The Cleansing Of The Temple


Jesus entered Jerusalem at the commencement of the final week of His earthly ministry.

‘Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.’ Mark 11:11

In fact, Mark tells us that every evening of that week, He withdrew from the city, when evening would cause the city gates to be closed. Jesus returned the next day and went straight to the temple and cleansed it again.

‘On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ Mark 11:15-17

What was it that angered Him?

The abuse of the temple courts and total lack of reverence and respect for both the temple and the law.

The market held in the Court of the Gentiles

This had become a recognised institute and was protected by the temple guard on behalf of their superiors, the priests. The market was known among the Jews as ‘The shops of Annas’ because it was under the patronage of the High Priest and his family.

They took the franchise, so to speak, the monopoly and took their profit from everything that was sold. The market was not supposed to be a place for general merchandise but only for things needed for the temple ceremonies, i.e. sacrifices, wine, oil and salt used in the ceremonies.

Buyers were largely pilgrims who had travelled far but were also used by local Jews who could afford to spare themselves the inconvenience of bringing their own animals for sacrifice. Not only this, but they could avoid the uncertainty of the ‘Official Inspection’ which was compulsory.

Priests examined animals for sacrifice, for flaws or imperfections or disease and I imagine that, in order to boost flagging sales, they would refuse to accept certain animals. Probably many animals failed its spiritual M.O.T.

Changers of the money

The money was needed because of the duty of every male Jew who came to the temple to worship, to pay half a shekel for the upkeep of the temple. This was called ‘Temple Tax’.

A half-shekel was equal to a third, or a fourth of a Denarius, or a penny and could only be paid in the temple or Jewish money.

But many coinages were in use in the Roman Empire at that time, and pilgrims from abroad usually only had Greek or Roman or Syrian money, which could not be used. Obviously, Jewish money was not likely to be used in the wider Roman Empire. So, their foreign money had to be exchanged into coins that the temple treasury would accept.

Now, some people thought that what we have here, in the last week of the Lord’s ministry, is the report of the cleansing which John puts at the commencement of His ministry.

‘When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts, he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So, he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves, he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.’ John 2:13-22

One of the arguments, probably the strongest argument they are able to advance in favour of this theory, is that John does not mention the second cleansing, nor do Matthew, Mark and Luke mention the first.

I suggest to you, that, far from being an argument against the genuineness of these accounts, this is an argument in favour of their genuineness. There is obviously no attempt on the part of these writers to make their accounts harmonise and you might have expected such an attempt if they had not been genuine.

On the contrary, if you examine the two records carefully you see that there are several differences, which should make it plain that we are dealing with two separate events.

John tells us that Jesus dealt with those who ‘sold’ in the temple, but Mark, for instance, tells us that, he turned out those who ‘bought’ and sold. Not just the sellers but also the ‘buyers’ who evidently had taken no notice of the first warning.

Similarly, John says that Jesus told those who sold doves to take their birds and their cages out of the temple court. But the second time, again because his warning had gone unheeded, he condemned the sellers of doves along with the rest and overturned their chairs.

John says that the Jews challenged Jesus as to His authority, and his right to do this, but the second time there is no such challenge or question from the Jews.

John does not report that Jesus dealt with those who carried objects through the temple, or the cries of the children and the healing of the blind and the lame and the apparently favourable reaction from the people.

Of course, the first time He cleansed the temple, he was virtually unknown and His action was resented. But after three years and particularly with the presence of the Galileans, He has more popular support.

John does not quote Isaiah 56:7 and the mention of the temple as a ‘House of Prayer for all nations’. Nor that Jesus quoted Jeremiah 7:11, ‘Den of robbers’. Nor the fear of the Jewish authorities for the people.

In fact, to really accept that there was only ‘one’ cleansing of the temple which the writers have put into two different ends of the Lord’s ministry, I think you have to come to the Scriptures with your mind already made up.

If these two accounts were submitted to unbiased critics, with the question, do these records deal with the same event? I am sure they would see many differences that they would say, ‘the situation in the temple had grown worse’, this is suggested by the words, ‘you have made it into a den of robbers.’

Pilgrims in particular, of course, were at the mercy of these temple traders. What went on, was ‘not’ honest trade, which itself would have been wrong in the temple anyway. This was dishonest trade. No! more than that, Jesus said it was a downright robbery.

For instance, one record tells that those who sold doves in the temple court, were at one time demanding a piece of gold for every bird they sold to the poor women who came to the temple for cleansing.

And Rabbi Simeon Ben Gamaliel urged them to be satisfied with a piece of silver. Now if the poor local women were subject to this kind of exhortation, what do you suppose happened to the wealthier Jews, coming in from Rome or from other provinces?

And in this way, because they imposed an exchange fee, a great deal of profit was made, a part of which found its way to the priests. The doves are mentioned because they were required by the law for ceremonies concerned with cleansing, women after childbirth, lepers and others. So, they too provided a good profit.

In Mark 11:16, Mark reports that Jesus stopped the people from using the temple as a public thoroughfare. The people often carried things through the temple court, coming in at the East Gate and going out at the West, or vice versa. In fact, the temple was used as a shortcut between the city and the Mount of Olives.

Now, the Jewish authorities had condemned this practice, according to some scholars. They had said that a sign of reverence for the temple was that no one went up into the Mountain of the temple, with his staff, or shoes, or purse, or dust of the road on his feet; and that no one made it a common thoroughfare.

But it seems that they had not enforced this ruling and so the people were defiling the temple and showing disrespect for it. So, Jesus took the unpleasant action that the authorities neglected to take.

Notice the quotation Jesus uses to cover His actions.

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ Isaiah 56:7

This is because the only place that the Gentiles were allowed to enter, the only part of the temple open to them and the only place where they were allowed to pray, was the ‘Court of the Gentiles.’

But how could they pray in a place which had been turned into an open cattle market and money exchange and a public thoroughfare? So, Jesus points out that in allowing these things, the priests were defeating the fulfilment of Scripture.

Notice the strong language He uses, ‘A den of robbers’. Remember that Jesus had just travelled to Jerusalem from Jericho, coming, along that notorious Jericho road, where the man fell along with thieves and was helped by a Samaritan. Luke 10:25-37.

Judea in those days was full of thieves and robbers, and they occupied the limestone caves in the hills. But Jesus says that what went on in the temple was every bit as bad as what went on outside. So, He quotes from Jeremiah’s temple sermon, Jeremiah 7:11.their

‘Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.’

Notice first the reaction of the people, they gathered for Jesus to teach them. Mark 11:17. In fact, these last words were spoken to the people during that teaching, ‘you have made it a den of robbers’.

Certainly, the priests were to blame for permitting this traffic to go on but the people were also to blame for encouraging it by ‘buying’ and they were to blame for using the temple as a shortcut.

But there was also healing, the blind and lame came to Him. These poor sick people usually remained outside the temple altogether, because many of them would not be permitted to enter. But they were emboldened by the presence of Jesus and they came to Him and He healed them.

And notice the shouts of the children in the temple gates. Hosanna! So, the reaction to Jesus was favourable, at least from the people. But the reactions from the authorities were violent, ‘that they might kill Him’.

However, the priests had to exercise caution, ‘for they feared him because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.’ Mark 11:18

Any of those who had come with Jesus to the city had also come with Him to the temple. In other words, there were many good Galileans present, not just people from the city, who would be under the thumb of the priests and with such enthusiasm being shown for Jesus, it might be dangerous for the priests themselves, if they dared to lay hands on Jesus, Luke 20:1-6.

In any case, they would not stone Him in the temple itself, so they had to plan to put Him to death elsewhere.