13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 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; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.”
John places this story at the start of Jesus’ ministry, but it seems more likely that John (nor the other gospel writers) were all that concerned with chronology and that this story corresponds to the synoptic gospels’ story of Jesus cleansing the Temple at the end of His ministry days before He would be arrested.
Also remember, when someone asks what would Jesus do, getting a whip and chasing corrupt businessmen out of church is a scriptural answer.
We’ve covered this elsewhere. But the gist of the story is that the Temple was set up with different areas designated for different people groups. You had a section for Jewish males, a section for Jewish women, a section for Gentile converts, and a section that was off limits to anyone but the high priest once a year.
In the outer court, where Gentile converts would come to worship and pray, it appeared that the priests had allowed merchants and money changers to set up shop. There were numerous Jewish pilgrims coming from various foreign provinces with foreign currency. Some of the more pious Jews also viewed Roman currency stamped with the image of an Emperor or his Eagle standard as qualifying as graven images. So, for a price, you could exchange your Roman currency for Temple currency that was, for lack of a better word, kosher.
The money changers would also perform other banking tasks, such as accepting deposits, issuing letters of credit, and making change for large denominations of currency.
There were other market kiosks set up where local merchants could sell sacrificial animals. This made sense in a way. Pilgrims coming to Jerusalem from thousands of miles away would find it problematic to bring a perfect sheep or cow with them as a sacrifice to God. So they travelled with money instead and bought a local animal that met the Temple qualifications for sacrifice. This too, would also be done for a markup. Much like how popcorn bought at a store is far cheaper than popcorn bought in a movie theater.
There is an outstanding question as to whether these vendors and bankers where Jewish or Gentile or a mixture of the two.
Regardless, Christ viewed what was happening with anger. He calls this marketplace elsewhere a ‘den of thieves’, implying that the reason for his anger was the money being exploited by the vendors from pilgrims who had come to seek God and pray.
Jesus is not a fan of unregulated capitalism, it would seem.
Neither is he a fan of people exploiting the faith and devotion of religious worshippers to make a profit.
Nor is he, apparently a fan of turning a place of worship into a noisy place of commerce.
Given the number of church bookstores and coffee shops we have set up in our churches, I think we’ve placed this story nicely out of sight or are casting the vendors in this tale as more sinister persons. But they could also justify their own commercial activity by citing the reason that they were just helping others worship God in a deeper or easier fashion.
Having seen a myriad of various Christian-branded crap, I have to wonder what angry 1st century Rabbi Jesus would think of the religion that bears his name? And how many church elders or Christian businessmen would oppose His efforts to cleanse worship of commerce and wish the authorities could simply arrest the lunatic with the whip before he stirred up the marks, er, customers… I mean flocks.
It is an interesting train of thought anyway.