The Death of the Sanctuary
John 2:13-17 records an event that Matthew, Mark and Luke put much later in Jesus’ ministry. There is no reason to assume that Jesus only cleared the temple once so the fact that John recalls the events early in Christ’s ministry doesn’t pose a problem. We KNOW how slow we are to get the message sometimes, so there is no reason to believe that the Jews of Jesus’ day were any faster—or any more obedient!
In any case, John tells us that shortly after the wedding in Cana, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. When He got to the temple he found it busy—but not with worshippers. It was busy with businessmen hawking their wares.
To facilitate the sacrifices, these merchants had set up shop to sell the sheep, cattle, and birds required by the priests. Since there were foreigners among the Jewish converts, the money changers were there as well. It was their version of “seeker-sensitive,” providing for the “felt-needs” of the audience.
Jesus, who of all people, was extremely sensitive to people’s needs, was not impressed. In one of the rare occasions recorded for us, He executed the judgment of God on those who circumvented the true nature of the house of God and turned it into something it was not.
He made a whip and scattered the tables, the money, the animals and the venders. “To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’” (vs. 16).
I haven’t been in very many Catholic churches in my lifetime, but one of the things that I admire about them is that an aura of reverence and quiet reigns once you enter the sanctuary. Actually, I’ve experienced that in other kinds of churches as well. There is a sense of just being alone with God even when there are other people present. This is not true in many other churches I've been in.
That was what Jesus expected of His Father’s house in Jerusalem. It wasn’t what He found. The other accounts tell us that His rebuke to those who had turned the temple into something other than what it was intended to be, included saying that this house of His was to be a house of prayer. It’s hard to pray when the noise level is somewhere around deafening.
As much as we might argue that it was just a building and that what was important was the heart of the people present, it seems that for the Lord those two items went together. Jesus said that where our treasure is there our heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).
No matter how pure the motives of these sellers might have been, their hearts were engaged, not in worship, but in business. No matter how pure the intentions of the visitors to the temple might have been, it would have been next to impossible to discover God in the middle of the clink of coins, the bellowing of bulls, the bleating of sheep, the cooing of doves, and the sounds of a thousand voices demanding attention. There was no sanctuary here.
They would have gotten their need for the proper coinage and the proper sacrifice all looked after, but would they have gotten their need for connection with God met? It seems that Jesus didn’t think so.