Summary: Why did Jesus lose His temper in the Temple when He saw the traders and money changers there? The context explains everything - they were on the take! Jesus was a danger to their profits and had to go.
The reading we have just heard from John's gospel might seem rather strange especially as it is at the start of his gospel; but ironically the synoptic gospels have this incident in the temple at the start of His last week just after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem - Palm Sunday.
The two incidents go hand in hand, His triumphant entry into Jerusalem where the crowd proclaimed Him to be the Son of David really upset the Temple authorities –
• who was this man?
• who did he think he was?
• was he out to undermine their authority and proclaim Himself as the promised Messiah?
And now He was in the temple causing a disturbance - upsetting the tables of the money changers and those who sold animals for sacrifice.
The traditional cosy image of 'gentle Jesus meek and mild' is not a true reflection of His character as this story vividly shows.
Jesus was NOT a quiet, unassuming man who was afraid to risk offending anyone and He was NOT like our politicians at election time going around kissing babies and trying to make everyone like Him; He would do it anyway and at anytime - spontaneously.
Jesus was a strong, vigorous and a courageous man who had the guts to stand up to hypocrisy and injustice and sin when He encountered it.
But His action now went too far as far as the Temple authorities were concerned, this man from Nazareth was a direct threat to everything that they held dear and to their living.
So it is important to understand the background and context of this incident as it ultimately lead to the death of Jesus.
At Passover Jerusalem was heaving with people from all over the known world at that time.
The population would not just double or even treble but it might be tenfold or even more - Passover was a major festival for the Jews and Jewish law stated that every male should offer sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem as often as possible, especially at Passover.
In addition all devout Jews had to pay a temple tax.
As Jews came from all over the civilized world to worship in Jerusalem, they obviously didn't carry the coins used in the temple so this problem was solved by setting up tables in the Temple courtyard with "money changers" who would exchange Temple currency for foreign money.
Even though Roman coinage was very common and used by the vast majority of people it couldn't be used in the temple as it had the head of the emperor on it - a graven image - not allowed!
So the moneychangers were there in the outer temple courts exchanging currencies at an extortionate rate and by the time of Christ this "convenience" apparently grew into a racket for ripping off the pilgrims, with large profits being reaped at the expense of visiting worshipers.
It was this practice, along with the selling of sacrificial animals for profit, that enraged Jesus to the point of driving everybody out of the holy grounds, accusing them with making the Temple " 'a den of robbers'" (Matt. 21:13)
If the pilgrims brought their own animals for sacrifice they would have to be examined and any blemish however small they would be rejected and they would have to buy from the temple suppliers again at an extortionate price.
No wonder Jesus lost His temper in seeing these very poor pilgrims being so unjustly treated.
But it went further as the temple authorities - the high priest and his cohort were also creaming off a commission from the money-changers and animal sellers.
So Jesus was threatening their profitable living - they were rich at the expense of these poor pilgrims - they could NOT survive in their extravagance and luxury if this man upset the apple cart.
Jesus was a direct threat, He had to go.
In addition as with life in general there was not just the financial aspects to be considered but the political.
The land was under the occupation and authority of Rome and the Jewish practices in the Temple were tolerated as a means of maintaining peace and concord.
If this was upset in any way the mighty hand of Rome would fall and resulting in utter disaster as would happen 40 years later when in AD70 the temple was completely destroyed by Titus and his legions, he later become a Roman Emperor.
Caiaphas the high priest was in the pocket of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate and peace was maintained by their love hate relationship.
For example, the robes of the high priest were kept by Pilate; so when Caiaphas had temple duties to perform he had to go to Pilate 'cap in hand' and ask for his robes so he could do his duties in the temple.