It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of robbers. Luke 19:46
One of the most memorable moments of holy week has to be when Jesus enters the temple and starts turning tables and driving out money-changers. Many people celebrate this as an overthrow of religious abuse. Many rejoice that Jesus gives what’s coming to the crooked, greedy religious authorities who have abused God’s house for monetary gain. All this is right and good, but neglects an important aspect of Christ’s rebuke. Christ’s primary concern is not for the physical temple and the ceremonies that surrounded it. Christ’s primary concern is the heart of the people, and specifically the failure at their mission. Christ was fully aware that His life, death, and resurrection would dramatically change the worship of His people. He also knew and had announced the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:1-2). Jesus primary concern in overturning the tables was the view of God projected by the people who claimed His name.
Jesus quotes Isaiah 56 as He forcibly removes the money-changers and their tables. Most people don’t know the context of Jesus’s quote and therefore misunderstand the heart of Jesus’s gesture. Here are three points that helps us understand Jesus’s disgust with those in the temple that day:
A Heart for God’s Glory
The money-changers and the current religious system was first and foremost an affront to God’s glory. They were using the things of God for personal gain with no regard for how it made God look to true worshippers or those outside of the covenant people. This is what is referred to as blasphemy in the Old Testament. Jesus in quoting Isaiah and physically dealing with the blasphemers shows us how seriously Christ took the glory of God.
A Heart for the Nations
The nation of Israel, as the covenant people of God under the Law, were supposed to missionally engage the nations first and foremost by being obedient to God’s Law. The obedience and justice that was to be represented in the nation of Israel was intended to reach other nations who would then be drawn to the God of Israel by His work through His people as they obeyed His Law. Israel’s history is littered with failures in following His Law leading to God’s judgment. Whenever God’s people blasphemed His name to the nations, God often responded with wrath that caused the nations to fear Him despite the failure of His people. Jesus in dealing with the money-changers not only addresses blasphemous disobedience of His people but also reveals the Father’s heart in wanting to draw the nations into worship through His people.
A Heart for His People
Christ, in His unique way, also condemns the leaders of Israel for their allowance of such blasphemous practices. This condemnation reveals God’s heart for those who would truly desire to worship Him. There are many times in the Scriptures that we see men abusing leadership among God’s people. Men who would lead people away from true and right worship of God into something that was more profitable for them personally. God is seen throughout the Scriptures to have great care and compassion for those who are preyed upon by societal leaders. Christ shows great concern for those afflicted by the leaders who would not only allow but encourage such practices in God’s house.
Christ’s life is an example that we are to follow. Just like in our previous reflection, we must look to Christ and be ready to stand where He stands. Many of us are so caught up in the distractions of our world that we do not often notice when God’s glory is blasphemed, when the nations are neglected by our disobedience, or when people are disregarded for the sake of convenience or tradition. May this story constantly remind us of our call to obedience, compassion, and especially concern for the glory of God for the sake of His people and the nations.