In John 2:13-16 Jesus drove the money changers out of the Temple. Isn’t this an example when violent civil disobedience is acceptable?


First of all, let us read these verses in the book of John:

“Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’”

Christ spoke with authority! It is obvious from other passages that Jesus, who was recognized as a Rabbi, had authority. In John 3:1-2 we read: “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.'” Here Nicodemus addressed Jesus as Rabbi which is translated “Teacher” (compare Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible) or “Master” (which is an official title of honor – compare Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Dictionaries).

Therefore, even within the Jewish establishment, Jesus was not just some ordinary Jew of that time, taking things into His own hands, but someone who had the right to exercise authority in the Temple which was their place of worship. We note in Luke 4:16-19 that Jesus “went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read” which shows that He did have authority to take such action.

When Jesus drove out the money changers, He was driving out all of the commercialism and business that had permeated a place of worship – and He had the authority to take such action. Not only human authority, of course–as the Son of God He represented God the Father who was the Owner of the Temple.

Did the authorities try and put a stop to this action that Jesus took? The Jewish authorities were afraid to stop Jesus because they knew that He had this authority and they knew that the law of God was on His side.

The New Bible Commentary observes that “He (Jesus) visits the Temple and finds that within the sacred enclosure in the court of the Gentiles a market has been established for the sale of animals required for the sacrifices. The money changers sit there changing Roman currency into Jewish. Jesus is stirred in His soul and is moved with flaming indignation at such profanation of the temple of God. The wrath of the Lamb is a reality.”

We read the following in the KJV Commentary: “Christ found in the court of the Gentiles a terrible scene. The Sanhedrin was permitting the selling of sacrificial animals at exorbitant prices and permitting the changing of foreign currency into Jewish money, which was required for the temple tax. Christ makes a whip and drives out both the animals and the wicked merchants. [We might want to interject here that Christ only beats the animals, not the people.] He overturns the tables and scatters the coins across the floor. He commands the dove owners, Take these things hence. Christ then justifies this striking action, make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise (Malachi 3:1–3). Again, the failure of Judaism is emphasized. The disciples recall that this is the fulfillment of prophecy (Psalm 69:9). In verse 18, the Jews, who have been shocked by the action of Christ, demand a sign to substantiate His authority and conduct. However, this was a ridiculous request since the cleansing in itself was a sign (Malachi 3:1–3).”

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible has this to say about Christ’s actions: “… he did it without the resistance of any of his enemies, either the market-people themselves, or the chief priests that gave them their licences, and had the posse templi—temple force, at their command. But the corruption was too plain to be justified; sinners’ own consciences are reformers’ best friends; yet that was not all, there was a divine power put forth herein, a power over the spirits of men; and in this non-resistance of theirs that scripture was fulfilled (Mal. 3:2, 3)…”

And so we can see that Christ had the authority for His actions and He spoke with authority. But what about us – does that give us the right to fight against the authorities today if we consider it necessary and feel that such action is justified?

In Romans 13, we see that we are to be subject to the powers that be, to man’s laws which is our commitment to an orderly society, so long as there is no conflict with the law of God. Verses 1 and 2 state that “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.”

As Jesus Himself taught, we are to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s (compare Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26), thus showing that He was subject to man’s law so long as there was no conflict with God’s law. And that applies to us today.

In Titus 3:1 Titus is instructed by Paul to “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work.”

In 1 Peter 2:13-17, the same principle is repeated: “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men – as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”

In Acts 4:18, Peter and John were “commanded… not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” But in verses 19-21 we read: “But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’ So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.”

In this instance, they defied the secular authorities so that they could do the Will of God and no punishment was forthcoming. Shortly thereafter, in order to follow God’s command which had been communicated to them by an angel, they again had to disobey the secular authorities and were severely punished as a consequence (Acts 5:17-32, 40). But in spite of their punishment and the ongoing threats of the government, the apostles defied the order of the civil counsel, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (verse 41). And they continued to disobey the orders of the government while obeying God’s explicit instructions (verse 42).

In short, our submission to governing authorities does not mean uncritical obedience, as our highest authority is God. Laws that are contrary to the law of God must not be obeyed, but in such situations we must be willing to accept the consequences of our actions and submit to the penalties inflicted upon us, without resorting to violent civil disobedience.

Lead Writer: Brian Gale

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