Jesus came back to the Temple on Monday morning, and performed one of His mightiest and most significant works. It is a work that has daily relevance in the life of every believer, because you are God's New Covenant temple.
Two Temple Cleansings at Different Times
The better-known account of Jesus' cleansing the Temple is recorded in Luke 19:45-48, and in parallel accounts in Matthew 21:12-13 and Mark 11:15-17. The event occurs on the day after Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem:
Then He went into the Temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.' " And He was teaching daily in the Temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.
However, we know from John 2:13-16 that this was not the first time Jesus had cleansed the Temple. John records that He also did it at the beginning of His public ministry. Now, three years later, He does it again at the end of His ministry. He comes to the Temple area on the Monday after His Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem.
The Temple Area: No Small Place
To understand both accounts, we need to understand what went on in the Temple area. The area to which Luke 19:45 refers was the Court of the Gentiles. This was a large outer court where devout Gentiles, who could not come into the Temple proper, could come to pray and to worship at a distance. But they were forbidden, on pain of death, to come any closer.
The Court of the Gentiles was actually far larger than the Temple building itself, and its Inner Court, which were restricted to the Jews. Historical writings at the time of Christ tell us that the area occupied by Herod's Temple and its courts was over 35 acres, and the Court of the Gentiles occupied about 10 acres of that space. Modern archaeological excavations have confirmed this. So the area that Jesus cleansed was no small place.
A Place of Prayer Turned Into a Livestock Market
What was the intended purpose of this area? It was supposed so be a quiet area, devoted to prayer and the worship of God.
But what was going on in this area of the Temple in Jesus' day? The Levites had turned it into an animal market. Many Jews from outlying parts of Israel or from foreign lands, who came to worship and offer sacrifices at the Temple, would wait until they got to Jerusalem to buy sacrificial animals to offer. Many did this as a matter of convenience. It was too much trouble to bring animals on the trip with them. Many also did it because the sacrifice required an animal without blemish. An animal intended for sacrifice might become unfit through disease or injury during a long journey.
So the Temple area itself, particularly the Court of the Gentiles, had become the animal market. Keep in mind that tens of thousands of Jews came to Jerusalem for Passover and the feasts that followed (Unleavened Bread and Pentecost). Because many of them were coming from foreign countries, they had to change their foreign money into local currency in order to buy an animal. So there were money-changers at the Temple - people who exchanged foreign currency. In other words, bankers.
We are told in contemporary records, by Josephus and others, that the family of the high priest ran this commercial operation. They had gone into the cattle and banking businesses. They sold sacrificial animals in the Court of the Gentiles at premium prices. And just like your local bank today, they charged heavy transaction fees for exchanging money.
So picture this: The Temple area, particularly the Court of the Gentiles, a ten-acre space that was supposed to be a quiet place of prayer and worship, was filled with stalls of baying animals and their refuse, possibly thousands of shouting people, and no doubt arguments about prices. Instead of quiet, prayer, and worship, there is noise and chaos.
No Small Task
What did Jesus do? The Gospel accounts tell us that He threw out those who bought and sold, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers. The force of the original language is that He did it violently, and with anger.
Now this was no small task. Think of the size of the area. Think of the amount of buying and selling that was going on. Think of this one Man, the Son of God, driving out these merchants, and their animals, and turning over the bankers' tables. And as He did it He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations', but you have made it a 'den of thieves.' " He was quoting from Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Jesus Christ: A Mighty Man
The Temple cleansing accounts tell us of the holiness of God, the reverence He is due in worship, the Jewish religious leaders' irreverent perversion of that worship, and the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the Messiah's zeal for the house of God. But these accounts also tell us something else important about our Lord himself. Sometimes Jesus is depicted in paintings and sculpture - and today in motion pictures and on television - as a weak character. Almost effeminate. These accounts put the lie to that idea, and confirm another point of prophecy.
The man who cleansed the Temple was a man's man. He was physically capable of single-handedly driving out the merchants, the moneychangers, and their merchandise. The Lord Jesus Christ was a mighty man, like David of old, who said in Psalm 18, "By You I can run against a troop. By my God I can leap over a wall." Jesus Christ is truly the Son of David. He was a mighty man of valor. Our God manifest in the flesh is the mighty God, not a weakling.
Why Jesus Cleansed the Temple
Notice also what Jesus did after He cleansed the temple. Verse 47 tells us that Jesus "was teaching daily in the temple" on this Monday and throughout the days leading up to His arrest and crucifixion at the end of the week.
Jesus had a purpose in cleansing the temple court. He cleansed it so that His people could pray and worship in it. He cleansed it so that He could teach in it. By this very act, and by the Scripture that He quotes, He was demonstrating that His teaching was not for Jews only, but for all nations. This was the court of the Gentiles.
The opening verses of the next chapter, Luke 20, tell us that Jesus did two things. He taught the people in the temple; in other words, He instructed them in sound doctrine. And, He preached the Gospel to them; He told them they needed to be saved, and that He had come as their Savior. These two things go together - the Gospel of salvation by Jesus Christ, and instruction in sound doctrine. You cannot divorce the preaching of the Gospel from the teaching of sound doctrine, the whole counsel of God. These are the two elements of Christ's purpose for His church as He gave it in the Great Commission after His resurrection.
Note also the dual response to Jesus' preaching and teaching. There was the right response, and the wrong response.
In Luke 19:48 we read that "the people were very attentive to hear Him." The idea in the original language is that the people were clinging closely to Him, and they were hanging on His words.
But we read in the early verses of chapter 20 that the unbelieving chief priests, scribes, and elders, came and interrupted His teaching and preaching. They barged in and said, "By what authority are you doing these things?" They could not deny His teaching, so they questioned His authority. That is exactly what Satan has been doing from the beginning. The serpent said to Eve, "Has God indeed said.?" The Devil always seeks to deny the authority of God, and substitute the authority of man. That is just what the religious leaders of Jesus' day did.
But Jesus had gotten the attention of people who now wanted to hear what He had to say. No doubt they wanted to hear this man who had single-handedly cleansed the court of the Gentiles. Because the people were listening so attentively to Jesus, there was no place for the opposition to gain an easy foothold. If you understand the power of God, and you spend your time listening to God, there is no time to listen to the Devil and his messengers.
When Satan's emissaries barged in and interrupted Jesus, He dealt with them decisively. He showed everyone their unbelief and hypocrisy, openly. He put them to silence, and they left Him and went away.
Jesus cleansed the Temple. He made it a fit place for prayer and worship. Then He taught in the Temple once He had cleansed it. Once there was the proper setting, once Jesus had removed the distractions of the marketplace and the money-changing, the people could listen attentively to Him.
You Are God's New Covenant Temple
The same is true for us as believers today. God no longer lives among His people in the Old Covenant tabernacle or temple made with hands, above the mercy seat. Jesus Christ has come. He has died. He has risen. He has gone into the Holy Place in Heaven once for all, and placed His own blood upon the Heavenly mercy seat of which the tabernacle's mercy seat was only a type. The New Covenant is now in effect.
And Jesus Christ is no longer on earth in the flesh. He said to His disciples, I am going back to Heaven, but I will not leave you comfortless. I will send another like Myself, God the Holy Spirit. He will live in you. This Temple, this physical edifice, will soon be destroyed. Instead, you will be My temple. You will be the temple of the Holy Spirit, and He will teach you all truth.
The Spirit's Work in His New Covenant Temple
And so today, God the Holy Spirit performs that same dual work of cleansing and teaching - in us, His temples of the New Covenant. The Apostle Paul frequently reminds believers that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit:
"Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16)
"But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." (Romans 8:9-11)
"Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.' Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.' 'I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.' " (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
What About You?
God rightly calls you, His blood-bought saint, "My house." Are you conscious of that, day by day and moment by moment? Is the temple of your body a fit dwelling place for God? Are you, by His grace, keeping it clean? Is it a "house of prayer" - or is it a "den of thieves" in which you rob God of the preeminence He justly claims? Are you listening attentively to the Spirit's instruction through the Word, filling your heart with His truth and clinging to it, so that there is no room for the gainsaying of Satan? Or are you filling your heart with the things of this world?
You must seek God's cleansing of His temple continually. Never deny that you need it. In 1 John 1:8-9 we read this: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." But - "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Just as Jesus drove the merchants and money-changers out of the Old Covenant temple, God the Holy Spirit works to drive sin and spiritual distraction out of the temple of our hearts where He now dwells. God wants the temple of our hearts to be a quiet place for prayer and worship, not a place of chaos. He wants the temple of our hearts to be the seat of His instruction in the Gospel and in sound doctrine. He comes to give us peace. He commands us to walk in the Spirit.
"Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." (Galatians 5:16-25)
Are you struggling with the warfare of the flesh against the Spirit in the temple of your body? Just as Jesus was mighty to drive the sources of sin and chaos out of the Old Covenant temple, Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit is mighty to drive them out of His New Covenant temple. Ask Him, in continual confession and repentance (1 John 1:9), and through continual cleansing by the Word (Ephesians 5:26) to do that work in your life.