus cleansed the temple, one at the beginning of his ministry and one at the end. The reason for Jesus’ actions in this cleansing is given: “Zeal for your house will consume me,” quoted from Psalm 69:9, about a man whose faithfulness to God led to his persecution by the people who should have loved him. It is this zeal, this desire to be with God, to be in His holy temple, to be where He is, which is the root of the Christian’s hunger and thirst for righteousness. It is the knowledge that we shall one day “see him as he is” that drives us “to purify [ourselves] as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). In other words, desire to be with God should lead to personal holiness as we cleanse our own temples, which is our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19).
In this passage, Jesus is offended that the Jews of his day have taken his house, a house of prayer for the nations, and turned it into a marketplace. To use this passage to ask questions about whether the youth in your church can have a bake sale in the sanctuary (“but it’s okay in the narthex”) misses the point. It was the abuse of the temple, taking animals, which were to be offered in holy sacrifice, to make a profit, making the temple such that it was difficult for gentiles to worship in the outer court for all of the traffic and hubbub, which filled Jesus with righteous anger.
But then it goes deeper than even that. When the religious leaders demanded a sign for Jesus’ authority to cleanse the temple, Jesus cuts to the chase: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They thought he meant the building – a seemingly impossible task. But he was referring to his body, a far greater miracle he would perform a couple of years later. You see, in the end, it’s really not about buildings. The building was destroyed a second time forty years later, anyway. It’s about his body, and being a member of that body through faith in him. This body I inhabit will soon return to dust; it awaits a resurrection in which I shall be gathered with his people in the real Temple, beholding his beauty. And this is all the reason I need now to mortify the flesh and purify myself as he is pure.