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John 2:13-22 is the story of Jesus clearing the temple. In Mark's gospel, the same thing happens in the final week before Jesus' death.

What is John's purpose in including this so early in the text? Is there any significance in it's placement in the chapter/book?

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Hi! There are a couple other Q&A's about this incident: How should we understand the “Cleansing of the Temple”?, and Did Jesus have the legal authority to cleanse the temple?. Neither directly asks your question, though, about John's placement of the episode. All the same, there might be some relevant comment in them for you. –  Davïd Feb 17 at 11:46

3 Answers 3

One option, of course, is to say that two similar events happened, one at the beginning of Jesus' ministry and one at the end. This is hard to maintain, however, as John frequently re-orders events from the synoptic gospels to achieve his theological point. Moreover, the descriptions of the events are very close.

So we have to ask why John chose to move it from the end of Jesus' ministry to the beginning. To me, the obvious reason is that it gives a sort of thematic/hermeneutic key to the reading of the rest of the Gospel.

First, it is a demonstration of the corruption and insufficiency of first-century Judaism. It points to the rejection of God by the nation of Israel just as they later reject Jesus.

Second, it says something about what John thinks about Jesus. The Temple was classically understood as the dwelling-place of God on earth. In the Gospel of John, that is changed: God comes to dwell in the person of Jesus Christ (cf. 1.14), who takes on the role of the Temple.

We see this in the narrative from John 2:

The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. (John 2.18-21, NRSV)

This is a concern of John's that occurs later in the Gospel as well. He changes the timings of the Passion narrative so that Jesus' death on the Cross occurs as the Passover sacrifice. In this way again John points to Jesus replacing the Temple.

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I remember Tim Keller saying in a sermon that John only covers 22 days of Jesus' life. So there is not much difference between the beginning and end over that timescale. A quick Google also confirms what Keller said http://bible-truth.org/JohnChapter5.html

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As previously stated, John frequently re-orders events from the synoptic gospels to achieve his theological point. In this case, the theological point can be readily established.

In the synoptic gospels, the Cleansing of the Temple is the final trigger for the arrest and execution of Jesus. In Mark 11:15-17, Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers and the seats of them that sold doves and said, "ye have made it a den of thieves." Then (Mark 15:18), when the scribes and chief priests heard it, they sought how they might destroy him.

The author of John's Gospel chose to make the resurrection of Lazarus the trigger for the arrest of Jesus (John 11:47-48: "Then gathered the chief priests and Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we leave him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."). No longer needing the Cleansing of the Temple as a trigger for the arrest and trial of Jesus, this event is moved to the very beginning of the mission of Jesus as a relatively minor episode (John 2:14-16). To have left this episode at the end of the gospel would now have broken up the flow of events.

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