Judgment on the Temple
“[Jesus] entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” (vv. 15b–16).- Mark 11:15–17
Under the old covenant, God had a special relationship to the nation of Israel in which He was their God and they were His people (Ex. 6:7). Yet, while this was an exclusive relationship, it was never meant to be an exclusive relationship based on physical descent. That is, the Lord established His covenant with the Israelites in order to finally expand the covenant community to include people from all nations. This intent is implicit in God’s call to Abraham and promise to bless the nations through the patriarch (Gen. 12:1–3). We also see in Isaiah 56:1–8 God’s desire for even the Gentiles to be counted among His people. Isaiah foresees a day when foreigners to Israel will join themselves to the nation and worship the Lord. Like the Jews, they will pray in the temple, which will be “a house of prayer for all peoples” (v. 7).
Among the other failures of the Lord’s old covenant people was that as a whole, they never fulfilled their call to reach the Gentiles and invite them to worship the one, true God. In the first century, the Jerusalem temple did have a court of the Gentiles that measured some thirty-five acres where non-Jews could come and pray to Yahweh, the God of Israel. However, the Gentiles were not really welcome there. The popular Jewish mind-set hoped that the Messiah would cleanse the temple of all Gentiles. Moreover, when the Gentiles came to the court of the Gentiles in first-century Jerusalem, there was no welcome awaiting them. Instead, the court was filled with merchants who sold animals for worshipers to bring as sacrifices and money changers who exchanged Roman coins for shekels that had no image of the emperor on them and thus were fit for payment of the temple tax. That is the scene described in today’s passage.
Josephus, the famous first-century Jewish historian, reports that 255,600 lambs were sacrificed during the Passover, which gives us a good idea of the scale of the merchants’ operation in the temple. There really was no place there for Gentiles to worship the Lord. Seeing this, Jesus drove the merchants and money changers out of the temple. They had no business conducting their business in that place and violating God’s design for the Gentiles to pray there (Mark 11:15–17). Jesus used judgment language, calling the place a “den of robbers” (v. 18), giving us another enacted parable of judgment (see vv. 12–14). The worship of the people and their leaders was thoroughly corrupted, and Jesus was going to cleanse it.
Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Mark, “The Jews hoped that the Messiah would cleanse the temple of Gentiles, but Jesus cleansed the temple for the Gentiles.” Christ judged the wicked and showed grace to His chosen in the very same act. God always shows mercy in the midst of judgment, but only those who trust in Him receive that grace.
Passages for Further Study