Mark 11:15-19 “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”‘ The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, they went out of the city.”

If you were an Old Testament Christian then you would regularly go to Jerusalem for the stated feasts. You would take with you your family and these boys and girls especially would be overwhelmed when they looked at the Temple. Herod’s temple was the third temple to be erected on this site. There was Solomon’s temple erected about a thousand years earlier, and then there was Zerubbabel’s temple built 500 years later, which lasted for about 500 years, and finally, twenty years before our Lord Jesus Christ was born, work was begun on Herod’s temple, and it was still being completed when Jesus preached in its precincts. It did not last a century. It was immense; it was the fulfilment of Herod’s dream. He thought that a building of grandiose proportions would help reconcile the people to himself being their king. The Court of the Gentiles which surrounded the main sanctuary was over four football pitches in length and corresponding breadth. Much of it was covered by a roof supported by rows of columns. It took three persons with their hands outstretched to surround a column at its base. The ceiling was covered with wood carvings. It was here that merchants sold sheep and doves for sacrifice and exchanged foreign currency into the shekels they used in the temple.

There was the sanctuary itself set within the Court of the Gentiles. There was a surrounding wall between the Court of the Gentiles and the sanctuary, and warnings were placed on the wall prohibiting foreigners from entering.

In the sanctuary there was the Court of the Women (where there were the offering boxes), the Court of Israel for circumcised men, the open air altar which was the size of a small house, and then the Holy Place which was modeled on the tabernacle in the wilderness with a curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the remainder of the sanctuary which contained the table with the show bread, and the lamp, and the small altar where fragrant offerings were made. The ark was no longer in the Holy of Holies. It had disappeared at the time of the Exile and no one knows what happened to it. The Holy of Holies was a small empty room. The sanctuary building itself was larger than a football pitch, about 150 yards long and a 100 yards wide. Only the priests ever entered the Holy Place.

The Temple was a pattern of being at home with God, and if you were one of the remnant in Israel waiting for the Messiah and longing for the promised redemption then you would understand that this building was full of types, and shadows, and pictures, and models of the real home where God and his people could live happily together. There used to be a home called Eden inhabited by God and man, but that communion had ended and now man lived estranged from God. The temple was a great teaching aid given to these people at a time when they were like children, to show them the way that the paradisaic home could be restored. So you would say to your children, “After this feast is over at the end of the week we have to return to where we live, but those birds can build there nests in the roof and at the top of the pillars and they can always stay here. I wish I were one of those birds.” Your children would say to you, “What’s the meaning of those huge pillars?” “Our God is so great that he upholds the heavens and the earth.”

“Why is that altar there?” “We are sinners and the only way we can come to God is by the sacrifice of a lamb that has no defects at all; God requires that. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. Its life is taken that we might live. One day the Servant of God will come and the Lord will lay on him the iniquity of us all.” “Can I offer a sacrifice at home for my sins, Daddy?” “No. Nobody can. You have to take your offering to a priest and he offers it for you. There is only one appointed way to God.” “What is behind the curtain in the Holy Place?” “That is the Holy of Holies which is God’s own room, and only on one day a year can the High Priest can pull the curtain aside and he enters the presence of God for an hour on our behalf. He takes the blood of the sacrifice with him as an offering for his own sin and also for our sin. But a day will come when through the Messiah we are going to be able to enter the presence of God by night or day.” In such ways you, as an Old Testament Christian, would explain to your children through those types and patterns the reality that had not yet come of living in the presence of God as a forgiven sinner.

It was to this temple that the Lord Jesus Christ came, and the extraordinary fact was that the temple was all about him, but only he knew that. he could say to his congregation, “You destroy this temple and I can rebuild it in three days.” They were amazed at such a claim. They thought he was mad, but he was talking about the true temple of his body. The temple of stones was pointing forward to him. He was the fulfilment of this building. Jesus told the woman of Samaria that by his coming death and exaltation that true worshippers will no longer worship at the copy or the model of the real temple, rather they would now be worshipping God at the true temple. Herod had had this temple erected in Jerusalem, but God had built the real temple in the body and soul of the God-man, Christ. In other words, men may worship God in Jesus only who is the real temple, the living high priest and the true sacrifice. There, in Christ, God seeks our worship, not on the top of Gerizim in Samaria, nor at the end of the long dusty climb up to Jerusalem, but at the feet of Jesus. Worship is in the Spirit that Jesus gives. Worship is in the truth that Jesus has revealed. No-one comes to the Father but by him. It’s the presence of Jesus in the lives of his people that makes us God’s real temple. We are living stones, and we are joined to God; Jesus Christ is the true corner stone. So don’t go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship, or to anywhere else. God’s presence is no longer in a special building or a holy city. Come to Jesus in faith and he will give you his Spirit, and he will place you in God’s true temple, the people of God, and together with them you have direct access to God. By Christ you can say, Abba Father.


The incident of the denunciation of the temple is reported in all four gospels, but whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke record it at the end of their gospels John puts it at the beginning of Jesus ministry in the second half of chapter two. Men have said that this shows that John’s gospel is an unhistorical book. John is giving the impression that this incident occurred at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry whereas in fact we know that it occurred at the end. Those same men tell us that this shows that the gospels are to be read as testimonies to Jesus, and that we are not to judge them by the standards of chronology and facticity by which we write history today. So it is no problem for them if John moves the denunciation of the temple to the beginning of his ministry – which we know from all the other gospels actually occurred after the entry into Jerusalem at the start of the last week of the life of our Lord.

I am not persuaded that there was only one denunciation of the temple; there were two feedings of the five thousand and of the seven thousand, two storms were stilled by Christ, two different women came and anointed him with oil; there were two or three raisings of the dead, two miraculous draughts of fishes, one at the beginning of his ministry when he called the twelve and another by the risen Lord. There was a sermon on the mount and a sermon on the plain when Jesus preached the same sort of message. I find no difficulty in the fact that he repeated miraculous signs and preached similar sermons or that he denounced the temple twice. Look at the evidence in John chapters 2 and 3. We are told that it took place a few days after his first miracle when he turned water into wine (John 2:12) and that he went to the temple from Capernaum. We are told that it occurred before his second miracle (John 4:54). We are told that John the Baptist was still alive (John 3:22ff), and that he knew the details about the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry because he could tell his disciples, “Look, the Lamb of God.”

There are differences in John’s account from Mark’s. In John’s account he says, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19). He doesn’t say those words for all to hear during the last week of his life just two days before his trial. The witnesses who accuse him at his actual trial have to say, “We once heard him say that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it.” It seems to be an event that had happened long ago, and they have to scratch their heads to remember what Jesus said. It was not one that occurred a few days earlier in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin at the beginning of his ministry time was not so watchful for Jesus. He was the young reformer from Nazareth. He had turned water into wine in distant Galilee, but that was the only miracle he had done. News of that had hardly reached Jerusalem, but there was obviously a religious stirring in the land which they talked about. John the Baptist was thundering out his sermons, denouncing the Pharisees and baptizing thousands in the river. The Sanhedrin would recognize that the temple goings-on needed reforming, and maybe they even grudgingly admired Jesus for the moral stand he took and for his action in driving out those crooked people. They didn’t know when Jesus began his preaching about his agenda for a total dismantling of themselves and the end of Jerusalem as a holy city and Israel as a holy nation. Later it became clear.

So in the first cleansing of the temple Jesus drives the sacrificial animals out of the Court of the Gentiles, but not the money-changers. In the first cleansing he doesn’t condemn them so much for turning the temple into ‘a den of robbers’ but rather for turning it into ‘a market-place.’ Jesus also used a makeshift whip in John 2; there is no mention of a whip in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s accounts. In John’s gospel Jesus drove out the sheep and cattle with the whip that he’d made. So we conclude that there were two cleansings of the temple. The first cleansing, at the beginning of his ministry, was a sign given to the people of Jerusalem that Jesus was the Son of the Father; this is “my Father’s house” (Jn.2:16) he tells them. He is the one who will rebuild the temple of God in three days if it were to be destroyed. Jesus shows his authority over the temple at the beginning of his ministry. But when Mark records the second cleansing of the temple Jesus is making it plain that this marks the terminus of the building. Thieves and robbers have irremediably taken over the house of God. Jesus smites the fig-tree and it is dead. It was this cleansing that marked the end of the temple.

Why do I mention the two cleansings? Because there could be some of you who have been taught that John is not a historical book because it puts the cleansing of the temple at he beginning and not at the end, and I want to say to you that John’s history of the life of Christ can be trusted. There were thousands of people around who were alive when Jesus cleanses the temple and so why should John lie about when it happened? That would have been an obvious fault that would have been spotted straight away. But I am also telling you of this other record to show you how important the temple was in the eyes of Jesus. The Sanhedrin court and the Pharisees and the Sadducees were all institutions devised by men, but God had given permission for the temple to be built and had filled it with his glory at its opening under King Solomon. The message of the temple is important for us especially as Jesus cleanses it twice.


What a scene had met Jesus’ eyes when he had gone to the temple the day before and looked around at everything (v.11). There were tens of thousands of people in this vast area. There were the shouts of the merchants and the noisy haggling pilgrims. There was the constant bleating and mooing of the livestock and the stench that came from them. It was like a country mart and a Stock Exchange all rolled into one. It was also a thoroughfare, a cross-town route across the city of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, and though Mishnah forbade people carrying things across the temple court many folk did. So what was the principal reason for the action of Jesus?

i] It was not a message of political revolution. Jesus was not striking the first blow in what he hoped would spark an armed uprising against corruption in church and state. There was a Anglican prayer book service by the law of the land imposed on Presbyterian Scotland during the Reformation, and when in St. Giles’ Church Edinburgh one such service was being intoned, much against the will of the congregation and the people, as the preacher read out the prayers a woman in the church named Jenny Geddes had had enough. She picked up the prayer stool on which she was sitting and she hurled it at the man leading the service. “Will you say a mass in my lug?” she shouted. Her action sparked a great reformation in Scotland to reject Anglican prayer books and Anglican communion services. But that was not the purpose of Jesus’ actions in the temple, to start a reformation. What Jesus did there was more devastating than that. It was a largely symbolic action like his entry into Jerusalem. There were always temple police patrolling the courts of the temple. The Pharisees once sent them to arrest Jesus, but we don’t read that they took any action. Everyone was overwhelmed by Jesus’ righteousness. It was a moral and religious protest not a political action.

ii] It was not an attempt to reform the temple. Jesus did not try to reform the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the chief priests, the Sanhedrin and all the structures of the old covenant. They had all run their course and their end was nigh. Jesus had come to bury the paraphernalia of the old covenant. He was not going to establish a religion in Israel based on the ecumenical coming together of himself with the priests and the lawyers. Israel was all over. Its faith was not intended to be a permanent religion for mankind. Old Covenant religion was a temporary system preparing the world for the coming of the Son of God. There were to be no more prophets, and priests, and kings, and judges. There was no longer going to be one geographical area in the world which would be dubbed a holy nation with a holy city in which was a holy building. It is all over. That is the message of the smiting of the fig tree. It is not pruned; Jesus does not graft his teaching onto Israel’s teaching. He kills the tree.

iii] It was not a protest about the Gentiles being unable to find some quiet place for praying in the temple precincts. When Jesus says, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (v.17), he was not pleading that the Gentile converts be treated respectfully in this place where they could worship God. There was still a long wall preventing them coming any closer to the sanctuary with threats of death if they went past it. The second class nature of the Gentiles was not going to be the future permanent status of the disciples of Jesus Christ. They were going to fill the whole earth, and there was going to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile in his church.

iv] It was not a protest about commercialism or capitalism. There is little evidence that that large outer court was regarded as a sacred space. It had been built with this sort of activity in mind. A place where pilgrims who had travelled a long distance could buy animals and birds for their sacrifices was vital for the operation of the temple. If you brought a lamb from Dan or Beersheba there was a good chance that it might be attacked by the time you reached Jerusalem and so no longer be a perfect specimen for sacrifice. Such commercialism was necessary; it did not desecrate the place. You must remember the huge crowds that were present in the temple during Passover. Thirty years later Josephus the historian tells us that 255,600 lambs were sacrificed during the Passover in 65 AD – not in the temple, but one for every family who had come to Jerusalem for the feast. That would mean, if there were ten people per family, that the population of Jerusalem during this time would have grown to 2,700,000 people. Think of it! The population of Wales was present in one small city – Jerusalem was not Rome. So you understand why the temple courts needed to be the size of four or five football pitches. But Jesus’ action was not a protest against the commercialism.

v] It was not an objection to the way the financial side of the temple was being run. Ananias the high priest loved money as much as any medieval pope. He did get a share of all the transactions that took place in the temple courts, and a lot of underhand buying and selling took place there. It was a den of robbers. There was indeed religious exploitation, but it was still necessary for the temple offerings to be gathered. In Exodus 33 God prescribed that for every male worshipper over the age of twenty one half-shekel should be paid to the priests. The tribe of Levi had no land and so they survived by this money being given them by the other tribes. That money couldn’t be paid in any of the currencies of the ancient world. Their coinage often had images of idols and gods. It had to be exchanged into shekels, and the chief priests did make their money from the exchange rates, but that was not an infamous abuse. It was not like the sale of indulgences by the papacy which claims to deliver people from years in purgatory. You had to pay your half-shekel to the temple and everyone accepted that. Even our Lord Jesus paid his temple tax. Could this be the reason for the astonishment of the people in the temple at Jesus’ action (v.18)? As he turned over the tables of the money-changers the people looked at one another and asked why. What was he doing? It was obviously not some populist revolt that caught the public imagination like Jenny Geddes’ throwing her stool, or the protests of the farmers against the ban on fox-hunting. It did not trigger off some cheers. People were perplexed by what Jesus did. What was wrong with daily paying an offering to support the daily sacrifices for sin? But Jesus’ action was not about money being given and gathered.

What was Christ doing?

i] Jesus was demolishing the whole financial foundation of the temple when he overthrew the tables of the money-changers (v.15). It was a very violent action on his part wasn’t it? Have you ever had someone in your home overthrowing a table on which all the food has been set out? No. Have you seen this being done in a restaurant as a guest explodes in fury with the way he has been served or with the quality of the food? No, you have never seen such behaviour and you hope you never will. Me too; I hate that sort of thing. It was a violent action to move from table to table – maybe twenty or forty such tables – and send cascading into the dust all that money. What was Jesus saying? No more temple shekels; no more half-shekels. All that was coming to an end. The people could protest, “But we need the money in order to survive as levites and priests.” “No!” says Jesus. “It’s all over. No more priests and levites. The whole tribal system of Israel has had its day. This is not going to be the structure of the kingdom of God from this day on.” There is going to be a new High Priest, and he is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. He serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by men (Hebs. 8:1&2).

ii] Jesus was putting an end to the selling and purchase of sacrificial animals (v.15). When he first cleansed the temple three years earlier he then drove the animals out of the temple with his whip, and released the doves. Here he overturns the tables of those who sold the doves. No more animals could be purchased. So no more sacrifices could be made. “But how can we worship the holy Lord? God says that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” The Son of Man has come to give his life a ransom for many. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. No longer is the guilt of the Jews exclusively to be dealt with in Jerusalem, but the sin of the world is going to be dealt with by the Son of God. The Passover lamb was simply the type, and now behold the great anti-type, Jesus Christ. The days of types and shadows has ended.

iii] Jesus forbade the carrying of merchandise through the temple courts (v.16). The word ‘merchandise’ often refers to materials used in the temple – the firewood for the altars, the oil for the lamps, the bread for the table, sharpened knives for the priests, clean linen for them, the animals, the dung buckets, the water to wash away all the blood shed. “Go back!” cried the Lord. “Don’t bring that material in here!” “But it is essential!” “Not any longer. Its end has come,” the Lord Jesus was saying in his actions. He was closing down the temple. Henceforth God’s presence in us and with us makes us his people. We become his temple.


Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” This is what God expects, not in some wonderful millennium in the future, but then when Jesus walked this earth. Why did God set his love on the children of Israel? That they might be salt and light in the world. God chose these people that through the seed of Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed. God did not erect the temple as a national shrine for Israel. It was a building which set forth in types and symbols the mighty character and amazing grace of God to all men. It failed abysmally. Jesus looked around him in the temple and he saw walls and warning notices; he heard the hubbub and saw the greed. This was not a house of prayer to the living God. But when Jesus Christ the eternal Word tabernacled amongst men there were none of those walls erected. He gathered to himself the outcasts and the handicapped, women, children and Gentiles. The true Temple did what the stone temple failed to do. His disciples tried to put such people in some sort of outer court, not allowing children to be brought right up to Jesus, but there can be no segregation in the temple of the Lord. By faith in Christ Gentiles and slaves and lepers can all look to their heavenly Father and run into his presence. Walls have to crumble; barriers have to be breached. When Jesus dies the veil of the temple is rent in two from the top to the bottom. A Gentile soldier confesses that he is the Son of God.

“You have made this temple a ‘den of robbers’,” says Jesus. He is quoting from Jeremiah 7:11. Let us read the first half of the chapter, and then you will understand the concern of Christ:

Jeremiah 7:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
2 “Stand at the gate of the LORD’s house and there proclaim this message: “‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD.
3 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.
4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!”
5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,
6 if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,
7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.
8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
9 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,
10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe” – safe to do all these detestable things?
11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.
12 “‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.
13 While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer.
14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your fathers.
15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your brothers, the people of Ephraim.’

What is a den of robbers? It is the bandits’ hideout. They don’t rob in their own den. It is the place they retreat to with their money. It is their place of security and refuge. The temple of God has become the safe hiding place for crooks. It has become a place where people gather to whom it doesn’t matter how they live on the outside, they can come to this place and think they automatically receive divine forgiveness. It is the attitude of the Mafia to the Roman church. They can perpetuate all kinds of wickedness – unspeakable evils – but they can get extreme unction and a marvellous religious funeral at the end. They can still get Christian weddings on demand and their children are baptized. The Lord Jesus goes right into the robbers’ lair and he attacks the decadent leaders of Israel in their place of security. In Jeremiah God says, “I have been watching” (Jer. 7:11) and in this chapter in Mark we are told of Jesus going to the temple and looking around at everything. He saw the widow putting her mite in the collection. He saw the Pharisee standing up and praying with himself. He saw the widespread corruption and worldliness. Judgment was going to fall on it. The cursed fig tree was the sign of decadent condemned Israel.

The temple was the heart of Israel. In the temple heaven and earth came together. If there was going to be anything of the gospel in Israel it was going to be found in the temple. If there was a message of grace and mercy then you would find it in the temple. If there were remnant in Israel waiting for their consolation and the coming of the Messiah then you would find them in the temple. But Jesus found none of that fruit there, only leaves. The temple was the barometer of the whole of Israel’s life; it was like the city of London, the British Museum, the Bank of England, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and 10 Downing Street all rolled into one. It was the central institution of Israel’s religious and political and economic life. it dominated all the nation. It was the chief employer in the city. The whole economy of the city depended upon it. It was the power base of the land and it pointed people to heaven.

This is the institution that Jesus attacked all by himself. It was the centre of power for the nobility who dominated and indoctrinated all those who were under them. To be forgiven people had to offer sacrifices, and the money lined the pockets of those who were primarily responsible for the oppression of the poor. Jesus took all that on by himself. He did not gather the twelve around him and lead a commando raid on the temple. In fact, he gave them no warning what he was about to do. They must have bowed their heads in horror as he overthrew the tables of the money-changers. Up flew the doves! What righteousness and mercy live together in Christ.

C.S. Lewis captures in a scene in one of his children’s book, “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” the fact that our God is love and also that our God is a consuming fire, both of these attributes being found in the Lord Jesus. “Lucy and Edmund are off on their adventure when they come to a large grassy area. The green of the grass spreads into the blue horizon, except for a white spot in the middle of the green expanse. As Edmund and Lucy look at this spot intently, they have difficulty making out what it is. With their adventurous spirits, they travel forward until the white spot comes into closer view. It is a lamb. The lamb, white and pure, is cooking a breakfast of fish. The lamb gives Lucy and Edmund the most delicious meal they have ever eaten. Then ensues conversation as they talk about how to get to the land of Aslan (or Heaven). As the lamb begins to explain the way, a marvellous thing happens: ‘His snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself towering above them and scattering light from his mane.’ Lewis was illustrating the great truth of our faith: the Lamb is the Lion. Or in Biblical terms, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is the Lion of the tribe of Judah! Qualities we consider to be lamb-like – gentleness and meekness – are indeed in Christ, but so are the regalness and the ferocity of a lion. Our Saviour is also Judge. The Scriptures speak of the ‘wrath of the Lamb’ (Revelation 6:16). To be sure, Jesus is the meekest, gentlest person who ever lived. He said, ‘for I am gentle and humble in heart’ (Matthew 11:29), and ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’ (Matthew 5:5). But meekness is not weakness. It is, rather, strength under control. Meekness has the strength to not defend oneself (Jesus when he went to the Cross, for example). But meekness will boldly defend others. And here Jesus struck out in defence of the holiness of God the Father.” (R. Kent Hughes, Mark Volume 2, Crossway, 1989, p.89).

We cannot imagine the impact this action made on Jerusalem and on the events that closed the last week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He was deemed to have gone one step too far and had to be dealt with swiftly. There is nothing today that can compare with the place of the Jerusalem temple in the thinking of Israel. It was utterly sacrosanct, but Jesus Christ had been turning the focus of his disciples for three years onto himself. Away from institutions and away from shadows to the reality of the person of Christ. That is the new covenant and its new life. It is centred on him. For me to live is Christ, said Paul.

What does God require of us? To look to Christ and put our whole faith and hope in him. That is how reconciliation with God comes, through Jesus Christ. That is where forgiveness of sins comes, by the blood of the Lamb. There was this massive religious establishment deeply institutionalised in Israel. Salvation came from plugging into that organisation. Jesus said, “No! From now on true religion for all the nations comes from approaching God through Jesus Christ, asking him for mercy, and praising him for his goodness and love.” That is true life, deep gratitude to God for his grace to us through Christ.

19th September 2004 GEOFF THOMAS