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Matthew 21:12-14 – From a den of thieves to a house of prayer

In Jesus time we could already find temples where money was handled. Those who wanted to exchange money could go for that to the temple. Though God had not let build temples for worldly actions like exchanging money, selling and buying.

“12  And Jesus entered the temple and cast out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves. 13 And He *said to them, “It is written, ’MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” 14 And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.” (Mt 21:12-14 NAS)

John’s Gospel records a similar cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (John 2:13–17).

“13 And the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR THY HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.”” (Joh 2:13-17 NAS)

Because being around the same festival (the passover – 14-22 Nisan) both writers could have been writing about the same event. But it can well be that John spoke of an earlier incident. It is commonly supposed that Jesus observed three Passovers in Jerusalem  — one recorded in Luke 6:, another in John 6:4, and the last one on the night before he was crucified, John 11:55. By John we also find Jesus who went up to Jerusalem and found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting.

John also says something about the temperament of Jesus. Jesus was not at all pleased with what went on in what should be a House of God. Annoyed with what he saw, Jesus in a burst of rage, made a scourge of cords, and cast all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew their tables and the seats of them that sold the doves. For Jesus it was clear that a Temple for God should not be a house of merchandise. His disciples also remembered that it was written,

“For zeal for Thy house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach Thee have fallen on me.” (Ps 69:9 NAS)

Interpreters have proposed two explanations:

(1) there was only one cleansing, but John narrated the action at the beginning for thematic/theological purposes, while the Synoptic Gospels narrate the actual historical chronology;

(2) there were indeed two similar but distinctly different temple cleansings. The differences of detail seem to indicate the latter, for while the initial action is similar, Jesus’ statement (Matt. 21:13) and the challenge from the Jewish leaders (vv. 15–16) are entirely different from what John records.
In addition, John places the event so early in his Gospel that it would be difficult to think he wanted readers to take it as anything but an event that happened early in Jesus’ ministry. Thus Jesus cleansed the temple at the beginning as a warning, and at the end of his ministry as a statement of judgment on the leadership of Israel.

You could wonder why the first cleansing had no success at all. But that indicates how the gaining of money was more important than keeping the temple only for worship.

This incident Matthew is talking about, is placed on the Monday morning, when they were come out from Bethany, by the evangelist Mark (Mark 11:12–19).

“12  And on the next day, when they had departed from Bethany, He became hungry. 13 And seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And He answered and said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening. 15 And they *came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to cast out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves; 16 and He would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple. 17 And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ’MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS’? But you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for all the multitude was astonished at His teaching. 19 And whenever evening came, they would go out of the city.” (Mr 11:12-19 NAS)

Jesus wanted nobody to carry a vessel through the temple or doing business. After his outburst of anger Jesus taught those around him that it was written,

  My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.

referring to what his heavenly Father, the God of Israel had told His people

“Even those I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”” (Isa 56:7 NAS)

Therefore what would be acceptable in the Temple or God’s House are burnt offerings and people their sacrifices brought to the altar. All had to understand that the house of Jehovah God shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isa 56:7)

“A house of prayer for all peoples” indicates that first of all it had to be a place where people of all nations should be able to come in to pray. Jesus indicated that within the temple there is no place for a sort of market where commercial activity would take place.

In Matthew 21:13 Jesus compares the temple and its keepers to a den of robbers. Thieves often used caves to store their ill-gotten wealth and to plot future crimes. A temple for God does not have to be a place of secret actions, nor for worldly activities. It should be a place where people come without fear nor hesitation to gather in unity, to express their faith and for worshipping God. Everything belongs already to God, so people should know they can not tempt Him with money nor worldly sacrifices.

God allowed people to bring burnt offerings and sacrifices, but any sacrifice of a wicked person is an abomination to Jehovah God.

“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight.” (Pr 15:8 NAS)

God is willing to incline His ear for those who come in honesty to His House (the temple) (Ps 10:17) where pepole also could come to confess their sins to one another, and could gather to pray for one another, so that they might be healed. This with the knowledge that the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (Jas 5:16)

Also today we should wonder what is acceptable to be done in a House of prayer, be it called a synagogue, temple, prayer hall, kingdom hall, church hall, or simply church. We can find a lot of churches where financial activities take place. When you go and visit places have a look into many churches and see how they have stalls for selling things and often also have a lot of statues of people (called saints) with underneath a collecting box. In many churches we not only can see such sculptures of human beings but also of gods, like Jesus (the son of God – for many god the son) and God the Father, which is against God His commandments.

“’Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ’Amen.’” (De 27:15 NAS)

All going to such a House of prayer should know that God looks down at the earth and sees all people, knowing what goes on in their heart. All should be aware that everything which goes in against the commandments of God is an abomination in His eyes and considered evil. (Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 4:15-19; Acts 17:29; Proverbs 15:29; 1 Samuel16:7; 1 Peter 3:12; 1 John 3:22). When people live according God’s Will He is willing to listen to them, at any moment, but in a House of prayer they can find a special place to be in contact with their God.

“and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” (1Jo 3:22 NAS)

In Jesus ‘ time but also later, as well as today, we can find pepole misusing their prime location, taking advantage of people’s religiosity to over-charge and cheat. In many places of worship and of pilgrimage we can find people deliberate making misuse of religion for personal gain. Look for example to Lourdes a.o. so called ‘sacred places’ and notice the whole ‘circus market’.

Jesus wants to see an atmosphere of pure, God-centred worship, free of man-centred worldly distractions. The House of God should be a place to gather to study the Word of God, to meditate and to pray. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, but Jesus had already given a sign that in each person there was a place for a temple.

Today we do not have to go up on the mountain, nor to Jerusalem,to worship the Father. As true worshippers we can go to any place where nothing is against the Will of God to worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshippers.

“21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. 22 “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” (Joh 4:21-23 NAS)

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Preceding

Matthew 12:1-8 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Something Greater than the Temple

Matthew 21:1-3 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Sent Ahead for a Donkey

Matthew 21:4-5 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Your King Is Coming upon a Donkey

Matthew 21:6-9 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Blessed the One Coming in God’s Name!

Matthew 21:10-11 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Who Is This?

Matthew 21:12-14 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Temple Cleansed

Good or bad preacher

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Additional reading

  1. Today’s thought “Cleansing of the leper under the Law” (March 7)
  2. Memorizing wonderfully 13 Elija, Elisha, Mordecai, Job, chariots and a house for God
  3. Memorizing wonderfully 20 Mountain and Kingdom of God
  4. Having a small church mentality

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Further related

  1. He Was Moved with Compassion
  2. Watch Well Thy Faith
  3. How Many Christians Are Abusing the Label?
  4. The House of God
  5. House of God The house of God reaches upwards to meet with the cloudy firmament
  6. 5 – The House of God
  7. In the house of God
  8. Cornerstone
  9. This is a House of Prayer
  10. The Proper Place – I Timothy 2 – Part 1
  11. Church at Sardis-2 ‘Of whose house are we?’
  12. Of His House
  13. Today’s Theme Song: House of God
  14. I Miss Reverence
  15. Why You Must Be Glad when You’re Invited to church
  16. God’s Holiness
  17. The Church
  18. Welcome to the house of God

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