Theme: Christianity and Commercialism
In this week’s lesson we see Jesus’ approach to commercialism and materialism in his church.
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.”
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple,“Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes;have you never read,
“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”
And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.
The twenty-first chapter of Matthew marks the beginning of the end of Jesus’ ministry, though we are only two-thirds of the way through the gospel at this point. The reason Matthew 21 marks this beginning is that it records the events leading to Jesus’ final break with Judaism. We looked at one of these events in the last study: Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-11). Jesus intended it as a presentation of himself to Israel as her Messiah and King. It provoked the praise of the people as well as the hostility of the religious leaders. The second event is the one we come to now: the cleansing of the temple (vv.12-17).
Ten chapters before this (chapter 11, verse 10), Matthew cited Malachi 3:1 as being fulfilled by John the Baptist, described as a messenger sent to prepare the way for God’s Messiah. But that is not all these verses from Malachi say. Malachi comes at the end of our Old Testament, and the thrust of Malachi 3:1-4 is that God will send the Messiah to purify the temple and his people. These verses say,
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.
Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple;
the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
These words, as well as other passages like them (see Ezekiel 40-48 and Zechariah 14:20-21), were well known to the Jews and had led to the belief that the Messiah would purify the temple when he came. Therefore, when Jesus followed his triumphal entry by driving the money changers and those who were buying and selling from the temple, he was presenting himself as the Messiah acting in this role.1 Jesus was both making a disclosure about who he was and asserting a claim to authority over the religious life of Israel.
He had done this once before, at the start of his ministry (see John 2: 12-17). But the money changers had straightened up their tables, scooped up their scattered coins and returned to business. So here, at the end of his ministry, Jesus cleanses the temple once more.2
1Matthew describes the cleansing of the temple immediately after his account of the triumphal entry. But Mark points out that the cleansing of the temple actually took place the next day, that is, on Monday of Passion Week (Mark 11:12). Mark places the cursing of the fig tree at the start of this second day, as does Matthew, but he locales the account of the temple cleansing after it.
2Much has been written about these cleansings, the prevailing view being that there was only one event placed by John at the stalt of the ministry and by the Synoptics at the end. The gospel writers often arrange their material topically rather than chronologically. We have already seen examples of this in Matthew. But there are significant differences in the two accounts, and it is not unreasonable to conclude that there were in fact two cleansings. There is a discussion of some of the reasons for this view in D. A. Carson “Matthew” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, Matthew, Mark, Luke [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984], p 441)
Why did Jesus drive money changers out of the temple again at the end of his ministry?
What does Malachi 3: 1-4 say about the Messiah?
What was Jesus signifying by driving the money changers from the temple?
Read over Matthew 21:1-11. Note the appropriate transition from that event to this one. How is overthrowing the money changers’ tables an appropriate act of Jesus as king?