This Monday (some might call it Holy Monday), Jesus walked toward Jerusalem, found a fruit tree with no fruit. Then …
… Jesus entered the temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple courts. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those
selling doves, and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
Then Jesus began to teach them and said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have turned it into a den of robbers!”
The blind and lame came to him in the temple courts, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the experts in the law saw the wonderful things he did and heard the children crying out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant and said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying?”
Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of children and nursing infants you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
The chief priests and the experts in the law heard it and they considered
how they could kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed by his teaching.
- Adapted from NET Bible Synthetic Harmony of the Gospels
Just a few historical notes:
The Jewish temple has been controversial from before the time it was built. King David wanted to build it, but his son, Solomon, was chosen for that task instead. David couldn't keep his hands off it, so he purchased and prepared the bulk of the supplies and gave them to Solomon. Solomon did build the temple, and it was amazing! …But not as amazing as the house he built for himself right next to the temple. Beginning with Solomon, and continuing through to today, people have misunderstood the purpose of God's temple.
In response to accusations, Jesus quotes from Isaiah (written about 700 years before Jesus was born), and when Jesus makes a quote, he wants you to go read the whole passage where it comes from. That's just how people did it back then.
Here's Isaiah chapter 56 in its entirety:
This is what the Lord says:
and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
Blessed is the one who does this—
the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”
Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”
The Sovereign Lord declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”
Come, all you beasts of the field,
come and devour, all you beasts of the forest!
Israel’s watchmen are blind,
they all lack knowledge;
they are all mute dogs,
they cannot bark;
they lie around and dream,
they love to sleep.
They are dogs with mighty appetites;
they never have enough.
They are shepherds who lack understanding;
they all turn to their own way,
they seek their own gain.
“Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine!
Let us drink our fill of beer!
And tomorrow will be like today,
or even far better.”
When Jesus drove out the noise, exploitation, and exclusivity of the temple, he returned the temple to its proper function. Did I forget to mention that the Jewish religious leaders placed a ban on any non-Jew entering the temple courts? This is why Jesus calls them “blind” and “lacking knowledge.” Even worse: they had turned the temple courts into an open-air marketplace for their own profit. This is exactly what Isaiah condemned 700 years ago (“They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough”), and it's still a problem today!
From the beginning, the temple was meant to be a holy place for all people to come and honor the Lord. In a sad turn of irony, the temple has been destroyed at least twice, and now very few Jews are allowed to enter. In its place stands a house of prayer for a different nation, dedicated to a different god, for an entirely different religion. Here are the pictures I took when I was there:
No markets, no noise. Just a simple place of prayer.
As usual, I think there's a deeper meaning to Jesus' cleansing of the temple courts. Paul tells us:
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
You are God's temple. You are not meant to be full of noise, exploitation, and exclusivity. You are meant to be holy, and wholly focused on God. Your purpose is to be full of prayer, without ceasing. Get rid of everything else and return to your purpose.
When Jesus, full of peace, love, and truth, began to use the temple as a place of healing and worship, the religious leaders responded with a desire for murder. Even though they stood within the physical location of the temple, they were not truly there. Meanwhile, God promises that nobody will ever have to say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” Instead, he tells us that anyone who binds themself to Him will enter his Temple and his peace.