- Lesson 2 in the BaptistWay Press Connect360 unit “Living in the Spirit” focuses on Mark 11:11-19.
The area described in these verses was not the temple itself. Only certain priests were allowed in the temple sanctuary. Only the High Priest could go into the Holy of Holies (at the back of the temple), but just once a year. The temple was surrounded by a series of courts. Closest to the temple area was the court of the priests. Outside of that was the court of the men, who could watch the priests performing their daily sacrifices. Beyond that was the court of the women (the closest women could get to the temple). The largest area surrounding all these areas was the court of the Gentiles. This is the area at the center of controversy in these verses.
When Jesus arrived, he immediately 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” (11:15). His indignation was justified. Over time, the court of the Gentiles had become a corrupt marketplace. Jews came from all over the world for Passover. When they arrived, they had to have their foreign money exchanged into Jewish coinage to pay the temple tax. However, the money changers charged huge fees to exchange the currency, which was a hardship for the common Jewish person.
As if the exchange rates weren’t bad enough, the Jewish people had to pay for the animal they would sacrifice as required by the Law. However, these animals had to be deemed as “clean” (without defect), and only the priests could make the call on what was clean and what was not.
Place to pray or place be preyed upon?
Some scholars assert that the priests worked in cooperation with the people selling the animals and required pilgrims to purchase the “approved” animals at inflated prices. A dove that cost two shekels outside the temple might cost ten shekels inside, but a pilgrim had to pay the higher cost or risk their sacrifice being considered unclean and thus not valid. What God had intended as a place where people could pray had become a place where people were preyed upon.
The result of these two accepted practices—changing currency and buying animals for sacrifice—had turned the temple courts into a mad house, a cross between a bank and the county fair. Added to that was foot traffic (11:16). The priests had allowed people to take short cuts through the Gentile court to save the time and effort of going around the temple. People acted as if the temple area was nothing more than a sidewalk to get from Point A to Point B.
In voicing utter disgust at the situation, Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” but the religious rulers had made it a “den of thieves” (11:17). The place where God would meet with his people had become a sham. It had become commercialized and secularized to the point that the money changers and other merchants had, in essence, been stealing from the people. It was the place where thieves could actually feel comfortable and at home, like a den for an animal. No doubt such a scathing characterization would elicit a strong response.
Compiled by Stan Granberry, marketing coordinator for BaptistWay Press.
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