Like many, I’ve read and heard preached the story of Jesus clearing the temple. This is often the first scripture that comes to mind when we talk about an angry Jesus. We say, “Oh man, he went ballistic and started flipping tables and stuff!” And indeed he did, acting our God’s judgement on the Temple (see N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus, and elsewhere on topic). But Jesus also did something else – he taught them.
I was listening to this passage read aloud and the line, “As he taught them…” caught my attention. You see, Jesus didn’t just flip the tables and run off all mad and angry. He was making a point. He stuck around and taught them something radically new.
Here’s the passage….
…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, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 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.
The primary lesson, of course, is that Jesus is the new temple. The old one was as dead as the fig tree that Mark highlights in the passage just before this one. Proclaiming himself the new temple is astounding. We can’t appreciate the claim as much today, but it’s akin to a bum off the street saying, “America, yeah it’s mine – I embody it. If you want freedom, come to me.” Jesus made incredible claims all the time. It’s what made folks not believe him, worship him, or try to kill him.
Aside from the new temple claim, what I find amazing in the passage is Jesus’ courage and his character. It wasn’t like our angry outbursts where we fly off the handle and then have to repair the damage. Instead, Jesus was angry that people were being blocked from God – from him – that the place where heaven and earth meet (the Temple) was being used for profit and other ungodly things. He hates that – more here. So he stuck around and taught the people. This shows his incredible compassion and love for us robbers. What do you think Jesus said, “as he taught them?”
There is a hint in that he “…would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.” I can imagine Jesus teaching about the love of God and how there is absolutely nothing we can do ourselves to appease him, or that would impress him, or that would earn his love. And just as someone was walking past with their livestock or wares for sacrifice, he said, “Friend, leave your pigeons, goats, lambs, and merchandise at home. God created you. He loves you. Despite your sin, everyone is welcome into the temple (Jesus/God). Come to me and you will find rest.”
Yes Jesus flipped over tables, but we see much more than that. Not only do we see a new temple open to all, but we see the judgement, love, compassion, sacrifice, and grace of God.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson