As I pondered Christ at the temple in John 2.13ff, I was reminded of this famous image from the protests in Tiannemen Square in Beijing in 1989. It is a powerful and famous photo because one man is using nothing more than his own body and moral suasion to stop something far more powerful than himself.
How was it that Jesus could drive a far superior number of sellers and money-changers from the temple grounds by himself? Why didn’t they just subdue him and throw him out of the temple? I think the answer lies in this photo from Tiannemen. The tanks stop. They defer to the lesser power of one man because they understand that what they are doing if they continue is immoral. It is not morally right to run over a defenseless man with a tank.
The sellers of oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers fled at the presence of Jesus, not because they were powerless, but because they understood that he was right. They were making his father’s house a house of robbers. They were desecrating the temple because of what they were doing. When confronted, they fled. This is a very powerful moment that John records when we see a glimpse into Christ’s zeal for his father’s house, as well as a moral exhibit of what righteous anger looks like.