No this isn’t a recent headline from the New York Times. It’s likely what the Jerusalem Daily Gazette would have published the morning after Jesus cleared the Temple.
There is so much we can learn from this passage, but it so rarely gets brought up in churches. Questions about this passage always pop up. “Why would Jesus do such a thing?” or “Doesn’t Jesus love everyone? Why would he cause such a scene in a place of worship?”
There are two accounts of this happening in the Bible. One recorded by Matthew, the other by John. Today we’ll look at John’s account of this event.
John 2:13-17 New Living Translation (NLT)
Jesus Clears the Temple
13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”
17 Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
When I was growing up, I would hear someone reference this passage the moment a fundraising catalog entered the church building. But that’s just not the context for what Jesus is reacting to here. So if you don’t want to buy that stale popcorn, you may have just lost your scriptural basis for doing so. To fully understand what Jesus was so outraged about, we have to look back into history and take a look at what it took to worship at the temple.
Ever since the temple was rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah, it was the national place of worship for all Jewish people. As many as 2.5 million Jews would travel vast distances to worship God in His temple on holy days! And as we all know, there’s always cost involved when traveling.
Besides the cost of travel, a Jew wishing to worship would also have other monetary demands put upon them as they arrived at the temple. The “Temple Tax” offset the cost of maintaining the temple, and was equal to 1 day’s wage. If you were traveling with a foreign currency, you must exchange your money at a rate of 2 days wages. If you brought your own animal to offer as a sacrifice, there was a fee of 1/2 days wage for someone to inspect the animal. If you failed inspection, or couldn’t afford to travel with your animal sacrifice in tow, you could normally purchase doves at the cost of 2 days wage. But in the temple courts prices had been raised to nearly 40 days wages!
If you calculate the cost in modern day figures, it would cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 just to worship at the temple!
These services that Jew’s had set up as a convenience to traveling worshippers had instead become a roadblock preventing the poor from being able to worship God in his temple, all the while lining the pockets of the religious leaders. No wonder Jesus was upset!
It’s stunning to think that something which started out so noble by aiding God’s people in worship turned out to be just the opposite. God’s people lots sight of what they were doing, and what they were causing to happen around them.
Question: What sort of things stand in the way of worshippers today, and what can we do as the Church to remove those obstacles?