Summary: Was Jesus cleansing the temple a random act or was there something far deeper?
The Passover is not something most Christians give much thought to, unless they come across it in their bible readings. It was however the most important feast the Jews celebrated. It would be like our thanksgiving. It was a festive time and also a time of reflection. Like our communion tables where God’s deliverance and perfect sacrifice are remembered. All Jews had to be present in Israel for this and two other feasts. And so we read
John 2:13-16 (NASB)
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
Some clarification is in order as to the Passover and these money changers. We are all familiar with the Passover. We celebrate it each year here with all of its more modern additions. God commanded Israel to select a lamb to be killed on Nisan 14. It was to be a year old and without blemish. But without blemish according to who? Much of the attitudes and teachings at the time of Christ, was a knee jerk reaction to past sins.
The staunch and legalistic teachings of the Pharisees was a reaction to the laxness of the priests during the time of the dispersion and exile and the Macabean period. The overbearing love for the temple building was a reaction to having had it destroyed by the Babylonians and having it defiled by Antiochus.
So too the strict inspection of the offerings was a reaction to the accusation of Malachi
Malachi 1:6-8 (NASB)
6 A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, ’How have we despised Your name?’
7 "You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ’How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ’The table of the Lord is to be despised.’
8 "But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?" says the Lord of hosts.
The priests had tried to slip in blind and lame sheep to offer to God. The Lord says try offering these to your rulers and see the result. Do I as God not deserve better than they? So a sect of priests was formed for the inspection of the sheep to be offered. They often went and lived on farms and observed sheep for a period of two years. They would inquire of the farm owner or shepherds what blemishes were temporary and which ones were permanent. But the sinful heart of man seldom changes and so abuses entered in. money was to be made, and a lot of it.
One could buy an approved blemish free lamb directly from the priests at an exorbitant markup or he could bring his own sheep for inspection. Most were rejected and so the family had to buy an approved one any way
As a side bar, the rejected lambs were usually recycled and sold to another pilgrim later in the day, miraculously now approved. This was an abomination and targeted the poor
At this same time, the annual temple tax was collected of a half shekel. Problem was that only the approved temple shekel was allowed as the offering. With so many pilgrims coming in from the Roman and Greek world their money was certainly of the Greek or Roman dinar or shekel and so it had to be exchanged again at an exorbitant rate. The tax rate of exchange was about 10%. But not only that, if you gave too much and change had to be made you were taxed on the exchange as well as the change made so being taxed twice
For the month leading up to Passover these sellers and money changers were in every surrounding village, but this last week with everyone having arrived for the feast, everything was moved into the temple confines. There were also four stores set up on the mount of Olives to sell pigeons to the poor for their offering. But the price and exchange rate was so high the poor could not afford them The Jews would repair roads and bridges to accommodate all the visitors who came to Jerusalem in any year. They also white-washed all the tombs or seplicars so no stranger would accidentally enter them for shelter and become defiled. So they protect men from defilement of tombs but it was okay to cheat and steal from the poor within the temple area? Again this was an abomination and when Jesus saw this we can only imagine what He thought and felt