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The Bible records two instances of Jesus cleansing the Temple of money changers and of those selling sacrificial animals. Jesus’ first encounter with money changers was at the beginning of His three-year ministry.

John 2:14–16 1 – “In the Temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the Temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’”

Can you imagine that! Jesus making a whip of cords and driving them out. The second time He confronted the money changers was the week before His trial and crucifixion. Seeing that the money changers had come back, He again drove them out, saying:

Matthew 21:13 – “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

These two stories are in direct contrast to the peaceful Nazarian who came to our world to take upon His back the sins of the world. Jesus became violent, He had enough! Is there something to learn from these two experiences? Is it possible to create an outline of offences that so angered the Son of God, that a physical response was necessary?

Money changing was common in the Roman Kingdom, where there was a proliferation of currency systems and standards. In Palestine, as in Egypt, each district had its own royal bank. When visitors entered the Temple, they would be carrying foreign coin. Most coins at that time would have had the images of their foreign emperor on them. This would be a direct violation of God’s law against graven images within the Temple. To enter or provide offerings of either money or live animals, an exchange had to be made. Jewish law also required a Temple tax of a half-shekel (Exodus 30:11–16). Therefore, money changers, as they were called, were necessary to the operation of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

The money changers would use stalls inside the Court of the Gentiles in the Royal Stoa, an area considered separate from the holy area. Rather than providing the money changing service as a business in another part of town, they exploited the religious zeal of the visitors coming to Jerusalem and did their business on Temple grounds. Each money changer determined their own exchange rate, and easily took advantage of the poor and the foreigners visiting Jerusalem for Passover. Some sold sacrificial animals, overcharging people who did not bring their own. Others oversaw examining the animals to be sacrificed, and it was a simple matter to declare an animal “unapproved” and force the worshiper to buy another animal, at an inflated price, from the Temple vendors. Such goings-on, exploiting the poor and the foreigners. It not only angered Jesus but was also strictly forbidden in the Mosaic Law.

Exodus 22:21 – “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Leviticus 19:34 – “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

To add further to Jesus’s anger, the Temple priests were in on the action. Ancient historian Josephus calls Annas the high priest “a great hoarder up of money.” The sons of Annas were able to use their father’s Temple position as high priest to set up their own bazaars in the Court of the Gentiles for the purpose of money changing and the purchase of sacrificial animals. This was a lucrative “family business.” Furthermore, as the vast numbers of Jews streamed to Palestine and Jerusalem “out or every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), taking with them considerable sums of money in foreign currencies, the foreign currency was often handed over to the Temple authorities for safe deposit in the Temple itself. Thus Jerusalem’s Temple became a sort of central bank and exchange mart, and the Temple vaults served as “safe deposits” in which every type of coin was represented. This of course was, again, in direct violation of God’s laws, since the entire reason for the exchange was to keep the graven images out but the priests were making money storing them in the Temple.

To add further to this issue, during the high holidays, such as Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, certain priests had taken advantage of their status by setting up stalls in the holy area, inside the sacred square precinct. When we try to understand Jesus, we can see that it was the combination of their greed, the fact that they brought in the foreign coins, and that they carried out these activities in a sacred area had angered Him. This background can help us better understand why Jesus drove out these money changers and why the priests, especially those of the high house of Annas, were so opposed to His teachings. The hatred of the priests of Jesus had much to do with His threat against their money-making schemes.

What these two stories tell us is that even Jesus had His limits to corruption from within. Priests were to be better than that. Their ethical standards were to be set high and they were to treat all people with honesty, fairness and respect. When He saw the flagrant violations, He was moved to act. This is not a call for us to just become violent when we see greed and corruption. It permeates our society, and we would spend all our time filled with anger and rage. It does, however, tell us that we are not to tolerate these things in our own lives. Our demands of our government, our corporations, must also include demands to follow the law, be ethical and fair with all people. What this lesson does not tell us is that violence is OK because Jesus was violent.  On the contrary, this lesson says that Jesus has our back, your back. He will not tolerate the destruction of His Temple. Woe to the money changers of the world!

Contemplations

  • The Temple was not the government but it was acting as such in Jerusalem. Jesus was responding in anger to the breaking of God’s laws.
    • Ideas to Explore: Is God’s law still relevant in society? Is our government bound by God’s law? To what degree must society tolerate greed and corruption? Is there anything where violence is permissible? Exactly what is God’s law today?
  • Is there such a thing in God’s eyes as “righteous anger?”
    • How do you justify violence in the case of the money changers and Jesus? What was the difference between the corruption in the Temple and corruption anywhere else in society?
  • When you hear similar stories to this story, what parts of society today does it remind you of?
    • Ideas to Explore: Nepotism in both business and government, unfair rules and regulations. Think about local codes, inspections, permitting.
  • While violence is not acceptable in our society, or it should not be, what mechanisms are still available that we can take advantage of?
    • Ideas to Explore: Choosing who we purchase our goods and services from. Making sure we research our political candidates and know their backgrounds. Use the references our trusted friends give us as a guide. 
  • Being informed helps keep from becoming angry. How do we do that in a world of censorship?
    • Items to Explore: Where will you get your information knowing that both media and social media are biased? How will you fairly learn both sides of an issue? Should the Church be more involved in helping identify issues of affecting our society?
  • When do you consider “enough is enough?”
    • Items to Explore: What makes you angry? What are your limits? How will you make sure you remain a Godly person when angered?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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