An Angry Jesus Cleanses the Temple
Luke is restrained in his account, only saying that Jesus drove out those who sold. Mark is much more graphic, saying that he “began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” To understand why Jesus is angry, we need to appreciate two things. First, the redemptive plan of God has always been global in scope. And second, the Jews had squeezed out the nations with their marketplace.
A Global Plan
The promise of redemption began long before there was a people of Israel. It goes all the way back to the fall of man. As God was cursing the serpent, he gave the first promise that he would not leave mankind dead and lost.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15 ESV)
And when he called Abraham to himself, promising to build from him the nation of Israel, he concluded his promise with these words: “In you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” God’s plan of redemption has always been global in scope. And the temple itself was a part of that global plan. When Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed these words:
41 “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake 42 (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, 43 hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name. (1 Kings 8:41–43 ESV)
The Gentile Court
There was even a place designated where the gentile might worship God in the temple. But the Jews had taken over that one place on earth where the nations might worship God. They had taken it over with a marketplace. And not only had they squeezed out the nations, their market was a place of corruption. Far from being a light to the nations, they were besmirching the name of God. He had chosen to place his name in that spot on the earth, and they were using that location to line their pockets in their greed.
We can see from Jesus’ citations that this is what made him angry. First, he cites from Isaiah 56:7. But to see that the missionary roots of Jesus’ anger, we should read that verse in context:
3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” 8 The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” (Is 56:3–8 ESV)
God did not call a people to himself to enjoy his blessings while thumbing their noses at the lost. He called out a people to himself to share his goodness with the lost, to make his glory known, to be a great city, shining on a hill. And he called them out to bring him honor and glory by being transformed, little by little, into the holy people he’d declared them to be.
And that is the second source of Jesus’ anger. Not only are they hindering the gentiles physically, by bringing into their worship space the bleating of sheep and the din of hagglers, they were also hindering the spread of his kingdom by giving a bad report of the king. They who were supposed to be transformed and being more and more transformed, they who were to be characterized by righteousness, were no different than the nations around them. They worshiped the same gods: money, approval, power.
If the only difference between us and our non-believing neighbors is that we go to church, we are condemned by Jesus’ second citation, Jeremiah 7:7. Consider this verse, too, in its context:
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. 8 “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord. (Jer 7:1–11 ESV)
The temple was a place where the Lord might be sought out in prayer. We no longer have need of such a place. The veil of the temple has been torn from top to bottom, and the temple has been destroyed. Jesus Christ, the true temple, has made it obsolete by fulfilling its function once for all, and opening up a way for sinful men to approach the Holy God of heaven. There is no longer a location in space that is designated as holy. Rather, by indwelling his believers with the Holy Spirit, God has made each of them a temple.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19–20 ESV)
Let us not trust in deceptive words, imagining that ‘going to church’ would save us. Jesus saves. And those he saves are transformed. They are declared righteous and they grow more and more to be what God has declared them to be each day. God is holy and we are called to be holy, too (1 Pet 1:15-16).
And let us have a heart for the things of God’s heart. His redemptive plan has always been global in scope. And he has given us a task of making disciples from all nations. Let us proclaim the gospel, and live what we proclaim.