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After the wedding, Jesus, his mother, his brothers, and his disciples went down to Capernaum, a city on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Originally Peter and Andrew had lived in nearby Bethsaida. At this time, however, they were residing in Capernaum, and the city may also have been the home of James and John. (Compare Mark 1:16-21.) As the Passover was near, Jesus, his brothers, his disciples, and Mary did not remain there long. To observe the Passover, they traveled to Jerusalem. (John 2:12, 13)
There, in the “temple” (hierón) or, more specifically, the Court of the Gentiles, which was part of the extensive temple complex, Jesus saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and money changers seated at their tables. Worshipers would buy animals for sacrifice and exchange coins that were unacceptable for the payment of the temple tax, contributions for the support of the temple, and possibly also for the purchase of sacrificial animals. (John 2:14)
For the merchants and money changers, this proved to be a profitable enterprise. The Mishnah, compiled around 200 CE and consisting of a collection of ancient Jewish traditions, says (Shekalim 1:3) that money changers set up in the temple area on the 25th of Adar (February/March). This Jewish work also reveals extreme price gouging in connection with the sale of sacrificial animals. On one occasion, a pair of doves was being sold for 25 times more than the usual price. (Keritot 1:7)
Filled with indignation about the defilement of a sacred location with commercial activity, Jesus made a whip of ropes and drove the sheep and cattle out of the temple area, forcing the sellers to leave with their animals. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and told the sellers of doves to leave with their birds, rebuking them for having turned his Father’s house into a place of business. Upon witnessing Jesus’ taking such firm action, the disciples recalled the words of the psalmist, “The zeal for your house will consume me.” (Psalm 69:9; John 2:15-17)
Based on the words recorded in Malachi 3:1-7, the Jews may have expected the promised Messiah to take decisive action in connection with the sanctity of the temple. His foretold role included purifying the Levites for offering acceptable sacrifices. It therefore appears that certain Jews challenged Jesus to show them a sign, a sign establishing Messianic authority to stop commercial activity in the temple complex. In response to their challenging question about what sign he would be showing them, Jesus replied, “Pull down this temple [naós, usually applying to the main sanctuary building], and in three days I will raise it.” In disbelief, they said, “This temple [naós] was built in 46 years, and you are going to raise it in three days?” Neither they nor his disciples understood that Jesus was speaking about “the temple [naós] of his body.” Not until Jesus was raised from the dead did his disciples understand what he meant. It was then that they believed the “Scripture” foretelling Jesus’ resurrection and the “word” he spoke in the temple area relating to his rising from the dead. (John 2:18-22)
While in Jerusalem for the Passover and the seven-day festival that followed, Jesus did perform miraculous signs. Witnessing these signs, many came to believe in “his name” or in him. Jesus, however, recognized that those who initially responded favorably did not have a solid faith. He did not trust himself to them, for he knew them all or he knew who they really were at heart and understood human weaknesses fully. He did not need anyone else’s testimony about “man,” for “he knew what was in man.” (John 2:23-25) Jesus discerned how easily humans could be swayed or wrongly influenced despite having clear evidence respecting the rightness of a particular course.
See http://bibleplaces.com/capernaum.htm for pictures of and comments about Capernaum.
From the historical information contained in the writings of Josephus, it is not possible to determine just what the Jews in the temple area meant when saying to Jesus that the temple was built in 46 years. Work on the entire temple complex was not completed until some six years before the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE. As for the start of the rebuilding undertaken at the direction of Herod the Great, Josephus says in War (I, xxi, 1) that it was the 15th year of Herod’s reign, whereas in Antiquities (XV, xi, 1) he states that it was the 18th year. If the reference to the 15th year is not in error, possibly it was then that preparatory work began, with actual construction on the site not commencing until the 18th year.
Jesus’ answer about a sign was basically the same as his reply on other occasions when challengingly asked for a sign. This sign, which came to be widely known, was that he would rise in three days. (Matthew 12:38-40; 16:4; 27:62-64; Luke 11:29) Jesus could refer to raising “the temple of his body” in three days, as his Father had granted him the authority or right to surrender his “soul” or life and to receive it again. (John 10:18)