20: The Cleansing Of The Temple
It was again time for the Passover feast. The people of God came streaming from all directions along sunny roads toward Jerusalem singing songs of praise. Jews even came from such faraway areas as Egypt, Greece and Asia Minor. They entered the city's gates rejoicing and hurried happily through the streets until they reached the temple, their destination. For months they had yearned to be in God's house.
When they passed through the temple gate and stood in the outer court, they found themselves in the midst of a tumult as boisterous as a marketplace. Cattle and sheep stood tied together in rows. Doves fluttered and flapped their wings in baskets. Everywhere merchants noisily extolled their sacrificial animals. Moneychangers sat near tables which were piled high with glistening coins. These moneychangers were tricky, greedy men who exchanged the heathen money of the visitors for holy Jewish shekels.
The house of God? A holy place? The ground was filthy, and the air was filled with bleating, lowing, shouting and cursing. The racket beat against the temple walls. The pious had to pass through this tumult on their way to worship God.
The people were used to this scene. They were so used to it that they almost thought it was proper. The priests saw what was going on, but did nothing to stop it. After all, the people could hardly be expected to take their own sacrificial animals from home. Here they could buy good, sound animals without a blemish for sacrifices. Wasn't that a worthy service? How could Jews from faraway lands buy animals for sacrifices if there were no money-changers?
Every Jew had to put half a shekel in the offering box every year. The priests could not allow heathen Roman coins with an image of the emperor or of some idol—among the holy temple treasures. Moreover, great profits could be made by selling the sacrificial animals and exchanging money. Therefore the priests were happy to allow the noise of commerce to disturb the peace of God's house. They saw it as a benefit.
Jesus came with the pious people from Galilee for the Passover. He came every year. When He entered the outer court of the temple, He was not surprised at what He saw. It had always been this way. For eighteen years He had watched as His Father's house was profaned. It had always pained Him, but He had suffered in silence. Now, since He had begun His work, He could tolerate it no longer. Now His hour had come.
He knotted a couple of ropes together to make a whip. Holy wrath blazed in His eyes. He walked among the frightened merchants with His whip. He cut a frightening, awesome figure as He stood before them and ordered them out.
Unwillingly they yielded to His amazing power. They grumbled, but no one dared to disobey. He drove them all out of the temple, along with their sheep and cattle. He overturned the money-changers' tables and scattered their coins over the floor. To those who sold doves He said, "Get all that stuff out of here. You are not to turn My Father's house into a marketplace."
Every last one of them left. They were gripped by a mysterious fear of the man who addressed them as if He were their king.
At last, it was quiet in the outer court of the temple. The people stood staring silently at the mighty stranger, wondering who He was. He seemed more powerful than anyone they had ever met.
The priests, who had observed the whole scene, approached Him as a group. They were hesitant and afraid, but there was pride and defiance in their eyes. They were not about to buckle under to Him.
What did that Galilean want? Where did He get the nerve to give orders around here? Weren't they the masters of the temple?
Indignantly they asked Him, "Who gives You the right to chase those merchants away? If You are a prophet, then give us a sign. What miracle can You perform to show us that You have the right to act this way?"
Jesus looked at them and read the hatred in their eyes. That hatred would grow so great that they would kill Him one day. Did they want to know who He was? Did they want to see a miracle? The greatest miracle possible on earth would happen right in this city. Here He would triumph over death. Here He would arise from the grave three days after He died. Then they would know who He was.
Jesus said to them, "Break down this temple, and within three days I will build it up again."
They did not understand that He was talking about His body. His holy body was also a temple, filled with the Holy Spirit. They looked up at the immense walls of God's house, against which the sun shone brightly, and laughed scornfully. "It took 46 years to build this temple," they said. "You mean to say that You will rebuild it in three days?"
Although Jesus' disciples did not understand these strange words, they did not join the laughter. They knew that every word spoken by their Master was truth. They stored His statement in their minds. Later, when He had arisen from the grave, it came back to them.
The disciples believed in Jesus.
Many others who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover also believed, for the Savior performed miracles before their eyes. The sick were healed and cripples were helped. No one who came with his suffering to Jesus went away disappointed.
The priests and scribes who had asked for a miracle wanted nothing to do with Jesus. Their proud hearts were already blinded by hatred and unbelief.