Twice in Jesus ministry He is seen in the role of an activist, protesting in the temple. In the Gospel of John, Jesus goes into the Temple and makes a whip of cords and drives the animals and those selling them out of the temple. He overturns the tables of the money-changers and tells those who are selling doves to get them ‘out of here’. This incident took place during the first Passover season of Jesus public ministry. Many theologians believe that this story is used by John as an illustration of how this Jewish institution is ‘meant to be replaced by Jesus’ (René Kieffer, The Oxford Bible Commentary, edited by John Barton and John Muddiman, published by Oxford University Press, page 965). The Synoptic Gospels speak of a similar protest in the days leading up to the third and final Passover season of Jesus public ministry. This event is seen by many as the catalyst that enables the temple authorities to finally act against Jesus. These protests were huge revolutionary statements. The modern equivalent would be if you went into a nation’s capital, to the main political and/or religious centre and you started to burn that nation’s flag for all to see. It was a way of declaring that this system is wrong and you are passionately opposed to it.
Something about what these people were doing in the temple clearly had made Jesus angry. It is very rare that we actually see Jesus showing his anger and for some of us we may feel uncomfortable with the idea that Jesus gets angry. However, what would you prefer a God who sees injustice and remains passive, or a God who sees injustice and gets angry about it? Jesus anger must not be seen as petty anger. Jesus is not prone to ‘hissy fits’. When Jesus gets angry it is righteous and divine. It leads to positive action, a demonstration of His love and compassion.
But what was it that made Jesus angry? What was He actually protesting against? For years I thought that I already knew the answer to that question. However, recently I have been preparing for Easter by re-reading the Gospel’s accounts of the events leading up to Jesus death and resurrection. Before doing so I prayed a simple prayer, “Lord, please give me a fresh revelation.” I would like to share with you what I have learned.
The traditional interpretation of Jesus protests is that He was taking a stand against capitalism within the temple. The temple authorities were experts in exploiting people’s religious guilt and fears for personal gain. The populous were living in abject poverty, yet those who ran and operated the sacrificial cult had a continuous excess of wealth. They marginalized the poor and condemned the venerable. It is no surprise to me that Jesus was against this sort of capitalism. However, whilst I acknowledge that Jesus did take a stand against the financial exploitation of the poor, a closer reading of the Gospel accounts have left me to wonder if Jesus protests can be so easily defined. The vast majority of theologians teach us that Jesus protests merely only about casting out the money changers who were exploiting their customers, but are they right? I now believe that there was more to Jesus protests other than a condemnation of the money changers. Let us revisit these scriptures together:
“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple He found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, He drove all of them out of the temple, both sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling doves ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making My Father’s House a market place!’” (John 2:13-16, emphasis mine).
“Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of Prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.’ The blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that He did, and heard the children crying out of the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’” (Matthew 21:12-16, emphasis mine).
“Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill Him; for they were afraid of Him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by His teaching.” (Mark 11:15-18, emphasis mine).
“Then He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Luke 19:45-46, emphasis mine).
In the first of Jesus protests as recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus targets those ‘selling cattle, sheep and doves’ and then the ‘money changers’. There is a particular emphasis by the Apostle John that it was ‘all of them’ that Jesus drove out of the temple, including the sheep and the cattle. All were driven out by Jesus and not just the money changers. In the second incident the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, records that He drove out those who were ‘selling’, those who were ‘buying’, then the ‘money changers’ and those that ‘sold doves’. In these Gospel accounts the money changers are not at the top of the list of people to experience Jesus anger. In the Gospel of Luke, the money changers are not even mentioned! When Jesus rushes into the temple’s marketplace it is those who are selling and buying that are His first point of attack. Indeed they all collectively affected in some way by Jesus demonstration against them and in no way can we separate or single out the money changers from the other groups of people targeted by Jesus.
Stay tuned for Part Two! For those who want to read the entire article: The Activism of Christ.
Thank you for reading and sharing, we pray our articles are a blessing! Comments are welcome. God Bless ~ Phil Guyott