What was Jesus so angry about?

One of the most well known stories from the gospels is the account of Jesus clearing the Temple. You can read about it in all four gospels:

  • Matthew 21:12-13
  • Mark 11:15-18
  • Luke 19:45-48
  • John 2:13-17

Each similar account offers a different perspective. John’s account places the event nearer the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The other three place it near the end along side the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. John’s gospel is more thematic in organization and less chronological than the others and likely speaks of the same event, not a distinct event.

There is a rabbinic teaching method called Remez. It’s primarily a method of interpreting scripture whereby that which a verse or passage “hints at” is taken to be part of the meaning. Remez also refers to a teaching method for it was common for rabbis to speak of a single verse or short passage and in doing so “hint at” the rest of the passage from which the verse was taken.

The gospel accounts of Jesus clearing the temple contain a couple of very interesting instances of Jesus utilizing Remez.

John 2:17  His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

In this instance, the gospel writer himself inserts the remez. The disciples interpreted Jesus’ actions in the Temple as an intentional fulfillment of the messianic prophecy in Psalm 69:9. If we take the reference to this single verse as a remez and assume John is wanting to draw our attention to the entire psalm, much understanding is gained regarding the meaning of Jesus’ actions. Psalm 69 is a cry for God to return to Zion, defeat his enemies, and vindicate his true followers. By connecting Jesus’ actions in the Temple to this verse in Psalm 69 the statement is made that the Temple leaders  are themselves the corrupt enemies that will be defeated with YHWH returns with judgment. Jesus’ actions are thus seen as a prophetic declaration of God’s judgment on the corrupt Temple and its leadership. Additionally, Jesus himself through his actions clearly positions himself as the messianic figure who will bring about this judgment through the zeal he has for God’s house.

Luke’s gospel says the following.

Luke 19:46  “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer ‘; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”

These are the words that Jesus himself declared and through them we see much of Jesus’ own understanding of the significance of his actions in the Temple. In this short statmement Jesus references two Old Testament passages. Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7.

Isa 56:7  these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”

Jer 7:11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

Isaiah 56 is a prophetic declaration that God will not only gather the Jewish exiles back to his Temple, but he will also gather people from all nations, foreigners, gentiles, who desire to worship YHWH. It is also a scathing declaration of contempt and judgment against Israel’s religious leaders declaring them to be blind stupid dogs who drink too much wine.

Jeremiah 7 is God’s pronouncement of judgment against Jewish religious leaders. These leaders carry out business as usual in the Temple with sacrifice and ritual. Their confidence is in the ritual rather than any authentic devotion to YHWH. The passage declares that they are actually Baal worshippers who do detestable things, specifically taking unjust economic advantage of the poor, widows, and foreigners.

Jesus’ actions and statements in the Temple, taken together, understood in light of the broader passages from which he quoted short verses, clearly help us see Jesus as making a prophetic declaration of judgment against the Temple and its leadership. Jesus clearly saw himself as the Messiah who would cleanse the Temple, defeat the enemies of YHWH and vindicate those who were faithful.

Obviously Jesus was angry at the injustice of the economic practices within the Temple. Additionally, the Isaiah 56 passage makes it clear that Jesus was angry that the Jewish people had lost all vision for their redemptive calling to bring blessing to all the nations. They had come to view all “the nations” as being God’s enemies. Jesus declares that they themselves have become God’s enemies because they have failed to fulfill their calling to bring blessing to the nations.

Additionally, it is clear that Jesus is, through these actions, trying to get himself crucified. He threatened the political/religious status quo. Insulted them; proclaimed God’s judgment against them; set himself up as the messianic figure through whom this judgment would be fulfilled. He did this very publically and very obviously. It worked.


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