But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people selling animals for sacrifices. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” After that, he taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him. But they could think of nothing, because all the people hung on every word he said. Luke 19:41-48 NLT
This short passage in Luke’s summary of the the life and work of Jesus recounts three emotionally charged incidents — Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, the clearing of the Temple, and Jesus teaching in the Temple Courts. Luke does not go into much detail, and I think he is probably assuming that Theophilus, his Patron, will know the “back story” to each one. However, we, 2,000 years further on in history, need to be reminded of the circumstances surrounding the incidents for them to be fully explained.
First up is Jesus lamenting over the future of Jerusalem.
From the top of the Mount of Olives there is a magnificent view of the whole city, even today. At a bend in the road, Jesus stops and shudders in grief over the fate he knows will befall the city in a few short decades.
The Roman government had a policy of allowing conquered people to have their own rulers, so long as fealty to Rome and the flow of taxes remained uninterrupted and unimpeded. Jesus knew that the scheming and conniving of the current religious rulers and their political maneuvering would eventually result in the total destruction of the city in 70 A.D.
We know from contemporary accounts that Jesus’ prophecy that one stone would not be left standing on another literally came true, allowing the Romans to draw a plough through the heart of the city, when the destruction was complete.
But it didn’t have to happen. If they had only accepted Jesus’ teaching of peace instead of political intrigue the outcome would have been far different. Here we see God weeping over mankind’s foolishness in ignoring His grace for their own selfish ends.
Then there is the “cleansing” of the Temple.
Why did Jesus, who was the very embodiment of love, act with such violence to the money changers and sellers of animals in the Temple courts?
Let’s start with the money changers.
Every male Jew had to pay an annual Temple Tax of half a shekel, or the equivalent of about two days’ wages for a working man.
A month before the Passover, booths were set up in all the towns and villages and the tax could be paid there; but by far the greater part was actually paid by the pilgrims in Jerusalem when they came to celebrate the Passover Feast.
In Palestine, all kinds of currencies were in circulation and, for ordinary purposes, they were all — Greek, Roman Tyrian, Syrian, Egyptian — equally valid. But the Temple tax had to be paid either in exact half shekels of the sanctuary or in ordinary Galilean shekels.
That was where the money changers came in.
To change a coin for exact value they charged one “maah” which would be about a third of a day’s wage. If you didn’t have exact change, they would then charge another maah for the required tax, and yet another to make change. It has been calculated that these moneychangers would each have an annual profit of $20,000 to $30,000 extorted from poor people who could least afford it.
Even more outrageous were the animal sellers.
Although a worshipper could buy a sacrificial victim outside the Temple, in order to ensure that the inspector of sacrifices would declare it free from “spot or blemish” it was safer to buy from the Temple shop, run by the high priest, even though the prices were marked up over twenty-five hundred percent!
It is easy to understand why Jesus was so angry with these thieves who were openly lining their pockets at the expense of poor people who only wished to come and worship His Father!
Jesus is in the business of removing impediments to fellowship with our creator, and these charlatans were actively creating impediments.
You will note that the third episode begins with “after this”.
Jesus knew full well that the priests, merchants, lawyers, and political leaders all wanted to be rid of him — now more than ever — murder was on their minds. But in repeated acts of sheer courage, he continued to teach in the Temple courtyards where the people who were hungry for his words hung on every utterance he made.
Jesus never asks of us anything he was not prepared to do himself. Our courage in demonstrating to an hostile world whose we are and where we put our faith should match that of our supreme example. As Paul famously said, “…I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 NLT
Hopefully you too will be filled with righteous anger when people place obstacles in the way of faith, or even worse, see doing so as a means to personal profit. We are not called to go along to get along, but to be salt and light pointing to the way, truth and life!
I pray that may be true in your life and mine.
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black