13.02.02 Mk. 11:15-17 (See also Mt. 21:12-13; Lk. 19:45-46) In the Temple
SECOND TEMPLE CLEANSING, MERCHANTS DRIVEN OUT
15 They came to Jerusalem, and He went into the temple complex and began to throw out those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple complex.
17 Then He began to teach them:
“Is it not written,
My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations (Isa. 56:7)?
But you have made it a den of thieves” (Jer. 7:11).
This was the second of two recorded temple cleansings; symbolically, Jesus opened and closed His ministry with a call to purity of the people of God. The Sadducees had absolutely no respect for the Court of the Gentiles because they had no respect for Gentiles. That court was built specifically for worship by foreigners. The Sadducees believed that since that area was defiled anyway by visiting Gentiles; why not permit shopkeepers and money changers there as well? Its sacredness was destroyed. Therefore, Jesus confronted them on four points:
- Defilement of the court reserved for Gentile worship and
- Robbery by excessive pricing of sacrificial lambs for the faithful Jews who had traveled long distances to honor God.
- Dishonest currency exchange, as the moneychangers charged between four and eight percent above fair value to exchange currency that would be given to the priests.
- The temple tax had to be paid with the Tyrian silver half-shekel tax. The Sadducees were considerably more interested in the pure silver than the pagan image stamped on the coin itself.
Three years earlier Jesus cleansed the outer court of the temple from its degrading materialistic and commercial nature. Since then the money changers and livestock swindlers were back in full force. Even though it was now cleansed again, the change would be short-lived and the days of this structure and the religious system were numbered.
Nothing could have offended the Sadducees more than the Triumphal Entry and the two cleansings. The first cleansing (see 05.05.04) most certainly angered them, as they carried on their sacrilegious sacrificial lamb trade under the pretense of accommodating strangers. There is also an important point to consider, and that is that His appearance was a fulfillment of a prophecy by Malachi, and as such, was a bold messianic claim.
“See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire — see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts.
The beginning of this verse clearly refers to John the Baptist, but the second sentence refers to Jesus who suddenly came to the temple. Jesus began and ended His ministry with the cleansing of the temple and, in doing so He made a profound messianic claim without a spoken word: God’s judgment will always fall upon His house first. By the cleansings, He also fulfilled a prophecy in Psalm 69 that reads,
For your house has consumed me,
The psalm literally means, the temple will be His destruction. That is precisely what happened. The Sadducees were delighted to see Jesus challenge and humiliate the leading Pharisees, but when He cleansed the temple, He was threatening their turf – their social, economic, and political security. Jesus had done this once previously; they would not permit Him to get away with this a second time without a severe punishment.
“Would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple complex.” The temple was to be a sacred place of worship for both Jews and Gentiles. Unfortunately, the Court of the Gentiles had degraded to the point that merchants carried their merchandise through the temple courts as a short cut from one part of the city to another.
Yet not all priests were as corrupt as the leading Pharisees and Sadducees. The Mishnah preserved the comments of those who desired to a return of respect and reverence that would truly honor God.
A man should not behave himself unseeingly while opposite the Eastern Gate (of the temple) since it faces the Holy of Holies. He may not enter into the Temple Mount with his staff or his sandal or his wallet, or with dust upon his feet, nor may he make of it a short by-path; still less may he spit there.
Mishnah, Berakoth 9:5
Yet while the Court of the Gentiles was treated with the utmost disrespect, the inner sanctuary was held in the highest ritualistic respect. Any Gentile who entered was subject to be killed on the spot, even if he was a Roman soldier. An inscribed stone found in the temple rubble threatened Gentile trespassers with death if they entered beyond this particular temple area.
13.02.02.A. TEMPLE WARNING INSCRIPTION. This warning stone was discovered in the 1930s. It was originally imbedded in a stone wall that surrounded the inner temple court. The Greek inscription states that no foreigners, including Romans, were to enter the sacred area of the temple. Photograph courtesy of the Rockefeller Museum.
In addition to the temple warning inscription discovered in the 1930s, another warning stone with a Greek inscription was discovered earlier and published in 1871 by archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau. That artifact is today in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum in Turkey. That stone was situated near the main entrance and reads:
No stranger is to enter within the balustrade (partition barrier) surrounding the temple and whoever is caught will be answerable for his death, which will ensue.
Josephus, Antiquities. 12.3.4 (145b)
Twice the Mishnah makes a reference of the temple warning, and twice Josephus did the same, and he indicated that not even Romans were permitted to enter the sacred area. No Gentile could enter the inner sanctuary and expect to live to tell about it.
“A House of prayer for all nations.” In the cleansing of the temple Jesus profoundly decried the degenerated state of religious affairs. By this cleansing and the reflection upon the words of Isaiah, Jesus declared Himself as the rightful Lord of God’s sanctuary.
7 I will bring them to My holy mountain
and let them rejoice in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be acceptable on My altar,
for My house will be called a house of prayer
for all nations.”
Jesus valued the temple because it was where people came with their sacrifices and to commune with God. Yet it would be only a few days until the New Covenant would be established and He would become the focus of worship. Then, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the body of every believer would become the new temple. In light of the two temple cleansings, it behooves the believer to be a pure and holy temple in mind (personal thoughts) and body (physical) and spirit (worship). The Apostle Paul said that the bodies of believers were the temple of God. The holiness that Jesus demanded in the temple ought to be the believer’s gift given to Him in love and a willing desire to serve Him. The devotion to purity and holiness is both a commitment and sacrifice, even if it leads to persecution and martyrdom.
After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the disciples continued to go to the temple to pray (Acts 3:1). They realized that Jesus had been revealed in the seven Jewish feasts and festivals. There is no mention of a sacrifice of any kind since Jesus was the ultimate and final sacrifice for all humanity. Jesus, by His sacrifice of death and resurrection, was both priest and victim and, therefore, in Him believers live (Rom. 6:9; Heb. 9:23-28). Today sacrifices to God are good works (Heb. 13:16), faith (Phil. 2:17), evangelism (Rom. 15:16), almsgiving (Phil 4:18), and sometimes martyrdom (2 Tim 4:6), but not animal sacrifice.
“A den of robbers.” Not only did the Sadducees rob the people in their religious trade, but, more importantly, they robbed the temple of its holiness and sanctity. Jesus recalled the words of Jeremiah.
9 “Do you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known? 10 Then do you come and stand before Me in this house called by My name and say, ‘We are delivered, so we can continue doing all these detestable acts’? 11 Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your view? Yes, I too have seen it.”
However, the most descriptive narrative concerning the evils of the High Priest Annas and his family is from the pen of Josephus who said that
He increased in glory every day, and to this great degree, and had obtained favor and esteem of the citizens in a signal manner; for he was a great hoarder of money; he therefore cultivated the friendship of Albinus and of the high priest Jesus (obviously not the Christ), by making them presents, he also had servants who were very wicked, who joined themselves to the boldest sort of people, and went to thrashing floors, and took away the tithes that belonged to the priests by violence, and did not refrain from beating such as would not give these tithes to them. So other high priests acted in like manner, as did those servants without anyone being able to prohibit them, so that some of the priests, that of old were wont to be supported with those tithes, died for want of food.
Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.2 (295-296)
It is difficult to comprehend the evilness of Annas; he had no compassion whatsoever, not even for his fellow priests who served with him. He was a religious dictator who literally caused some to starve to death. His so-called friends, who were “purchased,” gave him favor and esteem out of fear only when he was in their presence (by signal). He was greed personified. At no time was there ever a greater contrast of personalities than that between Jesus and Annas. Just as Jesus had cursed the fig tree, which was representative of national Israel, likewise the temple system would be cursed because Annas and his fellow Sadducees. Just as the fig tree was found to be dead the following morning, likewise the temple and all the Sadducees were destroyed in the following generation by the Romans.
A question that has been raised is how was it possible for Jesus to cleanse the temple without causing the temple police and Roman guards to respond? They were well known to respond quickly to any sign of trouble, especially at Passover when there was a tension in the crowds who believe that someone would come forward at the temple and announce himself to be the messiah. In addition to the temple guards and security forces, there were priests and Levites stationed as specific places to maintain order.
The priest kept watch at three places in the Temple: at the Chamber of Abtinas, at the Chamber of the Flame, and at the Chamber of the Hearth; and the Levites at twenty-one places: five at the five gates of the Temple Mount, four at its corners inside, five at the five gates of the Temple Court, four at its corners outside, and one at the Chamber of Offerings, and one at the Chamber of the Curtain, and one behind the place of the Mercy Seat.
Mishnah, Middoth 1:1
The priests were the temple gatekeepers who prevented unqualified persons from entering the sacred domain. Since there was a large amount of gold and silver, in both coinage and sacred objects, the gatekeepers were responsible that theft did not occur. Security was obviously tight, so how did Jesus manage to cleanse the temple without being arrested?
The answer may lie in the fact that the temple area was huge – thirty-five acres and filled with thousands of people. The only area that Jesus cleansed was the Court of the Gentiles, as this had been converted to a market place sometimes referred to as Annas’ Bazaar. It was filled with thousands of people bringing the products needed by the temple staff – firewood, wine, olive oil, and many other products. The merchants within this temple compound were, in effect, agents for the House of Annas and his son-in-law, Caiaphas. They were in business competition with the shop keepers out in the street.
But there is another thought to consider: while there has been a great deal of negativity placed on the temple leadership, it is easy to forget that many individuals in the temple service were righteous and holy servants who functioned in their positions as best as they could. When they saw the cleansing, they probably praised God for the opportunity to see Malachi 3:1 being fulfilled.
. The synoptic gospels record the temple cleansing at the end of Jesus’ ministry while John recorded a cleansing at the beginning. Throughout history the church has maintained that these were two separate events. However, with the rise of textual criticism and various liberal theologies, this viewpoint has become the minority view. For an excellent article that supports the view of two cleansings, see Allan Chapple “Jesus’ Intervention in the Temple: Once or Twice?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 58:3 (Sept. 2015) 545-570.
. Matthews, Manners and Customs. 248.
. Crosson and Reed, Excavating Jesus. 156; For more information on the Tyrian shekel and related issues, see 05.05.04 and the discussion of the first cleansing.
. Crosson and Reed, Excavating Jesus. 156.
. The issue of commercialization in the commercialization within the Court of the Gentiles is found in the Mishnah Seqalim 1.3; 3.1 and Berakot 9.5; Josephus, Antiquities 12.3.4 (145) and 15.11.5 (417).
. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 6.
. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 6, page 6.
. Clarification in parenthesis by Danby, ed., Mishnah.
. This stone was discovered in the 1930s outside St. Stephen’s Gate, a/k/a the Lion Gate. See Wilson, Jesus, the Evidence. 113; No photographic credit given. It is one of two temple warning inscriptions found.
. A second warning sign has been uncovered with a Latin inscription. Obviously that was installed after the Romans controlled the region, and most likely by the builders employed by Herod the Great.
. Clarmont-Ganneau, “Discovery of a Tablet from Herod’s Temple.”132-133.
. See also Josephus, Wars 5.5.2.
. Mishnah, Middoth 2:3 and Kelim 1:8.
. Josephus, Antiquities 15.11.5; Josephus, Wars 3.7.15.
. Josephus, Wars 6.2.4.
. Martin, Worship in the Early Church. 21.
. 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16.
. Acts 20:16; 21:17ff; 1 Cor. 16:8; cf. with Col. 2:16-17; Gal. 4:10.
. Added comment in parenthesis mine.
. Acts 21:30-33; Josephus, Antiquities 17.6.3 and Wars 1.33.3.
. This “Mercy Seat” was outside the western wall of the Holy of Holies.
 Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. 417-18.