Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:41-48; John 2:13-22
On the following day, as Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, He was hungry and saw a fig tree. The text in Mark tells us that it was not the season for figs, but it would probably be better translated that it was not the season for harvesting figs. The tree should have been full of fruit. Jesus curses the tree and continues on His way to the temple. The record of this tree is critical to the story, but the purpose will have to wait until the next day.
Once Jesus arrives at the most holy place on earth, He finds a familiar scene.
The religious leaders did not have any real political power, but the Romans still allowed them to take a temple tax. This tax was designed to pay for the sacrifices that would become burnt offerings to the LORD, but the Pharisees were corrupt and they found a way to profit from this religious practice. The common currency in Jerusalem was the Roman Denarius. This was the same coin Jesus asked for when the Pharisees tried to trap Him by asking if they should pay taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees would not accept the Denarius for the temple tax; they required a Shekel, which was made of silver. (These were probably the same silver coins that they paid to Judas for betraying Jesus.) This practice allowed them to manipulate the currency exchange and it filled the temple with money changers trying to make a profit, shouting out the best exchange rates and trying to attract attention, attention that was supposed to be directed toward worshipping God. Among them would have been others who were selling sacrifices and religious artifacts.
This would have been Jesus’ third Passover week in Jerusalem since the beginning of His public ministry and John records that Jesus cleansed the temple during the first of these three visits. It is even likely that Jesus cleansed the
temple on His second passover as well, though none of the Gospels record this. Regardless, this was something that
extremely bothered Him and He reacts as one with authority in the temple.
The people respond well to Jesus. They marvel at His teaching and they seem to agree with His treatment of the money changers. It is only the religious leaders who get upset with Jesus, which shows us how bitter they were about losing their profits.
While there are many such religious leaders today trying to profit from Christianity, there is a much darker problem that this story represents - the slow decline and the complacency of God’s people. This had been happening for generations. The religious process had become monotonous and ritualistic. People stopped caring. As long as they did the bare minimum, they felt better about themselves.
Jesus’ response is critical. Mark records Jesus saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Mark 11:17) How often have our prayers been turned inward on ourselves and our attention focused on the immediate that we have lost focus on the God we ought to worship? The biggest crime in Church today is not some child selling little league raffle tickets, but those who have come to worship
God out of duty, offering Him what is left in their week and not what comes first.
Let us take this day to pray in earnest and devotion to a God who supplies over and above our needs. Let us set aside our personal requests and focus solely on giving Him our undivided worship.