Monday in Holy Week 2019
When Jesus came closer and could see Jerusalem, he cried and said:
It is too bad that today your people don’t know what will bring them peace! Now it is hidden from them. Jerusalem, the time will come when your enemies will build walls around you to attack you. Armies will surround you and close in on you from every side. They will level you to the ground and kill your people. Not one stone in your buildings will be left on top of another. This will happen because you did not see that God had come to save you.
When Jesus entered the temple, he started chasing out the people who were selling things. He told them, “The Scriptures say, ‘My house should be a place of worship.’ But you have made it a place where robbers hide!”
• Luke 19:41-46
The way I’ve heard people talk about Jesus’ act of cleansing the temple is largely inaccurate and misses the point. This was not the day Jesus lost control. This was not about his anger. What he did was not an explosion of rage. Emotions were no doubt involved, but we are not to read this merely as an act of righteous personal indignation, acted out when the final straw had been added.
What Jesus did in the Temple in Holy Week was a prophetic action, a symbolic gesture — attention-getting in its violence, to be sure — and not a mere, spur of the moment expression of utter exasperation at the commercialization of the Temple grounds.
No, Jesus is pronouncing judgment on the whole Temple enterprise.
As Tom Wright explains:
The Temple had become the focal point of the national ideology. As in Isaiah’s day, it stood in the public imagination for the unshakeable promise of Israel’s God to keep Israel safe, come what may. Israel had to face the challenge that unless the promise was met with faith and obedience it would count for nothing, and indeed worse than nothing; it would turn into a curse. If you’re in covenant with the holy God, disobedience doesn’t simply prevent blessings, bringing you back, as it were, to square one. It calls down the judgment that a sorrowful God will pour out on his people when they reject him and his purposes.
You might think their history of having lost Temple, land, kingdom, and nation, and never having ever fully recovered from that might have created a sense of humility and openness to something new God could do in their midst. However, the fact that Jesus had to undertake this action shows that they were still placing their trust in the Temple as the presence, approval, and protection of God amongst them.
The Temple is a theme that reoccurs throughout this Holy Week as Jesus goes straight into the heart of his people’s religious life and presents himself as God’s promised One — the true incarnation of God — who came to truly restore them from exile and inaugurate God’s rule in their lives.
The dreadful alternative, should they reject his gracious offer of peace, is portrayed at the commencement of this Holy Week through Jesus’ striking prophetic action.