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May 15, 2020

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Bible Gem 1151 - The Symbolism in the Cleansing of the Temple (Luke 19:45-48)

July 15, 2019

Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people selling animals for sacrifices.

He said to them,"The Scriptures declare, 'My Temple will be a house of prayer,' but you have turned it into a den of thieves."

After that, He taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill Him.

But they could think of nothing, because all the people hung on every word He said. (Luke 19:40-48)



What happened when Jesus entered the temple? Why did He react like He did? What is the meaning and symbolism behind it all?


The Temple layout was rather complex. It was a very large construction and it was modeled on the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was divided into the Outer Court, The Holy Place and Holy of Holies. By the time of Herod's Temple there was an added area open to everyone called the Court of the Gentiles. The merchants would set up in the area of the Court of the Gentiles to sell their merchandise. The things they sold were all related to the activity of the temple. They were permitted to be there by the temple authorities to help things run smoothly. The temple business could not be carried out unless the things needed for sacrifice were readily available. But they did not need to be encroaching into the temple precincts itself. They could just as easily set up in the roadsides around the temple. But of course it was not as convenient. There was a wide range of things sold: various kinds of animals and birds for sacrifice. Some of these are named by the other gospel writers. Luke however only listed "animals for sacrifice". The livestock for sale included oxen, sheep, beef cattle, pigeons, doves and other smaller birds. In addition to these things: wine, oil and salt along with other ingredients were also sold. There were coins sold too, which did not have Caesar's image on them because the image of a man on a coin was an affront to Judaism. So the merchants had special coinage on sale with which the people could pay their offering – at a price of course. 


It stands to reason given human (and Jewish) ingenuity that the traders struck deals with the temple authorities to set up as close to the true Outer Court as possible so the process of buying your animal for sacrifice and then sacrificing it was as easy as possible. The closer the merchant could get to the Outer Court the better. Bribes were paid and deals made in order to secure the best places for sales. It became a lucrative business for the priest and temple guard as well. This process was encroaching on the temple worship (I am using the term worship here in the widest sense of the term, meaning the temple related activities and service). 


Think about the scene created by all this activity and the presence of the animals and their excrement within the bounds of the temple. It is this that Jesus takes exception to. The stench, the hustle in terms of merchants ripping off the people come to worship and the bustle and noise of all this activity going on made Jesus react in His Spirit. [I capitalized it because Jesus Spirit is God's Spirit, I.e. The Holy Spirit]. We are not told by Luke how Jesus drove the sellers out. John tells us (Jn 2:15-16)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. 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!" But some would object to me applying John's description to the incident described in Luke because they consider these two different incidents. I will let you conclude what you will. I have already told you I think it is one cleansing at one particular time but the gospel writers use it in different ways to suit their purpose.


There is debate over whether "those buying and selling" should be included. Textually there is an issue of which documents have buying included or whether it is just selling. I am not going to get drawn into that one. I don't consider it important enough for us to spend time on it. The intent is clear. Whether Jesus drove the buyers out too or just the sellers, the end result is the same. He refers to the words in Isaiah 56:7 which reads: "I will bring them to My holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in My house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations." But, says Jesus YOU, sellers and merchants have turned it into a "den of thieves". Jesus says you have turned what was meant to be an [oikos proseuche] "house of prayer" - in this sense the idea is a house, or a temple, a dwelling given over to prayer. But you have turned it into a [spelaion lestes] a den or cave or hideout of robbers and thieves. The commercial activity is taking precedence over what the place should be used for. It is like Amos refers to when he makes it clear in Amos 2:6-8 and 5:22-27 that Israelites have been scheming how to extort and make money in the midst of worship. Thus in the midst of the temple these merchants scheme how to rip off the people and make more money. My house of prayer and worship has become a den of robbers and thieves. Hence Jesus' indignation and His snort of disapproval and anger against what they have been doing. (See Gemz 77 and 78). 


Note the stark contrast in verses 47 and 48. The religious leaders and the teachers look for a way to kill Him while the people hang on every word He utters. We get ourselves into a trap when we dare to reject the Word of the Lord and reclassify teaching or God's input on our own terms. As we have seen with the Parable of the Soils and other places through Luke, we are responsible for our own predicament. The degree to which we respond to God's truth determines the next step. We are the author's of our own demise if we reject His word or command to our hearts in favour of our own way. We will trap ourselves in darkness without His light if we constantly refuse to do what He asks of us. The Pharisees trapped themselves. The people of Israel trapped themselves. Despite being the very people to whom God gave revelation, they did not recognize the time of His appearing because their hearts were pre-set against Him. Even more, the leaders of Israel, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. 


This is Luke's purpose in putting the Triumphal Entry directly beside the Cleansing of the Temple. The contrast between them is immense. The people to whom God gave the revelation missed it. Why? Because their temple needs cleansing. You figure out what that means: for them and more importantly, for you as an individual. I can't do it for you. That is a task you have to do for yourself. 



The trick to creating financial freedom has always been simple, find out where the masses are going and get there first. Thomas Hardaway


But the trick in finding spiritual freedom and peace is also simple, don't follow the crowd; rather follow the Carpenter from Galilee. Ian


Whatever He says to you, do it. Mary, wife of Joseph


Don’t seek the highest place. Rather if you want to be great in God's Kingdom, learn to be the servant of all. Jesus Messiah


If you want to enter into eternal life, be willing to surrender / give up your life in order to gain it. 



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