“[Jesus] made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” — John 2:15
When picturing Jesus, many of us only imagine the kind, compassionate and gentle Jesus who welcomes children into His arms and who came to save rather than to condemn. These are all true and important characteristics of Him, but we sometimes forget that one of the first things Jesus did in His ministry was go to the temple for Passover where He overturned tables, scattered coins and drove money-changers and animal sellers from the temple courts. To fully appreciate why these practices so outraged Jesus, we need to turn our attention to the last book of the Old Testament.
The book of Malachi has two prominent themes: God’s people were to engage in holy living and holy loving. The Old Testament records their failure on both counts, yet in Malachi, God promised that He would come to the temple and cleanse His people. Malachi prophesied of His coming, “He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” (Malachi 3:2). At His coming, God promised to testify against evildoers, the dishonest and those who oppress widows, orphans and foreigners. This prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus, and clearing the temple was part of this cleansing.
Specifically, Jesus targeted the corrupt practices occurring in the temple’s court of the Gentiles. Only ceremonially clean Jews were allowed in the temple’s inner courts, but the outer court of the Gentiles existed so that people from every nation, as well as the sick, the disabled and the unclean, could come and worship the God of Israel.
In Jesus’s day, this court had become a marketplace. Since only healthy and unblemished animals were considered acceptable sacrifices, it was easier to simply purchase an animal at the temple than risk injuring one on the journey from home. When these pilgrims showed up with their foreign currencies, the money-changers and animal sellers took advantage and overcharged. Worst of all, the priests and religious elites responsible for safeguarding the temple from corruption not only permitted these worship disturbances, but were enjoying a cut from the profits! Zealous for His Father, His temple and the people gathered to worship God, it is no wonder that Jesus was determined to drive out these corrupt worship practices.
Some of us may need a similar disruption in our own lives. Perhaps we have let religion, ritual, the love of money or corruption take root where there is supposed to be spiritual reality, relationship with God, generosity and compassion for others. Just as Jesus had to overturn tables in the temple, we might also need some metaphorical “tables” overturned in our hearts to be reminded that as people of God, we are called to holy living and holy loving.
PRAYER: Father God, thank You for coming like a refiner’s fire and launderer’s soap to cleanse me. Overturn any “tables” in my heart that are disrupting my worship of You.