Summary: Jesus' cleansing of the temple in Luke 19:45-48 shows us his anger and prophetic denunciation of distorted worship.
The final section in The Gospel of Luke begins at Luke 19:28. Luke described Jesus’ final week on earth, and began with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (19:28-40). As Jesus drew near the city of Jerusalem he burst into tears and wept over the city because of the coming judgment on people who refused to repent of their sin and believe in him (19:41-44). The Gospel of Mark records that Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve (Mark 11:11). Most likely Jesus stayed in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
Jesus came to the city of Jerusalem for the Passover. The first Passover was the event in which God “passed over” the Israelite homes in Egypt during the Tenth Plague. A commemoration known as the Passover was established, and celebrations were recorded in both the Old Testament and New Testament. In just a few days Jesus would be killed at exactly the same time as the “Passover Lamb.”
John MacArthur notes in his commentary that lodging was a significant problem during Passover. Some calculate that as many as two million Jews were in and around Jerusalem during Passover. Housing was very difficult to find. So, it was good that Jesus and his disciples had friends in Bethany with a home large enough to accommodate them on that Sunday evening.
On the following day, Monday, Jesus returned to the temple (cf. Mark 11:12). What Jesus had seen in the temple grounds the previous day set the stage for the dramatic confrontation that took place there.
Let’s read about Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in Luke 19:45-48:
45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. (Luke 19:45-48)
We live in a day in which there is massive confusion about how to worship God. Several years ago I visited a number of different church worship services, and it often felt more like attending a concert than attending a worship service. Of course there is great danger in a wrong understanding about how to worship God. John W. Everett once said, “Carnal men are content with the ‘act’ of worship; they have no desire for communion with God.”
I have previously shared an illustration about an article in The Wall Street Journal that described one well-known church’s bid “to perk up attendance at Sunday evening services.” The church “staged a wrestling match, featuring church employees. To train for the event, 10 game employees got lessons from Tugboat Taylor, a former professional wrestler, in pulling hair, kicking shins and tossing bodies around without doing real harm.” John MacArthur says, “No harm to the staff members, perhaps, but what is the effect of such an exhibition on the church’s message? Is not the gospel itself clouded and badly caricatured by such tomfoolery?”
A. W. Tozer wrote a lot about the distortion of worship, which has degenerated into entertainment. He wrote these words in 1955, which are just as accurate in 2015:
For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was – a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability. For this she got herself abused roundly by the sons of this world. But of late she has become tired of the abuse and has given over the struggle. She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers. So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it.
Well, Jesus raised a voice against the distortion of worship he found at the temple in Jerusalem. He certainly did something about the unholy worship there.