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encouragement theology

Don’t Ignore Him!

Model of the Temple in Jerusalem, from Wikimedia Commons

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!

Hebrews 3:12-13
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.

Previous post:  The King Has Come!


Matthew 21:12-17
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”

And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Mark 11:15-19
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and 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. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And 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.” And 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. And when evening came they went out of the city.

Luke 19:45-48
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

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, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.


Matthew 21:12-13
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

Mark 11:15,17
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and 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. And 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.”

Luke 19:45-46
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

This is Tuesday of Passion Week. Jesus had spent the previous day riding into town on a donkey, to the praise and adulation of the massive crowd (see here). It is the Passover season and the population of Jerusalem had swelled to almost two million. But now, on the second day, Jesus came to take possession of the temple. 

The outer courts had become a maze of extortion and usery, as the corrupt priests made fortunes off the Passover pilgrims. Though the devout worshippers chafed under the rigorous restrictions set by the priests, they had no choice but to comply as they were forced to exchange their local money for approved currency (minus the exchange fee, of course), and to trade their animals for approved sacrifice material (for a trading fee, of course). 

Therefore, the people would have applauded Jesus as He drove out the money changers and the animals from the outer courts of the temple. Not only did He drive out the corruption, but we see below that He also took possession of the temple for the next two days! No longer were they allowed to use the temple for business and transportation — it was only to be used for God and His worship!

“The court of the Gentiles was used for mercenary business, not missionary business. … Instead of praying for the people, the priests were preying on the people!” – Warren Wiersbe4 6

Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:11 (“My house shall be called a house of prayer,”) and Jeremiah 7:11 (“you make it a den of robbers”) as he drove out the merchants from the temple. 

Matthew 21:14
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.

Mark 11:16
And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

Luke 19:47a
And he was teaching daily in the temple.

Jesus then took possession of the temple for the next two days, not even allowing anyone to carry anything through the temple. The temple grounds took up a large section of Jerusalem real estate, so it had become a common shortcut for travelers and businessmen to cut through the temple as they crossed the city.

Matthew 21:15-16
But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”

Mark 11:18
And 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.

Luke 19:47b-48
The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.

The contrast is the most evident in Matthew’s account, where we see the children praising Him while the priests and scribes were indignant. It is interesting to note that the religious leaders were unified in their opposition to Jesus Christ at this time. The scribes and the priests would normally be enemies, as the scribes often sided with the law-keeping Pharisees, while the priests were Sadducees (see here). 

This final act by Jesus served to unify the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees against Jesus Christ. They already wanted to destroy him but had been divided by their own rivalries. Now, with this final cleansing and possession of the temple, these fighting religious factions put away their differences for a common hatred against Jesus Christ. These men comprised the majority of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body in Jerusalem.11 It would be less than a week before they found a way to have Him killed.

“It rang through the courts and porches of the Temple, this Children’s Hosanna. They heard it, whom the wonders He had spoken and done, so far from leading to repentance and faith, had only filled with indignation.” – Alfred Edersheim7

Matthew 21:17
And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Mark 11:19
And when evening came they went out of the city.

Jesus spent the days in Jerusalem, but he left to spend the nights in Bethany.2 He may have stayed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, or possibly at the home of Simon the Leper (see Luke 10:38, Matthew 26:6).


References

[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 21:12-17, pages 242-244

[2] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 21, The King in Jerusalem

[3] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Address 66, Welcoming the King, Luke 19:28-48

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 21:12-16, pages 62-63

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Mark 11:15-19, page 122

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 19:45-48, page 205

[7] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book V, CHAPTER II: THE SECOND DAY IN PASSION-WEEK, THE BARREN FIG-TREE, THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE, THE HOSANNA OF THE CHILDREN (St. Matt. 21: 12-22; St. Mark 11: 15-26; St. Luke 19: 45-48.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.x.ii.html

[8] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 12, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/30-the-fig-tree-and-the-second-temple-cleansing.html

[9] John MacArthur, Purging the Perverted Temple, Matthew 21:12-17, Nov 13, 1983

[10] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Matthew 21:12-17, pages 1163-1164

[11] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Mark 11:15-18, pages 1236-1237

[12] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Luke 19:45-48, pages 1320-1321

[13] D.A. Carson, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Zondervan, 2010, Matthew 21:12-17


Notes

[a] John’s Gospel account records the first cleansing (John 2:13-22), while Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the second cleansing (Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-58). On both occasions, Jesus entered the outer court of the temple (the Court of the Gentiles), overturned the tables of money-changers, and drove out the merchants and animals. Some of the differences between the first cleansing and the second cleansing :

  • Jesus used a “whip of cords” in the first cleansing; we have no recorded whip in the second cleansing.
  • The recorded rebuke in the first cleansing was “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:16); in the second cleansing it was “My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46).
  • Jesus was immediately accosted by the Jewish leaders in the first cleansing, demanding a sign (John 2:18-19). He responded with, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus was not immediately challenged in the second cleansing.
  • Jesus did not stay in the temple after the first cleansing; He possessed the temple for two days after the second cleansing.

The first temple is discussed in more detail in the study on John 2 here.

[b] Jesus’ ministry lasted for approximately 3 ½ years, covering four Passovers. We determine the Passovers based on the following:

  • The first Passover is recorded in John 2:13
  • The second Passover is not recorded in Scripture. John 4:35 indicates that Jesus passed through Samaria during harvest time (September-October). John 5 records a time when Jesus returned to Jerusalem for an unidentified feast (John 5:1). While we cannot identify the specific timeframe of the feast of John 5, most Bible Scholars expect that it was either Passover or the Feast of Booths (see John 7:2-3). These were the two most popular celebrations in Jerusalem, and both would require devout Jews to make pilgrimages to the temple. If the feast John 5 was Passover, then this would be the second Passover in Jesus’ ministry. If it was the Feast of Booths — during harvest — then a year would have elapsed since the visit to Samaria in John 4 (the previous harvest).
  • The third Passover is recorded in John 6:4
  • The fourth Passover is recorded in John 11:55

He cleansed the temple in the first and final Passovers, but was silent during the two celebrations in-between. We can only speculate on why Jesus chose to cleanse the temple during the first and final Passovers and not in-between. However, the following points are clear:

  • We don’t have any indication that Jesus was in Jerusalem during the second and third Passover celebrations. On the contrary, the events of John 6 indicate that Jesus remained in Galilee during the third Passover.
  • Jesus’ objective was never to dismantle the High Priest’s corruption and reform the temple during these cleansings. He did not come for social reform but to present Himself as King. 
  • The first cleansing was a platform for Him to publicly show Himself as King as well as to gain an immediate following among the devout Jews, who had been chafing under the priests’ corruption in the Temple. 
  • The final cleansing galvanized the hatred and fury of the Jewish leadership, especially the Sadducees who profited from the temple merchants. This anger allowed them to unite against Jesus and to bring Him to the cross by Friday.
  • The final cleansing also allowed Him to possess the temple for Monday-Tuesday of the Passion Week. This gave Him the setting to challenge the religious leaders in their hypocrisy (Matthew 22-23) and to confront the Jewish people with a final choice: they must either choose Jesus Christ or the religious status quo. By Friday morning, the people had chosen their leaders and rejected Jesus Christ (Matthew 27:21-23). 

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