Take Time to Be Holy
Old Testament Reading- Numbers 32:6-13
New Testament Reading- John 2:13-22
By Henry J. Rafferty CLP -March 27, 2022
All four of the gospels give an account of Jesus cleansing the Temple. Even though there are questions about how many times or when in His ministry Jesus acted out in the Temple, all have one thing in common, that Jesus was not pleased about what was going on in the Temple areas.
Scripture tells us that Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Passover celebration. This was a major event that brought between 300,000 to 400,000 people into Jerusalem. Even today, that is a lot of people. That type of event needs major preparation when it comes to accommodating and feeding that amount of people, not to mention all the other things that come with it. The Temple was at the center of all this preparation and the high priest, and his family were a big part of the planning for this holiday.
The Second Temple, or Herod’s Temple, was restored from the ruins of Solomon’s Temple after the Babylonian captivity and is part of a larger area known as the Temple Mount. This second Temple was rebuilt and then later modified and made larger by King Herod the Great. The Temple itself and the surrounding walled courts were accessible only by Jewish people. Women were allowed in one section, the men in another, and the priests in the innermost part. Only the High Priest was allowed in the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, the sacred place set aside and dedicated to God. Even the High Priest was only allowed in that Holy room on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, once per year. Outside of the walled courts was a large area open to the sky that was known as the Court of the Gentiles. This area was for all non-Jewish people and if a gentile were caught in the inner courts they could be put to death. There was also an area along one wall of the Court of the Gentiles that was a large, covered, colonnaded structure called the Royal Stoa. The Royal Stoa was the area where it is believed that much of the merchants and money changers did their business.
First, we should know that commerce was allowed in the Royal Stoa to help the people prepare for the high holiday of Passover. Jewish visitors to Jerusalem would need food for the Passover meal, animals, herbs, and grains for sacrificial purposes, and they would need their money changed. The Temple Tax would have to be paid by the people. This tax was paid by Israelites and went toward the upkeep of the Temple and the Temple Mount. The money that was paid would have to be in the currency of the time period and acceptable to the Jews, which happened to be shekels. Jewish pilgrims would come from far and wide to these high holidays and their money would have to be changed. Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and many more types of money funneled through and needed to be changed. These high holidays would also bring more people than Jews to Jerusalem. Wherever large numbers of people gather, you can bet that the people trying to make money off them are sure to follow. This would have been an important time of commerce for all people, Jews and gentiles alike.
It’s also interesting to know that the ancient historian, Josephus, who has become an accepted secular historian that lived during that time calls Annas the high priest “a great hoarder up of money.” The sons of Annas were allowed, due to their high position, to set up their own bazaars for the purpose of commerce and allowed others to do the same, probably for a price. It was this same Annas that Jesus was taken in front of before His crucifixion, and it was Caiaphas, Annas’ son-in-law that was the high priest that turned Jesus over to Pilate. Annas’ family was an immensely powerful family in the Jewish hierarchy.
It was this climate that John 2:13-22 tells us about, “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.”
Jesus walked into the Royal Stoa and would have seen the commerce, but then, when He walked into the Court of the Gentiles, there were even more merchants and money changers. Immediately, Scripture would have come to Jesus’ mind as the words of Isaiah said long ago, “Even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” All people, not just the Jews but the gentiles alike, and here Jesus sees business being conducted in the Court of the Gentiles, a place of worship for all those who were non-Jews. Jesus was full of anger, a righteous anger, but anger still. The words of the prophet Jeremiah would have now come into His mind, “Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I Myself have seen it,” declares the Lord.”
Jesus has had enough. He already knew that many of the merchants were price gouging, and the money changers were making extra money on their exchanges, which was unlawful by Jewish law. He also knew that the high priest and his family, as well as others, were using their religious positions for profit. The Lord desires fairness, God knows what we need, and He knows that we live in a world where money is needed, but as a tool, not as a weapon. Proverbs 20:10 tells us, “Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the Lord.” All these things may have been going through Christ’s mind as He saw what had become of the Temple of worship and prayer. Jesus was angry, and rightfully so.
In studying this week, I found people throughout history who didn’t seem to understand why Jesus was so upset. People who tried to justify the commerce as being necessary to the sacrificial system of the time. People who thought Jesus was being too critical, but there was more at stake than just commerce. Jesus is seeing something that others are not. Jesus is seeing something that is sacred, a house of worship and prayer that is becoming a house of commerce, and not a just commerce, but thievery. Exploitation of the people, many who were poor, who were there for the right reasons being taken advantage and being misled for profit and personal gain. This was not acceptable to Jesus nor to God the Father. Jesus drove them all out completely, I imagine He may have created quite a stir. Often theologians point to this act as being the catalyst for the crucifixion because it directly affected and pointed to the highest people in the Jewish hierarchy.
What about you? What do you think? Was Jesus too hard on them? Should Jesus had just walked away and not said a word? What do we think about what is done in sacred places? Do we have any sacred places anymore? It’s just a church building, right? It’s just a cemetery, no big deal? It’s just bread and wine, isn’t it? Is it? What do you think? If Jesus were here for all of us to see, what would He say about how we treat what is holy? Maybe we should do a better job at remembering that we worship a God that loves us as His children, but that this intimacy does not negate the fact that He is still the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Almighty One, our Creator, our God, and our Heavenly Father not just a great loving friend that we pray to when we need something. If Jesus were to appear to you, what tables would He turn over in your life? What would He turn over in His Church? What would Jesus say about our idea of holiness? What would Jesus think about our modern attitude of fearing the Lord?
Do we have any sacred places anymore?
Lent is a time of self-reflection. Maybe we should use today’s lesson as a point to examine what is sacred in our lives. Remember, following Jesus is not always a bed of roses, and often, it is not easy at all. Jesus asks, no, He commands us, to think differently than the world thinks, and to think contrary to our nature as human beings. Jesus tossed tables and drove out the people that day, but He also died for them. Jesus prayed while on the cross, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins in full. He has conquered death and for those who believe in Him and His mission, He has conquered death for us as well.
"He commands us, to think differently than the world thinks, and to think contrary to our nature as human beings." ~ Pastor Henry Rafferty
God is the Holiest of Holies, and everything dedicated to Him is sacred, including us. Let the
redemptive blood of Christ make our lives, that we have defiled with sin, sacred and allow Him to reset all the tables in our lives to the setting most appropriate for dining with others in Christian love. In this Lenten season, take time to be Holy and to live in the Lord’s Word. Start now and soon it will become a new way of life. Thanks be to God. Amen.