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“Jesus Cleanses the Temple”

Lesson Text: Isaiah 56:6, 7; Jeremiah 7:9-11; Mark 11:15-19

Background Scripture: Isaiah 56:6-8; Jeremiah 7:8-15; Mark 11:15-19

Devotional Reading: Psalm 27:1-5

 

Isaiah 56:6, 7 (KJV)

6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;

7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.

Jeremiah 7:9-11

9 Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not;

10 And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?

11 Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord.

Mark 11:15-19

15 And they come 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 moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;

16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.

17 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.

18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.

19 And when even was come, he went out of the city.

 

OBJECTIVES

To describe the events that took place in reference to the temple cleansing by Jesus and the prophetic significance of the events.

To understand the need for the temple’s “cleansing” in one’s own life and in the church.

Note in your journal or diary at least one needed area of cleansing the temple identified in 1 Corinthians 6:19.

 

INTRODUCTION                                                                                                             

How Clean is Clean Enough?

   Have a variety of cleaning products (soaps, sprays, etc.) and implements (mop, broom, etc.) on display. As each student arrives and moves toward a chair, approach with a whisk broom and say, “Here, let me clean that seat for you.” Quickly make an exaggerated show of brushing the chair. As you begin class, say, “April is a traditional time for spring cleaning.”

   Next say, “Some people keep themselves fastidiously clean to the point of obsession. Others are more satisfied with a general appearance of being clean. Still others seem not to care much if their clothes are clean at all.  In today’s lesson, Jesus and the prophets will help us understand cleanliness from a biblical perspective.The lesson is not about spring cleaning or personal hygiene. It is about spiritual purpose; about scrubbing clean the house of God.”

LESSON BACKGROUND

Times: between 701 and 681 B.C.; probably 609 B.C.; A.D. 30

Places:  Jerusalem; Jerusalem; Jerusalem

   The thoughts of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah that are included in this week’s lesson come from books that are right next to each other in our Bibles.  Because of this proximity, we may think that their authors were colleagues, but they were not. Their ministries were separated by many years and addressed different historic situations.

   Isaiah began his lengthy prophetic ministry in about 740 B.C. (Isaiah 6:1). Today’s text from Isaiah comes from the part commonly known as the Book of Consolation, namely Isaiah 40-66. Some prophesies in this section address the time when God’s chosen servant (Jesus) will come to restore justice and bear the sins of the people (See Isaiah 42:1; 53:11).

   Jeremiah’s lengthy prophetic ministry began about 626 B.C., or some 55 years after the end of Isaiah’s ministry. The Assyrian menace of Isaiah’s day was gone, only to be replaced by threats from Babylon. Jeremiah’s relentless warnings always seemed to fall on deaf ears. Persecuted by his own people, Jeremiah lived to see the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (Jeremiah 52). The text of Jeremiah in today’s lesson comes from his message at the gate of the temple, where he warned that the mere presence of that grand, 400 year-old edifice was no guarantee of blessing or protection by the Lord. 

   Jesus’ action of cleansing the temple occurred some 600 years after the time of Jeremiah. The temple of Jesus’ day was the second such structure of the Israelites, completed by Zerubbabel in 515 B.C. (Ezra 5:2, 6:15) and expanded by King Herod and his successors just before and during the time of Jesus (John 2:20). Herod’s version of the temple was an architectural wonder, having huge courtyards and beautiful stonework. Yet beneath the temple’s splendid exterior was a crass commercialism that profited at the expense of those on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover observance. This problem needed to be addressed.

HOW TO SAY IT

Denarii         dih-nair-ee 

Shekels        she-kulz 

Zerubbabel   Zeh-rub-uh-bul                                         

 

Invitation to the Gentiles / For All People (Isaiah 56:6, 7)

1.According to Isaiah, what previously excluded persons did he foresee participating in temple worship? (Isaiah 56:6)                                                                                                                                                         

   Isaiah makes it clear throughout his book that the Gentiles are included in God's plan. What Isaiah and the other prophets did not know was that believing Jews and Gentiles would one day be united in Jesus Christ in the church (Eph. 3:1-12). Jesus died not only for the sins of Israel (53:8), but also for the sins of the whole world (John 1:29; 1 John 4:14).  

   God gives a threefold invitation to the Gentiles: come (Isa. 55:1-5), seek (vs. 6-13), and worship (56:1-8). Isaiah emphasizes that all who join themselves to the Lord, to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants that keep the Sabbath “from polluting it”; should also be “just” in their relations, and should be obedient to God’s covenant (commandments). 

   A consistent vision in the prophecies of Isaiah is that of Jerusalem as a center of justice, "The city of righteousness, the faithful city" (Isaiah 1:26). Even so, the prophet is well aware that the Jerusalem of his day falls far short of this ideal.

   Isaiah sees the temple of Jerusalem as a center of worship for all people, not just the nation of Israel (Isaiah 2:3). The sons of the stranger are Gentiles, those who are not part of the nation of Israel. Isaiah prophesies a future when these outsiders will be welcomed as part of the people of God.

   Three characteristics are given to describe that future reality. The first is that the included Gentiles will join themselves to the Lord—not as conquered people, but as those who make a deliberate choice for commitment to the God of Israel. This commitment is defined immediately in terms of the Gentiles' dedication to serve the Lord, devotion to the name of the Lord, and willingness to be the Lord's servants. These might seem repetitive, but there are distinct concepts here.

   First, to be dedicated to the Lord's service has the sense of exclusive worship; this echoes the First Commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). To love the name of the Lord reminds us of the Third Commandment: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" (Exodus 20:7). To be his servants is literally to be the Lord's slaves, fully sold out to doing His will. That reminds us of Jesus' choice for the greatest commandment: "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength" (Mark 12:29, 30; compare Deuteronomy 6:5; see lesson 13).

   A second characteristic of the included Gentiles is their respect for the Sabbath. This respect involves much more than a commitment to attend a worship service. It is a commitment to honor God's instructions for a day where everything slows down to allow for rest and reflection, away from the pressures and frenzy of labor.

   The third characteristic is all-encompassing: to take hold of [God's] covenant. This is the bottom line. To be included among the people of the Lord, one must commit to a covenant relationship with Him. In the most basic sense, this is expressed in the Old Testament as "I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people" (Leviticus 26:12; see also Jeremiah 11:4; Ezekiel 36:28).

2.What promise did God make to those who chose to follow Him? (Isaiah 56:7)

   Isaiah prophesied to the eunuch and the strangerthat whoever would keep God’s commands (Isaiah 56:4, 5) and serve Him, God will bring them to His holy mountain, and make them joyful in his house of prayer: their “burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine alter, for my house shall be called an house of prayer for all people” (Isaiah 56:7). This promise is intended to comfort and reassure all who feel themselves unqualified to approach God (56:3). None of us merit God's favor. Yet He speaks words of reassurance to us and lets us know in unmistakable terms that we are welcome—and secure.

The Power of Perseverance

   When an Atlanta church refused membership to Wellington Boone because of his race, the African-American leader felt a deep sense of injustice. The very idea that God’s house could be segregated was an affront to his Christian sensibilities. But instead of getting bitter, Wellington turned his energies into a lifestyle of prayer for social justice.

   In the decades since then, his persevering prayers and message of reconciliation have helped topple racial barriers nationwide. Perhaps his greatest impact has been in spearheading racial reconciliation efforts in the Promise Keepers men’s movement. Not long ago, he was even invited to preach at the church that once refused him membership.

   “God has made available incredible power to change this nation,” he frequently tells his audiences. “Keep praying until it happens."

What Do You Think?

   How can you make people of other races welcome in your church?

   What roadblocks do churches erect that restrict inclusion of “the stranger” ? How do we tear down these roadblocks?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

   Regarding routines and traditions | Regarding stances on political issues

   Regarding worship styles | Other

(…cont. Isaiah 56:7)

   The “holy mountain” is the temple location in Jerusalem. Isaiah’s prophecy understands this to be a future place of joy, a place for proper sacrifice, and a place for prayer. The marvelous thing about Isaiah’s prophesy is that the temple is more than that of a restored Israel—he sees a future when all nations will be united in worship of the Lord. As we shall later see in this lesson, the God-intended function of the Jerusalem temple as a worldwide house of prayer, is a factor in Jesus’ furious cleansing of the temple of His day.

 

The House of Prayer Polluted (Jeremiah 7:9-11)

3. How did Jeremiah’s view of the temple differ from that of Isaiah’s vision in his day? (Jeremiah 7:9, 10) 

   Our second text comes from the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was sent by God to call the people to true repentance. This brief sermon, known as the temple address, is one of the most significant of Jeremiah's messages. The people of Judah relied on the fact that Jerusalem was the site of the Lord's temple. Surely God would not permit the city that housed His temple to be threatened (7:1-4). But Jeremiah cried that the city's security depended on the people changing their ways.  

   However, Isaiah’s grand vision of the temple as a place dedicated to “prayer for all people” (our previous text) clashes with the harsh reality of the temple in Jeremiah’s day. Rather than functioning as a place where people get right with God through prayer and sacrifice (repenting, paying for sins or being punitive), the temple seems to have become a sanctuary for those who break commandments with exemption from punishment. 

   The abominations that the people feel free to commit are all specifics from the Ten Commandments: theft (Eighth Commandment), murder (Sixth), adultery (Seventh), swear falsely (Ninth), and worship of other gods (First). The blatant hypocrisy of this situation is shocking! Jeremiah describes people whose sins are public knowledge, but who still present themselves as temple worshippers in good standing.

 

What Do You Think?

   What "abominations" are most likely to creep into the church? Why? What procedures can we use to recognize these and clean them out?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

   Religious syncretism (Galatians 1:6-9) | Tolerance of sin (1 Corinthians 5)

   Secular methods (2 Corinthians 10:3) | Other

4. To what extent was the Lord’s awareness of His people’s behavior? (v. 11)           

   Things are so bad that God characterized the temple as a “den of robbers.” People seem to be under the illusion that the temple in and of itself has the power to protect them no matter what they do (see Jeremiah 7:13, 14). But God knows what is plotted behind closed doors of the human heart. The fact that the temple does not provide “magical” protection for unrepentant sinners will be apparent when God allows the temple to be destroyed.

   Let us keep two thoughts in mind as we come to our primary lesson text: (1) Isaiah's ideal vision of the temple as a “house of prayer,” and (2) God through Jeremiah, evaluation of the temple of his day as a “den of robbers.”

 

Cleansing the Temple Court (Mark 11:15-19)     

5. Why had a market been set up in the temple in Jesus’ day? (Mark 11:15, 16)

   Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly (last week's lesson) the day before the action we see here. Having done a reconnaissance of the temple after that triumphal entry, He has returned after spending the night in Bethany. The word they refers to Jesus and the Twelve (Mark 11:11).

   Herod's grandly remodeled temple has acres of space in its courtyards. These courtyards seem to be given over to commercial activities in Jesus' day. Thousands of pilgrims are in Jerusalem for Passover; most are Jews, but there are Gentiles in town as well. The local merchants seize upon this annual opportunity with gusto. They set up shop inside the temple's courtyards to conduct two businesses that are specifically mentioned by Mark.

   First, there are the moneychangers. These people exchange the coins of foreigners for the only kind acceptable for paying the temple tax: the silver shekels of the city of Tyre. This is not a service of the temple, but a for-profit business. Even with competition, it is likely that these moneychangers make a substantial profit on each transaction. Those visitors to Jerusalem who do not otherwise have access to Tyrian shekels have little choice but to fork over their silver denarii or other coins at unfavorable exchange rates in order to get the coins that are acceptable in the temple.

   Second, there are merchants who sell birds and animals that can be used in the temple to fulfill the pilgrims' sacrificial needs (compare John 2:14). These animals are raised for this purpose in the pastures of the surrounding villages.

   For the visitor to the temple, this is a little like buying a meal in an airport for us. Because those at the airport are a "captive audience," the food vendors are able to charge high prices. While everyone resents such an arrangement, it has been the accepted arrangement for temple worshippers. But Jesus does not accept this situation. He does not tolerate a temple turned into a shop for sharp currency exchangers and a market for overpriced livestock. So He drives out both them that sold and bought in the temple, bringing the bustling commerce there to a halt, at least temporarily.

6. What reason did Jesus give for His actions? (v. 17)

   Jesus did not hide. In fact, Jesus uses His bold action for teaching, recalling the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah's hopeful vision of the temple as an international house of prayer is unfulfilled. Instead, the temple of Jesus' day has become again the temple of Jeremiah's day, a den of thieves. The word den brings to mind the image of a cave in which dangerous predators might live. The thieves can be thought of as financial predators.

   Jesus' pronouncement also has two dire implications. First, it indicts the leaders of the temple as criminal coconspirators. The fact that these leaders tolerate the commercialism suggests that they profit from the sharp practices, perhaps "getting a cut" of the proceeds. Second, Jesus' pronouncement foreshadows a future for the temple of His day similar to that of the temple of Jeremiah's day. As the first temple was destroyed back then, so also Herod's temple will be destroyed—which ends up happening at the hands of the Romans in A.D. 70. God is not to be mocked. His holy mountain, His designated house of prayer, is a travesty, and (as Jeremiah said) God has been watching.  

7.How did the scribes and chief priestsreact after they heard how Jesus cleansed the temple? (vs. 18, 19)

   We may wonder what happens at the temple just after Jesus cleanses it. We can imagine that the moneychangers and merchants straighten things up and return to "business as usual" as soon as He leaves. Jesus has no legal authority to change anything, and greed has been trumping holiness in this place for a long time.

What Do You Think? 

   What can we do to ensure that various kinds of "greed" do not trump holiness in the church?

Talking Points for Your Discussion 

Regarding "approval greed" (watered-down messages, etc.)

Regarding "safety greed" (hoarding funds instead of using them for ministry, etc.)

Other

   There is a consequence, however, when the scribes and chief priests hear about Jesus' action. They are not pleased, so they continue to seek how they might destroy him. We say "continue" because Jewish leaders were plotting to kill Jesus even before this episode (see John 11:45-53). The temple operation is their livelihood. Jesus' challenge is a threat, made more dangerous because of His popularity. We can imagine onlookers cheering the one who is not afraid to confront extortionist practices.

 

POINTS TO PONDER

1.God promises a personal relationship (and everlasting life) without respect of person to all who believe in Him! (See Isaiah 56:6, 7)

2.God looks at how we treat others, and takes note of what we put, or let have first place before Him. We cannot say we love God and do evil, then say God will forgive us. (See Jeremiah 7:9-11)

3.Always be respectful and mindful regarding the house of God. (See Psalm 122:1; Mark 11:15-19; 1 Corinthians 3:16)

 

CONCLUSION  

The Church Off Target

   Having served on the ministry staffs of several congregations, I know how easy it is for a church to get off target. Sometimes the diversions that present themselves seem like the right thing to do. Establish a day care center? Let's do it! Maintain a cemetery for the membership? Yes! Sponsor a softball team? It's what the people want! 

   Well-intentioned projects and programs may be worthy of consideration, but not at the expense of the core ministries of the church. These core ministries have been expressed in various ways, but a simplified (some would say oversimplified) categorization is that the core ministries can be grouped in terms of outreach (Matthew 28:19, 20), upreach (John 4:23, 24), and inreach (Ephesians 4:11-13). 

  Sometimes a church needs to clear the clutter and clarify its priorities. As hard as it may be to do, sometimes we need to purge our programs in order to get back on target. But be forewarned: as Jesus' cleansing of the temple met with opposition, a reevaluation of church programs and activities may cause turmoil and congregational strife. Even so, a failure to clear the clutter may indicate that a church has lost its "first love," with the resulting danger of losing its light (Revelation 2:4, 5).

  

The Christian Off Target

   The personal life of a Christian believer may be a smaller version of the cluttered church. Many of us struggle to get (or stay) on target with God's will. We are easily distracted by seemingly worthy things, so we forget to pray. We may even get to the point of neglecting to meet with other believers for worship (Hebrews 10:25). A lack of focus is sometimes clarified by a traumatic event that puts things in perspective—we end up realizing that busyness does not equal godliness, that overcommitment leads to commitment breakdown, etc. Is there a cluttered area of your life that hinders you from serving your Lord fully? Paul's question in 1 Corinthians 6:19 can help us evaluate our lives: "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?"

 

PRAYER 

   Holy and Heavenly Father, may our churches be dedicated to Your service only. May our lives be focused on doing Your will. Cleanse us of distractions through the power of Your Holy Spirit. We pray this in the name of the fearless Jesus, amen.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER                                                                                                            

Keep God's temple clean.

 


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