Jesus cleansed the temple two times during His earthly ministry. The first cleansing took place in the spring of A.D. 28, at the beginning of His early Judean ministry (John 2:13–17). By this act, Jesus declared His authority and announced His mission as the Messiah at the Passover.
When Jesus heard the noise and saw the bargaining in God’s dwelling place (Ex. 25:8), He rushed to cleanse the temple and took a “whip” and drove “those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business” (v. 14,15). And He said, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (v. 16).
Then, His disciples remembered that it was written, “the Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up” (v. 17). This is a quote from Ps. 69:9. Jesus earnestly desired that His Father’s house should be used exclusively for worship (Ex. 25:8, 9; Matt. 21:13). When the temple officials confronted Him immediately asking Him for a sign to prove His authority, He gave them the undeniable sign of His resurrection from the death (John 2:18-20).
The second cleansing occurred three years later at the end of His public ministry, at the fourth Passover just after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem the last week of His life (Matt. 21:12–17; Mark 11:15–19: Luke 19:45–48.)
At this time, Jesus said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). Jesus spoke of the temple as “my house” (Matt. 21:13). But when the leaders rejected His final appeal the following day, He referred to it as “your house” (Matt. 23:38). This quotation is from Isa. 56:7 and points to the fact that Gentiles were to be called to the temple to know the true God (Isa. 56:6–8).
By making the sacred symbols of the temple a source of personal profit, the rulers were making sacred things common and robbing God of His honor and also robbing the worshipers of an opportunity to know the truth. Those who earnestly seek to make their Father’s house a “house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13) should not make it a place for unholy thoughts, words, or actions. Rather, they should cleanse the temple and be reverent in His holy presence (John 4:23, 24) and worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
In His service,
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