15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves,16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
(Mark 11:15-19 NIV)
We have been studying the intertwined stories of the fig tree and the cleansing of the Temple. Yesterday we looked at the “bookend” stories of the fig tree; today, we’ll look at Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple.
As we looked at the overview of how these two stories knit together, we saw how the fig tree was a symbolic tie to the Jewish people and to the Temple. Everything looked good on the outside, but there was no fruit to be found. The cursing of the fig tree and its withering was a prophetic sign of coming judgment for the nation of Israel and the destruction of their beloved Temple.
Today we are taking a deeper look at Jesus cleansing the Temple, the story-in-a-story that is set in the context of the stories of the fig tree.
Remember when Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, then went and inspected the Temple courtyards the day before (v. 11)? Today, Jesus is back and takes action to make the Temple courts suitable for worship again.
The outermost courts were for everyone to come and worship – these were called the Gentile courts. They were meant to be a place where anyone and everyone could come and worship the God of Israel. The High Priest and temple officials had allowed the merchants to set up shop in the Gentile court, turning it from a quiet and holy place of worship to a noisy marketplace of trade.
Jesus went into the Temple and started chasing out all the vendors, overturning the tables and chairs of those involved in the marketplace. Jesus used the opportunity to teach everyone there, quoting two Old Testament verses as the explanation for His actions.
First, Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7, where God had said that the Temple was to be a place of prayer for all the nations. If the merchants were using the Gentile court as a marketplace, how could people worship? Obviously, the Temple officials didn’t care about the Gentile worshippers – they had their own space away from the noise and commotion.
Jesus’ cleansing of the Gentile court was prophetic of His coming death and resurrection for all the world – not just for the Jews. The clinking of the coins, the sounds and smells of the animals, the voices of the merchants and pilgrims bartering – all this had to go in order to restore a sense of worship for the Gentile worshippers of God.
The second scripture Jesus quoted was Jeremiah 7:11, where Jesus confronts the merchants and says they have turned God’s Temple into a robbers’ den. The first thing you might suspect would be the money changers charging an astronomical exchange rate to those converting their money into the local currency. However, this was not the case. The Temple officials had dealt with this already by setting a low fixed exchange rate for all transactions.
Jesus’ accusation was against the far more insidious crime against the pilgrims coming to worship. And the perpetrators of the crime were none other than a former high priest and his family, the very ones that knew better and committed the crime anyway.
And what was this crime? The prices charged for sacrificial doves. Remember that God had reserved doves as the sacrificial animals for the poorest of the poor families. The merchants raised the price more than 20 times the market value. The temple officials also ensured that the pilgrims would need to buy their animals in the marketplace, as they had temple officials inspect all animals coming from the outside and would find some reason to reject nearly all the animals brought in.
Jesus also refused to let the Temple courts (the Gentile court in particular) to be used as a shortcut through the Temple grounds. The Temple Courts were to be a place of worship, not a trade route with all its noise, smells, and traffic.
The Temple and religious officials were furious. On the one hand, they knew Jesus was right in what He did. On the other hand, they felt the economic sting of the loss of business that profited their families. Their heart was in their pocketbook, not with the Lord. The religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus, but were afraid of the reaction of the masses, as they loved Him and what He was doing on their behalf.
At the end of the day, we see Jesus and His disciples leaving the Temple and Jerusalem to spend the night. While we might suppose they went back to Bethany, the text does not say. They may have stayed elsewhere in order to protect their dear friends (Mary, Martha, and Lazarus).
May we reserve a space in our hearts and minds and souls, a holy place for worship of the Lord. May we set aside time and space to quiet ourselves and engage in communion and worship with the God of the universe, leaving the cares of the marketplace behind.
What do we need to let Jesus chase of our hearts, minds, and souls in order for us to worship Him in spirit and in truth?
May we give the Holy Spirit the freedom to cleanse our inner selves so we can worship Jesus today.