On Monday, the first day after entering Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple. According to St. Matthew, 21:12-13, here’s how that went:
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves, and said unto them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called the house of prayer,’ but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
The Gospels reveal that Jesus’ four day agenda, before celebrating the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, was full. There was much to teach, many to heal and much to reveal. But the first thing He did was go to the temple. Let’s look carefully at His visit.
The first thing that stands out is He assumed an attitude of complete authority. He did not ask who was in charge. He simply acted. Jesus demonstrated this lesson often. Even though we study and often wrestle with His words, we must understand that, when we made that decision to follow Him, we made a commitment to act. Much is expected of some but all can, at least, “tell the love of Jesus [and] say He died for all.”
Then we see He “cast out all” salespeople and apparently bankers. Is He against sales and banking? Although many tell us He was, there is no evidence in His trip to the temple, or anywhere else in scripture, that He sees these services, when conducted honestly are anything but honorable. Honesty in business is a key lesson here. The overriding lesson for the church—for every congregation—is the church is a place for healing, worship and prayer. Period. Again, according to Jesus’ action, He expects the church to be reserved for healing, worship and prayer.
The third thing His action clearly demonstrated is His contempt for and determination to expose the massive corruption of the temple priesthood. The moneychangers were at the temple at the behest of the Sanhedrin because pilgrims were in Jerusalem from countries around the known world for the Passover. The Sanhedrin needed bankers on hand to exchange foreign money before they could gouge the pilgrims for the required sacrificial lambs and doves.
The Sanhedrin raised sheep and doves to sell as sacrifices in the temple. Remember the Angel announced Christ’s coming to lowly shepherds watching flocks outside Bethlehem. “And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’” (St. Luke 2:10-12) The sweet irony is those simple shepherds were hired hands. They were watching the flocks of the Sanhedrin. The temple priesthood was in Christ’s sights before He was born.
Finally the buyers were also cast out. Jesus was not against a pilgrim buying a dove, but they were as accountable for their actions in the temple as the Sanhedrin sellers. This should give us a clarity about what our Lord thinks of our victim class and the do-gooders who advocate for them.