The second instance of Jesus cleansing the temple of corruption is in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 21:12-16, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:45-48). The first instance is only in John 2:12-25 right after the wedding at Cana when Jesus’ ministry began. The first thing Jesus did after his ministry began was cleanse the temple, and the first thing he did after making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem was cleanse the temple. These two cleansings serve as bookends on Jesus’ three-year ministry and reveal his heart for “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27).
Table of contents
- Jesus Cleansed the Temple Because Jews Were Ripping Off Gentiles
- Jesus Cleansed the Temple Because He Cared More About Religious Corruption Than Roman Oppression
- Jesus Cleansed the Temple and Then Remained in the Heart of Enemy Territory
When I was in Army ROTC, during one of the summers, I attended air assault school at Fort Drum in upstate New York. We had a weekend off, so we decided to travel across the border to Canada. We went to a restaurant, and after we ate, we told the cashier that we only had US dollars.
We didn’t know the conversion rate between US and Canadian dollars, so we simply had to trust the cashier when he told us how much our meal cost. The one thing I did know was I had never paid that much for a meal before. But we were in no position to argue because we had no familiarity with the conversion rate between Canadian and US dollars…and we didn’t have cell phones that allowed us to say, “Okay Google.” Now I feel old.
The cashier also pointed toward the cash in his register and said that he didn’t have any US money, so he would not be able to give us change. As we were walking out, I saw him lift the till containing the Canadian money. He put our US dollars underneath it…on top of what looked to me like quite a bit of US money. I said, “I thought you said you didn’t have any US dollars?” I don’t remember what he said in return, but it was obvious that he took advantage of us.
This Canadian cashier ripping off his American neighbors reminded me of the Jewish vendors in the temple courtyard who were doing the same to their Gentile neighbors. At least until Jesus came along.
Jesus Cleansed the Temple Because Jews Were Ripping Off Gentiles
Luke 19:45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold,
This is the second instance of Jesus cleansing the temple. The first instance is only in John’s Gospel. It took place right after the wedding at Cana, which is to say it took place right after Jesus’ ministry began. So, it is interesting that:
- The first thing Jesus did after his ministry began was cleanse the temple.
- And the first thing he did after making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem was cleanse the temple.
These two cleansings serve as bookends on Jesus’ three-year ministry. Why would Jesus cleanse the temple at the beginning and end of his ministry? Iit reveals his heart for pure and undefiled religion:
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James says that pure and undefiled religion does two things.
- It is loving. It does things such as visit orphans and widows. This is not an exhaustive list. James mentions these as examples so that people know what pure and undefiled religion looks like.
- It keeps itself unstained from the world, which is to say it produces holiness. When people claim to be religious, but their religion produces, or at least allows, unholiness, it is not pure and undefiled religion.
When Jesus looked at the temple, he didn’t see pure and undefiled. He saw corrupt and unscrupulous religion. Instead of lovingly serving others, he saw a religion that manipulated and exploited others.
Misusing the Temple Courtyard
The different courts of the temple were:
- The outermost court was the court of the Gentiles. This is where the cleansing took place.
- Next was the court of the women.
- Then there was the court of Israel, also known as the court of men.
- Finally, there was the court of priests which, as the name implies, only priests could enter.
The court of the Gentiles, or the outermost court, was the only area of the temple that non-Jews could enter. We say Jesus cleansed the temple, but both times he wasn’t in the temple. He was outside in this courtyard.
Because this was the area accessible by Gentiles, it was intended to be a place of evangelism and outreach. The Jews could witness to their Gentile neighbors and tell them about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But instead of this court being used to evangelize Gentiles, it was being used to exploit them:
Instead of praying for the Gentiles, the priests were preying on the Gentiles.Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary New Testament volume 1: Matthew-Galatians, page 255.
There were primarily two Jewish groups ripping off Gentiles: money changes and animal vendors. Let me explain both.
First, according to Exodus 30:11-16 the Mosaic law required that everyone pay a temple tax of half a shekel. Like me going to Canada without the right currency, Gentiles would go to the temple without the right currency. They had coins with images of pagan emperors on them, and they would not be accepted at the temple.
There were Jewish money changers in the courtyard who exchanged foreign coins for Jewish coins that would be accepted at the temple. But they would do so at exorbitant exchange rates.
The Animal Vendors
Second, there were animal vendors. Gentiles would come to the temple, but they might not have an animal to sacrifice, so the vendors would sell them animals that were overpriced. Or, even if Gentiles came to the temple with animals, the vendors would examine them, but tell worshipers their animals were unacceptable. Then they would try to sell them one of their overpriced animals.
Gentiles didn’t know better, so they were perfect victims for these unscrupulous Jews. Imagine what this looked like. A Gentile abandons his pagan, idolatrous ways. He wants to worship the God of Israel, so he goes to the temple. He is a new convert, so even though he is sincere, he lacks familiarity with the Old Testament sacrificial system.
He brings an animal because he wants to offer a sacrifice. But a Jewish vendor says, “It is wonderful that you are here. God wants a relationship with you. But I hate to tell you your animal is unacceptable. You see, according to our law, there is a standard for animals that are sacrificed. Sadly, your animal does not meet that standard. But, today is your lucky day! I have animals that are in exceptional condition, and I will sell you as many as you would like.”
Forbidden in the Law
This sort of behavior was strictly forbidden in the Mosaic law:
- Exodus 22:21 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
- Leviticus 19:34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
When Jesus cleansed the temple, he showed not only his anger at the temple being abused. He also showed his concern for Gentile converts who were being ripped off.
And I will share something else with you that I think is going on. I say “think,” because the text doesn’t directly tell us this is the case, but I think we can indirectly assume it. Passover is only a few days away, so this would be the busiest time of the year at the temple. The courtyard would be filled with Gentiles who traveled long distances to be there. And what does everyone need? Lambs! Passover preparation is described:
Exodus 12:3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household…5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
The lamb had to be without blemish and a year old. Can you see how animal vendors would use this to take advantage of people? They could say, “Unfortunately, I see a blemish. It’s small, but it’s there. This lamb will not work. But I have one right here that I can sell you. You could try to buy one from outside the temple grounds, but who knows if it will have a blemish too.”
They get their lamb on the 10th day of the month. But they don’t kill it yet.They were supposed to get the lamb on the 10th day and kill it on the 14th day. With Passover only a few days away, the courtyard was filled, or would be filled the next day, with countless people getting their lambs.
What does this mean for vendors? It means they have dollar signs in their eyes. They probably expect to make more money ripping people off the week before Passover than over many other months combined.
But then what happens? Right when they think they are about to start lining their pockets, Jesus comes in and starts driving out all the vendors. The parallel account in Matthew 21:12 says he overturned their tables and chairs. When Jesus did this three years ago at the beginning of his earthly ministry, John 2:15 says he even made a whip to chase people out. If he did that three years ago, maybe he did it again. There’s biblical precedent for it.
False Teachers Rip Off People Today
We are seeing something here that has happened throughout human history. Religious people have always been some of the most susceptible to being exploited. Greedy people love to exploit them. False teachers are famous for this. They promise that if you give them your money, you will get a blessing, healing, or God’s favor in return.
Jesus hated this sort of exploitation two thousand years ago, and he still hates it today. We may not have shady characters collecting money outside our churches, but we do have them invading our homes through radio, television, and the Internet.
We should remember how Jesus reacted to such selfish thieves: he condemned them and drove them away. We should do the same in our day.
Old Testament Verses Were Quoted Because of Their Context
Luke 19:46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Jesus quoted two Old Testament verses. There is a tendency to think that when an Old Testament verse is quoted in the New Testament, the Old Testament verse’s context doesn’t matter. The Old Testament verse is being quoted because of the way it is worded or because it happens to capture what the person in the New Testament is trying to say.
The problem with this is it would mean the person in the New Testament is violating one of the primary rules of Bible interpretation, which is that we must consider the context of verses when quoting them. The truth is that when Old Testament verses are quoted in the New Testament, they are quoted BECAUSE of their context, and this brings us to lesson two…we will come back to lesson one…
Think of it this way: the quoted verse is only the tip of the iceberg. Everything below the surface is the context. And I would go so far as to say that we must understand the context of any Old Testament verse in the New Testament to fully understand the passage it is quoted in.
“My House Shall Be A House Of Prayer” (Isaiah 56:7)
The title for Isaiah 56 in many Bibles is something like:
- Salvation for the Gentiles
- Salvation for foreigners
- Blessings for all nations
The theme of this chapter is God’s concern for foreigners, or we would say Gentiles:
Isaiah 56:3 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.”
God is saying that the foreigner, or Gentile, should not say that God will keep him separate from God’s people, the Jews. In other words, God wants foreigners, or Gentiles, to know they can join the Jews, which is to say: become part of God’s people.
Isaiah 56:6 “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
Again, God is talking about foreigners, and he says they will be able to join the Lord, minister to him, and serve him. Guess what happens when Gentiles come to the temple to serve the Lord, or minister to him, and Jewish vendors make them feel like everything they are doing is wrong? They feel like they can’t join the Lord, minister to him, or serve him.
Isaiah 56:7 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.”
This is the verse Jesus quoted when cleansing the temple. When God says “these I will bring to my holy mountain,” the “these” are foreigners or Gentiles. God says he will make them joyful in his house of prayer, referring to the temple. We know that because he says, “for my house shall be called a house of prayer.”
Notice God said, “their [referring to Gentiles] burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar.” But the Jewish vendors in the courtyard made the Gentiles believe their animals were not acceptable.
So, do we see how the context for this verse shows us why Jesus quoted it? Not just because it sounded good, but because the context supported him cleansing the temple to protect the Gentiles who were being exploited.
“You Have Made It A Den Of Robbers” (Jeremiah 7:11)
When Jesus wept over Jerusalem I said Jeremiah is a type or picture of Christ, and even Jeremiah’s weeping over Jerusalem was a type or picture of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Jeremiah wept because he knew Babylon would siege Jerusalem, destroy the city, the temple, and slaughter countless Jews. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, because he knew the same thing was going to happen, but instead of Babylon it would be Rome.
Now we get to see one more way Jeremiah serves as a type of Christ:
- Jeremiah cried out against the sinful activity happening at the temple in his day.
- Jesus cried out against the sinful activity happening at the temple in his day.
In Jeremiah 26, the Jews threatened to murder Jeremiah because of this message. That’s how much the religious leaders hated what Jeremiah said here. When we turn to Luke 19, we will see that the message Jesus delivered at the temple also almost got him killed. Just another way Jeremiah prefigures Christ.
Jeremiah 7:1 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.
We get to see how Old Testament prophets got their messages out to the people. They had to go to certain places and preach what God told them to preach. In this account notice:
- where Jeremiah was supposed to go: the gate, or entrance, of the Lord’s house, or of the temple.
- whom Jeremiah was supposed to preach to: people entering the gate, or entering the temple.
Jeremiah is about to start yelling at people going to church. How would you like to be yelled at while you are walking into church? When I think about Jeremiah doing this, two people come to mind. First, John the Baptist when he was yelling at people to repent. Second, the stereotypical crazy street preacher. Being a prophet was not easy.
Look at Jeremiah’s message to them:
Jeremiah 7:3 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.’
The word “amend,” or change, is synonymous with repent. Jeremiah told them to repent, and he says this again in verse 5. The end of the verse is God’s way of saying he won’t rip them out of the land if they repent. But they didn’t, so Babylon came.
Notice the word “trust.” This conveys the strong sense of security the Jews had because of the temple. They thought God would never punish them, because his house was here and they visited it. Basically, they thought simply being religious would save them, like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. They had more of a superstitious view of the temple than a biblical one. The temple became like a rabbit’s foot or good-luck-charm to the people.
We have catchphrases and this was one the Jews used. Jeremiah would preach repentance and judgment, but the people would say, “This is the temple of the Lord.” It’s repeated three times to communicate just how much the people said this.
Jeremiah 7:5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another,
Again, Jeremiah tells them to amend their ways, or repent. They were supposed to execute justice, which is the opposite of what the moneychangers and vendors were doing in the courtyard.
Jeremiah 7:6 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,
They were not to oppress sojourners, or Gentiles, but again, that’s what the courtyard moneychangers and vendors were doing. We don’t have time to read all the verses. Look at Jeremiah 7:11 to see the other verse Jesus quoted when cleansing the temple:
Jeremiah 7:11 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.
A den of thieves was a place thieves went after committing crimes. It was a hideout that allowed them to feel safe and secure. Robbers thought they would avoid punishment because of the den they were hiding in, like the Jews thought they would avoid punishment because of the temple they were hiding in.
Some people still do this today, but with the church, instead of the temple. They believe if they go to church, God would never judge them. But we aren’t saved by going to church. We go to church because we are saved. We are saved by repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus.
Jesus Cleansed the Temple Because He Cared More About Religious Corruption Than Roman Oppression
Over the last few weeks, I have been explaining why the Jews celebrated Jesus at the triumphal entry, but five days later wanted to murder him. Simply put, they misunderstood Old Testament prophecies about him. He was not the Messiah they wanted. They wanted him to deal with Rome, but he dealt with sin and death. If you have any questions about this, please go back and listen to the previous sermons.
If you want to know WHEN the Jews started suspecting that Jesus was not the Messiah they wanted, it probably did not take long. It was probably right after he entered Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. If Jesus was the Messiah the Jews wanted, when he entered Jerusalem:
- He would have attacked Fort Antonia where the Roman army was garrisoned.
- Or he even would have attacked Pilate’s house, because he was the Roman appointed ruler of Israel.
But he did not go after the Romans or any of their buildings or institutions. Instead, he went after the Jews, their building – the temple – and their institution: Judaism. Instead of attacking the Romans, he attacked the religious leaders.
Why was that? Jesus was not concerned about the people’s relationship with Rome. He was concerned about their relationship with God. The biggest issue for Jesus was not Roman occupation. It was religious corruption. And not just any religious corruption: the religious corruption among his people.
If Jesus wanted to destroy all religious corruption, he didn’t have to go into Jerusalem. The Romans were as pagan and idolatrous as you could get. He went into Jerusalem because he wanted to deal with the corruption he saw among God’s people. It makes me think of:
1 Peter 4:17 It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.
Jesus went into the church in his day and he cleaned house.
Jesus Cleansed the Temple and Then Remained in the Heart of Enemy Territory
How do you think the Jews felt about Jesus ruining their big payday? They want to murder him even more. Look at the next verse:
Luke 19:47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him,
Luke 16:14 says the Pharisees were lovers of money. They already hated Jesus. You can imagine how much more they hated him after he ruined their profitable temple business. Jesus knew how much he they wanted to murder him, but he stayed in the temple teaching anyway.
War movies have good guys and bad guys. The bad guys want to kill the good guys, but the good guys keep moving closer to enemy territory. Often there is one moment the good guys enter enemy territory. The good guys were in danger before, but when they enter enemy territory, they reach another level of danger.
It’s like Jesus is the good guy who has been fighting the bad guys: the religious leaders. They have been trying to kill him, but he kept moving closer to enemy territory. We could say that Jesus has been doing that since Luke 9:51 “when the days drew near for him to be taken up, [and] he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Now Jesus has entered enemy territory. When he remained in the temple, he remained in the heart of enemy territory. He was in danger before, but now it has reached another level.
Was Jesus Really in More Danger When He Remained in the Temple?
Now I need to contradict myself. I would say he was not in more danger:
Luke 19:48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.
This describes how things look physically: the religious leaders couldn’t do anything because so many people surrounded Jesus. But if you look at it spiritually, they could not do anything because his time had not yet come. It was close, but it was not a hand.
A few weeks ago I preached a sermon about the course that Jesus was on. He followed the divine timeline that God the Father set for him. That meant doing everything his Father wanted him to do, when he wanted him to do it, not a moment earlier or later…including going to the cross. The truth is the religious leaders wanted to murder Jesus, but they couldn’t, not because of the crowds, but because it wasn’t God the Father’s plan for them to do so yet.
God the Father Was Always in Control
We are getting closer to Jesus’ crucifixion. It is going to repeatedly look like man is getting the upper hand, but I want you to know God is sovereign:
Acts 4:27 Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,
This is an interesting verse, because it seems to describe everyone involved with the crucifixion: Herod, Pilate, Gentiles, and the Jews. There’s nobody left on the face of the earth that doesn’t fit into one of these groups. But the next verse says something wonderful:
Acts 4:28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
All these people did was fulfill God’s plan.
Isaiah 53:10 It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt.
This verse goes to great lengths to show who was in charge of Jesus’ death: The Lord [crushed] him, he put him to grief, he [made] his soul an offering for guilt. Jesus wasn’t the victim of circumstance. He wasn’t caught by jealous, greedy religious leaders. Everything that happened to Jesus was part of a planned, orchestrated event by the Father, because God loves you and he wants a relationship with you. God was even willing to punish his Son for your sins, so he would not have to punish you. What is required of us is repenting of those sins and believing.