“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.””
Matthew 21:12-13 ESV
It is so interesting to me that the first thing Jesus did after His triumphal entry in Jerusalem was to cleanse the Temple. This was actually not the first time that He had done something like this. Another, separate instance of Jesus cleansing the temple in this way is recorded earlier in Jesus’ ministry in John 2. At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and immediately following His triumphal entry, days before His crucifixion, He made a very public point of casting out those who had turned the house of the Lord into a den of thieves.
These pictures of Jesus tend to clash with the “Jesus, meek and mild” that many of think about. Jesus, in His time on Earth, was an extremely polarizing figure to the outside world as well as to the religious leaders. Today, Jesus is still equally as polarizing. The problem many of us make is that we want to focus on the parts of Jesus that we like while ignoring the parts that make us uncomfortable. Some people don’t like “their Jesus” to turn tables, confront sin or speak of judgement. I’ve seen others use the first instance of Jesus cleansing the temple, the time when He fashioned a whip to drive the people out, as a green light for them to own guns and “own” their political rivals on social media. (That is not a statement for or against owning guns or engaging in politics, but pointing out that that is not what that passage is about!)
To be clear, Jesus is not “on” any of our sides. What we need to be heavily concerned with is, are we on His. Are His priorities our priorities? Jesus came in peace to Jerusalem and then started flipping tables in the temple. That is what happened. That should give us an idea of what peace with God looks like. There was plenty of corruption in the city. Ample opportunities for Jesus to upend the power structures, right various wrongs and set the record straight. While, over the next week He did confront the religious leaders and legal authorities, His mission was clear from the moment He stepped into the temple.
There is an important truth that we need to understand and make sure we get grammatically correct; The Gospel will affect every area of our lives but the Gospel is not about every area of our lives. The Gospel is about Jesus. His mission was to reconcile us to Himself; to create peace between us and God. When Jesus cleansed the temple, He was proclaiming a very clear statement that “this” is what it was all about. The temple was overrun with greed and corruption as people used the law as a means of extorting people trying to offer their sacrifices. Their sin became an obstacle, a hinderance that kept people from being able to be made right with God. The temple was the old covenant house of the Lord, but all of this was a foreshadowing of a greater reality that Jesus was ushering in. Jesus was zealous for the house of the Lord. (Psalm 69) He drove out the thieves who preyed on the people trying to worship God. In the new covenant, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 6:19) Jesus violently paid for our sins so that we can have a redeemed relationship with God, worshiping Him for all of eternity.
This was His mission, from the very beginning. Are we about what He is about or are we co-opting the aspects of Jesus that we like in order to fit Him into our way of living? May Jesus purifiy the temples of our hearts and remind us that it is all about Him.