“On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: `My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it `a den of robbers.'” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” (Mark 11:15-18).
Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem is one of the most fascinating aspects of his life and personality. It is a story which grabs our attention, and makes us think that perhaps, on this one occasion, Jesus went a little too far. The story, in fact, has a much deeper dimension than whether Jesus got a little too angry. The story speaks to a more dramatic cleansing: the doom of the Temple and the whole Old Testament economy.
Mark’s Gospel, often purported by some scholars to be less concerned with Jesus’ Divinity, actually shows us three startling instances where Jesus exercised his Divine authority and Lordship. These are:
1. Jesus’ Lordship Over the Sabbath (see Mark 3:28)
2. Jesus’ Lordship Over Marriage and Divorce (see Mark 10: 6-12)
3. Jesus’ Lordship Over the Temple (see Mark 11: 15-18 and 13: 1-37)
“Because Israel failed to repent, Solomon’s Temple [the first Temple] was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Jesus similarly confronts Israelites who presume their covenant relationship with God will remain secure despite their sin….Their impenitence will result in the Temple’s second destruction in A.D. 70 [by Roman armies]. *** Here too the mountain of Jerusalem and its Temple must be pushed aside to make room for a new Temple: the true house of prayer built of Christian believers quarried from all nations….” (Gospel of Mark, Chapter 11 footnotes)
Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple foretells its doom. “Jesus’ dramatic demonstration of overturning tables foreshadows the Temple’s violent destruction in A.D. 70.” Jesus wasn’t just overturning tables in the Temple; he was overturning the whole Old Testament economy. New wine cannot be placed into old wine skins. Jesus himself will be the new, indestructible Temple. In Chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel Jesus will foretell with remarkable accuracy the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple which occurred less than four decades after His death and resurrection (see Reference below).
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Reference: I am relying entirely on the notes in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible for The Gospel of Mark.
Image: Giotto (1266-1367) “Expulsion of the Money-Changers from the Temple,” (Public Domain, U.S.A.).
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