Jesus Cleanses the Temple

Who is this Jesus?

There are many things we could say about him, but first and foremost He is the holy King. A prophecy made around 500 years before Jesus came witnesses to Christ’s holiness and purity. Based on the prophecy in Malachi 3:1-4, the Jewish people expected the Messiah to come and purify the temple and the people of Jerusalem. Here is what we read:

“See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of old and years gone by.

Jesus fulfills these expectations in a way the people never could have expected.

Malachi speaks of God’s messenger restoring the worship life of the people of God and purifying the priests. But once again, Jesus fulfills these expectations in a way the people never could have expected. He walked into a scene where people were bustling in the outer court of the temple, known also as the court of the Gentiles, a place for the nations to meet with God in worship, praise, and prayer. Instead of such worship, however, Jesus found a commercial business filled with scores of people selling sacrifices and exchanging money. People were profiting off of one another and even taking advantage of one another, all while ignoring the purpose of the temple. So Jesus, in righteous anger, drove them all out, overturning their tables and their seats (Matthew 21:12). He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are making it a den of thieves!” In Isaiah 56:7, God says that His house will be called a “house of prayer for all nations.” Yet here in Matthew 21, the people of God were preventing the nations from praying.

In the second part of verse 13, Jesus says that God’s house has been made into a “den of thieves.” This is likely a reference to Jeremiah 7:10, a temple address in which God disciplined His people for offering ritual sacrifices while living in total disobedience to Him. Jeremiah’s wider context is worth quoting here:

“Do you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known? Then do you come and stand before Me in this house called by My name and say, ‘We are delivered, so we can continue doing all these detestable acts’? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your view? Yes, I too have seen it.” This is the Lord’s declaration. (Jeremiah 7:9-11)

This hideout for criminals against God needed to be restored to a house of prayer for God.

God’s people were offering worship in Jeremiah’s day, yet they did not behave in obedience to God. Jesus walked into a similar situation in Matthew 21, and as a holy King, He came to cleanse and to purify God’s temple. This hideout for criminals against God needed to be restored to a house of prayer for God. Jesus does not deal with sin lightly, but in righteous anger. This leads to the next attribute of Jesus.

Jesus has the right to cleanse the temple because He is the authoritative King. In this chapter and the chapters that follow, Jesus’ authority is put on display. This section of Matthew’s Gospel has been referred to as Jesus’ final break with Judaism, for He takes the religious leaders of Jerusalem head-on, making claims that they considered blasphemous—claims that would lead them to crucify Him.

Consider the authority Jesus demonstrates Jesus had made clear in Matthew 12:6 that He is greater than the temple. Indeed, He is Lord of the temple, and He has the right to do in it whatever He desires, including throwing it into disarray. It must have been quite shocking for Jewish leaders who prided themselves in religious practices at the temple to have Jesus come in and turn it upside down. Who does He think He is? Is He in charge of this place? Yes, as a matter of fact, He is.

**This Daily devotion was modified from Exalting Jesus in Matthew from the Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series, by David Platt.