Would Jesus ‘Cleanse’ the Church? comment (0)
March 27, 2014
By Bob Terry
Righteous wrath overflowed as Jesus sent merchants and moneychangers scurrying from Temple Mount in Jerusalem. So incensed was our Lord by what He witnessed in the House of God that He took matters into His own hands and “cleansed the temple” (Matt. 21:12–17). One can only wonder how Jesus would react if He walked into a modern-day church this Sunday. Would Jesus celebrate what He found or would He want to “cleanse” the church as He cleansed the temple?
When Jesus entered Jerusalem His destination was not Herod’s palace, the site of political power. Nor did He go to the Roman stronghold called the Fortress of Antonia, the symbol of military power. Instead Jesus went to the temple because His was a spiritual kingdom, not a political kingdom nor a military kingdom. Jesus went to the temple for one purpose — to demonstrate His authority.
By asserting His authority in the House of God, Jesus identified with God. He also challenged the rule of the high priest and His followers in the epicenter of their power.
What Jesus walked into as He topped the stairs leading onto Temple Mount is sometimes referred to as the Bazaar of the Sons of Annas. It was a Middle Eastern market with oxen, sheep, pigeons and doves for sale and moneychangers dealing in currencies from across the Roman Empire.
The Greek word used for temple “hieron” generally referred to the whole temple area, but the market area covered only the Court of the Gentiles. Beyond that was the Court of Women. For a non-Jew to enter that area meant death. That was followed by the Court of Israel, a worship place for men. Also there was a Court of the Priests where sacrifices were offered and, finally, there was the Holy of Holies that was entered only on the Day of Atonement by the high priest.
Originally the markets served a good purpose. They allowed pilgrims to buy sacrifices in Jerusalem rather than having to bring them from afar. Of the moneychangers, the Talmud says, “On the 25th day of Adar (the month before the Passover), moneychangers were installed in the temple itself to help in collecting the half-shekel donation.”
Unfortunately by Jesus’ day the good idea had gone terribly wrong. The Jewish historian Josephus writes of high priests who seemed to have given up their love of God for the love of money. He singles out Annas and his five sons for special condemnation (John 18:12). Convenience became extortion as prices were inflated and exchange rates exorbitant. Pilgrims were financially gouged at every turn. The marketplace was a den of thieves.
For the Gentiles seeking God there was no room. Profit was more important than prayer; private gain more than personal devotion.
Could Jesus have done any less than to cleanse the area of that which prevented people from having access to God? He was the Son of God. His kingdom was a spiritual kingdom tied to the presence of God. But the high priest had turned the House of Prayer into a
bazaar. Even the act of driving out the merchants and the moneychangers demonstrated Jesus’ authority.
What about the church today? Like the ancient temple, our churches are supposed to be part of the spiritual kingdom of God. If Jesus climbed the stairs into our churches what would He find?
Many, perhaps most, Alabama Baptist churches are houses of prayer. Dedicated men and women love the Lord and earnestly seek to follow Him in daily life. Alabama Baptists are blessed with outstanding pastors serving in a variety of ministries. Some endure personal sacrifices in order to help their congregations grow in the wisdom and knowledge of God.
Not all churches are so blessed. A bazaar of distractions can still prevent those who come saying “We would see Jesus” from ever getting near the Lord of the church.
In some places it is the distraction of a fractious fellowship. Such churches go through the rituals of worship, but the real focus of the congregation is power and control. Like the apostle John, the seekers for Jesus might ask these churches how they can love God whom they have not seen and hate their brothers whom they have seen (1 John 4:20)?
Another marketplace distraction relates to the various ideas proclaimed. In one place a political message is promoted. One can hear about the need to elect this person or defeat that issue but little about “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
A nearby “booth” in the marketplace of ideas may sell the latest in pop psychology or the newest book review. Still another offers some form of a perverted gospel.
The church settings that have turned into bazaars today have personalities who mastermind all that takes place just as Annas and his infamous son did on Temple Mount. Some seem pure charlatans, some manipulators, while others seem to seek ego satisfaction. All appear concerned primarily about self.
Perhaps today’s religious bazaars started with good intentions like the temple markets but along the way they have become as corrupt as the one Jesus labeled a “den of thieves.”
If Jesus came to these churches what would He do? Would He weep over them like He wept over Jerusalem, which refused to be gathered to God? Would He leave them to their certain destruction because they choose personal gain over godly obedience? Would He “cleanse” them in hopes of renewing them to their original purposes?
Matthew 7:21 quotes Jesus as saying, “Not everyone who says to Me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” All of us in the Church should listen closely because Jesus is Lord, and one day He will demonstrate that authority when He passes judgment on what takes place there.