Like prophetic bookends, the proceeding and following chapters surrounding Matthew 24 frame Messiah’s teachings on the destruction of Jerusalem. The Triumphal Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, beginning in chapter 21, establishes the setting. Chapter 25 gives many parables to encourage the readiness of His followers for the final Kingdom of Heaven; and the future judgement of nations.
The focus of Jesus’ teaching was that the kingdom the Elders had constructed around the temple was about to be destroyed. A spiritual kingdom was about to be established upon The New and Everlasting Covenant. But, what shocked His audience to their foundation was that this new kingdom would not be Jewish in nature. The temple ritual sacrifices were to be “forsaken” and the kingdom of God was to be given to another “nation.”
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” Matt. 21:43
Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. Matt. 23:38
The Money Changers
12 And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers.” Matt. 21:12-13 (c.f. Mark 11:15; John 2:14-15)
The Temple, and all that happened in it, was administered the Sadducees. They were the Priests, i.e. the sons of Aaron. They had Scriptural authority to be the temple leaders of worship: sacrifices, washings and prayers. They were responsible to keep the Temple as a place set apart unto the Lord. There are not instructions for the exchange of money for animals of sacrifice. This was completely made up by these spiritual leaders.
As Messiah had started His ministry by cleansing out these tables [John 2:12-18] He now does the same at the end of His ministry. This was a direct assault on their authority, as well as a full on attack to their greed.
Now the Torah makes it plain that the Temple Priests were to get their income from the hides of all the animal sacrifices with a few notable exceptions [Lev 7:8]. History records that the Priests did run huge tanneries just outside the city walls. This was their allotment according to Scripture. However since the Greek Empire had leaved heavy taxes on Judea and put the High Priest in charge of collecting those taxes, the whole system had corrupted.
The Sadducees were in charge of the rule making. So to gain more income, they came up with a good plan, good for them, anyway. All transactions for the Temple, now inside the grounds, had to be in the Temple currency of the silver shekel. Since people were coming into the Temple from all over the Roman Empire, they needed to exchange what ever local money they had for these silver shekels. There is no admonition to do this in the Old Testament. Coins did not come into use till Alexander the Great. The shekel was originally just a measurement of silver. So having made the rule that everything must be traded in their own private currency the Priests set up tables and allowed animals in the court of the gentiles for this purpose. The purchasing of sacrificial animals needed to be done somehow although you could make the case that the Priests could have allowed foreign coins without exchanging them for shekels? And of course all the buying and selling could and should have been done outside the temple.
However, like all money schemes, this system was corrupt. This exchange allowed for over inflation of the value of the shekel and made it difficult for the poor to pay. The Messiah specifically mentions the sacrifice of the poor, the lowly and inexpensive pigeon. The poor were being denied their rightful obligations to the Lord.
The Messiah then quotes Jeremiah.
Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, says the LORD. Jer. 7:11
The sacrifices are what made the Temple a place of prayer. The sacrifices, the temporary removal of sin or the joyful adoration of thanksgiving, were the means of communication between man and God. The dishonest dealings were robbing the people of their ability to pray.
The last three days of Messiah’s life was spent admonishing those who ran the Temple for their corruption. The Priests were not operating the Temple as a house of prayer unto the Lord, but instead it had become the very habitation of thieves.
Next week we will look at Messiah’s Healing in the Temple.