Why Did Jesus Cleanse the Temple?

TODAY’S READING: MATTHEW 21-22

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you make it a den of robbers.’ And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.” – Matthew 21:12-14

The temple was the dwelling place of God, the place of God’s presence. It was also the place that all male Jews were required to come three times a year to present their sacrifice.

Why did Jesus drive out all those that bought and sold, those who sold pigeons?

Why did Jesus say those who bought and sold, specifically those who sold pigeons, had made the temple a den of robbers?

The chief priests, the scribes, the leaders of Israel, required sacrifice to be in communion with God. Even worse, they required sacrifice from those that could least afford it.

This is the account specifically calls out those who sold pigeons. A pigeon was the animal offered by the poor because they couldn’t afford a lamb. Leviticus 5:7 says, “But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed two turtledoves or two pigeons.” And, Leviticus 12:8 says, “And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons.”

Leviticus 12 details the offering required for a woman to be cleansed after shedding blood in childbirth. When, Jesus and Mary came to temple after his birth for their purification, Luke says that they offered pigeons, according to the law of Leviticus 12. So, Jesus was quite familiar with the sacrifices required of the poor.

It was this requirement of sacrifice by the poor, those that could not afford it, that caused Jesus to say the chief priests and leaders of Israel had made the temple into a den of robbers. By requiring sacrifices to commune with God from those that couldn’t afford it, the chief priests and leaders of Israel were robbers, stealing from the poor.

When Jesus said they had made the temple a den of robbers, he was quoting Jeremiah 7:11. It says, “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.”

Why did Jeremiah write that? Why did he say they were making the temple a den of robbers?

Jeremiah 7:3-4 says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.'”

The temple was the place of sacrifice. By offering sacrifices, Jews could be cleansed of their sins.

But, Jeremiah continued in verses 8-10, “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’ – only to go on doing all these abominations?”

By saying, “This is the temple.” the Jews were trusting in their sacrifices. They would sacrifice and says, “We are delivered.” Their sacrifices would cleanse them. But, they wouldn’t change anything they were doing. They would keep on stealing, murdering, committing adultery, lying, etc.

But, God said they needed to amend their ways. God wanted them to stop trusting in sacrifices.

How then did God want them to amend their ways?

Jeremiah 7:5-7 says, “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not after other gods to your own harm, then I will let dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.”

God was not requiring sacrifice. Instead, God wanted them to not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow and he didn’t want them to shed innocent blood. In other words, God wanted them to take care of the poor, the downtrodden, the other. God wanted them to show mercy and not require sacrifice.

This is just what Jesus. He called out those who were requiring sacrifices, those selling pigeons and abusing the poor, and drove them out of the temple because they had made it a den of robbers. Instead of requiring sacrifice, Jesus showed mercy, healing the blind and the lame that came to him in the temple.

In Matthew 9:13, Jesus said to the pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'”

In Matthew 12:7, Jesus again said to the pharisees, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have have condemned the guiltless.”

Desiring mercy and not sacrifice made the chief priests and pharisees indignant.

Why?

Because they could control and have power over the poor, the weak, the downtrodden, the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, and the needy by requiring sacrifices from them.

This still goes on today.

How so? If we don’t require animal sacrifices anymore, then how are we still making the temple, access to God’s presence, a den of robbers?

Many Christians, many churches have simply replaced animal sacrifices with the giving of money, with tithing.

They say you must tithe to have God open up the windows of heaven, to have access to God’s favor.

Just the like selling of pigeons, tithing most hurts those that can least afford it. Tithing requires a sacrifice of those who are in no position to give it. Instead of being required to sacrifice, they should be receiving mercy.

And, let me assure you, if you start telling people to stop tithing and telling the leaders to stop requiring sacrifices and start showing mercy, then you see plenty of pastors and church leaders get indignant with you.

Tithing is just one way sacrifices that are still demanded. Others are still required too. Those are being demanded to sacrifice instead of receiving mercy could tell you what they are.

So, why did Jesus cleanse the temple?

Because God desires mercy and not sacrifice.