Session #126 Housekeeping
Scripture Matthew 21:12-17
Summary Matthew 21:12-17 presents a side of Jesus that many would not like to know or talk about – an angry Jesus who chases people out, overturns tables and upsets the leaders. We cannot imagine Him doing the same thing today. Would He? Could He?.
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?” Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there. Matthew 21:12–17
On the surface, things looked fine at the temple but it was not. It was housekeeping time! That was what Jesus did when He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple – the house of God; His Father’s house, His own house. Before we get into the details, we must review the significance of the temple, how it came about and what it stood for.
Background and Context of the Temple
It all began with the very first Passover in Egypt. Through the sacrifice of the lamb, under the cover of blood, God brought deliverance to the children of Israel.
In the wilderness, God’s first instruction was to build the tabernacle, the forerunner of the temple. It would be central to Israel’s life, situated right in the middle of the tribes. They
would be reminded of God’s presence, dwelling (tabernacling) in and with His people. Just as deliverance was effected through sacrifice, relationship with God was also made possible through the sacrificial system. The tabernacle would be the centre of worship, again made possible through the sacrificial system
In the promised land, the tabernacle continued for a while in Shiloh until David secured Jerusalem and had it in his heart to build God a house in the capital. God told David he would not be the one to build it. Instead, David would prepare the materials and resources, and his son, Solomon, would build the temple. Solomon’s temple was a glorious one with a glorious start. God’s glory filled the temple at the dedication but over the years, there were repeated compromises and reforms. Finally, Jeremiah prophesied against the temple. It was time for a major housekeeping! The temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. by Babylonians that led to seventy years of exile (2 Kings 25:8-10).
In 538 B.C., King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to rebuild the temple under leadership of Zerubbabel. The foundation was laid but the building was halted because of opposition and a lack of resources. In 520B.C., inspired by Haggai and Zechariah, the rebuilding continued and was completed. It was dedicated in 515B.C. but was not as glorious as Solomon’s temple. It did not take long for temple practices to be compromised again. In the final Old Testament book, Malachi, the prophet called the people to account. It was housekeeping again.
Next, the building of Herod’s temple started in 20 B.C. and was completed only in 64A.D. Herod made reconstructions, extensions, additions and modifications to Zerubbabel’s temple for a much bigger and more glorious establishment. But Herod’s temple was more political than religious. As a half-Jew, he built it to placate and buy the favour of his Jewish subjects. This was the temple that Jesus went into, fulfilling the prophecy in Malachi 3:1, ”…And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple…” Bloomberg wrote in his commentary on Matthew: “The Messiah, having been led in apparent triumph into the city, enters the temple, arousing expectations of pro-Jewish, nationalist action against Rome. Instead, His attack threatens the sacrificial, worship centre of Judaism itself.” On the surface, everything looked fine, but things were not as it seemed. It was time for housekeeping again.
This would be a key and pivotal event that would trigger the next events of the next days, leading to Jesus’ death. As worship and sacrifice started with Passover (in Egypt), the temple system of worship and sacrifice would also end at Passover (in Jerusalem). Through His actions, this end of the temple sacrificial system was what Jesus demonstrated, illustrated and prophesied against. More significantly, this act would provide the impetus for the religious leaders to act decisively against Jesus, once and for all. Ironically, in doing so, they would contribute to the fulfilment of prophecy.
Two Accounts of Jesus “creating a scene” in Temple
There are two accounts of Jesus ‘creating a scene’ in the temple in Matthew 21:12-17 (paralleled in Mark 11:15-17 & Luke 19:45-46) and a second account in John 2:13-17. Both were during Passover where money exchange and trading booths were set up in the temple grounds – one at the beginning and the other at the end of Jesus’ ministry. There were also numerous encounters and run-ins with Jesus in between. Since Jesus ministered over three years (three Passovers), could there have been another “housekeeping” session (a third) between the two that were recorded? It could be possible though we cannot confirm this. Whether there were two or three such “housekeeping” sessions, the leaders were upset with the repeated disturbances and decided they need to take Him out after each session, nothing changed at the temple, everything went back to normal – business as usual, temple as usual. Interestingly, it was the same with other previous temples. God warned and warned through the prophets but no one would listen. It was also business as usual, temple as usual until God came and did the “housekeeping” Himself.
What were the Key (Recurring) Issues?
Commerce and Corruption
In Matthew 21:12, “Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.” Booths were set up as early as three weeks before the Passover season, in expectation of huge influx of pilgrims into Jerusalem. There was a need to change money into temple shekels, presumably at high rates of exchange and to buy temple-approved unblemished animals at “tourist” prices. This was more convenient and avoided risk of animals falling sick along the journey to Jerusalem. The poor who could not afford sheep to sacrifice bought doves. The sacrificial system was commercialised and the temple grounds became a marketplace place. Money transaction were taking place within temple grounds with questionable motives. Some aristocrats and leaders with Hellenistic training and exposure accepted this, but it violated the sanctity of God’s house. Holy worship was being compromised for instead of worship and sacrifice, the focus is more on profits or profiteering. It was understood that the leaders and priests might have had a cut of the profits and takings and this easily led to abuse and corruption. Even without corruption, the focus was still wrong as instead of worshipping God, it became the worship of mammon.
It was housekeeping time. The driving out of the buyers and sellers and overturning the tables and stalls by Jesus was a prophetic act based on Zechariah 14:21(NIV): “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day”. Greed for wealth can never be a part of worship in the Lord’s temple because offerings are to be given from a pure heart. The work of the Lord is not to be taken as a money-making enterprise. Later, in warning against the love of money, Paul speaks of those who consider godliness a means of financial gain and to withdraw from such (1 Timothy 6:5). In Zechariah 14:21 (NKJV); it says “In that day there shall no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts.” Canaanite, in Hebrew is used to refer to a figure of a morally and spiritually unclean person. So, in this issue of commerce and corruption, housekeeping was needed.
Complacency and Compromise
In the second part of Jesus’ rebuke (Matthew 21:13), He quotes Jeremiah 7:11 about God’s house becoming “a den of thieves”. We will look at Jeremiah 7:1-4 to appreciate the context. In these verses, God spoke to Jeremiah to stand at the gate of the temple and warn His people that they have been trusting in lying words, saying “The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these.” This was a presumption that because they were God’s covenant people and they had the temple and the sacrifice system, they were alright. This presumption led to complacency. In Jeremiah 7:9-11, Jeremiah accused the people of repeatedly sinning against God -stealing, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, etc. However, due to their complacency, they felt no shame in breaking God’s laws and then coming to stand before Him in God’s house. They believed that their observance of temple rituals of worship and sacrifice allowed them to continue living as they did, without fear or consequence of punishment. The temple has become “a den of thieves or robbers”. This is not referring to the trading and profiteering. These ‘dens’ referred to ‘caves’: In those times, robbers often took refuge in caves in the Judean hills for protection until their pursuers gave up searching for them. They would then emerge to commit the same crimes. The temple had become the refuge for the people. By performing the rituals, they believed these religious practices freed them to continue their wicked practices. Complacency led to compromise, double lives, hypocrisy. Housekeeping was totally needed. Jesus was saying that He was overturning everything, revealing their hearts, asking them to stop living double lives and using the temple to justify their wrong ways.
Clubbish and Closed
In Matthew 21:13, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 56:6-7, that His house shall be a house of prayer for all nations. It does not mean a church prayer meeting, to pray for the nations; but that God’s house is open to all nations, all people, to come to worship and serve Him. These foreigners were those who have “joined themselves to the LORD, to serve Him”. Israel should rejoice and welcome the foreigners into the temple, but that was not happening. It was still largely nationalistic and primarily for the Jews. In the eschatological era to come, God’s temple will be a house for all nations and all people to come, to seek Him, to pray and have communion and fellowship with Him and one another. That was what Jesus was trying to tell them, that it should be for everyone and for all nations, but the way they were conducting it for themselves, instituting barriers and hindrances; they were violating the temple and He was exposing them.
In 21:14, we see that the blind and the lame came to the temple and Jesus healed them. The blind and the lame were not required to make the journey to the temple in Jerusalem for the Passover as according to the purity laws (Leviticus 21:17-18), they were not allowed to offer bread. This was not a rejection of them but a demonstration of holiness and purity and also grace and concession as it would be very difficult for them to get the temple. They were still considered sanctified by the Lord (Leviticus 21:23). In 2Samuel 5:6-8, the Jebusites ridiculed David and his men, saying that even the blind and the lame can repel them. The same phrase is then used to describe David’s enemies, that these should not come into David’s house. Unfortunately, it was taken literally and tradition later excluded the physically blind and lame from the temple.
The temple system and its practices became clubbish and closed. In the name of holiness and purity, only those considered worthy, could enter the temple. It created different classes of worshippers: the us vs them. It was housekeeping again. It is time to bring everyone in. Jesus wants everybody to be a part of His family. He comes to make all worthy before God that all can approach Him. There is healing to be found in the house of God. He heals the blind and lame and He accepts and receives these and as Messiah and King, He opens the way so that all can have fellowship with God, with Him and with one another.
The Temple Today?
Commerce and corruption, complacency and compromises, clubbish and closed were the issues that Jesus spoke out and acted against. These acts and incident set the tone for what would take place in next days – increasing intensity of confrontations leading to Jesus’ death. Prophesying judgment & destruction upon the temple invited scourging and the threat of death (Jeremiah 26:11) and execution, if a leader already had a significant gathering of followers. That was what happened to the prophets when they challenged nationalism and rulers’ policies. They were killed. (Matthew 23:30–31). The leaders’ position depended on them keeping the peace with Romans. They had permission to punish violations of the sanctity of the temple with death. They could also hand Jesus over to Romans as a messianic pretender, an offence viewed by Romans as treason and punishable by death. They would finally plot to have Jesus killed; not being able to do it honestly and openly (Matthew 26:3-5). Jesus was crucified by the Romans but upon His death, the temple veil ripped from top to bottom signifying the end of the physical temple system. A new and living way opened through Jesus and His death at the cross, into the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 10:20). Jesus started the housekeeping but God used the Romans to end it and in 70 A.D., the temple was destroyed as there was no more need of the temple.
God’s house continues through the Body of Christ – the Church, His spiritual temple. In John 2:18-22, when Jesus said “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”, He was speaking of the temple of His Body. At the resurrection, the start of the spiritual temple was effected through the Body of Christ. Believers in Christ become HIs Body which is the temple and house of God. We are the ekklesia, the church of Jesus Christ and the people of His kingdom. We are God’s temple. (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5; 1Corinthians 3:16-17; 12:12-13)
Does it mean that all is good now as we are God’s temple? Through the years, unknowingly or otherwise, we have re-enacted the temple system through the church system, thereby creating the same issues. It may be housekeeping time again.
Same Key Issues?
Commerce and Corruption
Has God’s house been commercialised and corrupted? Have we been worshipping mammon, money, material wealth instead of worshipping God? Have we turned the Father’s business into really a business of transactions and profits? Have we been looking at the wrong indicators of success, where we consider prosperity as a blessing and we do all we can to heap up these material and earthly treasures for ourselves? Are we processing our processes and practices through these commercial means and indicators? Housekeeping needed?
Complacency and Compromises
Has our assurance of salvation resulted in complacency that had led to compromise? Afterall, we have said the sinner’s prayer, we are saved and going to heaven, it does not matter how we live. Have we presumed upon the grace and love of God? The danger of the doctrine of hyper grace is thinking we can do anything we want as His grace is always there. When we commit a mistake, we thank God for His grace. We love His amazing grace but we should not presume upon His grace and love. God is LOVE; but His love can also be disciplining love, tough love as needed from time to time. We cannot always say God loves me and He understands and allows me to do what I want to do. Have we mistaken church membership and attendance as signs of spiritual growth and maturity? Have we come to this kind of understanding that as I am baptised, a member of church; serve in Church and attend cell group, I am alright. Outside of church in the real world, I can do what I want to do as it is a separate thing. Have we used our identity and position in Christ as licence to live hypocritically? Have we become Sunday Christians and live like devils for the rest of the week. Have we treated the church like they did to the temple, a den of robbers and thieves, a spiritual haven where we are holy like angels but giving us permission to do what we want to do out there, committing the sins over and over again? Housekeeping needed?
Clubbish and Closed
Have we become clubbish, clique-ish and closed through our Christian sub-culture? Do we go to church and miss being the church? Have we become a religious club that is exclusive, knowing the right words to use, to say and to sound right?
We say we are inclusive but are not. When others come in, we tell them that they have to be like us, otherwise, they are not part of the club. We are to minister to the broken and lost. Instead, we frown at others who are different. We look down on others, shun the broken when we should be reaching out and ministering to them? Housekeeping needed?
Do you think it is time now for housekeeping all over again? What would Jesus do if He visited our churches today? Would He overturn things, putting a stop to all our religious practices and churchy activities? What would Jesus find if He examined each of our bodies as the temple of God as each of us individually and together corporately are God’s house? How would we respond if these issues were pointed out to us? Would we look at Jesus and His prophets and say “How dare you? Who do you think you are?”
The Issues of Humility & Pride … again
Let us consider how the leaders responded to Jesus in Matthew 21:15. It is again the issues of humility and pride as in Matthew 18, 19 and 20. By now we are familiar with the significance of children. They are pictures of innocence and humility. God uses the humility of children to contrast against the pride of the leaders and often used these to counter the prideful. The pride of leaders –it is hard when position and power are involved. If we are not careful, pride is often the result. It is dangerous as pride prevents us from seeing and hearing rightly.
When challenged with the truth, pride will say, “Who do you think you are?” The leaders could not deny the miracles before their eyes. Instead, they took issue with Jesus accepting public praise as the Son of David, a Messianic title. They could not see or hear the correction that Jesus was bringing. They only saw and heard the competition in Jesus, threatening their status quo, shaking and rocking their peace. Instead of responding and repenting, they retaliated.
Pride also says “If I am wrong, God will tell me”. They were upset with Jesus for not asking the children to stop. Jesus implied that the children knew the Scriptures better than the leaders: “Have you not read?”. Jesus then quoted Psalm 8:2, a psalm of praise and worship to God. By attributing it to Himself, Jesus accepted worship that is reserved for God alone. He was telling them, “I am God”, the one who is greater than the temple, the owner of the house, is here. It was God Himself who came into the temple to overturn tables to personally handle the housekeeping! It is scary how God can speak and show through His Word and prophets and people so very clearly, yet pride will miss it entirely. God can be shouting, overturning everything in our lives and we still cannot see it. Spiritual pride thinks it is standing up for God when it is actually going up against God. Instead of responding and repenting, pride rationalises and removes God’s representatives.
This is a stark warning to all, and especially those who are in leadership. Finally, no one can say that God did not give a second or third chance. The Lord will do all He can to get our attention. And He will leave us to decide if we want to align with Him or not. And that was what Jesus did, “then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there” (Matthew 21:17).
Today, we no longer have a physical temple but a spiritual one – the people of God, the Body of Christ. We are God’s Temple. However, we must be careful not to go back to the outward forms of the temple and miss the heart of what being the house of God means.
“Church” or religion can look good on the outside. But Jesus is not impressed with that. Paul says to avoid those with a form of godliness. If we are not careful, we encounter the exact same issues that Jesus acted against: commerce and corruption; complacency and compromise; clubbish and closed.
If we do not clean up our own act, we cannot complain when Jesus comes and does the housekeeping Himself. And He will because we are His house. Throughout Scriptures, God is gracious and patient, allowing many chances for His house to be set in order. As in times past, the Lord will warn through His Word and His prophets. God forbid that we would just say “amen” and then just carry on with business as usual, church as usual.
God is speaking but are we listening? Is the Lord saying something to us about our churches and our lives? your life? Has He sent prophets and servants to awaken us, to warn us? Is He asking us to deal the issues and not sweep things under the carpet anymore? Will we respond rightly with humility and not with pride. If not, God once more will do the housekeeping Himself.