Tables Turned

Tables Turned

Daily Reading: (Matthew 21:12-13):

“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” He said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

All of the Gospel writers except one included this story of Jesus in the Temple courts. John is the only one who did not include it in his gospel.

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts He found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves He said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”  (John 2:13-16).

When people read this story in John they think it is the same event as what Matthew described in Matthew 21 but it is not. If you have ever watched movies about the crucifixion, you have seen John’s telling of Jesus in the temple- where Jesus has a whip, driving the money changers out. When John is writing John 2, Jesus’ ministry has just begun this is not the scene right before He goes to the cross.  At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He cleansed the Temple by driving the money changers out. About three years later they have come back and Jesus cleanses the Temple once more just before His death. This is why so many over time have seen this moment leading up to His crucifixion and have imagined Jesus with the whip driving people out but this all happened at the beginning of His ministry, not the end.

In Matthew 21:10: “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” In the very next verse, they answer their own question. Have you ever done that before? I have had that happen to me before when I was in the airport in Houston. A crowd had gathered and there was a lot of excitement, I knew someone famous must be walking through the airport. So, I said to my wife as the person approached, “who is that?” Moments later, I exclaimed, “It’s Jerry Rice!”

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

In the crowd’s reaction to what they call Jesus you might think it to be a little strange. Why would they call Jesus a prophet, when in the verses just before it, they are hailing Jesus as Messiah. How strange to shout that salvation has come through the Davidic lineage, the Messiah is here in verse 9, and then say who is this in verse 10, and then answer your own question in verse 11, “it is the prophet”. A prophet would never get the kind of attention and welcome that Jesus did. To understand this moment better you have to try and get inside the mind of the Jewish crowd, what they would have known, and what they were expressing.  The crowd is not calling Jesus “a prophet”, but “the prophet”. What prophet would they have been talking about? The prophet whom Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy 18:18. “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in His mouth. He will tell them everything I command Him.” This expression of calling Him “the prophet” is that they are welcoming Jesus as our blessed Lord, the promised Messiah. This fits with what the crowd was shouting earlier, they are just expressing it in a different way.

But how strange that only five days later, their chants changed from hosanna to “Away with Him! crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Five days later they rejected the grace of God.

Again, inside the minds of the Jewish crowd, their thoughts are that Jesus has come to save them from the Roman oppressors who occupy Jerusalem. Jesus has no plans to do this, so how could He be the Messiah? They were expecting the Messiah to come and conquer, not to lay down His life. What they were missing in their life under the Law is that He had to first conquer sin and death for us, “God had to make Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” When He returns He will conquer. His Kingdom shall reign forever.

But at this moment at Jesus’ triumphal entry things are wonderful, but then the tables begin to turn in the very next verse in Matthew 21:12: “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. Verse 13-“It is written,” He said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

My house shall be called a house of prayer. The usage of “house” here (proseuchē) means a place set apart or suited for the offering of prayer.[1] Since we know prayer is a two-way dialogue between us and God, a communication of speaking and listening and hearing. It is understandable why Jesus was so mad because this was compromised.

This is interesting because at a quick glance it would make sense to have these things established, money changers and dove sellers. The tables of the money-changers was helpful because Judea was subject to the Romans. The money in current use was the Roman coin; yet the Jewish law required that every man should pay a tribute to the service of the sanctuary of “half a shekel,” Exodus 30:11-16. This was a Jewish coin, and the tribute was required to be paid in that coin. It became, therefore, a matter of convenience to have a place where the Roman coin might be exchanged for the Jewish half shekel.

The seats of them that sold doves: Doves were required to be offered in sacrifice (Leviticus 14:22; Luke 2:24), yet it was difficult to bring them from the distant parts of Judea. It was found much easier to purchase them in Jerusalem. Hence, it became a business to keep them to sell to those who were required to offer them. They had turned their practices into a big business to get rich and to rob from God’s people financially and spiritually inside the temple. They made it “a den of thieves”.

What does Jesus do, He turned the tables on them. The moment Jesus enters the scene, purpose is restored in God’s house (Matthew 21:13-14). After all the extra-curricular money-making ventures were removed and there were no more distractions from the Temple, look at what happened next (verse 14). Jesus healed, salvation was received.

Isaiah 35 the prophet describes the coming kingship of the Messiah like this: ” Take courage, fear not. . . . The recompense of God will come, But He will save you. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened. And . . . Then the lame will leap like a deer” (35:4-6).

Jesus comes on a donkey, lowly and gentle and patient; He comes cleansing His Father’s house to make it a house of prayer for all the nations; He comes healing the blind and the lame all to show what his kingship is now in part, and will be fully in the age to come. It is not just a kingship over other kings, but over disease and all nature. Today is the day of our salvation. Trust Him and receive all that He has purchased for you by His blood that was shed and His body that was given.


[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g4335/kjv/tr/0-1/

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