Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. 15 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. 16 And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” 17 Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”
18 So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”
19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. — John 2:13-22.
The Jews ask Him to show a sign to establish His authority to deal with the temple, in the way He has. Jesus dramatically predicts His resurrection by telling them that the temple (of His body) will be destroyed and raised up in three days. Much later, His disciples are to remember this prediction and believe what Jesus said.
This passage portrays Jesus as the final and full expression of what was only a shadow in the Old Testament (Heb. 10:1). Here He indicates that God is present in Him. The temple in Jerusalem could be destroyed, but not the temple that Jesus would rebuild in three days, His own body that was to be raised from the dead. John’s record of the temple cleansing immediately after the miracle at Cana (vv. 1–11) offers an important key to the whole of Jesus’ ministry. In these events are signaled replacement of the old order (water of ceremonial cleansing, Herod’s temple) with the new (the wine of salvation, Isaiah 25:6–9; the risen Lamb as the new temple, Revelation 21:22).
Matthew, Mark, and Luke report a cleansing of the temple in the week of Jesus’ crucifixion. In spite of some similarities, these are best viewed as different incidents (Mark 11:15). It is noteworthy that Jesus’ statement about destroying the temple, which John alone records (v. 19), probably was the basis for the accusation by the false witnesses (Matthew 26:61; Mark 14:58), and again for the taunting comment of some spectators at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:40; Mark 15:29). The first three Gospel accounts confirm the historical character of John’s narrative. An echo of the same thought is found in the accusation against Stephen (Acts 6:14).
“whip of cords” (v.15). — Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Malachi 3:1–4. He comes suddenly to the temple and purifies the sons of Levi, as a demonstration of His zeal for God and for keeping God’s ordinances holy.
“forty-six years” (v.20). — The sentence itself does not indicate whether the temple was finished or was still under construction after these years of building. The first century Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities, 15.380) says that the temple was begun in the eighteenth year of Herod the Great (around 19 B.C.) and was not completed until the reign of Herod Agrippa (A.D. 63), indicating that construction was still continuing in Jesus’ time.
“raise it up in three days?” — The Jews (and the disciples) misunderstand Jesus’ ambiguous statement. Such initial misunderstanding is common in John’s Gospel (e.g., 3:4; 6:52). Those who “receive” Jesus (1:12) are led on to full understanding, but those who reject Him remain at the level of complete misunderstanding (1:5).
“His disciples remembered” (v.22). — During His final instruction of the disciples before His arrest, Jesus promised that what He had taught them would be brought to their remembrance by the Holy Spirit (14:25, 26). The ability to predict events otherwise unknowable is evidence of divine authority. This applies to the prophecies of the Old Testament and to the predictions made by Jesus, especially about His resurrection.