Revisiting the Temple Cleansing
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 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 money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a place of business." His disciples remembered that it was written, "ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME." (John 2:13-17)
This cleansing occurred at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. But carefully note what He said during this event in contrast to the next similar cleansing of the temple just before He died.
And Jesus entered the temple and drove 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. 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." And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became indignant and said to Him, "Do You hear what these children are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF'?" (Matthew 21:12-16)
A different account of this same event adds a very significant additional insight that gives us an important clue.
Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive 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; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. 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." The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching. (Mark 11:15-18)
One of the most volatile issues that aroused the most intense reactions from His opponents was Jesus' reference to the gospel being made available to anyone outside of Israel. His home church became so infuriated with His comments to that effect that they tried to hurl Him off a nearby cliff. Now, entering the last days of His ministry, these words again referring to salvation for outside peoples were like the last straw for their tolerance of Him. They could not stand one more comment suggesting such a heretical notion, for it violated all of the long-held, deeply entrenched traditions and beliefs that salvation was exclusive to the Jews without any mercy for the Gentiles.
There is no mention whatsoever about zeal in this event as was referenced in the first cleansing, only these words quoted from Isaiah. But these words, 'for all the nations,' exposes a very significant issue that was at the crux of much of the animosity Jesus faced all of His life. Yet clearly this plan of God to include all the world in His plan to rescue humanity was noted by various prophets of old. Here is the context of what Jesus quoted to those who became so incensed at His actions that day.
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. (Isaiah 56:7)
When the larger context of this quote is considered, it becomes even more clear that this notion of isolationism practiced by the Jews versus the broad scope that Jesus brought to view was the same issue that was being addressed in Isaiah's day.
Thus says the LORD, "Preserve justice and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed. How blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who takes hold of it; who keeps from profaning the sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil."
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely separate me from His people." Nor let the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree." For thus says the LORD, "To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, to them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
"Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath and holds fast My covenant; 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." (Isaiah 56:1-7)
Now lest we become easily distracted by reference to the Sabbath here and begin to think that because we know what day the Sabbath really is we are set, we need to think again. Remember that the Jews in Jesus' day kept the Sabbath far more meticulously than most of us would ever dream of doing, yet they were oblivious to the true meaning of both the Sabbath and the truth about God just as so many of us are today. We are so similar to what the Jews were like that we are in just as much, if not more danger than they were. Today after 1700 years of distortions and confusion over the true meaning of the gospel and what the nature of what God is really like, we are far closer in our thinking and practices to the deceived Jews than we are to the spirit and practice of the early believers after the resurrection.
I want to go back and take a another look at the the phrase that shows up in the quote from Psalms just beyond what came to the minds of the disciples the first time Jesus cleansed the temple.
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. (Psalms 69:9 NRSV)
That resonates fascinatingly with the emerging truth of the real gospel that is now beginning to come into the open everywhere but is being fiercely resisted. That truth is also found in Isaiah 53 which for too long has been misunderstood, misquoted and mis-interpreted. I am going to quote the first seven verses here from various translations that for me help to clarify best the meaning of this chapter. Keep in mind the last part of this previous verse from Psalms and see how it fits perfectly.
Who really believed what we heard? Who saw in it the LORD'S great power? (ERV)
It was the will of the LORD that his servant grow like a plant taking root in dry ground. He had no dignity or beauty to make us take notice of him. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing that would draw us to him. (GNB)
He was hated and rejected; his life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering. No one wanted to look at him. We despised him and said, "He is a nobody!" (CEV)
He certainly has taken upon himself our suffering and carried our sorrows, but we thought that God had wounded him, beat him, and punished him. (GW)
But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received. (GNB)
All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the LORD made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved. (GNB)
(Deserved punishment originates from the Tree of Good and Evil system that now governs this world. Satan's form of governing is an artificial imposition of punishment, different from the natural cause and effect principles that God uses. Therefore, since we still live under the artificial system of law, it was possible for God to arbitrarily shift the punishment destined for us from that false system designed to crush each of us, and artificially redirect it to fall consciously on Jesus. That would be impossible in God's system of natural cause and effect, but since we are living under Satan's system and Jesus became one of us, God simply diverted the punishments of Satan's system onto Himself to absorb all of its destructive power. By doing this He can diffuse all of Satan's legal arguments against us and God. This is a hypothesis that is emerging in my thinking that needs to be further explored.)
He was treated badly, but he never protested. He said nothing, like a lamb being led away to be killed. He was like a sheep that makes no sound as its wool is being cut off. He never opened his mouth to defend himself. (ERV) (Isa 53:1-7)
The action of Jesus in cleansing the temple both times, and the way in which He carried them out had nothing to do with some outburst of vengeful anger as many suppose. Rather it was a reenactment of something that had occurred long before when God had instructed Jeremiah to do something similar to warn Israel of their impending doom as a nation if they would not repent. This may be a rather lengthy quote, but I include this much because there are so many vital clues that must not be overlooked.
The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying, "Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will announce My words to you."
Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.
Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.
"At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.
"So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, 'Thus says the LORD, "Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds."'
"But they will say, 'It's hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.' "Therefore thus says the LORD, 'Ask now among the nations, Who ever heard the like of this? The virgin of Israel Has done a most appalling thing." (Jeremiah 18:1-13)
Then the enemies of Jeremiah said, "Come, let us make plans against Jeremiah. Surely the teaching of the law by the priest will not be lost, and the advice from the wise men will still be with us. We will still have the words of the prophets. So let us tell lies about him. That will ruin him. We will not pay attention to anything he says." (This same mentality unfortunately is still very in vogue yet today.)
LORD, listen to me! Listen to my arguments and decide who is right. I have been good to the people of Judah, but now they are paying me back with evil. They are trying to trap me and kill me. (19-20 ERV) Therefore, give their children over to famine and deliver them up to the power of the sword; and let their wives become childless and widowed. Let their men also be smitten to death, their young men struck down by the sword in battle. May an outcry be heard from their houses, when You suddenly bring raiders upon them; for they have dug a pit to capture me and hidden snares for my feet. Yet You, O LORD, know all their deadly designs against me; do not forgive their iniquity or blot out their sin from Your sight. But may they be overthrown before You; deal with them in the time of Your anger! (Jeremiah 18:18-23)
Though Jeremiah's ideas of how God ought to handle his situation is not very reflective of the Spirit of Jesus, pay attention to how God responded to Jeremiah's desperate pleading for protection.
Thus says the LORD, "Go and buy a potter's earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests. "Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you, and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, "Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle. (Note that is was often the elders and the chief priests that were mentioned as being the fiercest opponents of Jesus in the gospel accounts.)
"Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; therefore, behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter.
"I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I will give over their carcasses as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth. "I will also make this city a desolation and an object of hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its disasters.
"I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they will eat one another's flesh in the siege and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life will distress them."'
"Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you and say to them, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter's vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial. This is how I will treat this place and its inhabitants," declares the LORD, "so as to make this city like Topheth. "The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah will be defiled like the place Topheth, because of all the houses on whose rooftops they burned sacrifices to all the heavenly host and poured out drink offerings to other gods."'
" Then Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the LORD'S house and said to all the people: "Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Behold, I am about to bring on this city and all its towns the entire calamity that I have declared against it, because they have stiffened their necks so as not to heed My words.'"
When Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, Pashhur had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put him in the stocks that were at the upper Benjamin Gate, which was by the house of the LORD. (Jeremiah 18:18 - 20:2)
We need to see that when Jesus cleansed the temple, it was not a tirade to vent His anger over a church building being used inappropriately. Rather, it was a vivid warning acted out with compelling detail to demonstrate what would soon happen to the entire city and the nation of Israel if the people and leaders continued their obstinate resistance to the truth of what God was really like as seen in the person of Jesus. In Jeremiah's day the nation of Israel had turned to false gods that distorted their views of God. In Jesus day it was their own terribly distorted notions about their own God that caused them to become so stubborn and defiant against anyone trying to share the real truth with them. Sadly it is no different in our day. In overturning the tables and bringing chaos to the merchandizing activity going on in the house where they were supposed to meet with God, Jesus was providing for the Jews a demonstration of what would very soon happen to them, very much like that given by Jeremiah when he smashed the clay pot in the valley of Hinnom.
In the last prophesies to be fulfilled shortly in our day, Revelation also exposes these very same issues that have always been at the core of the controversy over God's character and how we have been led to believe lies about Him. Revelation, far from being an exposé of an enraged deity venting his wrath and wreaking havoc on his enemies, it is actually an exposé of a God who does just the opposite – He allows His enemies to wreak havoc on His representatives on earth. They will be the ones who have come to know Him so well that He can trust them to again demonstrate the real truth about the goodness, kindness, love and forgiveness of God in the face of the most extreme evil.
Notice the contrast between the opinions that religious people have about God in these passages with the way Jesus and His true followers demonstrate the truth about God's heart in the face of violence.
Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, "Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it."
And I heard the altar saying, "Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments."
The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. (They blaspheme God by clinging to the dark beliefs about His character circulated by His great accuser, refusing to acknowledge His true glory.)
Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds. (In all of these instances the blasphemy is in blaming God as the source of the evil that is happening instead of seeing it as coming from Satan.)
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.
("Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.") And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. (Revelation 16:4-16)
Something very compelling is that this Har-Magedon is actually referencing the very same place spoken of in Jeremiah in the previously quoted passage. There it had several names, the last of which was 'the valley of slaughter.' When we begin to grasp the real truth about God's character as revealed clearly in the testimony and demonstration given us by Jesus, then we will find the right key that unlocks the prophecies of Revelation properly and will suddenly discover that in the end God will win the very same way He won when Jesus died and was resurrected. God never changes, His ways are not our ways, and despite all the claims of religious 'experts' and theologians throughout history, God will always relate to sinners in love just as what was seen in the life and death of His Son here on earth.
It was in this region of the valley of Ben-hinnom or Topheth where Jesus was crucified and buried. Interestingly enough, it is also the place referred to as hell in many English Bibles. It was the trash dump outside Jerusalem where all the garbage, trash and at times even dead corpses were dumped. The fires were continually stoked by fresh trash delivered there daily, so the valley came to be known as the place of eternal burning. This term, later taken out of context, led to the false assumption that hell is where God wreaks His vengeance on all who reject Him with eternally burning fire. But the context of these words makes it clear that that notion is completely unfounded.
Interestingly, when Jeremiah predicted that this valley would become known as a valley of slaughter after the overthrow of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon, that term perfectly correlates with the main symbol used for Jesus in the book of Revelation – a violently slaughtered Lamb. And to tie it all together, Jesus, the violently slaughtered Lamb, was slaughtered and buried around the very place that many years before was predicted to be called the valley of slaughter.
As I was led to these various passages it started to become evident to me that those who choose to fully embrace the real truth about God's character as revealed by Jesus and allow God to demonstrate through them that same truth as He did through Jesus, will find themselves at the end of time facing very similar circumstances that brought about Jesus' death. God's true followers in the last days will face massive slaughter on a scale never seen throughout the history of the world. There are strong clues to this in the prophecies of Revelation. Yet God will allow this to happen because He knows that in the long term, just as with the life of Jesus on earth, it will all serve to strengthen the antidote for sin that will be necessary to prevent sin from ever rising up again throughout eternity. This is exactly what is being described in the last part of chapter 14 in Revelation.
Isaiah 53 describes the formula for this antibiotic for sin. Jesus cultured this antibiotic in His humanity when He brought the irrepressible love of God into close contact with the fatal toxicity of sin. The reaction between the two resulted in His death. But in doing so He created the cure that is now dispersed into every person in the human race, even retroactively. This is called redemption in the Bible, and unless one outright rejects it and prefers to permanently embrace the lies they have so long lived with, it will draw them back into the life-giving love of the Father again. All humanity is included in the redemption worked out at the cross, yet all who reject that antidote will be permitted, though with great reluctance and grief on God's part, to experience the deadly consequences of sin for themselves. This is what the Bible calls God's strange act – allowing anyone to pull away from the source of life and to choose death for themselves. But in providing this freedom, the final destiny of each one is left up to their own choice, for as far as God is concerned, He has willed that all should be saved.