Sunday, November 11, 2018

Why Jesus Kicked People Out Of The Temple

This is a well-known story from the Bible that was recorded by the Apostles Matthew and John.
This is one of the incidents in the Bible during the early years of my Christian walk that intrigued me so much that it stayed on my mind a lot. It struck me as kind of bizarre and left gaps in my understanding of things. As with everything else I came across in the Bible and concerning Christianity, I had to venture into my own research and answer each 'why' that swirled around my head concerning such things.

Once it was burned into my heart and mind why Jesus violently chased people out of the temple, I was surprised that I haven’t heard it spoken of before. I began to google around and see what others were saying about this incident. I was not only shocked but disappointed that no one was addressing what had started burning inside me, and there didn’t seem like there was much interest in why Jesus did this either…except what was the obvious surface statement made by Jesus during the incident.
What was really on Jesus mind during this outburst? Was it just about selling in the temple? Why was he so angry?
Temple in Jerusalem during Jesus time

Jesus used a whip. On people. Just let that sink in for a moment. After letting that thought sink in and marinate a little, here’s another one: Jesus used a whip on people in the temple!---In Jerusalem! Oh, and did I not mention that it was during the Passover preparation? Wow, this takes some time to digest, right? I’ll give you a moment to ponder.

Okay, so now that we have gotten our heads around the mental image of Jesus losing his temper and wilding out on people in the holy temple during the preparation of this sacred holiday, let’s figure out why he did it. Let’s talk about what could have gotten the Son of God, the most sinless, peaceful, and the most powerful man to walk our earth, worked up to the point of acting so aggressively. Aside from the knowledge that Jesus drove the moneychangers and merchants out of the temple on two occasions(some scholars argue that it was 3x) in this manner as recorded in the gospels, the scriptures don't record anywhere else that Jesus behaved in such manner, so this appears to be an isolated moment.

During the time of the Passover, there was much economic activity going on in Jerusalem. People traveled to Jerusalem from all over Israel, the surrounding countries and as far as Egypt, Libya and beyond to participate in this important holy day. Animals had to be purchased so that people can make their sacrifices. Also, people came in from all over with different kinds of currency. A traditional money in circulation was the Roman currency which had Caesar’s face on it. Any currency that had someone’s image on it could not be used in the temple, as it was forbidden by Jewish law, and was viewed as a graven image.
Coin of Caesar Augustus during Jesus time
This situation created an opportunity for those that could make some money. Jewish Bankers, called Shulhani, set up shop in the temple courtyard and processed money exchanges. These were called the money changers in the Bible. However, this practice wasn’t the problem. Exchange banking was common at that time, and there were small kiosks built into the temple courtyard for that purpose. Also, the bankers had to collect the annual tribute money of a half shekel, which was required by Jewish law. They also processed the deposits on behalf of the temple for foreigners traveling with large sums of money who needed a safe haven for their money while in town. Bankers were set up all over Israel in various districts that handled these type of activities, but during this holy day activities, they would purchase licenses from the priests to set up in the temple courtyard on the 25th day of Adar, which coincides with our month of March.  The process wasn’t the problem until the greed set in.

In the biblical book of Mathew, 21:12, Jesus accused them of making his father’s house a, “den of thieves.” According to Jewish historical writings, such as the Talmud and the Mishnah, it is well documented the extortionist prices the bankers charged the people who were coming to sacrifice. All fees were jacked up substantially to increase their profits. This means the priests made money on:

1) selling the licenses at high prices,
2) the high interest they charged as bankers to other jews which were illegal according to Jewish law, and
3) overcharging on the animals they sold for the offerings people had to make.
The noted 1st-century historian, Josephus, wrote of the High Priest, Annas’ greed for money. Annas’ five sons, who were also priests, and all eventually became High Priests, set up bazaars, which were markets in the temple courtyard, became bankers to exchange money and sell animals. Their brother-in-law, Caiaphas was the official High Priest, while their father, Annas, acted as the de-facto high priest. Although he had been dismissed as the official high priest, his political power and influence superseded them all. The sons were unstoppable with their father and brother-in-law in charge of everything.  Moreover, they charged people interest on their money and fees ranging from 4-8% on the exchanges, which was again, against Jewish law.
It has been documented the high prices they charged for the dove offerings also. The dove offering was the offering according to the Bible that was sacrificed when the person was poor and couldn’t afford to sacrifice the more pricier lamb or goat. This meant that they were exploiting and cheating the poor---and doing so in the name of God.
These acts infuriated Jesus.

The fact that the High Priests who were the religious and political leadership of Israel, collaborated with bankers to defraud the people, many of whom were poor, was enough for Jesus to become enraged and cast them out of the temple.

Too often in scripture, there are incidents when God, through his prophets, blasted political leaders for economic injustice and condemned their administration. In this incident, Jesus was being consistent with God’s heart throughout history concerning these matters.

To picture the scene in our heads of Jesus turning over tables and chasing people out of the temple, 
there would be images of a person walking through the door, seeing all of the fraud going on, losing their temper, then in a fit of rage, start the rampage. That would naturally be the first thought, right?
However, the incident recorded in John 2:13, says that he made him a whip while there, then proceeded to chase them out and turned over their tables. This was done at the beginning of his ministry, while the other time Jesus chased them out as recorded in Matthew 21:12, was during the last week of his ministry. The last time the incident happened, it doesn’t record him making the whip, but the first time it does. I imagine he didn’t have to make the whip the other time, because he already had one and brought it with him, but that cannot be confirmed, and it isn’t my focus here. My point is that after reading that Jesus made the whip while there, it is evident that this took some contemplation. This act took deliberation and organized thought, not a man simply losing his temper and losing control of his reasoning. When God is angry, it is an intelligent anger, an anger based on principles. The principled anger here being prompted by fraud, extortion, and exploitation of those that are vulnerable. Issues that Jesus vehemently preached against in Matthew 23, of which was forbidden by Levitical laws and were principles that God had been getting worked up over and rebuking for centuries through his Prophets when talking to the political leaders.

 In the account recorded by Matthew, Jesus called them thieves. He wanted all of them out. The priests and the bankers. The Bible records in the Matthew account that from that moment on, the High Priest plotted to kill him. This was Jesus’ last week in his ministry before he was murdered. In other words, from that point, it took less than a week for them to have Jesus killed.

The glaring narrative here is that Jesus stood up to the bankers and the politicians for the economic exploitation and fraud that was exacted upon the masses. In retaliation, the High Priests, the House of Annas, some of whom were bankers, plotted his destruction. Of course, Jesus had his own plan to be killed and be resurrected. However, Jesus was well aware that his time had come and he knew that standing up to the bankers against this shameful, profitable and illegal enterprise would be the straw that broke the camel’s back in causing them to say finally, enough is enough; we must kill this man.

After all, Jesus had done this at a previous Passover, when he first started his ministry. In fact, addressing this economic exploitation in such an aggressive manner, was Jesus' first public act after turning water into wine at the wedding reception. This act served as the opening of his ministerial debut of sorts.  Now, he’s at it again. This meant that this was what the ruling priests could expect from Jesus as the norm each year. This meant that their annual lucrative enterprise was in jeopardy. It was now time for Jesus to go.

Oppressors are not threatened much by protests and rebukes and forms of activism unless it somehow threatens their livelihood. When there is economic oppression, and there is an organized threat that can potentially destroy an oppressors economic grip, then they will strike with everything they have.
Still, that didn’t stop Jesus from attacking them at the beginning of his ministry, nor the end. It didn’t stop God from sending Prophets throughout the history as recorded in the Bible to verbally chastise the political structures of their day. Today, it should not stop, nor intimidate prophets and activists from addressing economic exploitation and oppression. There must be passion and accountability to speak from a higher voice, from a higher value, and from more superior principles, despite opposition. Jesus once said that he who will save his life in this world, will lose it, but he who will lose his life in this world will keep eternal life.
Dr. King picked up on that philosophy and said, “If a man has not discovered something that he would die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
As God is obsessed with Justice, any politician that we support must show evidence that they too are passionate about justice. This includes economic justice, which is too often the first justice to be politically under threat and leads to other forms of injustices. A psalm of Ethan declared, “Justice and Judgement are the habitations of thy throne…”-Psalm 89:14
God's throne is established in  justice. This means that every earthly throne and seat of authority must be established in  justice, which includes economic justice.
We, who identify as Christians, must think and do as Jesus did, and stand up against and confront injustice from those that are in authority. We must call out the Pharisees of our day and openly shame them as Jesus did, despite the fact that they were rulers of Israel and had governmental authority over him. As Jesus did, we operate from a higher authority, God, who demands justice from those in authority.
As Jesus didn't flinch in the face of the backlash, so must we carry His attitude toward these societal ills.
Let us today confront economic systems that exploit and oppress, as Jesus did.