As siblings and I continue to excavate verbally, we note that John’s gospel is intentional in presenting Jesus’ miraculous works/signs.
Many scholars see John chapters 2-4 as a textual unit. The “bookends” of this section, mentioning Cana and Galilee (2:1,11; 4:46,54), are striking features. The section as a whole includes the water-to-wine sign, the overturning of the tables in the temple, the conversation with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, and the healing of the official’s son (in that order). That the first and second signs are enumerated and placed geographically indicates some emphasis, at least.
The first part of this gospel — chapters 1-12 — is sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs,” and it might have been completed years prior to the ultimate compilation we know as the gospel of John. One theory about this first section is that it is intentionally constructed to speak to the replacement of elements of Judaism. It is, in part, in this respect that I understand the second incident of John 2 — the overturning of the tables in the temple. On one hand, there is the obvious: that Jesus, as Messiah-come, had perfect authority to do what He did, and He wasn’t happy about what was going on, so he made a rather strong point by stopping it. But on another level, John may be saying to his audience that the temple — represented Jewish strongholds and systems — was being replaced. (More of this theme shows up in chapter 4 as Jesus converses with a Samaritan woman.)
This table-turning thing (which might have been an antecedent of the English figure of speech “turn the tables”) is no miraculous sign, and there is no recorded coming-to-faith that results from this action. Still, the event is notable and unique. Our friend Susan has observed, “Jesus does a lot of things that are not typical of Jesus.” This overturning of the tables fits that bill; if nothing else, it is a consequential act that makes the reader aware that something is (or will be) up between Jesus and the Jewish authorities.