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Is the answer too obvious to ask? Why did Jesus cleanse the temple? In Mark 11, we read this

15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; 16 and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. 17 And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbers’ den.”

Was Jesus simply upset about the exchange rate or is there more going on here?

Jon Ericson has asked, "How should we understand the “Cleansing of the Temple”? His question, however, focuses more specifically on Jesus' use of force and its apparent application for us today. I want to ask the more fundamental question: why did Jesus "cleanse" the temple in the first place?

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Here are three all too often overlooked reasons Jesus cleansed the temple.

1. Jesus as the “Son of David” is the Builder of God’s House

In His entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus acted like Solomon, the “Son of David,” in his coronation (see 1 Kings 1) and thus claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne. And in the temple cleansing which follows, he demonstrates how he has taken up the responsibility given to David’s son.

In 2 Samuel 7, God says to David

When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father and he will be my son.

Of course, David’s son Solomon built the temple. But Jesus by entering Jerusalem on a donkey and then cleansing the temple claimed that “one greater than Solomon is here (Matthew 12:42).”

2. Jesus was Angry Because the Temple had become a Barrier to God’s Praise

As he overturned the tables of the money changers, Jesus said,

Is is not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers.

We emphasize the connection between the money changers and “den of robbers” but often fail to see the quotation from Isaiah 56:7 in between. The temple establishment is not robbing from men. Scholars have noted the reasonable necessity of the temple exchange based upon the law. The temple system is robbing from the universal glory due God’s Name.

Isaiah prophesied (Is. 2)

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it.

The word “nations” in these passages, as well as the one quoted by Jesus, means gentiles. It is Isaiah who prophecies,

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.”

But the foreigners and gentiles, by and large, are not coming. Jesus is angry because rather than a bridge, the temple has become a barrier to the worship of God among pagans.

3. Jesus was Prophetically Acting Out the Coming Destruction of the Temple.

The word “cleanse” is not an appropriate description of Jesus’ actions here. He’s not cleansing the temple. He’s attacking it! This temple must be removed.

Look to Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree to find the truth at this point. Mark, the earliest of the four New Testament gospels, records the following scenes in this order.

  • Jesus looks for fruit on a fig tree but finding none curses it (11:12-14
  • Jesus enters Jerusalem and attacks the temple (11:15-19)
  • The disciples see the fig tree withered from the root and ask Jesus about it (11:20-25)

The sandwiching of these stories indicates that the fig tree is a symbol of the temple. The cursing of the fig tree and its subsequent withering represents Jesus attack on the temple and its subsequent destruction.

The destruction of the temple in AD 70, a generation removed from the events recorded in the gospel, is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the New Testament. But there are numerous implicit details which indicate that it has already occurred or is about to occur when the gospels are written.

Jesus teaching on the mount of Olives (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) has this event in mind. Here, Jesus once again links the temple and the fig tree.

Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth, will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Like Ezekiel and Isaiah, Jesus prophetically acts out the coming violent removal of the temple.

Jesus is Building a New House for God

But Jesus has not left a temple in ruins. He has built a new one! The New Testament continually indicates that the rebuilding of God’s true temple is found in the death and resurrection of His son.

  • @MatthewMiller- Yes....but, how do you account for Ezekiel's temple in Chapt. 40 onward? I agree with your point about the physical Temple, yet why would God give prophetic instruction about building a new Temple-yet to be fulfilled, if all He was after are renewed hearts? – Tau Feb 27 '15 at 23:51
  • @Tau - Good question! I don't have a definite answer. But I do find it interesting that the NT book of Revelation presents Ezekiel's temple as the new city of Jerusalem. I interpret the new Jerusalem in Revelation as a symbolic vision of the saints relationship with God. I think Ezekiel's temple is symbolic as well. – Matthew Miller Feb 28 '15 at 2:04
  • You then have the issue of "What about the sacrifices?" and the fact that there is no more "Temple" in the New Jerusalem; it is God dwelling with His people.(Rev. 21:22) – Tau Feb 28 '15 at 9:03
  • True! But you need to look at all the details - the way in which John describes the New Jerusalem. Note the strong comparisons between Ezekiel 40 and Revelation 21. Both are taken up to a high mountain and shown there respective cities (note Ezekiel 40:2) and they see a man (Angel in John) given a measuring rod to measure the walls. Both Ezekiel temple and the new Jerusalem have a river of live flowing from it. The list goes on. – Matthew Miller Feb 28 '15 at 17:03
  • RE: "The destruction of the temple in AD 70, a generation removed from the events recorded in the gospel, is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the New Testament." I respectfully disagree. The vast majority of Revelation is about the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. If you reread Revelation with that light in mind, things will become much clearer in it's meanings. – Tony Duran Feb 2 '18 at 16:37
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We have to understand that the moneychangers and those who sold animals were performing a necessary service for the sacrifices offered in the temple, and were sanctioned by the temple authorities. The role of the moneychangers was to exchange the Roman coinage of Palestine, which was being constantly devalued, for coinage of a fixed value so that sacrificial animals could be bought without unseemly bargaining in the sacred precinct. Without those who sold animals, most who came to the temple would have been unable to make the sacrifices for which they came. Thus there is no apparent ethical reason for the 'cleansing'.

When Jesus came to Jerusalem he was destined to die, but when he first entered the temple his time had not yet come, and he looked around upon things and then left (Mark 11:11); his subsequent apparently rash action in cleansing the temple was the necessary trigger for his arrest by the priests, and for his crucifixion. We see this clearly in Mark 11:15-18:

15-17 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.

In John's Gospel, the resurrection of Lazarus became the trigger for the arrest of Jesus, replacing the cleansing of the temple (John 11:46-53):

But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.

In this gospel, the cleansing of the temple is no longer needed at the end of the gospel, and the author moves it the the very beginning of the mission of Jesus (John 2:13-16), where it simply becomes a symbol of Jesus' authority.

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It is probably safe to say that the reason Jesus suddenly appears in the temple reproving the Levites for their commercial practices is that it was written in the prophet Malachi that he would do so!:

Mal 3:1-3 KJV - 1 Behold, I will send my messenger [ANGELOS], and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. 2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: 3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.

So messiah was to:

  • be God's angel/messenger
  • appear suddenly
  • he would prepare YHVH's way
  • he would appear in the temple
  • it would be hard for the Levites to stand
  • he would be like soap and refining fire
  • deal with Levitic gold and silver
  • purify the offerings

Jesus fulfilled all of this in a surprising and "in your face" way.

We learn elsewhere that he takes away the unprofitable offerings of the earthly temple and presents his blood as the better sacrifice as ratification of the new covenant with the Jews and the better righteousness.

  • "he would prepare YHVH's way" No, He was Yahweh. See Mt. 11:9-10 (cf. Mal. 3:10). The messenger sent before Jesus is John... – Sola Gratia Feb 7 at 12:56
  • Hmm... well what about the apposition in verse 1? – Ruminator Feb 7 at 13:26
  • Verse 1 of which book/chapter? – Sola Gratia Feb 7 at 13:44
  • Mal 3:1 "...even the messenger of the covenant..." – Ruminator Feb 7 at 14:21
  • Malachi read: "Behold I send my angel, and he shall prepare the way before me" is Yahweh speaking. The Apostles and Jesus paraphrase the passage as "prepare the way before [Jesus]." That's my point. Further appositions and such are not relevant. – Sola Gratia Feb 7 at 22:39
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Peace.

Indeed, something else is going on.

As Matthew Miller pointed out, the praise that is due to the Name of God from ALL nations was (and still is) being prevented by the action of the “moneychangers” who were exchanging God’s glory that is due Him for money’s sake.

His House should be called the “House of prayer” by all nations but instead it is being called a “den of thieves” by the world as they see the money changing going on inside. The nations of the world are to look at us and praise God above…but instead, His praise is not heard as they blaspheme His Holy Name because of the money changing they see.

Jesus “began” to cast them out…..and still is as the exchanging of the glory of God that is due Him for money’s sake is still going on.

Mark 11:15-17 KJV (15) And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; (16) And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. (17) And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

In John 2:15, we find that Jesus made a “scourge of small cords” which represents the tongues (the small cords) of the world lashing (in rebuke)of those inside the churches who are making merchandise of His people (the sheep). There is a public rebuke….public shaming… of the moneychangers inside the church as the world lashes those who are involved.

John 2:15 KJV (15) And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;

The “moneychangers” exchange the glory that is due the incorruptible God for the image made like corruptible man (money which has the image of man on it)…and His Holy Name is being blasphemed among the nations of the world because of it. The “birds”…the doves….represent the “peace” that they are selling when there is no peace. They say “peace, peace” where there is none. The “fourfooted beasts” are the sheep that they are making merchandise of as they go after the earthly things (the creeping things).

Romans 1:22-23 KJV (22) Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, (23) And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things

They seek first the earthly things as they only serve their belly and their glory is in their shame (as the world speaks evil of them…shaming them) as they mind only earthly things (what to eat, what to drink, what to wear).

Philippians 3:17-19 KJV (17) Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (18) (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: (19) Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

These are people who “sit” in authority in the temple of God (His people) as they do these things. They are rulers…shepherds…preachers. The Name of God is being blasphemed through them as they “commit sacrilege”…that is, rob temples.

Romans 2:20-24 KJV (20) An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. (21) Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

Again, the Name of God is being blasphemed among the nations through them as they see them doing these things (stealing, robbing temples, etc).

(22) Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? (23) Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? (24) For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.

Isaiah 52:5-6 KJV (5) Now therefore, what have I here, saith the LORD, that my people is taken away for nought? they that rule over them make them to howl, saith the LORD; and my name continually every day is blasphemed. (6) Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I.

The apostles labored with their own hands to support their own earthly necessities so that the gospel of God should have free course and be honored in this world and by this world.

1 Thessalonians 2:9 KJV (9) For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

Paul showed the overseers of the church ALL things: how that working with his own hands for his own earthly needs would support the “weak”…the weak consciences of this world who blaspheme His Name when they see the preaching for money’s sake going on by the overseers of the church of God. We are called to “follow him together” in this.

Acts 20:32-35 KJV (32) And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (33) I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. (34) Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. (35) I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

The apostles did forgo the power to reap carnal things from the churches they preached to so that the gospel of Christ was not hindered. They did not use this power to do so but instead worked with their own hands to support their own necessities so that the world would not have an opportunity to blaspheme God’s Holy Name nor the gospel.

1 Corinthians 9:11-12 KJV (11) If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? (12) If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.

The commandment of the apostles in the Lord Jesus Christ is to work with our own hands to support our own earthly necessities as they did so that the gospel is not hindered. They did forgo this power...gave up the right to do so... and we are to be followers together with them in this. They made themselves an example for us to follow them together in.

2 Thessalonians 3:7-15 KJV (7) For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; (8) Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: (9) Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. (10) For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. (11) For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. (12) Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. (13) But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. (14) And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. (15) Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

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The key verse on this is as I see it:-

NWT John 2:16 "And he said to those selling the doves: “Take these things away from here! Stop making the house of my Father a house of commerce!”

In the above the key phrase is "stop making the house of my Father a house of commerce!” as it seems to imply that the religious leaders had made the Jewish faith a way of making money, turning faith into a 'commercial' enterprise exploiting the people's worship for self interest, lining their pockets with cash!

The Temple was a sacred place ("a house of prayer") only for worship of God. To Jesus it was like turning the Temple of his Father into a farm yard!!

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