Thoughts from Matthew 21…
This is a popular scene in art and literature. Jesus came to the temple, turned over the merchant tables, spilled the money boxes, and chased away the animals! People love to see how He reacted violently against the hypocrites of His day!
There are actually two parts to this passage in Matthew. The scene opens with the familiar scene of Jesus cleansing the temple. He threw out the corrupt money-changers and animal sellers and took possession of the temple. For two days, He stopped commerce through the temple property and restored it to its place of worship, prayer, and teaching.
Jesus had cleansed the temple one time before. Exactly three years earlier, He had also entered the temple during Passover and drove out the animals and the money-changers. As shown in the study here, Jesus had dramatically entered the temple at the start of His ministry, showing that He was the coming Messiah by coming suddenly and purifying the temple (see Malachi 3:1-2). But now, three years have passed, and Jesus is at the conclusion of His earthly ministry. He cleansed the temple one final time to show what temple worship will be like under the rule of the Messiah.a b
The second part of this passage is a contrast among those who heard Him. The blind and the lame came to Him to be healed and the children sang His praises. But the religious leaders — those who should have known the most about Him — were indignant! How dare the people praise this man! Instead of listening to Him, they started plotting His destruction.
The priests should have been leading the worship of their coming King. The scribes had spent their lives studying God’s word, and should have been the first to identify their Promised Messiah. The city leaders should have been directing the people in recognizing their coming Lord. But instead, they were too caught up in their own agendas. Instead of coming to the One God as He walked on the earth, they chose to be His enemy and made plans to destroy Him.
The Bible talks often about the danger of “hardening your hearts” (see here). Every time we refuse God, or say “No” to Him, we lose some of our sensitivity toward Him. Like a slowly drying glue, each step away from Him makes us less able hear Him and to listen for His voice. We no longer care about what God wants as we fixate on our own agendas.
The priests and scribes had hardened themselves to the point that they had drawn clear battle lines against Jesus Christ. As their actions unfold across the next few days, they show the absolute worst of cruelty, ignorance, and bottomless wickedness. These are the ones who will ultimately contrive to betray, arrest, torture, and execute the Lord Jesus Christ.
But the failure for these men happened long before this scene. As they learned about Jesus Christ and heard His claims, they were confronted with the truth. Every single one of them had a choice — would they believe Him, or would they hold on to their sin and reject Him? There were a few who chose to believe (see here), but most of them refused. They never doubted His signs and miracles, but they would never accept Him as their Lord.
It is easy to despise these wicked men from the Bible, but we must be careful that we don’t have the same hardness in our own hearts. Each one of us is given the same choice — will we believe His words and obey Him as our Lord, or will we stubbornly shake our heads and explain Him away? God will not continue to call us when we refuse Him, and each rejection brings us down the same path as these priests and scribes of Jesus’ day. These men knew their Bibles, were deeply religious, but were planning to kill the Son of God! May we listen to Him and obey Him when He calls!
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
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