Summary: We come to a portion of Matthew’s narrative about the final week of Jesus’ life that has troubled me a great deal this past couple of weeks...
Jesus Cleanses the Temple—Part 1
We come to a portion of Matthew’s narrative about the final week of Jesus’ life that has troubled me a great deal this past couple of weeks as I was preparing to come and speak with you today.
Let’s read Matthew’s report in Matthew 21:12-17, and then talk about it for a bit.
We could say that this story is about a lot of things. I believe that there are three underlying themes that run through this story. They are honor, reverence, and holiness. Let me give a little background, and then we will delve into these three themes.
First, let me say that, once again we have an event recorded for us in Matthew that is also recorded for us in two of the other Gospels. Mark records it in Mark 11:15-18; Luke records it in Luke 19:45-47.
Second, let me also say that this is not the first time that Jesus has done what we just read about. There was another time very early on in His ministry when He drove out the moneychangers from the temple, and it is recorded for us in John 2:13-22.
There is a greater significance to the actions of Jesus this time, however, and there is a whole lot of Jewish significance wrapped up in all of this. It was commanded by God, and thus, customary, for the priests and the temple to be purified before the Feast of Unleavened Bread—Passover, as we often refer to it.
I believe it to be greatly significant that at both ends of Christ’s earthly ministry, He cleanses the temple of the unholy—of the profane, the irreverent, the sacrilegious, the impious, the dishonorable.
Let’s talk about the temple for a moment or two as part of our background discussion.
This “temple of God,” this temple dedicated and devoted to the service of the God of Israel, was built on Mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1: “Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” We first encounter Mount Moriah being mentioned in Genesis 22:2, when God told Abraham to take Isaac, his only son, and offer him as a sacrifice to God. Mount Moriah was where that event took place.
The first temple was built by King Solomon, about 1005 years before Christ, (1 Kings 6). It took seven years to complete (1 Kings 6:38). David, Solomon’s father, had developed the design of the building and of how to actually build it, and he had gathered and prepared many of the materials for it. Because he was a man of war, God prevented David from actually building the temple (1 Kings 5:5; 1 Chronicles 22:1-9). This temple, which had been erected with great splendor and magnificence, stood and was in use until it was destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, 584 years before Christ, (2 Chronicles 36:6-7;19).
After the Babylonian captivity, the temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, but was vastly inferior and greatly diminished in splendor. It was more functional than anything else. The older people, who had been very young when the Babylonians had taken the Israelites captive, remembered Solomon’s temple, and they wept deeply when they compared the new one with the glory of the former temple (Ezra 3:8;12).
This was called the “second” temple, and it was often defiled in the wars that were fought leading up to the time of Christ. It had become greatly decayed and in disrepair. Herod the Great, who was exceedingly unpopular among the Jews because of his amazing cruelties, wanted to do something to ingratiate himself to the people. So, about 16 years before the birth of Christ, in the 18th year of his reign, he commenced the work of repairing it.
Herod, for all of his cruelty, was a brilliant man. He did not begin by entirely taking down the old temple all at once, but instead removed and replaced one part at a time. This process, which by the time of Jesus’ first driving out of the moneychangers has been going on for forty-six years, would continue until 64 AD.
This new temple, far more magnificent then even the one that Solomon had built, was considered still to be the “second” temple because of the manner in which the renovations had been done. By Christ’s coming to this temple thus repaired, He was fulfilled the prophecy in Haggai 2:9.
Jesus addresses two abuses in His reaction to what He sees is taking place once again within the precincts of the temple: the defiling of this holy place and the displacing of worshipers.
People came from all over the region for the annual celebration of the Passover. Some even came from far, distant lands. Judea was subject to the Romans at this point in history. This being the case, the money in current use was Roman coin; yet the Jewish law required that every man age twenty and over should pay a tribute to the service of the sanctuary of “half a shekel,” (Exodus 30:11-16).