Den of Robbers

Yeshua cleansed the Temple in anticipation of the Festival of Passover, much like observant Jews cleanse their homes of leaven.

Artwork from the Torah Club Jesus, My Rabbi study, lesson "Den of Robbers". (Image and art © First Fruits of Zion)

On the day Yeshua rode down the Mount of Olives seated on a donkey, He “entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left” (Mark 11:11).

He was not visiting the Temple like a tourist. He was assessing the situation and formulating a plan of action for the subsequent day. He took note of what may have been an innovation. The area around the southern court—the Royal Stoa in the Court of the Gentiles—had been transformed into a market. “He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables” (John 2:14).

The next day, the Master returned to the Temple early in the morning. “He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves” (Mark 11:15).

Something had upset Him.

Interpretations based on supersessionism and replacement theology explain that Yeshua stopped the sale of animals for Temple sacrifice because He wanted to convey that true worship consisted not in the externals of animal sacrifice but in a purely inward and spiritual worship. Accordingly, He tried to stop the sacrificial system, which He had come to renounce and abolish.

On the contrary, our Master Yeshua did not object to the Temple services; He participated in them. He gave His disciples instructions for sacrificing and even sent them to the Temple to sacrifice (Matthew 5:24; Mark 14:12). He did not indicate at any point that He disapproved of the sacrificial system. If He ever did, He could not have claimed to stand in concert with the Torah.

Instead, the Master sought to purge profane commercialism from the Temple’s sacred precincts. He took action against the market and the money changers to cleanse His Father’s house of unworthy elements, not to make a theological statement or indulge in iconoclasm.

His purging of the Temple can be compared to the rituals of Passover for which the Master was preparing. In the days before Passover, observant Jews thoroughly clean out their homes to remove any trace of leavened bread (chametz) from their possession. Like a Jewish woman thoroughly sweeping her kitchen before Passover, Yeshua swept through His Father’s house in preparation for the festival.

Why didn’t Yeshua do this every time He entered the Temple?

One scholar, Victor Eppstein, has postulated that prior to 30 ce, the year Yeshua overturned the tables, that neither the tables of the money changers nor the livestock-sellers had never been stationed on the Temple Mount. The Talmud says that forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the Sanhedrin was “exiled” from the Chamber of Hewn Stone within the Temple proper to a place called Chanut, a word that might mean “market.” Who exiled the Sanhedrin?

The story can be deduced from cryptic clues in the Talmud.

Apparently, the Romans (under Pilate) wanted to revoke the Sanhedrin’s right to issue the death penalty. Perhaps the powerful Sadducean chief priests (Annas, Caiaphas, and company) took advantage of the opportunity to seize control of the Temple Mount. They might have explained to Pilate that if the Sanhedrin was not allowed to convene within the Temple, they could not issue a death penalty. (According to Deuteronomy 17:8, the Sanhedrin could not conduct capital cases outside the Temple.) If so, Rome may have issued an order “exiling” the Sanhedrin from their court in the Chamber of Hewn Stone within the Temple, sending them to the place called Chanut. According to most opinions, Chanut was the marketplace of the Royal Stoa, a colonnaded structure in the southern Court of the Gentiles. Other opinions identify it as a market operated by Annas someplace on the Mount of Olives. In either case, the priesthood took firm control of the Temple Mount (and the Sanhedrin) in 30 CE, the year that Yeshua died.

Drunk with power, the chief priests might have also taken advantage of the opportunity by bringing the Temple marketplace and money-changing operation onto the Temple Mount and firmly under their control.

This explains why the Master never objected to those operations during His previous visits to the Temple. Prior to the spring of 30 CE, the market and money changing had probably been conducted in the market streets below the Temple Mount.

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