Scripture and You

Cleansing Our Temples in 2023: What If Jesus Came to Your Church This Sunday?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Christians enter 2023 as people in need. But do we understand our greatest need?

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part two of a series. Read part one.

If Jesus came to your church this Sunday, would His all-consuming zeal for holiness in worship compel Him to cleanse it as He did the temple at Jerusalem?

In our last article we saw that on the Monday after His entry into Jerusalem on the day we commemorate as Palm Sunday, Jesus returned to the temple area. The previous day He had observed what was taking place there, particularly in the large Court of the Gentiles, an area of over ten acres. Under the Mosaic Law this area was supposed so be a quiet place, devoted to prayer and the worship of God. But in Jesus' day, under the authority of apostate religious leaders, it was being used for an entirely different and unconsecrated purpose.  

The Levites had turned the temple area into an animal market and money exchange.

A Scene of Chaos

They were doing this as a matter of convenience. Jews who came from outlying parts of Israel or from foreign lands to worship and offer sacrifices, would wait until they got to Jerusalem to buy a sacrificial animal to offer at the temple. It was too much trouble to bring an animal on the trip with them. So the temple itself had become the animal market.

And because many of these people were coming from foreign countries, they had to change their foreign money into local currency in order to buy an animal. So there were moneychangers - literally, people who exchanged currency.

We are told in contemporary records, by Josephus and others, that the family of the high priest ran this operation. In other words, they had gone into the cattle and banking businesses. They sold sacrificial animals in the Court of the Gentiles at premium prices. And just like your local bank today, they charged heavy transaction fees for changing money.

Also, keep in mind that the event recorded in the Gospel records took place during Passover week. Hundreds of thousands of Jews came to the temple at Jerusalem during this time each year. So picture this scene: This temple area, which is supposed to be a quiet place of prayer and worship, is filled with stalls of baying animals and their refuse, thousands of shouting people, and arguments about prices. Instead of quiet, and prayer, and worship, there is chaos.

And what did Jesus do? The Gospel accounts tell us that He threw out those who bought and sold, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers. The force of the original language is that He did it violently, and with anger. And He said to them, quoting from Isaiah and Jeremiah, "It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves." God incarnate would not tolerate having the place in which He was to be worshipped desecrated in this way. As the account in John's Gospel tells us, Jesus was motivated by an all-consuming zeal for the sanctity of His Father's house, and the worship that was to take place within it (John 2:17).

Let me offer, at this point, two lessons from this event

Jesus: A Mighty Man

The first has to do with the Lord Jesus Himself. Sometimes - actually, often - our Lord has been depicted in paintings, and today is portrayed in motion pictures and on television, as almost effeminate. A weak character. But this account puts the lie to that idea. The Man who cleansed the temple was a man's man. What He did was no small task. Think of the size of the area - roughly ten acres of ground. Think of the crowd that was present. Think of the chaos of the scene.

And then think of this one Man, the Son of God, driving out these merchants, and their animals, and turning over the bankers' tables. He was physically capable of single-handedly doing this. The Lord Jesus Christ was a mighty man, like David of old. He was truly the Son of David. Our God incarnate is the mighty God, not a weakling. This mighty God-Man now reigns on the throne of Heaven, and intercedes for His saints with the Father. He is mighty on behalf of His saints.

In 1 Corinthians 14:20 (KJV)  we are commanded: "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men." In chapter 16 at verse 13 we are likewise commanded: "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong."

A more literal rendering would be, "act like full grown, mature men." In the context of Paul's letter to a church that had to a large degree robbed the temples of the fallen world, embracing it thinking and behavior, it indicates this: "Be responsible and courageous in upholding the imperatives that God commands of those who are truly in the faith." And let me submit to you that the number one imperative of the faith, given to us many, many times in the Word of God, is holiness. "Be ye holy, for I am only" says the Lord.

Purity and maturity go hand in hand in the Word of God.

I believe that one of the greatest problems of the church today - and I believe this is true even of many churches we might identify as the most conservative is immaturity. Immaturity of the pastors and leaders. Immaturity of the members. Immaturity both in general behavior and in spiritual discernment.

Why has so much of the church fallen into this condition?

I submit that the principal reason is the church's attitude toward the Word of God and the Person of Jesus Christ. With few and precious exceptions, churches today by and large have forgotten that the Bible is like no other book on earth, and they have forgotten that the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ was like no other human being who ever walked on earth.

Why are these facts so important? The reason is that Holy Scripture, and person of Christ Himself, are the only places in which we will find absolute truth absolutely unmixed with error. The only sources of absolutely unimpeachable authority on which to advance Christ's kingdom, and to stand against all ungodly opposition. Bowing to the Bible's authority, and calling the people of God to bow to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, requires maturity. "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong."

In so many churches today, everything has to be "fun." The pastor often thinks that he has to be "one of the boys." Why is this? I believe it has to do with a lack of appreciation for the fact that the incarnate Christ who is revealed in Scripture is a mature man - and a man's man.

It took a man's man to cleanse the temple of the money changers and livestock merchants. The area occupied by Herod's Temple and its courts in that day was over 35 acres, and the Court of the Gentiles - where the money changers and livestock merchants had set up their businesses for Passover week - occupied about 10 acres of that space.

During Passover week the Court of the Gentiles, this 10-acre space that was supposed to be a quiet place of prayer and worship, was filled with stalls of baying animals and their refuse, thousands of people buying and selling, and no doubt arguments about prices. Instead of quiet, prayer, and worship, there was noise and chaos.

What did Jesus do? The Gospel accounts tell us that He single-handedly threw out those who bought and sold, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers. The force of the original language is that He did it violently, and with anger. Ten acres! And as He did it He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations', but you have made it a 'den of thieves.' "

Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our Faith, is also the greatest Hero of the Faith. This was a man's man. The Captain of our salvation. We need to emulate our Lord in such times as ours, when spiritually speaking His very courts are being invaded by the ungodly.

Today's Church: Houses of Prayer or Dens of Thieves?

The second lesson has to do with our worship. Far too often in our day, what are called churches are chaotic places rather than houses of prayer. They are places of apostasy in which prosperity preachers and other false prophets, as the King James Version puts it, "make merchandise" of the people - exploiting them for their own ungodly gain:

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

Later in this chapter and in the one to follow, Peter describes these false worshippers and their followers in detail. He says that "their destruction does not slumber" (2:3) and that they "will receive the wages of unrighteousness" (2:13), being, along with this present earth under the curse, "reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (2:7).

But, Peter tells his readers, remember that Christ is surely coming again as He has promised (3:10-13). "Therefore," Peter declares, "what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness"? Godliness and holiness are the keynotes of true Christian worship:

Give [that is, ascribe] unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in the beauty [literally, the majesty] of holiness. (Psalm 29:1-2)

Holiness in worship - worship that is set apart from the world, worship that is entirely different from what the world would do, worship that is done as prescribed in Scripture - is beautiful and majestic in the eyes of our mighty God and His Christ. That is why Jesus, with anger and violence, drove out those who desecrated His place of prayer.

Dear friend, are you like those whom Jesus drove out? Is your church like that? If He came to your church this Sunday, would His all-consuming zeal for holiness in worship provoke Him to rise up in anger at what passes for worship in your church? If so, you need to repent, and you need to flee from those who practice what Scripture calls "will-worship" (Colossians 2:23) - ungodly worship that is based upon man's own devices, and is contrary to the true worship of Christ.

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?

For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

Next: What Did Jesus Do After He Cleansed the Temple?


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