It must have been a beautiful day for the entourage that followed Jesus to Jerusalem just the day before. He rode into the city on a donkey, fulfilling Scripture (Zechariah 9:9) to the adoring shouts of men, women and children.
The King has arrived! They were now the inner circle of the most popular man in town.
Jesus’ first order of the day was to visit the temple at the Mount of Olives, a building grander than most of us can imagine, with huge sprawling grounds and different porticoes or atriums for masses of people to gather outside the temple courts.
Jesus entered the temple with His disciples and instead of mingling peacefully with the crowds that have gathered, appeared to get really worked up by the people selling things in the bazaar that had set up shop there.
Soon, He was overturning tables and chasing animals and their sellers alike out of the place. And He declared really loudly to everyone there: “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers!” (Matthew 21:13)
This was not Jesus’ first time in the temple, having gone there since He was a little boy. It was also possibly not His first time clearing out the temple, as a similar incident was recorded in the Gospel of John (John 2:13-17), but at the start of His ministry.
Was Jesus just mad that people were selling things in His Father’s house?
After all, lambs and birds were necessary for various sacrifices as mentioned in Levitical law. And to pay the annual temple tax, Jews had to exchange their Roman coins, which bore the face of Caesar, for special coins without an idolatrous image.
Does this mean we’re not allowed to sell books or food or just about anything in church?
When I was younger, I thought Jesus reacted this way because He didn’t like how disorderly an atmosphere the bazaar would have created, when the temple should have been a place of worship and quiet contemplation.
But the key lies in His words: “You make it a den of robbers.”
Robbers. Did you know that the so-called flea market Jesus shut down was actually The Annas Bazaar, a network of business enterprises set up by the High Priest Annas and run by his sons and sons-in-law?
The role of the high priests of the temple used to be passed down by family, starting from Moses’ brother Aaron and his sons who were from the Levitical tribe of Israel. But under Roman rule, the high priest position was appointed by the governor and only lasted about a year – unless you were willing to pay a bribe.
This turned the position from a spiritual one into a political one, and the Sadducees, the aristocrats of the Jews, had stayed in power for a long time. The Sadducees were constantly at odds with the Pharisees, as they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead or the existence of angels. The house of Annas was part of this sect.
Now, Annas was not actually the official High Priest anymore at the time that Jesus visited the temple on that Monday of Holy Week. His son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas, was. But Annas was infamous for his money-hoarding ways, as recorded by historian Josephus. And on his long list of money-making schemes was the bazaar within the temple itself.
Here were some of his business ventures: When people brought their sacrifices to the temple, they would have to be checked by the priests for blemishes, as only unblemished animals could be sacrificed to God. If their sacrifices were not approved, they’d have to buy the lambs and birds from the temple itself, at the Annas Bazaar. You guessed it – these were much more expensive in-house.
And when the Jews had to exchange their Roman coins for special temple ones to pay their temple tax, they had to buy these coins from the temple moneychangers, who charged a service fee for the transaction. Again, you guessed it – this profit margin also went to the house of Annas. It was daylight robbery in the house of God.
I believe that Jesus knew this full well; He was, after all, all God. He knew that the end of his earthly ministry was near and it was time to do some housekeeping, literally.
Out with the corrupt business in His Father’s house. Out with the greedy and unjust ways of the leaders of His people. Out with the old high priesthood, and in with the new: Jesus Himself was the new order of things to come, where people would worship God through Him and in Him.
Ultimately, Jesus would be brought before Annas himself, and later his son-in-law, the current High Priest, and they would push for his crucifixion for what He did in the temple that day. But this would make way for His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to enter and dwell within us (1 Corinthians 6:19).
What will He find in this new temple He’s come to live in?
FOR MORE PASSION WEEK STORIES:
- How motivated are you by money?
- Is there anything in your life that needs purifying or purging?
- If Jesus walks into your church today, what do you think His reaction will be?