“Behold I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come…and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness.” - Malachi 3:1-3
John the baptizer had already come as the messenger to “prepare the way before him,” and then Jesus showed up on the scene. Prophecy was unfolding seamlessly in Israel. With Passover on the horizon, Jesus headed to Jerusalem and found His way into the temple.
For centuries, the temple grounds were a sacred place, where followers of God could come and worship God apart from the pagan world around them. Even with the Roman domination, they could retreat into the temple and find solace from the hubbub of secularism. But this was not the case anymore. The current leadership in the temple desired to increase revenue. People were travelling into Jerusalem from all over the country. Not everyone would have a sacrifice, but with the new system in place, that would not be a problem. You could just travel to the temple, and simply purchase a sacrifice on your way into the temple grounds.
The entire system was broken. No longer would the sacrifice be anything more than a cold, calculated business deal. There was no spirit of sacrifice. Now it was simply a financial obligation when they travelled into Jerusalem. They would spend some money on food, on lodging, and on a Passover sacrifice. The worship of God was relegated to a line in their budget. Their whole budget no longer was his, only a portion.
John 2 tells us that when Jesus walked into the temple and saw this system, a holy indignation rose up in Him. This was not a sinful rage that was uncontrollable; this was a zealous love for God that enacted itself in a cleansing, purifying, purging way. As the prophecy of Malachi had foretold, Jesus had arrived at the temple and He had come to clean house. The Latin writer Jerome put it this way, “There must have been a certain fiery and starry light shining from His eyes and the majesty of the Godhead must have been gleaming in His face.” This was not the passive, weak Jesus sometimes portrayed in the local Christian bookstore. This was a serious temple cleanser, coming to restore purity to that which had become impure.
Perhaps, our hearts could use a temple-cleansing. If you understand Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:19, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost. Just as wicked as the materialistic Passover racket, we too fall into idolatry of heart. We begin to see ourselves relating to God in terms of business deals, instead of lovingly surrendering to Him everything. Perhaps, the Holy Spirit can do His cleansing work in us today.
Food For Thought: What was wrong with the system of selling animals in the temple? Why was the anger of Jesus not sinful?