Welcome to Monday of Jesus’ last week, His Passion week, the final few days leading up to His coming crucifixion.
As you will hear in this PODCAST, At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, way back in John 2 (Podcast #21), Jesus cleansed the Temple for the first time. Now here in Mark 11, at the very end of His ministry, Jesus cleansed the Temple for the second time.
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, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 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)
A display of uncharacteristic anger, rare to be sure. But a shocking display of anger nonetheless. Quite out of character for a Jesus who described Himself, and who consistently showed Himself to be a Very.Gentle.Jesus.
As Jesus walked through the Temple courts that day, something set Him off.
Yes, He was understandably upset about the fleecing of the flock that was going on here. To be perfectly pointed about it, these religious leaders were making bank by selling God. Religion had become big business. By the time of Jesus, the Temple Industrial Complex was alive and well and oh-so-lucrative.
Sadly, they had discovered in that day what so many Christian leaders have discovered today: God sells. Jesus sells. Then and now, there is money to be made in Jesus’ name. A boatload of money.
That being said, there was something of even greater offense to Jesus going on there in the Temple courts. You might not see it at first blush. But trust me, it is there, front and center. As you will soon see.
I’ll give you a hint: God desperately longs to dwell among His people, literally. That is a thread that is woven throughout the pages of the Bible.
God desperately longs to dwell among His people, literally. All of His people, Jew and Gentile alike, “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5).
From the very first pages of the Bible (Genesis), through to the very last pages of the Bible (Revelation), God desperately longs to dwell among His people.
That theological thread that ties the entire Bible together runs right through this story here in Mark 11, as Jesus cleansed the Temple for the second time.
You see, Genesis tells us that God walked through the garden daily with Adam and Eve… until they made the fateful decision to rebel against His will – to become “like God, themselves” – and He was forced to banish them from Eden. Then, years later, it “broke God’s heart” when He saw that everything that man was doing and thinking was evil… to the point that He was actually sorry He had created mankind. Yet still, He wanted to dwell among His people. He called out Noah, and for 120 years, He called out to Noah’s evil neighbors, pleading with them to come back to Him.
But they ignored Him completely.
Even after mankind rebelled again at the Tower of Babel, God’s desire to dwell among His people remained consistent.
So, years later, He called another man, this time Abraham. And through Abraham, God called a nation – Israel.
And God said that through them, He would reveal Himself to the world. All because He desperately wants to dwell among His people.
Now, to say that the Jewish people were, and are today, God’s chosen people is to say that God chose them for this purpose: to shine His light of salvation to the world. In other words, to repair this desperately broken world of ours, as He said to the people of Israel in Isaiah 42:6
I selected and sent you
to bring light
and my promise of hope
to the nations.
Did you catch that last phrase? “…to the nations”
This includes you and me!
So, you’ve got to understand that it is woven into the DNA of every one of our Jewish friends – whether they acknowledge it or not – that their calling by God is to shine His light to the world.
God made the Exodus along with the Israelites – by a cloud during the day and by a pillar of fire by night – He dwelt with them.
Remember, Jesus is Jewish.
In all actuality, the entire message of the Bible can be summarized in this one statement: God desperately longs to dwell in the midst of His people – all His people, a people who repeatedly kick Him out of their midst.
That is the recurring theme of the Bible.
The Bible is a book of rejected love. Yet time and time again, God keeps coming back.
He gave the Israelites specific instructions on how to make the Tabernacle, and when it was finished, He actually moved in and resided there during all their travels to the Promised Land.
Did you get that?
God wandered for 40 years along with the Israelites. Every single day. The Almighty God, Creator of the universe, Lord of the heavenly hosts… He CHOSE to dwell in a tent for 40 years along with a group of people who repeatedly ignored and rebuffed Him.
That’s an all new definition of love!
When King David was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all the surrounding enemies, 2 the king summoned Nathan the prophet. “Look,” David said, “I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of God is out there in a tent!”…
4 But that same night the Lord said to Nathan,
5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord has declared: Are you the one to build a house for me to live in? 6 I have never lived in a house, from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until this very day. I have always moved from one place to another with a tent and a Tabernacle as my dwelling. (2 Samuel 7:1-6)
Now, David was not permitted to build God’s home – His Temple. Even though David conceived the idea, he had too much blood on his hands. This privilege fell on his son, Solomon. And when it was completed…
…a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. 11 The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of the Lord. (1 Kings 8:10-11)
God LIVED there… in that building. He now had a permanent mailing address!
And it was the joy of every joy to make a pilgrimage up to three times a year to literally visit God there.
By design, God’s house was one that all the nations of the world were invited to come and visit Him.
“I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord,
who serve Him and love His name,
who worship Him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest,
and who hold fast to My covenant.
I will bring them to My holy mountain of Jerusalem
and will fill them with joy in My house of prayer.
I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices,
because My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations”. (Isaiah 56:6-7)
“Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’”? (Mark 11:17)
I can only imagine how God felt when, literally in the shadow of His Temple, His people set up altars to false gods and sacrificed their first born babies in the flames of these altars. Even after He had given them explicit instructions on this exact matter:
“Do not permit any of your children to be offered as a sacrifice to Molech, for you must not bring shame on the name of your God. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 18:21)
Yet, by the time Jeremiah was prophesying to God’s people, this is what was happening.
They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin. (Jeremiah 32:35)
As I said, throughout the entire Bible, we see this thread of God longing to dwell in the midst of His people – His people who refuse to return the favor and allow God in their neighborhood.
I can’t imagine what would possess someone to do that.
It’s no wonder, then, that God eventually moved out of the Temple. What choice did He have? This is what God said to His prophet Ezekiel:
6 And He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive Me far from My sanctuary?” (Ezekiel 8:6)
And God left that Temple – known as Solomon’s Temple. Solomon’s Temple would soon be destroyed by the Babylonians. A new Temple would be rebuilt by Zerubbabel in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah – the second Temple. This second Temple would be greatly enlarged just before Jesus’ birth by Herod the Great. This is the Temple that Jesus came to.
So, all this so far is the background for this week’s story.
What in the world could have gotten Jesus so upset?
You see, in Jesus’ day, there was only one type of coin that could be used to purchase animals for the Temple sacrifices. No one – especially the Jews who had traveled from afar – came with this type of currency. So, whatever type of money the Jews brought with them had to be exchanged by the local money changers.
And you can imagine the incredibly inflated exchange rate that the people were charged to make this transaction.
Not only that, but the lambs and birds that were bought for sacrifices would be given to the priests, who would then take these same animals out of sight, and instead of sacrificing them as God commanded, would turn them back over to the merchants to sell to the next Temple customer. The priests, the money changers, the merchants… all of them were becoming unbelievably wealthy off of these scams, as they ripped off their fellow Jews in God’s own House.
Any and all of this would have been enough to spark the ire of any rabbi with any integrity. But there was something even more going on that would especially trigger Jesus’ explosive wrath.
Now, by God’s design, the largest and most prominent court around the perimeter of the Temple was known as the Court of the Gentiles. It’s purpose was to radiate to the nations of the world that all people of all nations are welcomed to God’s House. They had their own court where they were encouraged to come and be in God’s presence.
Being on the perimeter, this is the court that Jesus entered into as we read Mark 11:15,
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts…
Frederic William Farrar, Minister at Westminister Abbey described what Jesus encountered this way:
“There, in the actual court of the Gentiles, steaming in the heat of the burning April day, and filling the Temple with stench and filth, were penned whole flocks of sheep and oxen. Their number may be conjectured from the fact that Herod alone sacrificed 300 oxen at the consecration of the new Temple…
While the drovers and pilgrims stood bartering and bargaining around them.
And under the shadow of the arcades, formed by quadruple rows of Corinthian columns, sat the money-changers with their tables covered with piles of various small coins, while, as they reckoned and wrangled in the most dishonest of trades, their greedy eyes twinkled with the lust of gain. And this was the entrance-court to the Temple of the Most High God! The court, which was a witness that God’s house should be a House of Prayer for all nations, had been degraded into a place, which for foulness, was more like shambles, and for bustling commerce more like a densely crowded bazaar.
While the lowing of oxen, the bleating of sheep, the Babel of many languages, and huckstering and wrangling, and the clinking of money and of balances (perhaps not always just), disturbing the chant of the Levites and the prayers of priests!”
Instead of welcoming the Gentiles as God had designed, the priests, merchants and money changers had turned the court into a disgusting pen of filth. The Gentiles weren’t welcome there, even though the court bore their name!
This is why…
When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” (Mark 11:15-17)
Do you understand what got Jesus so mad? It wasn’t just that His own people were being ripped off, it was also that the people of the nations of the world were being excluded from the place God designed to welcome them. All because a bunch of religious leaders figured out a way to get rich.
It’s no mystery why, within just a few days, these same religious leaders would devise a way to kill Jesus.
It’s also no mystery why, within a few decades, the Romans would tear down this Temple brick-by-brick.
Which is why I so look forward to the day that John wrote about in Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
When this happens, God’s people won’t let Him leave. It’s a day that we desperately long for. And, it’s a day God desperately longs for!
God will once again dwell amongst His people!