Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’ temple action’

This is really a three-part sermon. My aim is to get to Mark 11:22-25, a very profound and rich teaching on prayer. But to understand these verses we need to understand the context in which they come, that is, after two stories that signify the end of the temple, God’s house of prayer.

So today we look at the first of these stories, when Jesus made a scene in the temple, found in Mark 11:15-19. And the plan is next week to look at the second one, the cursing of the fig tree, which comes right before and after this temple story. And then we will look at prayer in vs. 22-25.

We begin with –

Jesus’ prophetic act in the temple

– which is a sign of the temple’s destruction. “15And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple . . .” During his final week, Jesus and his disciples stayed at night in Bethany, and then went into the city during the day. His destination on this day was the temple in Jerusalem.

The temple consisted of the main building with a court just around it for Israelite men, and then beyond this a court for Israelite women and then beyond this, a court for the Gentiles. The latter court is where our story takes place. The entire temple mount complex was 35 acres of land, most of which was the court of the Gentiles.

“. . . and [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. 16And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” So in this huge area 1) Animals were being sold for sacrifice. The phrase, “those who sold and those who bought” probably has reference to various sacrificial animals (John 2:14). Those who sold pigeons are specifically mentioned. These were usually sacrifices for the poor.

2. Money was being exchanged to pay the temple tax (Exodus 30:13-16). Every adult male had to do this once a year. This is what supported the temple system. And as a part of this you had to exchange your foreign currency into the acceptable currency for the temple in that day (the Tyrian shekel, made of silver).

So this would have been really a large middle eastern bazaar/ marketplace with people making deals on animals and advertising various exchange rates for the temple tax. It would have been chaotic at a normal time of year, but with all the pilgrims in the city to celebrate Passover it must have been quite a site. According to one record, in 66 AD, just 36 years after this a quarter of a million lambs were sacrificed for Passover. That’s a lot of business going on.

Now given the size of the court of the Gentiles, and the fact that the Roman or Temple soldiers didn’t get involved, what Jesus did must have been fairly small-scale and symbolic. But this is all he needed. He brought that particular part of the temple to a standstill. People couldn’t get their sacrifices, and by turning over the money tables, the system of temple support was stopped. And Mark also tells us that “he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” – v. 16.

In the area of the court of the Gentiles that he was in he brought everything to a halt. His point is to symbolize that soon all of this will stop. There will be no temple and thus no need for sacrifices and no need for a temple tax system. So his action here is a foreshadowing of the destruction of the temple. Something he explicitly predicts in other places (e.g. Mark 13:2). But here we are dealing with prophetic symbolism.

Jesus’ explanation. “17And he was teaching them and saying 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 den of robbers.’”

First he quotes Isaiah 56:7 – “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” This text points out the purpose of the temple, offering up prayers to God. Jesus knew that it was necessary that sacrifices be bought and sold and that money be exchanged to pay taxes for the temple to work. But he strongly objects to this taking place in the temple precincts. And there is some evidence that this was a new practice. This was an inappropriate use of the temple and no doubt would have hindered those seeking to pray and worship, especially Gentiles since this was going on in their court.

The phrase “den of robbers” comes from Jeremiah 7:11. In this passage, Jeremiah is predicting the destruction of the first temple because of the sin of the people. They thought that just because they had a temple and came to it that they would be safe. This is why the phrase “den of robbers” or “criminals” was used. The temple was full of people who were criminals against God and others, using it for shelter as it were. Jesus is likening the people of his day to the unfaithful generation of Jeremiah’s day.

Jesus takes these two verses and sets up a contrast: The temple is supposed to be a house of prayer but it has become a safe-house for criminals – a place where people who don’t do God’s will gather. And their treating the temple like a marketplace is one indicator of their sin.

[Is Jesus also talking about economic exploitation – too much money being charged for sacrifices, too high of an exchange rate on the money? These things did take place and were complained about. But in Jeremiah the “den of robbers” doesn’t focus on economic exploitation, but on various evils – stealing, murder, adultery and idol worship. Also, Jesus is speaking not just to the sellers, but also to the buyers.]

[It is possible that Zechariah 14:21 is behind Jesus’ temple action. Isaiah 56:7 speaks specifically of what the temple is to be, future tense. Zechariah mentions also that “there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of Hosts on that day.” Perhaps when Jesus came to Jerusalem the problem is that they do not recognize the time of their visitation by the Messiah – Luke 19:41-44 (spoken just before the temple demonstration). The leaders in Jerusalem did not receive him. And so they did not act in accordance with the prophecy of Zechariah. It is a sign of their rejection of his Messianic claims.]

The reaction of the authorities to all this was to come up with a plan for Jesus’ destruction. Notice the symmetry. He indicates that the temple will be destroyed, and they plan to destroy him. “18And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.”

They most likely would have understood his symbolic action. And they would certainly have understood his criticism of them since they would have authorized the commercialization of the temple. And they would have understood his reference to Jeremiah 7:11 as an indicator that judgment and destruction was coming on the temple. And so they are afraid that he might win over the crowd so that they turn on them.

Their solution was to find a way to murder him, thus confirming Jesus’ estimation of them also as “robbers” or criminals.

“19And when evening came they went out of the city.” Jesus and his disciples went quietly back to Bethany for the night.

This was a very dramatic, high-charged encounter between Jesus and the temple authorities. And it is certainly a key part of why Jesus was eventually arrested and killed by them. And Jesus knew this going in.

Let’s end by looking at –

Some things we learn from this story

I would highlight two things for now. 1. The dire consequences of sin. I think it is hard for us to understand the importance of the temple. We live in a day and place where temples like this don’t exist anymore. But this was not only an astounding building complex, renowned in the ancient world, it had God’s name on it, and was at the center of the faith and life of the people of God.

Yet despite this, and its value, because of the sin of the people it will be destroyed. Just as before, when the first temple was destroyed – despite the people believing that God would never do that – Jesus is saying, it will happen again. And sure enough within a generation of this, this temple was destroyed by the Romans.

God doesn’t say, “well they have rebelled against me and sinned, but I won’t do anything because the consequences would be too devastating. No. Even though it causes great disruption, pain, suffering, chaos damage to the people of God, and damage to God’s name – we will reap what we sow, and our sin will find us out, and we will be judged. Don’t think that God will not act just to spare you, or his people these things.

2. Jesus’ great authority is demonstrated in this story. Again, the temple was the absolute center of the life of the people. It was the place where God’s presence was made known and where people could come to maintain their relationship with God.

And, although he quotes the Scriptures regarding the destruction of the first temple, it is he himself who gives the verdict that this temple will be destroyed. Not a thus says the Lord, not a fulfillment of prophesy, but this is what I say. He saw the sin and pronounced the judgment.

Just after this, the priests asked him, “by what authority are you doing these things?” Mark 11:28. Well, the answer is by the authority that he has God’s Son. He has authority over all things, including whether the temple survives or not.

Next time we will look at the cursing of the fig tree and New Testament teaching on the new temple.

William Higgins

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