Jesus’ Passion Week Temple Cleansing

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mt 21; Mk 11; Lk 19; Jn 12), was met by a happy, festive, Passover week crowd. The time of their visitation from God had come to them (Lk 19:44). The religious leaders did not share in the jubilation spirit, and things quickly downgraded as soon as Jesus entered the Temple Mount (Mt 21:12–17; Mk 11:15–18; Lk 19:45–48).

The Temple, in Jesus’ judgment, had become an unacceptable marketplace. Modern day excavations around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, especially along the Western Wall, facing the Central Valley, have uncovered permanent market stalls. They prove market activity immediately outside the Temple Mount. The Temple area was a great place to do business, but most believe the business activity had crept inside.

Early in Jesus’ public ministry, He had cleansed the Temple of the moneychangers (Jn 2:14–15). These were currency traders who would take the foreign money of pilgrims and exchange it into shekels (Mt 21:12a). They would then take the worshipers’ shekels for the purchase of animal sacrifices (Mt 21:12b). In this way, pilgrims did not have to travel with their own animals for their various offerings. It was simply an easier, more efficient way to meet the requirement of the Law of Moses, regarding offerings in the Temple. Men love shortcuts to obeying God, but God is not impressed with their clever ways.

Jesus’ charge on this Passion Week cleansing of the Temple was, “It is written (in Isaiah 56:7), ‘My House shall be called a House of Prayer; but you are making it a robbers’ den (Mt 21:13).’” Was it the fact the traders were inside the Temple precincts, or was it that Jesus knew they were swindling the worshipers with an unbalanced measurement? The implication of skulduggery from the text suggests they were stealing from the people through arbitrage and price gouging.

God had entered His house and found it out of compliance to His standard of holiness. Before we move along and consider what Jesus did next, let us think about Christ’s church, the Israel of God (Gal 6:16). The church, comprised of living stones (1 Pet 2:6), with Christ as its Cornerstone (Is 28:16; 1 Pet 2:5), is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (Eph 2:20–22). Paul inquired of the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are the Temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (1 Cor 3:16)?”

We must daily sweep out the leaven of unrighteousness, the sin that so easily entangles us, which is always crouching at the door of our hearts. It is the Spirit of Christ, taking the “wet” broom of the Word, and washing us with the water of the Word (Eph 5:26).

Sanctification is the will of God for Christians (1 Thess 4:3), and Jesus prayed for our sanctification (Jn 17:17). We need the truth, so we do not become liberal Sadducees, who managed the market business in the Temple. The Spirit of truth (Jn 16:13) is our sanctifier (Rom 15:16; 1 Thess 5:23; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2), who manifests holiness in us (1 Pet 1:16), by fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:2), and focusing our minds on things above (Col 3:2), where He is seated at the right hand of majesty (Ps 110:1; Heb 1:3; 8:1), and we have our place with Him (Eph 2:6).

Each living stone, filled with the Spirit of the living God, gathers into the church “building” and is fitted into its place of service. A crumbling brick weakens a wall, like a backsliding Christian weakens the church. The context suggests buying and selling was problematic. The implication is an internal, idolatrous distraction. Robbers are greedy and greed is idolatry (Col 3:5).

We must choose how far we will take the interpretation. Do we prohibit the buying and selling of Girl Scout cookies on Sunday morning? Do we disallow the buying and selling of caramel lattes? Do we preclude the buying and selling of Christian books? Should we restrict these activities on Sunday morning but allow them on Wednesday nights?

The conflict here revolves around the loss of spiritual life, intended for the benefit of community life. If we viewed Temple activity from God’s perspective, our objective would be purity in approach and practice. The Old Testament informs us about proper worship with a typological perspective. We desire a holy Temple, free from defilement, because this is what Yahweh has revealed is His will and law. We must remember the gracious access we have to God through the mediation of Christ (1 Tim 2:5). God’s design is a place for the corporate practice of spiritual disciplines in worship of God. Market activity simply serves as a distraction from the spiritual activity, intended to be a means of grace.

In Jesus’ day, people came to the temple to pray, and what they experienced was a zoo. High churches, today, certainly preserve the dignity of solemn worship better than evangelical low churches. There are extremes. We must not make God unapproachable in our worship environment and experience, and at the same time we must not facilitate a slap-happy irreverence.

Prayer in American churches is far different than prayer in African churches. This, too, can be a point of confusion. Following the high church European model, the American church has made prayer a silent exercise requiring silence on the part of those who are praying.

In Africa, prayer is a Pentecostal frenzy (Western observer’s perspective), where everyone finds their space to walk and earnestly shouts to the Lord in prayer. Which is correct? Are they both correct? From my viewpoint, in both experiences, God is the sole object of the worshiper’s communication. There is no distraction once one becomes familiar and comfortable with the practice of the other. “Be still” is complemented by, “make a joyful noise” to know and celebrate God. God loves the prayers of His people.

The glory of the church is the Spirit within her. There is room for tears of confession and repentance via conviction of sin. There is a space for much thanksgiving for everything. There is time to consider the attributes and excellent works of God, who is worthy of our adoration. There is a place for pleading with God for His gracious deliverance from all the plagues and scourges of the day. The dignity of the house of God can hold diverse demeanors, so long as they are expressed with focused reverence.

After turning over the tables of the money changers, Jesus healed the blind and the lame within the Jerusalem Temple (Mt 21:14). This act of Jesus is significant: first, because it was a miraculous display of the power of God in the house of God; second, it is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. 6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy (Is 35:5–6a).” Jesus had done these miracles in Jerusalem outside of the Temple (John 5: Lame man at Bethesda; John 9: Man born blind); but Jesus had once again heightened the stakes, regarding His obvious identity. He was now inside the Temple, performing Messianic miracles, in the house of God, for the first time in His ministry.

The children were not ashamed of Jesus, and “the wonderful things that He had done (Mt 21:15).” They were shouting praise to the Healer, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Once again, the religious leaders were beside themselves. They rebuked Jesus, again, “Do You hear what these children are saying (Mt 21:16)?” The crescendo of praise had reached its climax. Jesus was home in house of God, and the children glorified Him.

When Jesus was fighting the devil, the demons, and human enemies, He quoted Scripture. In this case, Psalm 8:2 was employed in Jesus’ defense for permitting the praise of children to come to Him, as Messiah, “From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease (Ps 8:2).” Out of the mouth of these children came the praise of Jesus that would shut the mouths of His adversaries.

Suffer the little children to come to Jesus because they have a faith in Jesus that can shame the wisdom of the wise. Jesus is Lord, and the children who come near to Him know it. May this be a reminder to us to train up our children in the Way, so they might not deviate from it when they are older (Prv 22:6). May we be faithful to speak of Jesus to our children when they rise up, when they eat, when in the way, and when they lie down (Dt 6:7).

The chief priests and the scribes were afraid of Jesus (Mk 12:18). Prophets do not make friends easily, even though they are the best of friends. The wounds of the Friend of sinners are faithful. The religious leaders were not humbled by sin, nor convicted by Jesus’ use of the Word of God, and at this point, His destruction was all they could think about. The religious leaders hardened their hearts.

Who can compete against the Word of truth? Jesus is the Word of God, but we must rely on the Spirit of God to bring to remembrance the Word of Christ. The Word of God, the sword of the Spirit must be wielded daily for increased proficiency. Jesus engaged people with an apt Word spoken in season. It is spiritual warfare designed to set free the captives of sin (Is 61:1; Jn 8:32; Eph 6:12).

If we love people, we feed them with the Word of life, so they might taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8). How much of your communication is speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15)? Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word preached (Rom 10:17). Are you not sent to your divine appointments with others to preach good news? What else is there? Gossip, slander, rumor, innuendo, lies, deceit, cursing, and then you go to church and bless God?

Jesus’ naysayers could not find imperfection. There was no chink in Jesus’ spiritual armor. They were fighting the divine warrior, and they did not recognize Him in His own house. They were fighting against the very God they claimed to serve. Jesus warned His disciples about these worldly religious enemies, who had no love for God in their hearts, “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God (Jn 16:2).” The irony of this scene would be utterly comical if it were not so tragic for them.

Jesus cleaned the house of God, so it could be a place of healing and communion. He removed the spirit of the world, the spirit of the age, by confronting the corrupt Temple capitalists. His argument points us back to the study of the Old Testament and the holiness requirements for right worship of Yahweh.

Together, filled with the Holy Spirit, we must remain vigilant to maintain God’s house of prayer and worship in sparkling spiritual condition. We must remain unstained by the world, actively avoiding conformity to the world (1 Jn 2:15–17). There is nothing like the Word of God, in the powerful prowess of the Holy Spirit, to clean up the people of God and even our worship of God.

David Norczyk

Spokane Valley, Washington

March 16, 2021

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher