Jesus on Welcoming Foreigners

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”” (Matthew 21:12–13, ESV)

Jesus walks into the temple and begins to make quite a scene. If a young Jewish rabbi wanted to get himself crucified, this is the way to do it. He overturned tables. He drove people out of the place. You might think these actions were at the heart of what might have offended the Temple officials and religious leaders. But his words were far more inflammatory.

My house shall be called a house of prayer.

Jesus is quoting from the following verse in Isaiah.

these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”” (Isaiah 56:7, ESV)

The Temple was to be a house of prayer for all peoples. Other translations rightly render this “for all nations.” Who are the “these” that God will bring to His holy mountain? Let’s look at the previous verse.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—” (Isaiah 56:6, ESV)

Who is Isaiah rebuking in this passage? The leaders of Israel. In the following verses, the rebuke gets quite strong.

His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber. The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough. But they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all.” (Isaiah 56:10–11, ESV)

Remez is a common rabbinic communication technique. A brief phrase from scripture is utilized in order to “hint” toward the message and meaning of the broader context. An audience well familiar with the passage would hear the short phrase and think of the whole passage.

That’s what Jesus is doing here.

My house shall be called a house of prayer.

Every religious leader (who were also political leaders) in earshot heard this phrase. Their minds immediately leapt to the passage Jesus quoted.

He is rebuking us for not welcoming foreigners. He is rebuking us for our nationalism. He is saying that our nationalism has made us blind, ignorant and asleep. He is saying we are all about our own way and our own gain.

Crucify him.


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