15 So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 16 And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. 17 Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”
In the week leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus went up on the Temple Mount and was upset by what he saw. Money changers and those selling animals for sacrifice were taking advantage of a captive crowd.
Both law and custom dictated that Jewish travelers would make their way to Jerusalem for certain holidays. Passover was one of those. The “Next year in Jerusalem” wish goes back to ancient times.
In those days, when there was a temple, people coming from far away would have to buy their sacrifices on site. Who, after all, was about to travel with their doves or lambs that great distance? The new arrival had to exchange currency, likely at a bad rate, as is still the case today with money changers. They then used these newly acquired local coins to buy their sacrifice, likely at an inflated price since demand was high.
Jesus calls them out for their unfair practices and presumptive sense that everything would always be okay. That presumption might have been expressed in thoughts like, “Don’t we have the temple of the one true God in our midst?” or “Aren’t we favored above all cities and all nations here in Jerusalem?”
They should have known better. This kind of overconfidence made its way into the nation’s thinking before. Jesus references Isaiah 56:6-7 and Jeremiah 7:8-11 to make his point.
We should ask ourselves in what ways we might be exhibiting a similar overconfidence. Have we or our church become wealthy, hindering simple trust in the Lord? Are we proud of our doctrine, imagining ourselves to be the purest church on planet earth? Has any spiritual accomplishment taken the place of humility and utter dependence on God’s grace?
It happens. It happened repeatedly the nation of Israel throughout its history and it happens to God’s people today. Think of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, or the scandals of celebrity preachers in modern America. May we always seek to serve God in complete obedience, in full reliance upon his ability, mercy and revealed truth to make us whole.