Jesus Cleanses The Temple

There are a few moments in the Synoptic Gospels where one is left wondering why something happened the way it did. Jesus cleansing the temple is one example of these questionable pericopes. In the context of Matthew, Jesus and his disciples have just entered the city of Jerusalem triumphantly and quite flamboyantly. This highly conspicuous entry into the main city of Judaism caused the entire city to go into a frenzy. This level of tension in the city could be compared to when Dr.

Martin Luther King Jr. entered Memphis, Tennessee April 3, 1968 to give his very last sermon called “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” which is very similar to Jesus during his last few days. Jesus arrived shortly before the beginning of the Passover, a Jewish religious festival. According to a book concerning the book of Matthew, “One of these three was the ‘festival of unleavened bread,’ which began with Passover. Not surprisingly, therefore, ‘the influx of pilgrims at Passover time from all over the world was immense.

And amounted to several times the population of Jerusalem.’”

The people of Jerusalem and more importantly the Jewish authorities there became even more on edge once Jesus rode into the city.  This story takes place entirely in the Second Temple in Jerusalem which was the center of Jewish religious practice and a place of supreme holiness for the Jews. A large part of Jewish religious activity in the Temple was the sacrifice of animals which caused many worshippers, including Jesus, a great deal of anxiety.

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It costs money to enter the Temple and to buy animals which in turn means that it costs money to worship God and to be forgiven of sins which is a peculiar practice. Martin Luther became so inflamed by the Catholic Church’s similar practice of selling indulgences that he published his complaints and formed his own flavor of Christianity.

This practice of collecting money to worship God in the Temple became a huge problem that Jesus decided to undertake immediately upon his arrival into the holy city of Jerusalem. Oddly enough, the reason that there were so many money changers, some of whom being unethical, was because the main currency in Palestine was Roman but the currency required for all temple transactions was Greek which closely matched the amount of a Hebrew shekel.[footnoteRef:3] Much of Jesus’s ministry concerned the elevation of the poor from their lower societal status. In fact, Jesus regularly denounced the rich throughout the Gospel and challenged them to become humble in spirit and finances. Many of Matthew’s parables are for those teachings.

Mentioned above, there was a massive influx of people in Jerusalem during the time Jesus entered Jerusalem. Jesus already had made the Pharisees and Sanhedrin on edge from his ministry elsewhere in Galilee causing an uproar with all of these visitors in the city heightened their anxiety about Jesus. Upon his entry to Jerusalem, the people were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 21:9)! These people were ascribing him tremendous power with this title, so by entering the temple with a crowd of people who were giving him the status of high royalty, Jesus made the Jewish authorities very nervous about his presence there.

All this mounting tension culminated in Jesus becoming furious and rather violent and throwing tables over and kicking people doing business out of the Temple. Jesus, being a carpenter by trade, was a big, muscular man, so this bulking Nazorean is flipping over heavy tables causing much panic within the court. Not only did he just throw money all over this dirty ground, but Jesus then proceeded to call these people robbers who have defiled His holy house. Jesus has just made a huge scene with there being people everywhere and then proceeds to heal the blind and the lame who were outcasts in the Jewish world. If this was not already enough, in response to the comments by the chief priests and Pharisees, Jesus shamed them for their lack of scriptural knowledge in front of everyone in the Temple. Jesus was extremely brave and bold in his actions there in Jerusalem and in the Temple, and it was that boldness that planted the seed in the mind of the authorities to find a way to kill Jesus.

Jesus left the city for the night after all that had happened which helped to defuse the tension somewhat. Because of all the people who were in Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus and his disciples had to reside outside the city because there was simply no more room for them. They also would escape the crowds of supporters and opposers that could have spelled disaster for the group. Although Jesus was legitimately angry during his actions in the Temple, those actions meant a great deal more than Jesus simply being angry. This periscope is highly symbolic. The Temple was thought to be the closest one could physically get to God on Earth; the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Holy of Holies deep within the Temple. The Temple was thought to be God’s house which would make it Jesus’ house as well. Even though it was His house, Jesus carried no real authority there because he was not a priest or Pharisee. The fact that he made just a mess in a place where he had no real authority to do so according to Jewish law was a direct challenge to the legitimacy of these priests and Pharisees.

His rage was more about challenging the authority on their rather unethical practices there than it was about him being angry because of the practices themselves. In addition to His challenge of the authorities, this scene Jesus created was a radical demonstration of the inclusion of God which was critical to Jesus’ ministry. If a poor Jew couldn’t afford to pay for certain animals, that Jew would not be able to offer sacrifice to God which would make them a bad Jew. In a society heavily centered around their faith, worshiping improperly would lead to consequences that could greatly affect that person. In addition to those who can’t afford to worship, people who with physical limitation were excluded from worship as well. Because a person is blind or lame, they were excluded from the Temple and unable to participate alongside everyone else. Jesus made a point to help and heal these people so they could enter the Temple for worship. In fact, Jesus frequently made a point to heal people throughout his ministry.

There are a few messages that Jesus intended by this passage. For the people in the passage, one primary purpose of his actions was to predict the destruction of the Temple that would happen later by the Romans. It shows that the authorities will be the ones truly affected by the destruction. In an extension of that, Jesus is shifting the center of religious practice away from the Temple and towards himself. He is showing that He takes precedence over the Temple. As with much of Matthew, this act in the temple was to fulfill Messianic predictions of the people. The kings of Israel always had a strong link to the Temple, and this is no different of the Davidic Messiah. The Messiah was thought to cleanse the temple and restore its holiness. Jesus also intends to effect a few messages upon the hearers in the passage as well as those reading later. One of those is that all are welcome at God’s table. Favoritism of the few and outright rejection of others was a common belief of Jews stemming back to the time of Moses.

Those who are not ritually pure are not able to worship God with the rest of community. These impurities were often things that those affected had no control over; a person does no choose to be born blind and a woman definitely does not choose to bleed every month. Jesus attacks this belief by going to those the authorities rejected and healing the blind and lame so they can enjoy the worship of God with their community. Jesus also challenges the belief that children are not able to believe and understand at the same level as adults. These children understand who Jesus is and become excited when Jesus heals the lame and blind. Another message intended by Jesus was to keep places of worship holy and pure. The Temple had become more of a place of business than the intention of it being a house of prayer. This problem is being echoed around the United States today. Churches are becoming places for the religious leaders to make money and places for pageantry and places just to make people feel better about themselves rather than pure places for people to truly worship and reorient themselves towards God.


  1. Allison, Dale C., and W. D. Davies. Matthew. London: T&T Clark International, 2004.
  2. Chamblin, J. Knox. Matthew. Vol. 2. 2 vols. Tain: Christian Focus Publishing, 2010.
  3. Green, Joel B., Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, ed. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013.
  4. Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993.
  5. Harrelson, Walter J., ed. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.

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Jesus Cleanses The Temple. (2022, Feb 28). Retrieved from

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