Three blasts of a trumpet break the silence of the twilight morning. Jerusalem stirs. From this courtyard, and that narrow street, figures emerge. There is a faint lowing of cattle and bleating of sheep; animals are being driven through the streets to the Temple. The outer Temple gates are open, and many are entering into the Court of the Gentiles.
Hardly discernible in the soft morning light, a watcher, on one of the highest point of vantage of the Temple, gazes south. As he watches, the early morning beams of the sun shine over the hills of Moab, and touch the highest hills of Judea with points of light. Far off to the south Hebron glimmers faintly. Morning has come; the day of the Temple service is begun.
The scene below in the Outer Court has become one of confusion and noise; here, pens for sheep and oxen are being set up; there, under rows of columns, white wings of doves may be seen fluttering in the open-work wicker baskets of the dove sellers. Nearby, long rows of low tables are being quickly set up, for here the money-changers sit, and heap up riches by charging more than the legal rate, and otherwise defrauding.
What a conflict of sounds is heard! The cries of animals, the cooing of doves, the shouts of men, and the invitations of sellers to buy their goods make a discordant noise. Yet added to this may be heard the tinkling of earthenware vessels as potters press the sale of their passover ovens and dishes, and sellers of oil, wine, salt, and herbs, advertise their goods. No wonder the sound sometimes interfered with the morning service in the Temple court itself.
There is one young man who views the scene and listens to the tumult with rising anger. This is the “House of Prayer”! How far had the priesthood sunken when they could allow this commotion for the sake of rents of cattle stalls, and profits from doves!
What had John said of the “one mightier than he”. “His fan is in his hand and he shall thoroughly purge his floor”.
Purging was sadly needed here, and Jesus did not hesitate.
Making whip of cords, he drove out the oxen and sheep, their owners following; he overturned the tables of the money-changers and poured out the money; he commanded the sellers of doves to “Take these things hence.”
And with such zeal and earnestness did Jesus thus act, that the multitudes scrambled from the Temple Courts. Nay, more, some were probably Jews, and a guilty conscience gave speed to their feet.
For many days and weeks the purging was remembered. It is said that the priests, astonished but ashamed, enforced rules of a greater strictness than had held before, and for a time, at least, the courts were cleansed.
After an outstanding deed there always seems a pause. It is necessary in order that we may think over what has happened.
We can easily imagine the thoughts of the merchants and traders who had thus been driven helter-skelter from the Temple. ‘Tis true, they could carry on their business from the trading quarters in the north-east of the city, but they would suffer immediate loss. They viewed Jesus with evil eyes.
But what of the ordinary people? Would they not rejoice in the cleansing of their Temple? Some might even think of the prophecy “that there shall be no more the Canaanite (or trader) in the House of the Lord of hosts”, had become fulfilled.
Yet there was another section who would be dismayed. The priests, the Rabbis, had been publicly rebuked. They could say nothing, however, against the act. All they could do was to ask Jesus for a sign, which would prove his warrant for doing these things.
His answer mystifies them, as it is intended to do. Calling his body a tent, or temple, he says: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They immediately thought that Jesus referred to the great Temple which he had cleansed, and which had taken forty-six years to build, and yet was not completed (it was not finished until about thirty years after this). They could not understand the answer, for he spoke of death and resurrection.
Why did Jesus mystify them? Because they did not really want to believe on him. They asked for a sign. Had they not just received one, if they had minds to perceive it? Which one of their number would have dared to do what Jesus had done? Many, no doubt, knew of the abuses which were carried on in the Temple and desired their cleansing. But they had not dared to interfere, and who would have been successful if he had dared?
This cleansing was a sign that Jesus was the Son of God, and some in Jerusalem regarded the sign.
Exerpt from The Life of Jesus Christ by W.R. Mitchell
Read about a Pharisee who noted what had taken place in John 3:1-21.