One of the most remarkable and often misunderstood stories in the life of Christ was his cleansing of the temple. Two times, once at the beginning of His ministry and then during His passion week, he walked into the place of worship, knocked over tables of the money changers and drove out those who were selling animals. It is so significant that all four of the gospel writers record the event. Matthew’s account says:
Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:12-14)!”
A bit of context will help us understand what was really taking place. Each Passover season upwards of 400,000 people would visit Jerusalem for the yearly celebration. It was difficult for those traveling long distances to bring a sacrificial animal, so one could be purchased in Jerusalem. That was permitted except there was no standardized currency throughout the region and money had to be exchanged for “temple money” in order to be able to buy an animal. The money changers were not there for worship and charged exorbitant fees and exchange rates, consistently cheating those wanting to sacrifice. In addition, oftentimes the corrupt priests would not allow your specific animal to be used, thus requiring purchase from those who were making money and the whole cycle was repeated with each worshipper. Many Jews would also pay the temple tax at this time and the exploitation of the poor was a common practice. This really had nothing to do with selling items in church as some people interpret today, as the meaning of this had more to do with the prophetic purpose of Jesus and the function of His house.
Remember, there were specific areas where people could worship in the temple. Jewish women were allowed in the court of the women, Jewish men in the sacrificial area to offer gifts and the Priestly areas for those appointed to help with the sacrifices. God however did not forget about the nations as the court of the Gentiles, located just outside the temple entrances was the only place designated for non-Jews who wanted to worship the God of Israel. It was in this area, the court of the Gentiles, where all the animals and money changers were located and prevented non-Jews from actually being able to pray. It is this part of the temple Jesus cleansed. Israel had forgotten their mission and call to prayer for the nations so that ritual with a system had now replaced relationship with God; and that, at the expense of the rest of first-century culture.
This is why the words of Jesus become so relevant- “My house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL the nations (Mark 11:17).”
It is worth noting that when Jesus purified the temple in this way, three things were restored:
1. Prayer- “My house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL the nations (Mark 11:17).”
2. Power- “The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them (Matthew 21:14)."
3. Praise- The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David (Matthew 21:15).”
To put it simply, purity produced prayer which resulted in power which caused people to praise. So, what does that have to do with the present events taking place in America?
Remember that Jesus was trying to get his people back to a focus on God and not simply on an issue as there were many political issues in the first century. Both times after Jesus cleansed the temple, they quickly went back to their old ways and within 40 years the temple and Jerusalem were completely destroyed with the invasion of the Roman Emperor Titus in AD 70.
During a live broadcast we did of the peaceful demonstration in Newton NC, someone commented that we don’t just need prayer and repentance but for government to take action. This is a fundamental mistake believers are making in America right now. We certainly honor elected officials and appreciate their position and understand action needs to be taken. The City of Newton and local law enforcement has shown amazing leadership and we greatly support their efforts. But the creator of the universe told his church to pray for those in charge so we could have peace. Let’s remind ourselves of this:
“The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply…” In other words, a life and nation of peace (1 Timothy 2:1).
Let me say it again- all the continued “Christian” yelling about elected leaders, race and division moves us towards a riot and not a revival. God’s heart is for revival and yet most believers still don’t understand the power of God’s intervention when His people pray. I’m not minimizing the need for action on multiple fronts but action without supernatural power leads to chaos; and that’s what we presently have. Do we really believe when the Lord told us to pray “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” or was that just wishful thinking by Jesus?
Why not try finding a secret place with Jesus and hear what he is saying? How about staying off social media with silly comments very few people care about anyway and join a prayer meeting where people are actually serious about the heart of God for the nations and see if The Lord means what he says about the power of prayer coming from a pure heart?
I know there is significant injustice and emotion across the world right now. But a response of repentance and brokenness can lead us into a global awakening we have never seen before. If we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always gotten. Let’s lean into Jesus and see what he can do.