They came to Jerusalem, and he went into the temple and began to throw out those buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple. He was teaching them: “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves!”
The chief priests and the scribes heard it and started looking for a way to kill him. For they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was astonished by his teaching.
In this passage we again Jesus’ zeal for “God’s House”, and we also see the reasons that Jesus was so upset that these “merchants” had set up shop within the temple. Jesus was not upset that these men were providing the people with a way to facilitate their worship. Jesus was instead upset that these men had taken this simple way to facilitate worship and turned it into a business venture, that was all about making money for them and not about facilitating people’s worship. And to understand that better we need to understand who “the money changers” were and who the sellers of “doves” were.
The Money Changers
This group of men were setup at the temple so that the people coming into Jerusalem from all over could convert their foreign money, with its pagan images on it, into a form of currency that did not have a “graven image” on it. Because the Roman issued coins were acceptable within the confines of the temple, to pay the various fees and fines that were involved in temple worship. Now, before we go any further we need to understand this one thing. And that one thing is this: what I have just described is not a bad thing. In fact it is a good thing, because as this process as I have just described it is facilitating worship. However, as I am sure you are aware based on the passage we just read the simple process that I just described was not the process in use when Jesus entered the temple at the beginning of Passover Week some two-thousand years ago.
The process by the time we see Jesus cleansing the temple had devolved into a money making scheme on the part of the “money changers”. What do I mean by a money making scheme? Very simply this the “money changers” were no longer offering the “temple coin” at a one to one exchange rate, but instead they were charging people a fee for exchanging their “pagan” coin for “temple coin”. They had in essence taken what had started out being all about facilitating the worship of God and had turned it into something that was all about making money for themselves. Which is the reason Jesus was upset with and drove out the “money changers”.
The Sellers of “Doves”
Just as the people arriving in Jerusalem needed to convert their foreign and pagan money into the “temple coin”, they also needed to be able to purchase those animals that they were going to be sacrificing in their worship to God. And it was this need that the sellers of animals setup inside the temple court to fulfill. But again what started out as something good turned into nothing more than a money making scheme.
For just as the “money changers” began to charge fees for facilitating the worship of God, so too did the sellers begin to overprice their goods. Before we go any further, I feel that have to understand what I mean by the term overprice. These sellers had originally setup these booths to facilitate worship in the temple, and because of this they originally only charged those who bought from them what they, the sellers, paid for these animals. Basically what this means is that sellers of animals in the temple courts started off as non-profit organization, but later morphed into a for-profit business. However, that was not the only thing going on with these sellers. Because you see the sellers and the “money changers” were now working together.
Originally the sellers took the “coin” with “graven images” on them, because that was what they used to pay for their wares. But as time went by they began to work with the “money changers”. And it was this cooperation between the sellers and the “money changers” that Jesus had the biggest problem with. Because as we have already learned the “money changers” were charging high fees for exchanging “pagan” money for the official “temple coin”. But once the sellers and the “money changers” got together the entire game changed. Because once the sellers started working together with the “money changers” the sellers began to only take “temple coin”, and once they began taking “temple coin” they had to use the “money changers” to convert the useless “temple coin” into the valid coin “of the realm”. And because these sellers were driving business towards the “money changers” they bought back their “temple coin” at a very good rate, so that both sides made money off of the entire operation. And if this was not bad enough all of this was being done with the blessing of the religious leaders.
To give you an example that you might understand what is happening here a little bit better. The sellers and the “money changers” were operating like a fly by night, shady used car lot would today. These “used car lots” supposedly offer everything you need in house, so that you don’t have to go elsewhere to get financing or even service for your “new” used car. But what they don’t tell you is that the interest rate the “auto loan” they are going to offer is sometimes two or three times what you would pay if you went to an actual car dealership, and the service that they might offer is priced the exact same way. And all of this was designed to make these “car dealers” money and to take advantage of those who have come to them to buy cars from them. And this is exactly the kind of behavior that the sellers and the “money changers” were engaged in.
What then is the take away from all this? By driving out those who were buying and selling in the temple area shows Christ’s passion for true holiness. And the people who came to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, in this case, and any of the other Jewish feasts needed animals for the ritual sacrifices, but the temple area was not the appropriate place for these merchants, because that is what they had become, to set up their booths. In addition, the “money chargers” took advantage of the people who needed to exchange their foreign currency so they could pay the annual temple tax. The temple courts had also become a shortcut for business people carrying their merchandise to the other side of the city. It seems that the entire temple area during this time had become a marketplace overrun with business traffic.
Jesus, however, makes it clear that God’s house was meant to be a special place where God’s people could meet with him for prayer and worship. It must not be disrespected and corrupted by making it a center for social gatherings, selling merchandise or finical advancement. The outer court of the temple, where all this was taking place, was called the court of the Gentiles—the only place where people of other nations who were not Jewish could gather for worship and prayer. All of the activity going on there made prayer and worship nearly impossible. So not only were the vendors taking advantage of people, but they were also literally preventing foreigners from spending time with God. This was their greatest crime. And Jesus’ actions assured all people access to the place of worship, which is the take away from today’s passage.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Numbers 2-3, Mark 11:27-12:17, Psalm 47:1-9 and Proverbs 10:24-25