Many scholars of the historical Jesus quests see the cleansing of the temple as the final straw that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. This act solidified Jesus as an anti-temple establishment figure. Jesus did more here than challenge the status quo, like a prophet from the Old Testament he performed a prophetic sign. As the embodiment of God on the earth, Jesus quickly and somewhat violently brought about a kind of temporary justice. The profit of temple trading had driven the establishment to chose to occupy the court of the Gentiles, a part of the building designed to make room for God-fearing Gentiles. A robbery had been done. These people earnestly seeking to be as close to God as they could be, were forced out. Justice, a core aspect of the heart of God, had long since been violated. Prayer, the primary activity to be done in this space of worship, had taken a back seat to human greed. And the outcasts who had been invited in by design were once again cast out.
One unique aspect of Matthews account is Jesus, after cleansing the temple, healing the blind and the lame. Like Ezekiel’s vision of water flowing out of the temple and bringing God’s healing out among the nations, here I see Jesus inaugurating a piece of that vision. The healing must start in the very temple itself, before it can trickle outward. I think Jesus in performing his prophetic sign marked this spiritual transition to an new epoch, to the time the people of God, like living water, would flow out bringing redemption to the world (Eze. 47:1-12). I think Jesus, also in line with Micah’s vision, was enacting how the Torah of peace, would soon be coming down from Mount Zion and outside Jerusalem into the world (Micah 4:2). What was alluded to, in my imagination, was the gospel itself being made ready to finally enact the part of the covenant Isaiah and later Simeon would understand as Israel’s calling to be a light to the Gentiles (Luke 2:29-32). Jesus, in cleansing the temple, was doing far more than engaging in civil disobedience. He was unveiling to the world that the Son of God had truly come. He was opening the floodgates of the redemption of the world that would culminate in his journey to the cross.
Take 10 to 20 minutes in solitude to ponder Jesus’ action of throwing out the merchants and inviting in those in need of healing. We too often prioritize money over prayer, exclusion for our benefit over inclusion for the benefit of those seeking God. As you reflect on this passage, reflect also on Jesus’ words from Mt. 9:12-13 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”