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Mark 11:15-17 (MEV):

15 And they came to Jerusalem. Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who sold and bought in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves. 16 And He would not allow anyone to carry any vessel through the temple. 17 And He taught them, and said, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’ But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”

What is the proper context surrounding Jesus' comments that "my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations but you have made it a den of thieves".

I believe this question is not a duplicate since this question focuses on the surrounding context and not the direct translation itself.

  • Can you elaborate on exactly what you're trying to understand? – www.gffg.info Apr 20 '19 at 17:56
  • Sure; I wanted other's opinions on the context, specifically the OT references to see if they agree with my own; for in my opinion, the meaning of "but you have made it a den of thieves." is not the traditional understanding. – alb Apr 20 '19 at 18:54
  • I'll wait a couple of days to let others answer, and if no one supports my understanding, I'll post my own answer. – alb Apr 20 '19 at 19:11
  • What is your answer? – www.gffg.info May 5 '19 at 14:59
  • I provided one; see the one selected as the answer. – alb May 9 '19 at 22:58
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The traditional view of these verses, I believe, is that the temple became a place for wicked men looking only to profit filthy lucre from those coming to worship God in prayer and offerings.

But if I look at it a bit deeper, a spiritual point of view, what were these men truly stealing from those coming to worship God? What was really being taken from these people?

Matthew 6:19-21 "19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Could this den of thieves be robbing those coming to the temple of the true treasures? The treasures that profit in the knowledge of God, that leads to salvation and eternal life? I think so.

Not only were they probably not teaching sound doctrine but setting the wrong moral examples, being the priests, teachers and people of God. Being there only to profit filthy lucre.

Ellicott commentary on Matthew 6:20 "Treasures in heaven.—These, as in the parallel passage of Luke 12:33, are the good works, or rather the character formed by them..."

What character, what conscience would these people leave the temple with after having to deal with religious robbers and thieves? They would leave there with a bad taste in their mouth so to say. Possibly even with a faulty view of God because of these wicked men.

A den of robbers, robbers of good works, robbers of the knowledge of God, robbers of a good conscience.

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  • "But if I look at it a bit deeper, a spiritual point of view, what were these men truly stealing from those coming to worship God?" What was really being taken from these people?Very good, you are on the right path; I'll give you +1. – alb Apr 20 '19 at 22:42
  • @alb Could the thieves be stealing from God? Could these robbers be stealing worship, glory, honor from God? – www.gffg.info Apr 20 '19 at 22:50
  • No the stealing is definitely on the part of the Pharisees. Hint: track down another OT reference to Jesus comment about "my house shall be called a house of prayer"; that's the link to "but you have made it a den of thieves". Jesus isn't worried about physical stealing but spiritual. – alb Apr 20 '19 at 22:55
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In Mark 11:17, what is the proper context to drive the correct understanding of the phrase, "but you have made it a den of thieves?

Matthew 21:13 (NASB)

13 "And He *said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.”

Luke 19:46 (NASB)

46 "Saying to them, “It is written, ‘And My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a robbers’ den.”

Mark 11:17 (NASB)

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.”

The three gospel writers were alluding to Isaiah 56:7 but only Mark mentioned "a house of prayer for all the peoples."

Isaiah 56:7 (NASB)

7 "Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer.Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

"Den of thieves"

The Temple in Jerusalem was meant to be a "house of prayer for all the nations "place of worship for both Israelites as well as God fearing foreigners. Jesus denounces the merchants and calls them robbers for charging unjust prices for animals, sold for sacrifices and exorbitant fees for exchanging currencies. Jesus also expressed anger that the temple was turned into a center for commercial activity. Jesus was alluding to Jeremiah 7:11(NASB)

11 "Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the LORD."

Such dishonest practices by the merchants and money ex-changers, discouraged peoples of the nations as well as Israelites from going to the House of God for prayer:

A House of prayer for all nations.

1 Kings 8:41-43 (NASB)

41 “Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake 42 (for they will 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, to [a]fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that [b]this house which I have built is called by Your name."

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    @ Ruminator: comment noted,appreciated. – Ozzie Ozzie Apr 20 '19 at 19:13
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Mark 11:15-17 (MEV):

15 And they came to Jerusalem. Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who sold and bought in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves. 16 And He would not allow anyone to carry any vessel through the temple. 17 And He taught them, and said, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’ But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”

In my opinion, to completely understand the phrase, “but you have made it (temple) a den of thieves”, we must first understand the context of “It is written, my house shall be called a house of prayer…”

When Jesus states, “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer”, He is referring to the account in 2 Chronicles chapter 6 and the prayer of mercy prayed by Solomon at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 6:12-21; 34-42 (KJV):

12 And he stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands: 13 for Solomon had made a brasen scaffold, of five cubits long, and five cubits broad, and three cubits high, and had set it in the midst of the court: and upon it he stood, and kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven, 14 and said, O LORD God of Israel, there is no God like thee in the heaven, nor in the earth; which keepest covenant, and shewest mercy unto thy servants, that walk before thee with all their hearts: 15 thou which hast kept with thy servant David my father that which thou hast promised him; and spakest with thy mouth, and hast fulfilled it with thine hand, as it is this day. 16 Now therefore, O LORD God of Israel, keep with thy servant David my father that which thou hast promised him, saying, There shall not fail thee a man in my sight to sit upon the throne of Israel; yet so that thy children take heed to their way to walk in my law, as thou hast walked before me. 17 Now then, O LORD God of Israel, let thy word be verified, which thou hast spoken unto thy servant David. 18 But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built! 19 Have respect therefore to the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplication, O LORD my God, to hearken unto the cry and the prayer which thy servant prayeth before thee: 20 that thine eyes may be open upon this house day and night, upon the place whereof thou hast said that thou wouldest put thy name there; to hearken unto the prayer which thy servant prayeth toward this place. 21 Hearken therefore unto the supplications of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, which they shall make toward this place: hear thou from thy dwelling place, even from heaven; and when thou hearest, forgive. 34 If thy people go out to war against their enemies by the way that thou shalt send them, and they pray unto thee toward this city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name; 35 then hear thou from the heavens their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause. 36 If they sin against thee, (for there is no man which sinneth not,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them over before their enemies, and they carry them away captives unto a land far off or near; 37 yet if they bethink themselves in the land whither they are carried captive, and turn and pray unto thee in the land of their captivity, saying, We have sinned, we have done amiss, and have dealt wickedly; 38 if they return to thee with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, whither they have carried them captives, and pray toward their land, which thou gavest unto their fathers, and toward the city which thou hast chosen, and toward the house which I have built for thy name: 39 then hear thou from the heavens, even from thy dwelling place, their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive thy people which have sinned against thee. 40 Now, my God, let, I beseech thee, thine eyes be open, and let thine ears be attent unto the prayer that is made in this place. 41 Now therefore arise, O LORD God, into thy resting place, thou, and the ark of thy strength: let thy priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, and let thy saints rejoice in goodness. 42 O LORD God, turn not away the face of thine anointed: remember the mercies of David thy servant.

Solomon, at the dedication ceremony, climbs up on a brazen scaffold in front of the entire nation of Israel and prays a prayer of dedication. In the prayer, Solomon reminds God about the mercies of His servant David and in like fashion, Solomon prays, when Israel sins in the future for certainly they will, please Lord be merciful and forgive. The bible states that after that prayer of mercy, fire came down from heaven and consumed the animal sacrifices and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

Later that evening, the Lord appeared and spoke to Solomon and told him that the He, per Solomon’s request, had selected the temple as a house for prayer and that He would be attentive the prayers in that place. The Lord states that He has selected the temple as a place for sacrifice but if you pay attention to the entire context, the sacrifice God intends is not animal sacrifice but a sacrifice of prayer. He tells Solomon that He will be attentive to the prayers offered in that place, prayers just like the prayer of mercy Solomon prayed earlier that day.

My supposition that God’s reference to “sacrifice” intends prayer and not animal sacrifice is fully supported by scripture, eg Psalm 40:6, Pslam 51:16 and Hosea 6:6 “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”

2 Chronicles 7:12-22 (KJV):

12 And the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice. 13 If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; 14 if my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 15 Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place. 16 For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually. 17 And as for thee, if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, and do according to all that I have commanded thee, and shalt observe my statutes and my judgments; 18 then will I stablish the throne of thy kingdom, according as I have covenanted with David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man to be ruler in Israel. 19 But if ye turn away, and forsake my statutes and my commandments, which I have set before you, and shall go and serve other gods, and worship them; 20 then will I pluck them up by the roots out of my land which I have given them; and this house, which I have sanctified for my name, will I cast out of my sight, and will make it to be a proverb and a byword among all nations. 21 And this house, which is high, shall be an astonishment to every one that passeth by it; so that he shall say, Why hath the LORD done thus unto this land, and unto this house? 22 And it shall be answered, Because they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods, and worshipped them, and served them: therefore hath he brought all this evil upon them.

So, if we fully understand the full context of Mark chapter 11, we understand the Christ, upon entering Jerusalem for the final time, goes directly to the temple and overturns the tables of them who exchanged money and those who sold animals for sacrifice. Jesus overturns the tables of those conducting the business of animal sacrifice. By doing so, He is demonstrating what scripture states, in that; God does not want sacrifice but wants mercy. He then refers to God’s deal with Solomon to have the temple as a house of prayer but specifically, a house for prayers of mercy*.

Jesus by His actions, is confirming the abolition of the Old Covenant with it's animal sacrifice system and the institution of the New Covenant of salvation through God’s grace and mercy through our faith, for salvation could never come through animal sacrifice. Jesus then states, “but you have made it a den of thieves” which is perfectly placed for He is not referring to the physical cheating of moneychangers and animal salesman but taking a direct shot at the Pharisees who continue to support the OT Covenant through animal sacrifice. Jesus by stating “ you have made it a den of thieves” is stating that the Sanhedrin is guilty of stealing eternal life from people by making them think that they are right with God because of their animal sacrifices.

*Remember in Luke 18: 12-14, Christ’s parable of the man in the temple who could not lift his eyes to heaven but looking down, beat his chest and said, “be merciful to me Lord a sinner”. Jesus said that man went home justified. This is a perfect application of 2 Chronicles 6 and 7.

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  • I think it's a good interpretation but based on the context I do believe it is wrong. 1) Mainly because Jesus was still establishing/preaching the new covenant and it's possible those in the temple wouldn't have even heard Him preach yet. Does one deserve punishment for something they knew not of? 2) The context is literal & Jesus made it clear when He was revealing higher spiritual truths – www.gffg.info May 11 '19 at 1:35

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