It is common for New Testament readers to view Jesus’ message being “against the Temple.” Supposed support for this view comes when Jesus drives out of the “money-changers” from the Temple precincts (cf. Matt 21:12; Mark 11:15; Jn 2:14-15). This event, so this argument goes, shows that Jesus was opposed to the “Temple system” as a legitimate locus of worship, and that he encouraged people to abandon the physical Temple in favor of a spiritual relationship with God. However, this interpretation ignores Jesus’ positive disposition toward the Temple, and misunderstands the meaning of Jesus’ Temple action. Instead of being against the Temple, Jesus saves the Temple from those who would diminish its sanctity.
In order to see Jesus as “against” the Temple, one must overlook all the good things he has to say about his Father’s abode. For example, when Jesus’ parents lose him in Jerusalem as a child, they scour the city until they finally find him teaching in the Temple, where Jesus asks them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49). In adulthood, Jesus discourages the taking of oaths by noting that “whoever swears by the Temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it” (Matt 23:21). For Jesus, the Temple remains God’s house even during his ministry; the Messiah’s arrival as “God with us” (Matt 1:23) does not displace God from the divine dwelling place on Mount Zion.
When Jesus enters the Temple and removes those who bought and sold there, some see this action as a curse against the Temple a prophetic foreshadowing of its destruction in 70 CE. However, this interpretation does not attend to the language of Gospel account: “Jesus entered the Temple and cast out (ἐκβάλλω; ekballo) all who sold and bought in the Temple” (Matt 21:12). The term Matthew uses for “cast out” (ἐκβάλλω; ekballo) is the same term used to describe Jesus’ exorcisms: “They brought to him many who were possessed by demons, and he cast out (ἐκβάλλω; ekballo) the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick” (Matt 8:16; cf. 8:31; 9:33-34; 10:1, 8; 12:24-28; 17:19). Thus, when Jesus “casts out” the money-changers, he performs an exorcism on the Temple; Jesus removes those who have made the Temple a “den of robbers,” which allows for God’s house to be called “a house of prayer” (cf. Matt 21:13; Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11). Rather than condemning the Temple, Jesus “cleanses” the Temple in the most spiritual sense of the word.
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