On the day following Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem He went to the temple. There he found a veritable marketplace of corruption. Worshipers were required to pay an annual temple tax, but those taxes paid in the temple itself had to be made using the correct currency. Foreign currency would not work, only Jewish shekels. So money changers profited by charging exorbitant exchange rates.
The requirements of Jewish law held that those who came for the Passover had to have acceptable sacrifices. For those who could afford it, that meant lambs. For those not able to afford a lamb, doves were deemed to be an acceptable alternative (Leviticus 5: 7). But the judgement of acceptability was not left to the owner, but rather to officials in the temple. With a buck to be turned, it was not surprising that virtually any offerings not purchased in the temple precincts were found to be unacceptable. But not to worry, for a price, a better sacrifice could be purchased on the spot.
All of this was taking place in the courts of the temple. The house of prayer had become a den of thieves. But to make matters even worse, this illicit commerce was conducted in an area of stalls called “the Bazaars of Annas,” which were the personal property of the family of the high priest. The temple itself was being defiled by the very man charged with preserving its integrity. Jesus reaction to all of this is the favored proof texts that people use to describe His “righteous anger” as he turned over tables and drove out the money changers and those selling doves.
The temple where Jesus displayed this anger no longer stands, so the corruption described in the synoptic Gospels is no longer present…except in us, the modern day temple! According to scripture, (1 Cor. 6: 19) we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. While we may not be literally charging usurious exchange rates, or selling marked-up lambs and doves, we still allow that which has no place in God’s modern-day temple, to cohabit. Or at least I do. Greed, lusts, envies, anger, unforgiveness. Shall I go on?
In the course of looking over the three Gospel accounts of Jesus clearing the temple, it struck me that John did not record this event as being a part of Jesus’ final week. Instead, John records another occasion when Jesus cleared the temple of the same kind of activity that we see in the other three Gospels as having taken place the day after his triumphal entry. In fact, John’s account shows it took place nearly three years earlier, following the wedding in Cana, wherein, He first displayed his glory (John 2: 11) and his public ministry commenced. I think it is interesting that he had to clear the temple two times in the span of only 3 years.
In some ways, we are no different than the money changers and those selling doves. We too are prone to regress. We revert to old habits and ways of thinking and unregenerate behavior. Hopefully those inclinations decreases as our sanctification advances. But this side of glory, we will continue to struggle with our humanity. As I study these passages, I am reminded that we need to invite the gentle correction of the Holy Spirit to examine our temples and help us clear out our modern day moneychangers. We should to do this, regularly and often, before our Lord finds it necessary to fashion a “scourge of cords” in order to rid His temple of that which ought not be there.