Destroying temples and religion itself

Neil Glover on the 21st January 2018

The attack on the temple wasn’t a mild act of reform, but an attack on the very heart of religion itself.

Get Download


Based on John 2:13-25

The script from earlier in the morning, at Weem, is below:

Affirming Experience

Oh dear friends in Weem,

I have a dilemma this morning,

Because I want Church to be an uplifting, affirming experience,

And the gospel text this morning.

Is about Jesus making a whip of cords,


Imagine you were to pop round to our house, the Manse,

And found me at work in the garage, first you would be shocked that I was doing anything remotely resembling DIY

And you might ask

“what are you working on Neil”, “I’m working on a whip”.

“Oh, Okay”

“I’m planning to use it in Church tomorrow”


Jesus, makes a whip

And he attacks the Jerusalem temple.


Miles Away

Oh that’s fine, he attacks a temple miles away

One that doesn’t even exist any more,

That’s good,

Oh we don’t mind those sorts of things,

And no one was injured so far as we can tell,

That’s good,

An injury free attack, miles away, years ago,



But my job is to find the story today

To bring the temple nearer to home

And that’s going to be hard,

Because it might be close to home

Because we would much prefer a nice story this morning.

We like our Sunday mornings whip free.


So what would he be attacking


Oh I know, let’s make the equivalent of the Jerusalem Temple

The Headquarters of Judaism, and of its country

The Church headquarters at 121 George Street.

Or National Headquarters at Holyrood.


But what if the target is nearer than that.

This might be uncomfortable.

What is Jesus is Attacking

The first is that he drives the oxen and the sheep from the temple.


You can’t have a temple without sheep and oxen


It’s like driving the drugs out of a hospital

Or the books out of a school

Or clearing the shelves in a supermarket.

Temples need animals

To heal human brokenness and failure and guilt and fear


Our humanity is a mixed package

We mess up

We feel bad, guilty

We condemn ourselves, blame ourselves, sometimes even hate ourselves

We even blame ourselves for things that other people have done.


Recently I went to visit someone in Tollcross in Edinburgh, up by the Kings’ Theatre…

Where I used to go for piano lessons.

And I remembered the time that I got jumped and attacked there when I was at secondary school

And I remember the deep shame that I felt

That these guys were younger than me,

But that I hadn’t been able to fight them off

And I had helped provoke the situation

I found a myriad of ways to blame myself.


To be attacked as this painful additional effect

We blame ourselves for being attacked

And that increases our pain, our brokenness


So we carry round within us our wounds, our failures,

We blame, ourselves, we blame others

We blame ourselves for what others have done to us

And we blame others for what we have done to them


And sometimes we hide from the pain, sometimes we deny it, other times it overwhelms us.

Any overs: overindulging, overexamining, overworking, overcharging, overeating, overdrinking…. All these are usually escapes from the pain.


And the claim of temple, is that we will get rid of that stuff for you

The Oxen and Sheep will take the blame.


But the Oxen and Sheep don’t work.

So part of the reason for the whip,

Is that Jesus wants to destroy something

That promises an end to the pain,

But doesn’t take it away.


The temple has failed.

And we are going to come to more of the temple failure

In John Chapter 5 – man who is not healed

John Chapter 9 – a man who is put out for being able to see



Pigeon Sellers

There are two things going on with the attack on pigeons

Jesus drove out the pigeons.


Pigeons are prescribed in the scriptures as part of the burnt offering with the animals

As a breach of the purity code, or of sin.

If a woman has given birth and is to be purified

If someone has a skin disease and needs to be reintegrated

And if a Nazirite takes a vow


What if the woman now is supposedly unclean after childbirth – no temple?

What if someone has sinned through breach of the purity code – no temple?

What if someone has been healed of a skin disease or been reintegrated – no temple?


The law of sacrifice gets rid of this whole code.

And replaces it with Jesus


Obsession with trade

There is an extra reason for Jesus venom

The sacrilege of chasing money

Not earning money

But chasing it.


This is not to say money is dirty, or that money isn’t holy

Or money shouldn’t’ be in a temple – you needed money changers in a temple so that people who lived far from Jerusalem could buy their animals at the temple

Instead of having to transport them across Israel

You can’t carry a pigeon from Galilee to Jerusalem,

That’s going to be a stressful journey


But the money changers forget what too much handling of money does to you

It makes you forget what the main thing is

That is what money does,

It is transfixes, it casts a spell, it claims a magic for itself.


And these money changers have forgotten that this is God’s house

God’s house, not a house of trade.


So where are the targets nearer to home

I think this is an attack on religious institution

Which has found something more important

Than its chief purpose

Which is an encounter with God.


I believe that Church’s should have fellowship together

But the social side must never be a substitute for the intimacy with God

To which we are called to.


I see this in the Church of Scotland

Because this temptation exists in every religious institution

The music we sing becomes more important than the one we sing it to

The arrangements and governance become more important than the one who ultimately governs and arranges

The scriptures tell us to maintain good relationships with outsiders

But when that becomes a concern at the cost of the Church’s own prophetic identity

When respectability, a general endorsement of everything eclipses our call

To live as a different, counter cultural community

Then we become the target of the whip.


There is also another subtler version of this attack,

Think for a moment why someone might be attracted to buying a pigeon

Than being with God.

Because to be with God is a scary business, it feels boring, it feels denuding, we come only as ourselves

There is no activity in which to escape

So the attack here is on those items of busy-ness, business which are about avoiding

The main thing

To be here with God.


You don’t get bored selling pigeons

As you might fear prayer might become.


Another thing

Another thing here,

In attacking the temple,

Which is a seat of dark power

Jesus invites the temple’s attack upon him.


And then this remarkable exchange which exists on many levels.

It says
“Zeal for my house will consume me”

Which is a quote from Psalm 69 and carries the implication that to have zeal for the Father, will bring with it a social cost, because in a religious society they don’t truly recognise the one who is God.


But more than that, Jesus engages in a kind of verbal exchange with these temple people

Purity people.


The best analogy that I can think of,

Is this thing here, the General Assembly where I appear once a year,

To answer questions on our work

And great store is placed on my ability to handle myself.

To find clever answers, to win the shame-honour contest

Some people can’t handle it.


We pretend that we are honouring God

But really it is a big shame honour contest.


“What sign do you do”

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it in three days”

“This temple took 46 years, how can you build it in three days”


And Jesus then is silent,

Purposefully losing the exchange,

Not because he doesn’t have an answer

But because he will wait three years to give it, to be resurrected.


And so Jesus invites the temple to kick him out

To ban him

To be with the marginalised,

The shamed

By becoming shamed, marginalised himself himself.


God is with the marginalised, the shamed, the outsiders.

The fired, the losers, the verbally silenced


And do you notice that when God moves to that place

They become the centre,

Because the centre is where God is.


This is such a profound truth

It is in our brokenness that we connect with God.


To Believe

21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

John 2:21-22


He is the one who will take the shame away,

He will do what the doves and the oxen can never do

He will somehow, in his very presence,

Be the one who undoes the damage that we do to ourselves and to each other.


He will take it away.


If you are using false religion to hide from your pain, the whip is for that false religion

If you are dealing with failure in your life, his job is not to condemn you, it is to take it away


If you are using religion, and failure to shame others, or wish shame on others, he will do away with that religion,

But if you are dealing with shame, deep shame, or the being an outsider, because you fail to live to the ideals of the society around you… he will take your shame away.


This is about the end of scapegoating,

The way that we take others, and want rid of them so that we would be cleansed.


Where are we still relying on rituals and superstitions and scapegoats and sacrifices

To right ourselves

Not silly things like the horoscopes,

But the deep down standards that judge ourselves by.


He is to undo an entire system, and his disciples will not understand this until he is resurrected.

A whole way of being that promises, and uses the language of God, but estranges us, hurts us

Wounds us,

That is why the whip is there.


This is I think is why it says that many believe in him because of the signs

But he did not entrust himself to them because he knew the hearts of people

Because to them, Jesus was just the miracle worker extraordinaire, an extra prop to the God system

Not the one who would completely bring it down

And replace it with himself.


And the image is to meet this remarkable God

Who comes to us

Tearing apart with whips and cords

The apparently good, but busy things that distract us from intimacy

Who moves himself to the place of shame

So that we who walk in the darkness that we blunder into

The blame we attach to ourselves

The blame we attach to each other


He walks into that place

Of shame

For us

To be temple

To be the place where we are at home