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Weekly Bible Study
“The Cleansing of the Temple”
by Hugh Davidson   
October 21st, 2007

John 2:12-17 “After this he went down to Capernaum, He, and his mother, and His brethren, and His disciples: and they continued there not many days. And the Jews' Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise. And His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.’”

In verse 13 we see a comment on the time and place. It says it’s the time of the Passover and Jesus went up to the temple. We know that the Passover was the most important of all the Jewish feasts because this was the time when they celebrated their deliverance out of bondage from the hands of the Egyptians. The Passover fell on the 15 day of the month of Nisan which is about the middle of April.

In verse 14 we’re told that Jesus went up to the temple and since the setting for what we’re looking at takes place here I want to give you a mental picture of what it looks like. This particular temple is known as the third and the first two were Solomon’s and Zerubbabel’s. This one is called Herod’s temple because it began to be built under the rule of King Herod in 19 B.C. The main part was completed about thirty years later but the whole thing wasn’t finished until 64 A.D. which was 83 years after it was started. The temple took up 19 acres of space and it was an extraordinary building. As a matter of fact, there was so much gold and silver decorating it that on a sunny day it was difficult to look upon because of the reflection.

And now, I want to turn your attention to the business side of the temple and point out that there was nothing wrong with the sacrificial system, the selling of animals for sacrifice or even the money changing hands when it was all handled properly. Just like there’s nothing wrong with a church taking up an offering, paying the pastor, supporting our missionaries, paying the light bills or sending the proper forms in to the government. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything.

God didn’t expect people to travel great distances and carry animals for sacrifice so it would be reasonable for the people to buy an animal when they got there. For ordinary purposes and business transactions all currency was considered to be legal in the city of Jerusalem. And there were silver coins from Rome, Greece and Egypt all commonly in circulation. But, because these coins bore either the emblem of allegiance to a foreign king or god, the temple tax had to be paid in the shekel of the sanctuary. And since people had to exchange their money somewhere the religious hierarchy arranged to have what were known as money changers. And again, there was nothing wrong with doing this because people had to find this service somewhere.

The problems came when these money changers got greedy and before long these people were charging astronomical sums of money to change the currency into temple coinage. It actually worked out; that to convert the half shekel they were charged half of its value. So, the offering was two days wages and the people ended up paying three days wages after the exchange and you have to keep in mind that there was somewhere around two million people who came for Passover.

There was nothing wrong with them earning something for their efforts but they were going too far. And there were two problems with what they were doing. And the first one was obvious, in that they were ripping off those who were traveling from outside the region. And then secondly, Jesus said in Matthew 21:13 that they had turned what was supposed to be a house of prayer into a den of thieves. And of all the places in Jerusalem this should have been the one place where people could count on to be treated fairly because the religious crowd were in charge. And when we think of those who made it difficult for the Jews we think of the Roman army. After all, they had the power to tax and force people to do whatever they wanted to and here we see the scribes and Pharisees doing the same thing in the name of religion.

And besides the money changers there were also those who sold the animals for the offerings. The law said that the animals had to be spotless and without blemish and there were inspectors appointed by the temple to make sure the animals lived up to the sacrificial standards. These men made sure that no animal was good enough and that meant that everyone had to buy their animal to offer from one of the vendors selling in the temple court. And the biggest problem had to do with the cost because everybody was making money.

So, the temple concessions ran like a farmers market would today except they were much more expensive. The merchants would pay the priests for table space and then they’d also have to pay a percentage of the profits as well. Alfred Edersheim the Jewish historian said, “A person would pay as much as ten times the normal cost of an animal and the fee for currency exchange was twenty-five per cent above the currencies value.

And then in verses 15 and 16 it says, “And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changer’s money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, take these things hence; make not My Father’s house an house of merchandise.”

And what Jesus was reacting to was that people were coming to the temple to find God and all they were meeting was a bunch of crooks. This is one of the few times where Jesus expresses anger and in a sense we are surprised. I mean, Jesus is always portrayed by artists as meek and mild and He’s seen petting animals and playing with children and here He is flipping tables and swinging a whip. And what enraged Him was the fact that these people were not only abusing what was set aside for God in terms of the temple property but they were taking advantage of those who could least afford to pay for their services. This tells us we have to be careful when were looking after God’s property and more so when it’s our responsibility to take care of God’s people.

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