Jesus cleansed the Temple twice, but why did He do it? What was the purpose?
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
When Jesus saw all of the money changers taking advantage of those coming to exchange their currency to pay their Temple taxes and to buy animals for sacrifice for the Passover, Jesus quoted Jeremiah when He said, “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD” (Jer 7:11). Jeremiah was saying this in the context of rebuking the nation of Israel, who wrote, “if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever” (Jer 7:5-7), so Jeremiah tells them that “this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord,” and in fact the Lord did see it; then and in Jesus’ day, so when Jesus went into “the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:13-16). To be clear, Jesus never whipped one person or one animal. He only used the whip to drive out the livestock, but never used the whip on any man or beast (Matt 21:12). He did overturn the money changers tables, but you can certainly understand why.
Most biblical scholars understand that Jesus cleansing the Temple was no small accomplishment. For one thing, it was a huge operation. The part of the temple that Jesus cleansed was called the courtyard and was as far as the Gentiles could go, but the courtyard was filled to the brim with all sorts of livestock and birds which were all sold or exchanged for the sacrifices at the Temple, and this was not just a small farmer’s market. When Passover came, Jerusalem swelled to nearly half a million travelers who came to Jerusalem to make their Passover sacrifice. Josephus computed the number of Jews present in Jerusalem at Passover to be no fewer 3,000,000, and those Jews would need a lot of animals to sacrifice; whether a lamb or a bird, whichever the family could afford, so the number of lambs alone would be about a quarter of a million lambs if there were one lamb per family of 10 or so, but conservative estimates may be closer to about 300,000, at least in Jesus’ day. Still, that’s a lot of animals and in a relatively small area, and then there were the money changers who may have numbered in the thousands.
A Den of Thieves
The Jerusalem Temple sat on top of the Temple Mount, which covered about thirty-five acres, so there was sufficient space for hundreds of money changers, and since it was impossible for some of the Jews coming to Jerusalem to bring their own animals to be sacrificed, they had to buy some once they entered Jerusalem, but the problem was they were being taken advantage of, or really, exploited. One example was when they came to pay the obligatory temple tax, they often had to exchange Roman coinage into the acceptable currency. When the Pilgrims came, often from long distances, the money changers forced the Pilgrims into paying exorbitant exchange rates for their currency, so both the money changers and sellers (of livestock) were exploiting the poor, and overcharging even the poorest man’s offering (Lev 5:7). This is why Jesus cleansed the temple. He was angry at their taking advantage of the Jews. The Temple was full of thieves and greedy merchants, and sadly, the very ones responsible for all this merchandising were the priests, and they were putting their blessing on it by allowing it, because by allowing it, they were condoning it.
Still Cleaning the Temple
Jesus is coming again to cleanse the earth of sin but first of all, will deal with those who refuse to repent and trust in Christ (Rev 20:12-15). The Scriptures tell us Jesus cleansed the temple twice, once shortly after His ministry began (John 2:13-17), and another time, late in His ministry, during the Passover week (Matt 21:12), but today, Jesus is still cleansing the temple, but not the one you generally think of. Jesus was so angry at these robbers, so He “would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:16-17). Today, the temple is our bodies, and for believers, the temple is no longer necessary because the Holy Spirit dwells in and lives in every believer. It is just as the Apostle Paul wrote; our “bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1st Cor 6:19), so even though Jesus might not have to make a whip out of cords, He does have to discipline us in love.
It is no coincidence that Jesus died at the exact moment that the Passover lamb was slain…at 3:00 PM. That’s when Jesus gave up His spirit and returned to the Father, and although Jesus never died, His physical body did, but Jesus cannot die since He is God. His death was a physical death of His body, but not the death of His Person, because He is God. God cannot die, and speaking of death, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this” (John 11:25-26)? I hope you do believe that.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is host of Spiritual Fitness and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.