Question: "What does it mean that "zeal for your house will consume me" in John 2:17?"
Answer: The declaration “zeal for your house consumes me” is originally found in the Psalms:
“For I endure scorn for your sake,
and shame covers my face.
I am a foreigner to my own family,
a stranger to my own mother’s children;
for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
When I weep and fast,
I must endure scorn;
when I put on sackcloth,
people make sport of me.
Those who sit at the gate mock me,
and I am the song of the drunkards” (Psalm 69:7–12).
This is a psalm of David. We do not know what event or series of events caused him to write Psalm 69, and we do not know if it was before or after he became king, but it seems that his dedication to God caused other people to scorn, ostracize, mock, insult, and reject him. As with many psalms of David, this one can be applied to the Son of David as well.
The description of being consumed by zeal for God’s house is applied to Jesus in John 2. Jesus had just proved Himself to be very zealous for the house (or temple) of the Lord. He had “cleansed” the temple of the wicked men who were extorting and cheating worshipers: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’” (John 2:13–16). Upon seeing Jesus’ actions in the temple, “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (verse 17).
It is quite possible that others had felt “uncomfortable” about what was going on in the temple. However, Jesus was the only one on record who actually did something about it. In this case, “consuming zeal” may have a bit of a double meaning. Not only was Jesus’ zeal consuming in that it caused Him to take radical action, but it set Him on a collision course with the Jewish leadership that eventually ended in their delivering Him to Pilate for crucifixion.
The New Testament writers see many parallels between Jesus and David. Jesus’ zealous actions were rejected by His countrymen. David was also rejected, scorned, and mocked because of His zeal for God. This is simply one more line of evidence that Jesus really is the rightful heir of David—David’s Greater Son. Likewise, those who follow in the steps of Jesus may now face the same kind of rejection if they prove to be zealous for the things of God.