THE FIRST CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE
13The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the moneychangers sitting there.
15And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables.
16And he told those who sold the pigeons, “TAKE THESE THINGS AWAY; DO NOT MAKE MY FATHER’S HOUSE A HOUSE OF TRADE.”
17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”
19Jesus answered them, “DESTROY THIS TEMPLE, AND IN THREE DAYS I WILL RAISE IT UP.”
20The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”
21But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
22When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
This was the first time Lord Jesus expelled the merchants and usurers from the Temple’s Gentile Courtyard. It occurred at the beginning of his public ministry, after the Cana’s wedding, and it is not to be confused with his last visit narrated before his crucifixion in the synoptics.
Jesus threw the money changers, the animal sellers, and the animals, not because what they were doing was wrong, but because of the manner and place they were doing it.
Money changers were needed to exchanged pagan money into Jewish shekels, currency free of images and pagan symbolism that the priests could accept as offerings in the sacred Temple coffers.
Animals were sold to the worshippers as not everyone in Israel was a farmer or had direct access to animals for their sacrificial offering. To be able to buy the respective animal for the precise sacrifice and conditions, near the Temple, was a necessity and most convenient, specially for people who came to worship from abroad.
This was not wrong. What it was wrong, was the heart of the merchants.
They sold unfit animals for sacrifice (Mal 1:8), blind and lame, which the ignorant population bought trusting in the privileged position of those merchants, within the Temple walls.
Money changers not only exchanged currency, but they did it for profit, at extremely high costs, taking advantage of the poorest of the worshippers, and also referred their buyers to other speculators who will incur them into debt.
Animals also offended the Temple, since they did their droppings within the Temple walls, made unnecessary noise, interrupting the prayers (Mt 21:13), and many were unfit for sacrifice.
But mostly, the biggest fault and the main reason Lord Jesus made a whip and threw merchants, moneychangers, animals and tables out, it is because the Gentile atrium of the Temple was made for the gathering of gentiles or non-Jews who came to worship God in his Temple (Rev 11:2). The whole business, the selling of animals, the presence of animals, and the money exchange in the Temple court, or at least in the area attributed to be related to the Temple by an outer wall, like in Herod’s Temple, was an insult to the sacredness of the Temple where the presence of God Almighty resided.
That is why Lord Jesus, apart from denouncing their crimes, He also claimed that the Temple was not ‘a place for trade’, pointing out the main reason of his disapproval. This is also the reason the evangelist quotes the Psalm 69, assigning to Jesus the fulfilment in his soul of the great zeal of holiness He had for everything related to God, especially the Temple of ‘His Father’, as Jesus also declared when He was found in that same Temple, speaking to the Scribes when He was 12 years old (Lk 2:49).
With this action, Lord Jesus demonstrated that God’s honor must be defended with violence, if it is necessary.
Jesus never defended Himself, but defended others and God’s Temple, putting God and others wellbeing before his own.
When confronted by the priests, Jesus openly said to them, “Destroy this Temple, and I will raise it up in three days”, speaking about his own resurrection, but his listeners, even the apostles, did not realize Jesus was speaking about Himself, and by extension, proclaiming Himself God.
However, a few years after, totally changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles remembered these words with faith.