I.. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND (verses 12-13)
Have you ever been ripped off? Did you ever pay for goods or services that fell far short of their claims and advertising, or that weren’t worth what your paid for them? I imagine that most of us can think of a particular product, movie, place of entertainment or eating establishment that has left a bad impression in our minds. Rip-offs aren’t just common to our day. You might say that the first rip-off occurred in the Garden of Eden. Satan told Adam and Eve a half-truth. He told them that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would become like God, knowing good and evil. They fell for his lie, and as a result, they did not become like God, but they certainly learned about good and evil, and experienced the consequences of their disobedience to God.
We human beings aren’t the only ones who get ripped off. God gets ripped off sometimes too. This passage of Scripture shows some ways that God can be ripped off by people. In verses 12 and 13, Jesus, His mother, His family, and His disciples spent a few days in Capernaum. A figure of speach called a “polysyndeton” is found here. The deliberate and repeated use of the word “and” is intended to draw our attention to each member of the group. From this passage of Scripture, as well as from the rest of the New Testament, we learn that Joseph, Jesus’ step-father, died at some time prior to Jesus’ public ministry, and that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had other children.
The city of Capernaum was to become Jesus’ home and the headquarters for His ministry in Galilee. In this case they were there only a few days because they went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. The Passover was an annual feast in memory of the time when the people of Israel were delivered from the slavery of Egypt, and were led through the Red Sea and to the promised land. In Exodus 12, before His last plague on Egypt, God said that each family was to kill an unblemished lamb and put some of its blood on the outside doorposts and lintel so that the death angel would pass over their houses and not kill their first-born children. They were to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread before fleeing from Egypt.
CORRUPTION IN THE TEMPLE (verse 14)
In verse 14, Jesus entered the temple, and we are told what He observes. In order to get to the sanctuary, a person must pass through four courts or courtyards. First, there is the court of the gentiles, then the court of the women, then the court of Israel, and finally the court of the priests. Jesus was in the court of the gentiles in verse 14.
Because of their contempt for all things gentile, the religious authorities decided to set up their animal market and tables for the money changers in the court of the gentiles. It had become a very corrupt system. For a few of the worshippers who travelled a great distance to attend the Passover feast, it was a convenience to purchase an animal right there in the temple. But there were many cases where a priest in the person’s hometown would approve of an animal, but when the person brought it to the temple, the officials would say that it was unacceptable. So the person would be forced to buy one of the temple animals. Alfred Edersheim, in his book, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”, talks about the enormous overcharges for temple animals. On one occasion Simeon, the grandson of Hilell, the highpriest, interfered and brought down the price of a pair of doves from one gold denar to half a silver denar. That’s quite a reduction in price!
This monopoly on sacrificial animals and the outrageous charges tended to make the temple worship hateful to the people. The sacrificial system was originally set up by God in the book of Exodus to allow the worshipper to bring one of his own animals, an animal that the person cared for from its birth and cherished. By giving this animal to be sacrificed, the person was giving a part of himself and his work to God.
This was also the time of the year for the annual temple tax to cover the cost of repairs to the temple. The temple officials would only accept payment with the sacred half-schekel of the temple, so all the local and foreign money had to be exchanged, and, of course, there was a substantial service change! The temple had become like a circus! The sounds of the animal auction, the noise of the money changers, and the offensive smell of a barnyard distracted the people from worship. That’s what the Lord Jesus and His disciples experienced when they walked into the temple that day.
III. CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE (verses 15-16)
In Exodus 12:15 God tells His people on the first day of the week of the Passover to remove all leaven, and everything with heaven in it, from their houses in preparation for the Passover meal. Leaven was a symbol of sin and corruption, and the Lord Jesus was about to rid the temple of the corruption that was in it. He made a scourge of cords and used it to drive out the oxen. He turned over the money tables, and you can imagine the scramble for the rolling coins! He also herded out the sheep, and ordered those who sold the doves to remove the cages from the temple. You can see the Lord’s restraint. He wanted to safeguard the innocent birds and do no harm to the animals or the people. It’s at this time that He calls God His Father in verse 16, thereby proclaiming Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God. Within minutes the place was cleared. All that remained to be done was the picking up of the litter and cleaning the floor!
Jesus took on the powerful hierarchy of the scribes, pharisees, priests, and sudducees. In Matthew 23:38, when Jesus cleansed the temple for the second and last time, He called it “your house”. Jesus had prophetically handed “their” temple over for destruction, and the temple was later destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D.
IV.. LESSONS LEARNED (verse 17)
This incident in Christ”s life made a definite impression on His disciples, who remembered Psalm 69:9 – a verse from a Messianic psalm, which says “Zeal for my Father’s house shall consume Me.” In this passage it was predicted that when the Messiah came, He would be utterly consumed with a passion for God. They had just seen Jesus manifesting an intense determination that the worship of God should be kept pure.
Let us remember that as Christians, our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Lord Jesus was anxious that the temple in Jerusalem should be kept pure, so we should be careful that our bodies are turned over to the Lord for continual cleansing by confessing our sins to Him and turning away from them. Let us also remind ourselves that true worship is voluntary. It involves the consecration of ourselves, and all we possess, to Him. Have we given the Lord Jesus Christ the place of ownership in our own individual lives? Are we being good stewards of all that He has given us, using it for His glory, as an act of worship to Him? If so, it will be obvioius to those around us. If so, we will reap an eternal inheritance, and receive His praise and rewards when we stand before Him in heaven some day.