Summary: Who is Jesus? Was He just a man. Or was He a myth? Or is He the Divine Christ?
By What Authority?
Luke has just given extensive coverage of the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday. (See sermon: “It’s My Party, and I’ll Cry if I Want To”) So why does Luke give only one verse to the cleansing of the Temple when Matthew and especially Mark give extensive coverage? And if the Temple Cleansing in John 2 is the same as the one in the other gospels, all of the other evangelists consider the importance of the cleansing of the Temple. We do know from the first chapter of Luke that he consulted other accounts of Jesus’ life, and most scholars consider one of these sources to be the Gospel of Mark.
We must understand that the writers of Holy Writ did not write of their own initiative but were moved by the Holy Spirit. And Luke talks about the Person and work of the Holy Spirit extensively in the gospel and Acts. So when we say why did Luke choose to summarize the cleansing, we would be better to ask, “Why did the Holy Spirit direct Luke in such matter? We do know the Spirit uses human personalities in the writing of Scripture. The Gospels then provide independent witnesses of the life of Jesus. So in them, we are given four portraits of Jesus. It takes more than a single picture to describe who Jesus is. So the gospels present Jesus from slightly different emphases to provide us a richer biography of Jesus.
In a sense, the gospels also fulfill the role of witness. The Law required that testimony be established by at least two or three witnesses. If multiple witnesses of an event were to give verbatim testimony, then any rational person would conclude that the testimony was invalid because it was rehearsed. Because the testimony is identical, then it really is one witness and not the two or three required. What is important about testimony is that the witnesses agree on the major details, while at the same time showing their independence by including different details. So with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see three similar portraits of Jesus with the expected personal details which makes for valid testimony. There is unity in the essentials, and diversity in minor details and emphases. John does vary quite a bit more that the other three, but presents much rich detail about Jesus. One could consider John to be the Paul Harvey of the gospels “The rest of the story”.
So if the other writers give more attention to the act of cleansing, what is Luke trying to emphasize here in the passage? We must look at the context here for the clue. Luke is the only gospel which tells about Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem and its upcoming destruction because they refused to receive Him. So Jesus comes to the Temple as already having been rejected. Luke shows us that the cheering crowds on Palm Sunday were clueless to the mission of the Messiah. They waved the palm branches of political deliverance from Rome. The Pharisees give proof of this by asking Jesus to silence the crowds. When the crowd realizes that Jesus has a different agenda than theirs, they ask for Barabbas instead and shout for the crucifixion of Jesus.
After the brief account of the cleansing of the Temple, Luke mentions that Jesus taught daily in the Temple. In other words, Jesus was demonstrating the real purpose of the Temple. The people needed to be properly instructed in the ways of God. This is emphasized more than the sacrificial cultus there. The Pharisees had the same idea as Jesus in this matter. They were at odds with the Sadducees and even at one point had supported opposite sides in a way between the Selucids and Ptolemys. They saw the synagogue as the place to teach the Law to enlighten the common people. They like Jesus saw the priesthood as absolutely corrupt. They probably would not have minded much about the cleansing of the Temple. Of course, the Sadducees would be outraged and want Jesus’ head.
But what the Pharisees could not accept about Him was His teaching. Jesus had castigated the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees from the beginning like John the Baptist had before Him. The common people who heard the Sermon on the Mount were amazed at Jesus’ authority. It was superior to that of the Scribes and Pharisees. So jealousy added to their indignation.
So we see an unusual partnership of enemies rise up about Jesus. The Sadducean priesthood came against Jesus for His visceral attack on the Temple, which was a direct challenge to their authority as priests. As the Scribes usually are associated with the Pharisees, they would have challenges the authority of Jesus to teach the common people. After all, Jesus had not been certified by them as a Rabbi. He was no seminary graduate. The common ground of getting rid of Jesus outweighed their great divisions.