Matthew 21:12-17 :: Jesus Cleanses the Temple
Matthew 21:12-17 - Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” 14 The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. 15 The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.” But the leaders were indignant. 16 They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” “Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’” 17 Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight.
Story Setting & Culture
- 33 AD in Jerusalem, which is under the oppression of the Roman Empire
- Jerusalem is buzzing with Jewish travelers from all over the Mediteranian region coming into the city to celebrate the Passover
- Jesus has recently entered the city of Jerusalem, during Passover week, being hailed as Messiah and the Savior King. The Jews are hoping Jesus is the king that will restore Israel to the glory days of David and Solomon and end Roman oppression.
- The first place Jesus visits is the Temple, which is a sacred and historical place of worship for the Jews.
- To better understand Passover we need to go to an earlier part of God’s story. Over 1,000 years before God called a people, Israel (Jews) out of slavery and oppression in Egypt. A leader named Moses was the instrument of God’s power and love as he obediently brought the Israelites through very difficult circumstances.
- Specifically Passover refers to a time when God’s 10th and final plague on Egypt was about to take the life of every firstborn child and animal as God passed through the land. Exodus 11
- However, God made a way for his people, the Israelites, to be spared from this terrible plague. Each household was to take a lamb, slaughter it, and to smear the blood over and on the sides of the doorway. Exodus 12:1-13
- The Passover Festival/Celebration is a specific command from God so that the Israelites would never forget how God delivered them out of slavery by His strength alone. Exodus 12:14-28
- God honors his promise. The Egyptians lose all their first born children, including Pharaoh’s son, but God passes over the Israelites. Exodus 12:29-32
- The Passover story in Exodus certainly points to Jesus as a foreshadowing of His mission as the Passover Lamb.
The Temple in Jerusalem
- The Temple’s importance actually dates back to the time of Moses when God delivered the nation of Israel out of the oppression and slavery inflicted by Pharaoh in Egypt. At Mount Sinai God gave Moses the 10 Commandments, but he also gave Moses other laws for living, which included specific instructions to build a place of worship called the Tabernacle. Exodus 25-30
- The Tabernacle was a mobile structure (large tent) roughly divided into three parts:
- The courtyard
- The Holy Place
- The Holy of Holies (most Holy Place)
- The Tabernacle was a physical place where God was worshiped and present, people brought sacrifices and offerings, and where the Levites (Tribe dedicated to serve in the Tabernacle/Temple) in a variety of capacities including Priests, choir, etc.
- The Tabernacle was made from animals skins and fine cloth, gold, silver, bronze, and special wood.
- For several hundred years the Tabernacle was a place where God was worshiped and wherever God’s people were led God was present with them and rested in a “cloud” within the Holy of Holies.
- King David’s son Solomon was instructed by the Lord to build a permanent structure, The Temple, in Jerusalem at a place called “The Threshing Floor of Araunah.” 2 Samuel 24
- The Temple was so beautifully made and extravagantly built (during the height of Israel’s power and wealth as a nation) it was considered an architectural wonder of the world. To see a visual representation according to 1 Kings 5-7: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiF-wObznds
- The Temple was created for the purpose of worshiping God, of knowing his presence is with his people, and the result of experiencing this is healing from sin and joy from relationship with the living God.
- Jesus enters the Temple and immediately goes to work driving out the buyers and sellers of animals for sacrifice, turning over the tables of the currency exchange workers, and even chases out the dove sellers. WHY?
- Let’s again go backwards into the Old Testament. Unfortunately when the nation of Israel split into two (Israel and Judah), Israel went their own way attempting to re-create worship of God in a way contrary to his plan for the Israelites. However, the nation of Judah had both wicked idol worshiping kings and kings who brought reform a right worship back to the Temple.
- Some of the kings who rightly worshiped the Lord, banned idols from the country, and sought to obey the Law of the Lord would cleanse the Temple of the filth and sinfulness occurring in God’s house. 1 Kings 15, 2 Kings 19, 2 Kings 22.
- Jesus cleanses the Temple by getting rid of the men making money off of selling sacrifices, exploiting people who have come from great distances, and those who need to exchange foreign currency for Roman currency. These sellers had made a profitable business out the redemption of people’s sin.
- In 1517 Martin Luther posted 95 Theses to the door of the Catholic (Pope ruled) Church demanding a break and reform because of the selling of indulgences… making money off people’s need for the forgiveness of sin.
- As the Church and as followers of Christ do we exploit the sin of people and attempt to sell the forgiveness of God’s great and free gift through Jesus Christ?
- Christ came to give himself as a sacrifice…. A free gift, but not a cheap gift as it cost Jesus his life and God his Son’s life, that could not be bought or purchased. Jesus will not stand for a religion or faith built on the profit of man.
- Let it be clear that it is Jesus who cleans his house and not man.
- Jesus references Isaiah 56:7 “All nations will come to the Lord’s house (temple) and it will be a house of prayer.”
- Jesus references Jeremiah 7:11 “Israel is not safe because it has the Temple… don’t you know I (God) see all the evil going on there? It has become a den of thieves.”
Malachi 3:1-4 - “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 2 “But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. 3 He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. 4 Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.
- Jesus is fulfilling prophecy! Prophecy is something spoken from an Old Testament prophet, a messenger or servant called by God to speak on His behalf, about a future event that will occur according to God’s Word and will.
- Jesus goes back into the Biblical story to reference something that has happened before in Israel’s history. The Temple was misused and became a place of injustice, idol worship, and business which led the people into exile and being removed from their homeland and place of worship.
- Once the Temple was cleansed of the filth Jesus fills the Temple courts with who?
- The blind and lame came to Jesus and were healed… Jesus is fulfilling prophecy Isaiah 35 and continuing to display the power of God’s Kingdom come in himself.
- Jesus threw out the evil and replaced them with compassion, mercy, and life. Instead of exploiting people he invited in those who were suffering and no one went away empty handed.
- Follow Jesus into his house and you will be sent out with new life.
- Is our church a place where the suffering, the marginalized, oppressed, outcast and forgotten welcomed? Is this is a place of healing?
- There is more to this act of driving out wickedness and ushering in the King than meets the eye and ear. Jesus is dethroning Satan now. Jesus is healing the world now. Jesus is creating a new temple now.
- The Apostle Paul makes clear that the new Temple is the Church, the body of Christ, living stones made up of the Christian community. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
- Again, Jesus makes clear that as His body we are together the Church and not as individuals. We are not merely individual consumers of God’s gracious gift in Jesus, but we are called to participate in the consummation of Christ redeeming all things.
- Jesus is recorded as teaching in the Temple from this time on according to Luke 19 & Mark 11
- The religious leaders are witnesses to all these things, which means they are accountable for all they have seen and heard, and what they hear are children singing the praises of Jesus! They refuse to challenge Jesus on the issue of driving out the money changers and the temple businessmen because they know what Jesus did is right (they probably received some benefit for this – rental space), but the children’s chants and praises were blasphemy to their hearts and ears.
- Jesus strikes at the heart of their identity, “Have you read the Scriptures?” What an insult to men who dedicated their lives to knowing and living the Old Testament scriptures! Jesus references Psalm 8:2 which affirms the praises of these children and condemns the religious leaders for their hardness of hearts.
- At this point the religious leaders begin plotting how to kill Jesus. The enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy while Jesus comes to heal and give life through God’s Word.
- There is a difference of knowing about God’s story and allowing God’s story to know you. The religious leaders, the pew sitters, the Bible know it all’s are in grave danger of only knowing but not embodying Jesus.
- Jesus returns to Bethany… he retreats from the city to a place among friends. Mary, Martha and Lazarus had their home in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem.
Jesus’ retreat may also be a symbol of warning that will happen to those who reject Jesus. Christ comes to cleanse our hearts and heal the world, but those who do not receive him he will leave and his grace will be taken.