Chapter Twelve

                  CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE

       We have seen that when Jesus was asked for a sign of his alleged
messiahship, at his entrance into Jerusalem, his supposed reply was,
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19). It
has also been pointed out that one of the charges at his trial before the
Sadducees is that he had threatened to destroy the Temple (Matthew 26:61).
There is no doubt that Jesus actually DID say something to that effect. It
is also more than likely that by the phrase, "Destroy this temple", he did
not mean "If you should destroy it, I would rebuild it", but rather, "I will
destroy it and rebuild it." Some confirmation of this may be found in the
words addressed to his disciples:

     "And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his dis-
      ciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
      And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I
      say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon
      another, that shall not be thrown down."
                                Matthew 24:1-2

       Again, we are reminded that Mark adds the detail that on his first
day in Jerusalem, Jesus went into the Temple and "looked round about on all
things" and when evening began to fall, he left Jerusalem and retired to
Bethany, and it was the next day (11:12,15) that he and the twelve returned
to Jerusalem and entered the Temple a second time during which the
"Cleansing" took place. What was this "Cleansing of the Temple"? It is
reported in all four gospels as follows:

     "And they came to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and
      began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and
      overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of
      them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should
      carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto
      them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all
      nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of
      thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought
      how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all
      the people were astonished at his doctrine. And when even was
      come, he went out of the city."
                           Mark 11:15-19

     "And Jesus went into the temple of G-d, and cast out all them that
      sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the
      moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And siad
      unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of
      prayer;but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and
      the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when
      the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he
      did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna
      to the son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto
      him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea;
      have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou
      hast perfected praise? And he left them, and went out of the city
      inot Bethany; and he lodged there.
                         Matthew 21:12-17

     "And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold
      therein, and them that bought; Saying unto them, It is written,
      My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of
      thieves. And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests
      and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy
      him, And could not find what they might do: for all the people
      were very attentive to hear him."
                         Luke 19:45-48

     "And (he) found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and
      doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made
      a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple,
      and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money,
      and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves,
      Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of
      merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written,
      The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up."
                         John 2:14-17

      Thus we have, in all four gospels, a scattered account of an in-
cident that occurred in the Temple precincts or courtyard, involving Jesus
and his followers, in which he disrupts certain activities there and
appears to "take over" before leaving the City a second time and returning
to Bethany. What are the salient points of this episode and what is its
significance in the role of Jesus as would-be messiah? The mojor points are
as follows:

       Each evangelist tells us that Jesus entered the Temple and upset the
stalls of the money changers and animal sellers and that he drove them out
of the Temple precincts. John adds that he used some sort of hastily made
small whip. He accused them of making the Temple a "den of thieves", John
says "of merchandise". Luke adds that after this initial "cleansing", he
taught in the Temple "daily", and that the "chief priests" (the Sadducees)
wanted to get rid of him but that they were powerless to do so because "all
the people were very attentive to hear him". Matthew reports that the
people gathered in the Temple courts called him "the son of David", i.e.,
the messiah. Mark adds a detail to the effect that Jesus prevented the
carrying of vessels through the Temple, almost as something divorced from
the narrative and superfluous to the incident. Finally, both Mark and
Matthew state that after a day or so , Jesus left the Temple and departed
from the City for Bethany. We would wish to make some coherrent sense out
of this story that would fit into a historical context and add to the
understanding of the events that occurred in Jerusalem that week. But first
we should understand just what significance the Temple played in the
history and in the life of the people to make Jesus turn his attention to
it as the very first aggressive act demonstrating his messiahship.

       The Temple, in Jerusalem, built on the site where king David had
built an altar to G-d (2 Samuel 24:25), and the site upon which the binding
of Isaac had taken place, was located on the tribal boundary between Judah
and Benjamin, in an area claimed by neither tribe, a veritable "no-man's
land". It was known by many names but Jews have traditionally preferred the
name BEIT HAMIKDASH, "The House of Sanctity". It was the focal point of
all of world Jewry, the House of the G-d of Israel. Unlike other nations in
antiquity, Jews had only ONE Temple, symbolic of the ONE true G-d of the
universe. Paradoxically during the last decades of its existence, it was
NOT the place where most Jews went to worship. That place had been taken by
the synagogue. It was to the RABBIS that Israel looked for quidance, NOT to
the priests. To be sure, priests held a position of importance in Israel,
but only in the area of ritual necessity. But even in the area of ritual,
the priests themselves had to come to the Rabbinic authorities to ensure
that the ritual was carried out correctly. They, the rabbis, were the
guardians of the Jewish religion, the ones who made the decisions
regarding the correct interpretation of G-d's will. The priests merely
carried out the Rabbinic instructions.

       The Temple itself had a synagogue built into its precincts, and it
was within this synagogue that the Sanhedrin met to pronounce judgments
regarding Israel and the Torah. The Sanhedrin had declared that the Temple
was a source of blessings, not only to Israel, but to all the nations of
the earth.

       Indeed, the Temple had become "house of prayer for all peoples"
(Isaiah 56:6-7). The Talmud states in many places that kings and princes of
the nations regularly sent offerings to it. This is also affirmed by

       After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Apostolic community itself
regularly met in the Temple (Luke 21:37; Acts 3:8; and elsewhere), and the
followers may have believed that Jesus would immanently appear to them

       The first to conceive of building one universal Sanctuary to G-d
was king David.

     "And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and the L--d
      had given him rest round about from all his enemies; that the
      king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in an house
      of cedar, but the ark of G-d dwelleth within curtains."
                            2 Samuel 7:2

       It was this desire to give the Ark of the Covenant a permanent
resting place that spurred David on to plan the building of the Temple.
Previously, the Ark had rested within a moving tabernacle called the
MISHKAN which, over the course of centuries, moved from place to place,
lastly at Shiloh.

       The Ark itself contained within it the two tablets of the Ten
Commandments, called the "Testimony", HAEDUT in Hebrew (Exodus 25:16),
because they were the witness of the covenant between G-d and Israel. The
Ten Commandments represent all of the Torah because every one of the 613
Torah commandments are contained within these Ten.

       G-d had commmanded the building of a mobile Sanctuary (called
MISHKAN in Hebrew) for His Presence to dwell in the midst of the Children
of Israel in their wanderings through the wilderness, and the first article
of "furniture" that He commanded to be installed within the MISHKAN was the
Ark (called ARON in Hebrew) Exodus 25:8,10ff; 37:1-9.

       Resting directly upon the Ark was its cover onto which were
molded the KHERUVIM.

     "And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, cov-
      ering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look
      one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the
      cherubims be. And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the
      ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall
      give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune
      with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cher-
      ubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things
      which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of
                           Exodus 25:20-22

       It is said that the KHERUVIM are the community of Israel within
whose midst the L--d Presence dwells and speaks when they are harmonious
one with the other, when Jew loves his neighbor as himself. There is a
MIDRASH that says that the KHERUVIM looked at each other with outstretched
wings in an attitude of loving embrace when the Jewish people loved one
another. In those harmonious times, when each Jew loved his neighbor as
himself, the Ark showed forth G-d's power, and G-d's bonding with His

     "And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said,
      Rise up, L--d, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them
      that hate thee flee before thee. And when it rested, he said,
      Return, O L--d, unto the many thousands of Israel."
                           Numbers 10:35-36

       But during those times of internal strife and groundless hatred, the
KHERUVIM turned away from each other and faced in opposite directions,
and the Divine Presence (SHEKHINAH in Hebrew) would not speak to them.

       And when the Ark stood in the first Temple, the Temple of Solomon,
it is said to have stood in the exact center of the whole world (Tanhuma
Kedoshim, 10) from which G-d's glory radiated.

       Therefore David wished to build a house for the Ark, to honor it and
to glorify the G-d who had helped and preserved him from all his enemies,
and who had prospered him in all hisd doings. Yet G-d's word came to him
saying, that not he, but his son Solomon would be the one to build it. For
Solomon was a man of wisdom and of peace, and as such, he prefigured the
messiah, the true Annointed one, the one who would build the everlasting
Temple. And it is said that one of the names of the messiah, son of David,
shall be "Solomon."

       So Solomon began the building in the fourth year of his reign and it
was completed in the eleventh year of his reign. Originally built to house
the Ark, the Temple became first the royal chapel, and finally the place of
the dwelling SHEKHINAH.

       And Solomon gave the invocation at the dedication of the house:

     "Then spake Solomon, The L--d said that he would dwell in the
      thick darkness.
      I have surely built thee an house to dwell in, a settled place
      for thee to abide in forever.
      And I have set there a place for the ark, wherein is the covenant
      of the L--d, which he made with our fathers, when he brought them
      out of the land of Egypt.
      But will G-d indeed dwell on earth? behold, the heaven and the
      heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house
      that I have builded?
      Yet have thou respect unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his
      supplication, O L--d my G-d, to hearken unto the cry and to the
      prayer, which thy servant prayeth before thee to day:
      That thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even
      toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there:
      that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall
      make torward this place.
      And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy
      people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear
      thou in heaven thy dwelling place: andwhen thou hearest, forgive.
      What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all
      thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his
      own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house:
      Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do,
      and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou
      knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the
      children of men;)
      Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel,
      but cometh out of a far country for thy name's sake;
      (For they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand,
      ands of thy stretched out arm:) when he shall come and pray
      toward this house;
      Hear thou in heaven they dwelling place, and do according to all
      that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all people of the
      earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel;
      and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is
      called by thy name.
      And it was so, that when Solomon had made an end of praying all
      this prayer and supplication unto the L--d, he arose from before
      the altar of the L--d, from kneeling on his knees with his hands
      spread up to heaven.
      And let these my words, wherewith I have made supplication before
      the L--d, be nigh unto the L--d our G-d day and night, that he
      maintain the cause of his servant, and the cause of his people
      Israel at all times, as the matter shall require:
      That all the people of the earth may know that the L--d is G-d,
      and that there is none else."
                      1 Kings 8:12,13,21,27-30,38-39,41-43,54,59-60

       One reads through the bulk of chapter 8, 1 Kings, and sees that the
theme of PRAYER is paramount. We do not hear of sacrifice until the end of
the chapter, and then only as an afterthought, to the effect that the king
offered up free-will offerings, thanking G-d for His benificence.

       The king had the right to draw up the plan for the building of the
Temple (1Kings 6-7;1Chronicles 28:1ff) as well as to consecrate it (1Kings
8:64), to determine the shape of its administration (1Kings 8: 65-66;2Kings
16:10-16;2Chronicles 29:20-21) as well as to assign priests and Levites to
officiate therein (2Chronicles 29:25). And if an ordinary king had
authority and right to do all this, how much more so would the
King-messsiah, the Son of Man, have the authority and right to do so in the
final true Temple in the Kingdom of Heaven?

       As time passed, the people came to accept the fact, that unlike
other nations, Israel was henceforth to have only ONE sacred shrine. Here
would be the central place of worship for all Israel, to stress the
underlying unity of the One G-d.

       An elaborate ritual evolved as it does in any magnificent house of
worship. There was the perpetual morning and evening sacrifice as well as
those of the Sabbath, New Moon, and Festivals. The sacrifices were
accompanied by the Levitical singing of Psalms and praise, and by the
blowing of the ram's horn (1Chronicles 23:30-31;2Chronicles 29:27- 28).

       The people came , bringing free-will offerings with joy and singing,
and until the rise of the synagogue, the Temple was thier national center
and favorite place of prayer (Psalms 26,27,100; Daniel 6:11;Jonah 2:5).

       Also on fast days, the people assembled in the Temple courts to
listen to sermons and teachings, and to hear the admonitions of the
prophets (Jeremiah 26:2-7;2Chronicles 24:20).

       Although the prophets opposed ritual and sacrifice that was not
accompanied by what Jews call KAVANAH (proper religious feeling), neverthe-
less they all revered and praised the Temple itself: (Isaiah 11:9;
56:7;65:11;2:2-3;27:13;66:20,23; Joel 2:1;4:17;1:13-16 Zephaniah 3:11;
Jeremiah 23:11;7:12;17:12;31:5;33:10-11; Ezekiel 8:14;9:3; Micah 4:1-2;
Haggai 1:14; Habakkuk 2:20; Amos 1:2;9:1; and other verses too numerous to

       The Temple of Solomon stood for nearly 400 years until its
destruction by the Babylonians. 2Kings 25:8 reports that it was destroyed
on the 7th day of the Hebrew month of Av while Jeremiah 52:12 says that its
destruction occurred on the 10 of Av. The Talmud in Tannit 29a reconciles
these two apparent contradictions by explaining that the Babylonians
entered the City on the 7th, put the Temple to the Torch on the 9th and
that it completely burned to the ground on the 10th. Although the prophets
had warned of its destruction they also told of its restoration (Ezekiel

       The second Temple was indeed a poor structure in comparison to the
first, and it did not take the form as prophesied by Ezekiel (leading
future generations of Jews to assume that Ezekiel had spokern of a THIRD
Temple to be built in the age of the messiah). This second Temple was
continually being renovated by the Herodian kings, thereby giving
employment to thousands of Jerusalemites who might otherwise have gone
idle. But although Herod had inaugurated the continual upkeep of the
Temple, he also introduced the custom of the inauguration of the High
Priest by civil authorities rather than by the priests' own choice. Not
only that but these authorities held the special ritual garments of the
High Priest when he was not using them. The Roman governors later took
over the custom of keeping the High Priests garments. When the High Priests
had to come to Jewish civil authorities to claim their own sacred
vestments, that had been bad enough but it was downright HUMILIATING for
the entire people to realize that their High Priests' holy garments were
now being held by the non-Jewish oppressors, and at the oppressors, whim.
To make matters even worse, the Romans had built a fortress, called the
Antonia, overlooking the Temple precints, from which they could observe all
that took place inside. This was considered a supreme INTRUSION of the
heathen by the Jewish masses, for while technically not inside the Temple,
nevertheless the Roman enemy were in effect SPYING on the House of the
Sanctuary. Finally, it should be pointed out, the very office of the High
Priest was no longer in the hands of those who were the most fit to hold
it. The High Priesthood was given to those members of the Sadducean party
most empathetic to the rule of Rome. Therefore, the High Priest and his
close entourage were not at all popular with the common people who, at any
rate, turned to the Pharisees (or rabbis) as their only religious guides.
This does not mean that the people disdained the FUNCTIONS of the High
Priest, such as making the Yom Kippur sacrifice, but the PERSON of the High
Priest was seen as a Quisling.

       And now, on what seemed to be the eve of the Kingdom of Heaven, the
messiah was expected to come, drive the heathen out of Israel, restore
the Kingdom to Israel, gather in the dispersed, and purify or rebuild the
final PERFECT Temple, befitting a priesthood beholden only to G-d, not to

       Jesus had already decided to address the issue of the Temple,
perhaps even before entering Jerusalem but the events that were to shortly
occur there strengthened his resolve all the more.

       Now we can look again at the incident of the "Cleansing" and try to
make some historical sense out of the meager details supplied by the

       Jesus' first act in the Temple was to disrupt the financial
transactions taking place in the Temple court. Pilgrims were coming to
Jerusalem from all over the world, both from within the Roman Empire and
from outside, and therefore there would be a need to convert the various
world coinage into local Jerusalem currency in order to buy the necessary
sacrificial animals for the Passover. Why this angered Jesus is not certain
but several possible reasons suggest themselves. Either he felt that the
money changers were not giving a fair rate of exchange or that they, in
conjunction with the animal sellers, were giving the pilgrims inferior
quality animals, or perhaps Jesus merely felt that the ATTITUDE of the
merchants was too cavilier, and not at all corectly religious. John
rightly states that Jesus used the term "house of merchandise, (OIKON
EMPORION), while the synoptic evangelists have altered this to "den of
thieves", (OPILAION LESTON). It should be noted that the word for "thief",
LESTAS, actually means "briggand" or "highwayman", and does not fit the
situation accurately if by "thief" Jesus means "cheat". Furthermore, Jesus
used some sort of weapon, a whip, to drive the merchants out. He also
disallowed the carrying of "vessels" through the Temple.

       It is odd that Jesus is able to do all these things singlehand-
edly, without being stopped by either the Temple police or, the Roman
soldiers stationed on the Antonia who must surely have noticed a riotous
disruption breaking out. The obvious answer of course is that Jesus was not
alone in his actions. He was, in fact, aided by his disciples, and by a
large crowd of people, probably both Jerusalemites and pilgrims, so much
so that the authorities were initially unable to take counter-measure
actions to quell the unexpected sudden outbreak. We can well understand
that the "chief priests ... feared him." The people "were astonished at his
doctrine" or "the people were very attentive to hear him". These are edited
euphemisms, implying that the people were "with him" and took part in the
mass action so that the Sadducean authorities were powerless to prevent
Jesus and the people from literally TAKING OVER THE TEMPLE!

     Initially we are tempted to interpret Jesus' disallowance of the
carrying of "vessels" through the Temple as his upholding the Talmudic
injunction that no one may use the Temple as a thoroughfare either as a
shortcut for walking or carrying burdens from one part of Jerusalem to
another. But if that is the meaning of the verse, it is completely out of
context here. If the word "vessels" does not ultimately translate an
original Hebrew KEYLIM, "vessels", but rather KEYLIM SHEL MILCHAMAH,
"vessels of war", i.e., "WEAPONS", then we are given to understand that
what Jesus and his followers did effectively was to prevent the authorities
from coming in with weapons to attack the crowd and put down the rebellion.

       We are also later informed that a wide-spread insurrection (Mark
15:7) had taken place in the City which the "Cleansing of the Temple" was
probably a part of. Then, of course, Jesus would not be the only one
possessing a weapon (as we have seen, a whip). Most of the crowd was
probably armed. If so, the insurrection, and Jesus' action in the Temple as
part of it, were not spontaneous but PLANNED as a pre-Passover "act of
freedom" against the pro-Roman establishment. This is possibly the reason
that Jesus chose to come to Jerusalem this particiular week, looking
forward to the insurrection as the spark leading to the unfolding of the
Kingdom of G-d, and to his own messianic role as its leader and
inaugurator. Moreover, there can be no doubt but that the entire
insurrection was planned and led by the Zealots with whose aims Jesus must
have been in complete sympathy both as a Jew and as a fellow Gallilean,
especially when we remember that several of his own disciples were
Zealots. It is instructive in that context to once again remind ourselves
that the Romans referred to the Zealots as "briggands" LESTES in the same
manner in which todays freedom fighters are called "terrorists" by the
governments in power. Indeed the merchants may have turned the Temple court
into a merchandise emporium, but it was Jesus and his Zealot followers, and
the crowd taking part in the Temple take-over that turned it into a "den
of briggands" or "lair of Zealots"! No small wonder then that the crowds
occupying the Temple hailed Jesus as the Son of David and cried out HOSHA
NA, "Save us now!"

       Further, we are told that Jesus was in the Temple "daily, teach-
ing" (Mark 14:49). This indicates that he was able to keep hold of the
Temple for at least several days while the insurrection was going on.
Nowhere are we told that the daily sacrifices were halted during that time.
As a matter of fact, they probably continued while Jesus and the people
held control of the Temple, and while the people centered around the man
they believed might be the promised messiah, and heard his words of
encouragement. Indeed, if the daily sacrifices did continue, and we have no
reason to believe that they ceased, then we may assume that Jesus also had
the sympathy of the ordinary KOHANIM, priests who ministered daily. The New
Testament narrates in at least one place that the nascient Nazarene
movement attracted a large number of KOHANIM, priests (Acts 6:7). These
KOHANIM by and large were drawn from the ranks of the common people. Many
of them were Pharisees and resented the pro-Roman Sadducean usurpation of
the High Priesthood.

       With the crowd united and rallying around him, Jesus hoped to make
the holiest place in Judaism the focal point of the beginning of the New
Age. He would purify the Place of the SHECHINAH, the Place of the Sanctuary
of G-d. Once the purification of the Place was accomplished, he would go
beyond what the Maccabees had done. He would raze this Temple of Herod to
the ground, and in its place, miraculously build the Temple of Ezekiel, the
True Final Temple which would never again be destroyed or profaned by the
gentiles. He would cause the KHERUVIM to face one another and embrace, as
Jew would face Jew and embrace in the Kingdom of G-d. Out of the Mountain
of Zion the Torah would go forth, and the Word of the L--d from Jerusalem.
Nation would no longer lift up sword against nation when Satan and Gog and
Magog, and their minions, would be overthrown at Armageddon. The lion would
lie down with the lamb, that is, the gentile nations and Israel would live
in peace with each other, and the king-messiah would reign over all,
according to the dictates of G-d and His Torah.

       For several days no police or Roman soldiers appeared. The Sad-
ducees probably did not call upon them immediately for they had no wish to
have the heathen enter the Temple grounds. The Romans themselves were
engaged in quelling the insurrection throughout the City, and finally,
after the major areas of disturbance were brought under control, and the
Zealot leaders rounded up, the areas surrounding the Temple Mount were
doubtless surrounded by the Romans. Word that the insurrection had been
put down reached the defenders of the Temple, and they scattered. The
Passover dream of Jesus and his followers, and of all Jerusalem, shattered
and fell apart. It had shone for a brief hopefull moment but its time had
not yet truly come. Darkness descended on G-d's Holy City. Jesus and his
disciples managed to elude arrest. They departed the City under cover of
darkness (Mark 11:19), and hid themselves among friends in Bethany
(Matthew 21:17).

Feel free to send King Solomon email; CLICK HERE

Click to return to the JN Menu

Click to return to the Literary Index

Click to return to the Website Index Page

Copyright 1996