Mark 11:15-17 – 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, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 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.'” NIV
This incident of Jesus cleansing the Temple after the Triumphal Entry is also recorded in Matthew 21; but in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus states that “it is written.” In Mark’s Gospel it is asked as a rhetorical question “Is it not written,” with a quotation from Isaiah 56:7 where Yahweh is speaking that “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?”
We are dealing here with the primary purpose of the Temple. It was a place to approach God to be able to express needs and hear from Him. The Temple sacrificial system was designed that through the substitutionary sacrifice of an unblemished animal atone for the sins of the worshiper and allow him/her to approach Yahweh in a forgiven state. After offering sacrifice, the worshiper could then approach closer to the Holy of Holies which represented the Presence of Yahweh.
By Jesus’ time, the priestly family which consisted mostly of Sadducees had turned the sacrifice concession into a real money maker. I don’t believe that there was anything wrong with giving long distance travelers an opportunity to purchase an animal for sacrifice or exchange the coin of their country for a Temple coin at a fair price; but that was not what was happening. Pilgrims were being gouged by exorbitantly high prices for animals and currency exchange. The priestly family was getting rich by over charging for required items to meet the ritual requirements! Jesus was right in calling them a “den of thieves or robbers.”
It is interesting to note that most of the high priestly family were Sadducees who did not believe in miracles or the resurrection of the dead. One wonders what they believed about the necessity of sacrifices other than the money it brought into the family coffers. This further supports Jesus’ accusation.
How might some interpret Jesus’ action to mean that we are not to sell anything in the church? What reasons could be given that it was not the sale of items but the motive behind the sale? In ways can or does the church try to profit off of people’s guilt? How can I help cultivate a culture of generosity and fairness when it comes to supporting the work of the Body of Christ and the advancement of the Kingdom.