As a faithful Jew “made under the law” (Gal. 4:4), the Lord went to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 2:12,13). There He found many Jews who had purified themselves for the Passover (John 11:55), only to find that their temple needed purifying! (2:14). Religious hucksters had turned God’s “house of prayer” into a den of thieves (Luke 19:45,46). But what were they doing that was so bad?
Well, that phrase “den of thieves” is a quote from Jeremiah 7:11, where the people had become convinced that all they had to do when they sinned was confess their sin and bring a sacrifice (v.9,10). This reminds us of gangster movies, where organized crime leaders were usually members of the religion that teaches that all you need do when you sin is confess your sin on Saturday and partake of the sacrifice of the mass on Sunday. This way of thinking made that church a favorite hangout or den of thieves, just as it did in the Lord’s day.
But the thieves who liked to hang out in the temple weren’t the only thieves. The priests soon saw there was money to be made selling sacrifices to the thieves, and that’s why the priests are called “greedy dogs,” each one out for “his gain” (Isa.56:11) in the context of a mention of God’s “house of prayer” (v.7). You see, they soon began to overcharge people for the sacrifices they had to bring at Passover.
You might be wondering why people didn’t bring their own animals to sacrifice at the temple, but many came from distances too far to bring animals (Deut.14:24). So God allowed them to sell their animals at home (v.25) and buy more when they got to Jerusalem (v.26) to manage their tithe (v.22,23), and offer their sacrifice.
The “changers of money” (John 2:14,15) were needed since Roman coins were not allowed in the temple due to the image of Caesar it bore (Mt.22:20). Caesar was wor-shipped as a god, making the image that was graven on those coins an idol. Of course, they failed to keep an idol known as “covetousness” out of the temple (Col.3:5)!
The Lord never drove anyone into the temple, but showed a side of Himself never seen before or since when He drove those religious hucksters out in righteous indignation. Since we doubt the Lord called ahead to tell them He was coming to evict them, Malachi predicted the Lord would “suddenly” come to the temple (3:1). The prophet also predicted He would “purify the sons of Levi” (v.2,3), i.e., the priests, and that is exactly what He did that day.
Before the Lord left home for Passover, He scoured His house to cleanse it from leaven (Ex.12:15,19), only to find His “Father’s house” filled with the leaven of sin. Is the Father’s house today filled with sin? You tell me! Your body is the Father’s house today (ICor.6:19,20). Since “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (ICor.5:7) we should “pure out the old leaven” of sin zealously.
It took great courage and “zeal” (John 2:17) for the Lord to get between these religious hucksters and the source of their income. This zeal was also predicted (Ps.69:9) in a psalm about Christ’s death on the cross. Waters that reach the soul (69:1,2) are deadly. Crucifixion causes dry throat thirst (v.3 cf. John 19:28). The Lord never gave anyone reason to hate Him, but they hated Him anyway (Ps.69:4 cf. John 15:25), a hatred that culminated at Calvary. The Lord knew no sin during His life, but on the Cross bore our sins and made them His own (Ps.69:5). Since He was determin-ed to go to the cross (Luke 9:51), all those counting on Him for salvation would not know the shame of disappointment (Ps.69:6). But the “shame” of the spitting (v.7 cf. Isa.50:6) “covered” His face. Then He became a stranger to Mary’s other children (Ps.69:8) “for”, that is, because of the zeal He showed in the temple in John 2. His brethren disowned Him for endangering their status in Israel that day, but the holiness and righteousness of God were at stake.
But there is a reason Psalm 69:9 refers to John 2 and the cross, for the righteousness of God was at stake at Calvary as well. The only way God could be “just” and the justifier of those that believe in Christ (Rom.3:26) is because the Lord also showed zeal to die for our sins. In response, we need to be just as zealous for God’s holiness in our lives!