January Bible Study: Enter Jesus; see His anger at 'den of robbers'comment (0)
January 3, 2013
By Fisher Humphreys
The movie director Alfred Hitchcock is quoted as saying, “Drama is life with the dull parts left out.” By that definition the first day of Holy Week was dramatic, but it also was simple.
Jesus decided to celebrate the Passover festival by making a pilgrimage to the Holy City. It was His custom to travel on foot, and it would have been appropriate for Him to make His pilgrimage into Jerusalem on foot. However, claiming a well-documented right of kings in antiquity to requisition a means of transport, Jesus arranged to enter Jerusalem on a donkey.
We today think of a donkey as a humble mode of transportation, but that is not the way Jews of the first century thought of it. The Hebrew Scriptures foretold that the Messianic King, the Savior whom God had promised to send, would enter Jerusalem on a donkey (see Zech. 9:9). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey He was effectively offering Himself to his people as the Messianic King for whom they had been waiting. The people received Him as King, saying: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven!” (Luke 19:38).
Today Jesus continues to come to people in God’s name and with God’s peace. When we receive Jesus we experience the peace of God in the deepest places in our hearts: in the places where we are hurting, anxious and ashamed. King Jesus comes to us with the same command He gave to the fishermen along the seashore long ago: “Follow Me.”
Mark (11:11) says that Jesus left Jerusalem Sunday evening and spent the night in a nearby village, Bethany. The next day He returned to Jerusalem, went to the temple and drove the merchants out (see Luke 19:45–46).
Apparently there were two reasons Jesus was angry with the merchants in the temple.
First, He was angry because the temple was being misused. He quoted Isaiah (53:6): “My house shall be a house of prayer.” Then, quoting Jeremiah (7:11), he added, “but you have made it a den of robbers.” The temple, the house of God where people come to worship God, was being used for wrong purposes.
There may have been excessive commercialization. Two kinds of business were being transacted in the temple. Merchants were selling birds and small animals to the people, who then gave them to the priests to be sacrificed to God. Bankers exchanged the money the pilgrims brought with them for silver coins minted in Tyre. This was the only kind of money that was acceptable for paying the temple tax that funded the work of the temple.
Did these practices trouble Jesus? Perhaps. But they were helpful to the worshippers and therefore seem to be an honorable way for merchants and bankers to make a living. Perhaps the merchants and bankers had become greedy, but the Gospels don’t say this. Perhaps they were cheating the pilgrims, many of whom would have been poor people. Jesus’ reference to a den of robbers may suggest that.
There is a third possibility. The phrase den of robbers may refer simply to a gathering place for evil people. In that case Jesus would not be referring to the bankers and merchants but to anyone who was meeting in the temple area to make evil plans. Perhaps Zealots were meeting to plot revolution against the Roman army which then occupied Israel. Because few soldiers would have been in the temple, it would have been an ideal place for revolutionaries to meet.
In any case the people had forgotten who lives in “the house of the Lord.” They should have remembered that God’s presence among them was a privilege, and they should have acted accordingly.
Instead they neglected God in favor of one or more other practices such as making a living by banking and commerce, cheating poor pilgrims or plotting revolution against the Romans. Jesus was angry because the people were taking God’s presence for granted. Either the other things were more important to them than God — which is idolatry — or they were so sure that they had God in their pocket that even in God’s house they could afford to ignore God — which is presumptuous and arrogant.
Something else may have made Jesus angry too. It was what was happening in the outer court. To appreciate this we must understand the layout of the temple. The temple mount was enormous, about 35 acres. Most of that vast area was known as the court of the Gentiles and was accessible to everyone. It existed because God desired to be worshipped not just by the Jews but by all the people of the world. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people,” God had told the prophet Isaiah (see Isa. 56:1–8).
And some Gentiles did worship the God of Israel (see John 12:20). They were attracted to Israel’s God by Israel’s conviction that there is one and only one true and living God and also by the high moral standards of the Torah.
But some of the Jewish people treated the court of the Gentiles with contempt. They felt free to interrupt the Gentiles who came into that court to worship God. They walked through the court carrying vessels and used the court for commerce, possibly dishonest commerce, and they may have used it to plot against Gentiles such as the Romans.
In summary, the two things that made Jesus angry were that people were taking God for granted and that people were looking with contempt on the Gentiles who came to God’s house.
We should ask ourselves two questions. First, are we taking God for granted? Because of the attention those of us who are ministers must give to the functioning of the church, we are especially tempted to fall into this sin.
Second, are there groups of people upon whom we feel entitled to look with contempt? Do we think it’s all right to be contemptuous of people of a different race, or of rural people, or of liberals, or of Fundamentalists, or of divorced people?
If the answer to either question is “yes,” the story of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple tells us how Jesus feels about our attitudes.