3 Overlooked Reasons Jesus “Cleansed” the Temple

April 4, 2012  11 Comments

Just as with His ride into Jerusalem, there’s more to Jesus’ violent actions in the temple then the exchange rate.  Here are three all too often overlooked reasons Jesus cleansed the temple.

1. Jesus as the “Son of David” is the Builder of God’s House

In His entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus claimed to be like Solomon, the “Son of David,” and thus rightful heir to the throne.  And in the temple cleansing which follows, he demonstrates how he has taken up the responsibility given to David’s son.

In 2 Samuel 7, God says to David

When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father and he will be my son.

Of course David’s son Solomon built the temple.  But Jesus by entering Jerusalem on a donkey and then cleansing the temple claimed that “one greater than Solomon is here (Matthew 12:42).”

2. Jesus was Angry Because the Temple had become a Barrier to God’s Praise

As he overturned the tables of the money changers, Jesus said,

Is is not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’  But you have made it a den of robbers.

We emphasize the connection between the money changers and “den of robbers” but often fail to see the quotation of Isaiah 56:7 in between. The temple establishment is not robbing from men.   Scholars have noted the reasonable necessity of the temple exchange based upon the law.  The temple system is robbing from the universal glory due God’s Name.

Isaiah prophesied (Is. 2)

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains.  It will be raised above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it.

The word “nations” in this passages as well as the one quoted by Jesus is gentiles. It Isaiah who prophecies,

And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

But the foreigners and gentiles by and large are not coming.  Jesus is angry because rather than a bridge, the temple has become a barrier to the worship of God among pagans.

3. Jesus was Prophetically Acting Out the Coming Destruction of the Temple.

The  word “cleanse” is not an appropriate description of Jesus’ actions here.  He’s not cleansing the temple.  He’s attacking it!  This temple must be removed.

Look to Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree to find the truth in this point.  Mark, the earliest of the four New Testament gospels, records the following scenes in this order.

  • Jesus looks for fruit on a fig tree but finding none curses it (11:12-14
  • Jesus enters Jerusalem and attacks the temple (11:15-19)
  • The disciples see the fig tree withered from the root and ask Jesus about it (11:20-25)

The sandwiching of these stories indicates that the fig tree is a symbol of the temple. The cursing of the fig tree and its subsequent withering represents Jesus attack on the temple and its subsequent destruction.

The destruction of the temple in AD 70, a generation removed from the events recorded in the gospel, is no where explicitly mentioned in the New Testament.  But there are numerous implicit details which indicate that it has already occurred or is about to occur when the gospels are written.

Jesus teaching on the mount of Olives (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) has this event in mind.  Here, Jesus once again links the temple and the fig tree.

Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.  Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.  I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.  Heaven and earth, will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Like Ezekiel and Isaiah, Jesus prophetically acts out the coming violent removal of the temple.

Jesus is Building a New House for God

But Jesus has not left a temple in ruins.  He has built a new one!  The New Testament continually indicates that the rebuilding of God’s true temple is found in the death and resurrection of His son.

Matthew Scott Miller

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  • http://pastorjasonauburnbiblechapel.wordpress.com Jason Wakefield

    Good stuff Matt!

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  • rogerupton

    Point #3 overlooked by the majority of churches today. Thanks for this article!

  • rogerupton

    Point #3 tragically overlooked and ignored by the church today. Thanks for the reminder1

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  • Anthony

    Okay, I have been going through John with the youth group I help pastor, and we hit John’s version of the cleansing of the temple tonight. At the end of the reading and study, I was suddenly reminded of the Idea of the beginning of the Gospel of John being an image, or a shadow of Genesis. John 1 in the beginning was the word, Genesis 1 in the beginning. Later
    in john 1 Holy Spirit descends [hovers] over Jesus Genesis 1 Spirit is
    hovering over the waters. John 1, life and creation through the Word,
    Genesis 1 Life and creation through the spoken Word (Jesus) of God.
    John 2 a wedding in Cana, Genesis 2 (or 3?) ‘Marriage’ of Adam and Eve. Anyway, You know what I mean.

    So, what comes next in both stories? Genesis, the defilement of the man, the Garden, and the Temple (the place where God and man come together). In John 2 we see Jesus as the second Adam restoring what was done in the garden by the first Adam. The Temple is cleansed and the wickedness and defilement is driven out. This is another allusion to Jesus removing sin from man, with man being the new dwelling place (Temple) of the Lord. Anyway, just thought I would share that with you since I remembered reading this blog post a while back and being intrigued. What are your Ideas of Adam being the first human High Priest? I have a few thoughts, but I would like to hear what you think about it also.

    • http://logosmadeflesh.com/ Matthew Miller

      Wow Anthony! I can feel your excitement. You are right. (1) Creation and the garden is God’s original temple while Adam (Man) is both High Priest and Idol (“image of God”). http://jbburnett.com/resources/beale_eden-temple-mission.pdf And (2) John knows it and ties his theme of a new creation with the portrait of Jesus as the new Man, Image/Idol, Temple and High Priest. His unique presentation and placement of the Temple Cleansing is just one of the numerous ways he reveals it.

      • Anthony

        I want to look deeper into this and develope the thought more. This is why I love John, it is so deep!