Matthew 21:12-13 (Jesus Cleanses the Temple, Part 1)

What does Matthew record as the very first thing Jesus did after being hailed as king and welcomed by the multitude into the city?  See Mat 21:12.  What was the significance of this act in light of His triumphal entry into the city to the acclaim of the people as they celebrated with the branches of trees and palm fronds as at the Feast of Booths?  See again 2Ma 10:1-8.[1] Recall that the Jews had come to believe that it would be at Passover when the Lord would send the prophet spoken of by Moses to deliver them from their bondage to Rome in the same way Moses had delivered them from their bondage in Egypt; see Mat 21:11 and cf. Deut 18:15-18.  They also believed that such deliverance would necessarily require a spiritual cleansing and sanctification of the nation, especially in regard to the temple worship; see Isa 1:11-17, Jam 4:8, and cf. Luk 1:16-17.  With what approval then would Jesus’ actions have met with from the multitude who had just welcomed Him as king into the city?  How does this help us to better understand the popular support He had for cleansing the temple, and why the religious authorities were so afraid of Him and didn’t just have Him arrested for doing so?

In the days of the Maccabees (c. 170 B.C.) the temple had been physically defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes, who put a stop to the Jewish sacrifice and polluted the temple with unclean sacrifices and the debauchery of pagan temples (see 2Ma 6:1-11[2]); the feast of Dedication mentioned in Joh 10:22 celebrates this cleansing and is still celebrated today as Hanukkah.  Although the temple in Jesus’ day had not been defiled physically, in what way had it been defiled that Jesus saw fit to cleanse it?  See Mat 21:12-13; cf. Jer 7:1-11.  What does this help us to understand about what makes for a polluted temple in the eyes of God?  Should we suppose that just because a church or individual has not performed a satanic ritual and has an outward appearance of religion that they cannot be just as defiled because of the wickedness and idolatry of their hearts?  Cf. Eze 8:1-18, 10:18, 11:23, Mat 24:15, Col 3:5.

What was it that the people would have been buying and selling in the temple, and why would there have been moneychangers?  Cf. Joh 2:14 and note: Following the Babylonian exile, Jews had spread all over the world and would return to Jerusalem for the annual feasts (see for example Act 20:16).  Rather than bringing their own animals for sacrifice, as a matter of convenience the family of the high priest had gone into the lucrative business of selling animals in the temple precincts and exchanging foreign currency for a fee in order that the many Jews who had come to the feasts from afar could purchase animals for sacrifice and pay the half-shekel temple tax (see Exo 30:11-16, Mat 17:24; cf. Exo 23:15, 34:20, Deut 16:16).  What sellers in particular do Matthew and Mark make note of and why might they especially have incurred Jesus’ ire?  See Mat 21:12, Mar 11:15; cf. Lev 5:6-7, 12:6-8, Luk 2:22-24.  Apart from exploiting God’s people for the sake of “filthy lucre”, was such an enterprise necessarily wrong?  In what way though would it have tended to diminish toward mere religious acts the very nature, intended purpose and meaning of the sacrifice the people were called to make in appearing before the Lord?  Think: which is easier to part with: generic money, or a cherished possession for which you have personally labored?  Cf. Lev 22:20-21, Deut 17:1, Mal 1:8,14, and see esp. Gen 22:1-2.  Is a sacrifice truly a sacrifice if there is no sacrifice?  Cf. Luk 21:1-4.  What is the counterpart of the temple for Christians today?  See 1Co 3:16.  Is there a similar way in which that temple today has been defiled and true worship has been diminished to mere religious acts by the replacement of real sacrifice with monetary transactions for the sake of convenience?  How many of us would rather just give money to support some work of the Lord than become personally involved?  What is a much greater sacrifice than money for most people today?  With which then is God most pleased?  What sacrifice in particular does the apostle Paul enjoin Christians to make?  See Rom 12:1-2.  Is the sacrifice of our worldly ambitions and the time we spend being transformed by the renewing of our minds and personally serving God pleasing in His sight as a real sacrifice?

 


1. 2 Maccabees 10:1-8  NRSNow Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city;  2 they tore down the altars that had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts.  3 They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they offered incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence.  4 When they had done this, they fell prostrate and implored the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that, if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations.  5 It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Chislev.  6 They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the festival of booths, remembering how not long before, during the festival of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals.  7 Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place.  8 They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.

2. 2 Maccabees 6:1-11  NRS 2 Maccabees 6:1 ¶ Not long after this, the king sent an Atheniansenatorto compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their ancestors and no longer to live by the laws of God;  2 also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and to call it the temple of Olympian Zeus, and to call the one in Gerizim the temple of Zeus-the-Friend-of-Strangers, as did the people who lived in that place.  3 ¶ Harsh and utterly grievous was the onslaught of evil.  4 For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with prostitutes and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit.  5 The altar was covered with abominable offerings that were forbidden by the laws.  6 People could neither keep the sabbath, nor observe the festivals of their ancestors, nor so much as confess themselves to be Jews.  7 ¶ On the monthly celebration of the king’s birthday, the Jews  were taken, under bitter constraint, to partake of the sacrifices; and when a festival of Dionysus was celebrated, they were compelled to wear wreathes of ivy and to walk in the procession in honor of Dionysus.  8 At the suggestion of the people of Ptolemaisa decree was issued to the neighboring Greek cities that they should adopt the same policy toward the Jews and make them partake of the sacrifices,  9 and should kill those who did not choose to change over to Greek customs. One could see, therefore, the misery that had come upon them.  10 For example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children. They publicly paraded them around the city, with their babies hanging at their breasts, and then hurled them down headlong from the wall.  11 Others who had assembled in the caves nearby, in order to observe the seventh day secretly, were betrayed to Philip and were all burned together, because their piety kept them from defending themselves, in view of their regard for that most holy day.

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