Summary: Jesus confronts the world's powers with the truth of God's Kingdom. As at his birth, the results are fear and violence.
Matthew 21:1-13 “Confrontation”
We all have our fits of anger even the most mild mannered and calm among us. We may stomp out of the room and slam the door behind us, or yell and pound the table. Some of us may pout, or do the passive aggressive thing of saying nothing while at the same time trying our hand at sabotage. It goes without saying that usually anger doesn’t work. Perhaps that’s why Paul lists it among the “works of the flesh” as opposed to “works of the spirit” in his letter to the Galatians (5:20).
This may be why we are so surprised when Jesus expresses his anger and overturns the money tables in the temple. Was this an emotional release—the stress was getting too much for him? It certainly offended many important people, but it didn’t really have any lasting effect. The merchants simply righted their tables, gather the coins and the livestock and resumed business.
So what was Jesus saying? What was he trying to do?
In the Old Testament, prophets would often physically act out God’s message in addition to verbally proclaiming it. The prophet Hosea married a prostitute in order to demonstrate the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel. This can be found in Hosea chapter 1. Jeremiah wore a yoke—a symbol of servitude and slavery to illustrate Israel’s coming bondage to Babylon according to chapter twenty-seven. In Ezekiel chapter three we read that Ezekiel packed his bags and demonstrated to the people of Israel that they would soon be packing their bags and going into exile.
Jesus was acting like a prophet and performing a prophetic action. When Jesus’ overturned tables of the money changers and released the animals, he effectively shut down the temple, if even for a brief time. His actions and words proclaimed that the Temple had been closed by God, because it was corrupted and in collusion with the domination and power of Rome. It had become a den of thieves—a place where evil men reside who prey upon people unjustly rather than seek justice for all people. Because of this, the temple had ceased to be a place where God’s people could offer gifts to God and participate in a meal with God.
THE NEW TEMPLE
Jesus is the new temple, the replacement for the old. Several times Jesus refers to himself as a temple. In John 2:14 Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
This is a different temple than what Paul is talking about in his first letter to the Corinthian church. Paul writes, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Paul is emphasizing that the body of a Christian is the dwelling place of God’s Spirit and should be treated with respect and used as a sacred (something that has been set apart for a holy purpose) vessel.
Jesus is boldly proclaiming that he, himself, is the new temple. He is the entrance into God’s presence; the path to a relationship with God.
PARTICIPATING WITH JESUS
In 70 C.E., the temple was physically destroyed by the Roman legions as they put down the Jewish rebellion. Jesus’ words, in Matthew chapter twenty-four, that not one stone would be left upon another became a reality. The sacrificial system was ended and has not yet been restored. The truth that Jesus prophetically acted out by overturning the tables of the money changers and releasing the animals—that God had left the building—became physically true.
The people of Israel would look upon the gleaming white marble and shimmering gold of the temple on top of Mt. Zion, and know that God was present with them. Now, God is present with present with us in the person of the Holy Spirit. In his letter to the Romans (8:30), Paul assures us that there is nothing in all of creation that will be able to separate us from the love and Spirit of God.
Originally the temple was meant to be a place of peace and justice, calling God’s people to live peacefully with each other and striving for justice for all. Jesus through his life, death and resurrection now calls to us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ to be peacemakers, to seek justice and love mercy.
The temple was once the place of sacrifice. Animals are no longer offered as gifts to God. Because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection God’s people are now called upon “to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).