Mark: Jesus Clears the Temple Courts

Read: Mark 11:15-19

Yesterday we read the bookends to this story as a way of understanding their meaning. Today we’ll look at Jesus direct actions in the temple courts and try to process the entire scene, so many details in just a few verses!

Prior to this chapter, we’ve read several times where Jesus performs a miracle then tells the recipient not to tell anyone about what happened, keep it secret. Of course that’s all but impossible, but the words are offered to minimize the possibility of a circus-act-style ministry. Jesus wants nothing to do with people coming to see a magic trick!

Here we see this all change. Jesus rides into Jerusalem, then walks into the temple courts to take direct action — no more hiding, the time has come.

Jesus entered the temple courts and 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, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. Mark 11:15-16

Why did the guards, either temple or Roman, not stop Jesus?

Seriously, this is a time and age where brutality reigns, where Roman guards could have been called in to forcibly (to say the least) remove Jesus and his band of followers, but no words to that affect are offered. No one fights back. The scene makes me think of catching a child red-handed, absolutely nothing can be said in defense. The people scatter, back away as Jesus “teaches” them lessons from the prophets of old, stories they remember all too well, even if they are ignoring them.

Why not stop Him? Fear. This is the man who has healed many, walked on water, fed thousands. He is one to be respected and feared. Listen to what He has to say.

The disciples have an advantage here because they just saw Jesus curse the fig tree, the precursor for announcing His Divine judgment on the temple. This place was set aside to be The place of worship, but is now nothing more than a self-righteous money making machine to feed the religious right.

Modern houses of worship beware. This might have happened 2,000 years ago, but we would do well to look introspectively at the systems we’ve created, whether we admit it or not!

Quote from Isaiah 56:6-7: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.

All are welcome to God’s place of worship. Anyone who wants to commune with the Creator is welcome. Isaiah’s discourse boldly claims that even the eunuchs and the foreigners will be blessed for honoring The Lord:

to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters
Isaiah 56:5

Yes, I believe the people took a few steps back to listen to Jesus, the prophet, as He referred back to words they simply could not refute.

Quote from Jeremiah 7:11: Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?

These powerful words come from a powerful lament over Jerusalem that reveals false religion as worthless to the Lord. I encourage you to read Jeremiah 7:1-15 to see if we, the most educated and wealthy society of Christians, share some of the guilt.

For a fresh perspective, I found the NIV Application Commentary provided some great insight throughout this reading. In particular:

The reference to the “den of robbers” has nothing to do with the trade in the temple. Instead, it denounces the false security that the sacrificial cult breeds. In other words, the robbers are not swindlers but bandits, and they do not do their robbing in their den. The den is the place where robbers retreat after having committed their crimes. It is their hideout, a place of security and refuge.*

The temple courts have become a safe place for those stealing from widows, the fatherless, the least of society. Here they can fake their desire to serve the Lord while reaping a profit. Yesterday, I read this article in Christianity Today (October 2017) that might speak to this a bit.

Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law — Mad Enough to Kill

Though the teachers of the law and chief priests have no words to offer as a rebuttal, their secret desires are soon to be revealed. We’ll read more about their specific reaction to Jesus’s prophesy that the temple will be destroyed in the coming chapters as part of their accusations against Him, and even at the foot of the cross. John Mark once again makes note of their desire to have Jesus killed. Plans in the minds of men who are afraid to speak out publicly.

Jesus Leaves With His Disciples

The entire episode ends quite unsatisfactorily.

When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. Mark 11:19

What? They just left? My guess is Jesus stood and taught many lessons that day, not just actions. He cleared the courts temporarily — both buyers and sellers — and spoke to those who remained. There were, in my view, many who came to the temple with good intentions, hearts set on serving God the way they’ve been taught.

This is why I’m a strong advocate for churches. My desire is to help them to get better, to realign themselves to Jesus’s mission and vision and turn from practices we read about in these few verses.

Many fill our churches each Sunday with hearts intent on praise. They’re doing what they’ve been told to do and will continue to follow the lead of those who teach. That’s why Paul reminds us that those who teach will be held to a higher standard. The sheep obey the shepherd.

Jesus will return to the temple court again, unafraid, undeterred by threats. The effective local church is God’s plan for reaching the lost. I pray we learn from these words today, that we seriously look at what we do as the church and respond as Jesus would. Perhaps we need to flip our own tables!


*Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland , David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 35593-35595). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

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Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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