John’s account differs from that of the Synoptics. They place the cleansing of the Temple after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, whilst John places it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. St Augustine thought that this meant that Jesus performed the act twice, but other commentators have preferred a less literal explanation. Aquinas comments:
The Dvil plots against the things of God and strives to destroy them. Among the means by which he destroys holy things, the chief is avarice. Thus a person sells oxen, sheep and doves in the Temple when he harbours bestial movements in his soul, for which he sells himself to the devil. For oxen, which are used for cultivating the earth, signify earthly desires; sheep, which are stupid animals, signify man’s obstinacy, and the doves signify man’s instability. It is God who drives these things our of people’s hearts.
Augustine sees the selling of the doves as symbolic of those like Simon Magus, who would buy the Holy Spirit – and comments unfavourably on bishops who he thinks seem to do that.
Chrysostom asks the question many others have asked, which is why Jesus did not reply with the kind of signs needed to stop the evil instead of merely declaring that he would give a sign? Because by doing the former he would have angered them even more, but by the latter he struck them with wonderment. They did not even pay attention to some of the things Jesus said, while they listened to others will ill-disposed minds and it was for this reason Jesus spoke to them obscurely.
Origen comments that our souls are the Temples of Christ, and he has especial solicitude for them, and here is driving from us impure thoughts and things which drag us down. Augustine sees the same symbolism. The Church, the Temple of Christ, has within in those who buy and sell holy things, and they need to be driven out too.
All the Fathers see the reference to Jesus being the Temple and being raised on the third day. It is the Father who raised Him up after He was obedient, unto death, even death upon the Cross. Augustine and St Cyril both comment on his caution in entrusting himself fully to those not yet born again of the Spirit.