The Messiah Comes to the Temple

Malachi, one of the last of God’s messengers to Israel, prophesied that the Lord would come to the temple and judge it. On Palm Sunday, King Jesus, riding on a royal donkey, triumphantly entered Jerusalem, and he was hailed as the one who would usher in the kingdom of David. Surrounded by an expectant crowd, he entered the temple, looked at everything, and went home for the evening.

What did Jesus see? The next morning we find out. The King who came to make peace went to the temple to judge his people. Apparently, he did not like what he had seen the previous day.

He saw “buying and selling,” the exchange of money and selling animals in the Court of the Gentiles. This merchandizing, this exploitation of worshippers, profaned the temple courts. Jesus, acting out a prophetic judgment, embodied God’s justice by overturning tables.

The Gospel of Mark justifies this prophetic act of judgment by quoting Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah 65:7 reminded Israel that the temple is for prayer, including the prayers of the nations. The Court of the Gentiles, where the merchandizing was taking place, diverted the purpose of the court from prayer to exploitive money exchanges and economic injustice.

Jeremiah 7:11 accused the temple authorities of treating the temple like a “den of robbers.” In one sense, the temple had become a place for thieves because they defrauded and stole from their neighbors through exploitative practices. In another sense, the temple, as Jeremiah noted, had become a place where injustice hides, a den where robbers hide from judgment. The temple, they thought, cannot come under judgment, and therefore people are safe in the temple. But they were wrong; the temple would come under judgment.

The temple authorities understood the implications of this symbolic act. It was a political act that condemned their authority. The kingdom of God judges all other authorities, and because these authorities feared Jesus’ popularity and message, they decided he must die in order to preserve their power. Whereas Herodians and Pharisees had conspired to kill Jesus in Galilee (Mark 3:6), now the temple authorities in Jerusalem do the same. Ultimately, together, they will gather a different kind of crowd than the one that cried “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday. On Good Friday, they will incite a mob to scream, “Crucify him!” The powers of this world, led by the prince of this world, killed Jesus.

God came to the temple and judged it. When Jewish zealots attempted, through violence, to overthrow the Roman occupation and establish their own kingdom, Jerusalem, with its magnificent temple, fell under the weight of divine judgment.

In the wake of such judgment, how do disciples of Jesus respond? As the Gospel of Mark makes clear in chapter 11, disciples trust God. They pray in faith. They forgive their debtors. In the midst of judgment, disciples live by faith rather than sight, seek reconciliation with others, and pray that God would move mountains.

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