God doesn’t loose his temper like us, but he certainly gets angry. Many times the Bible speaks about God’s wrath or anger. God’s anger is his steady, consistent, personal, divine revulsion to evil and his personal opposition to it. God gets angry over sin, especially in those who claim to be his people.
It should not surprise us then that Jesus got angry; angry enough to overturn tables and chairs in the temple precinct.
Jesus said after his temple-clearing: “Is it not written: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’.” (Mark 11:17)
The temple in Jerusalem was the focal point of Israel’s worship. This temple was known as Herod’s temple because King Herod had authorised and organised its rebuilding (for political gain). Surrounding the temple, but still in the temple precinct was the “Court of Gentiles”. This was the closest a non-Jew could come to the temple itself. The “court of Gentiles” was a great idea in that non-Jews could come and see and hear about the One True God of the Bible.
It was kind of like our Sunday services. Church is for Christians, for believers. One of the main aims of our services is to “preach the word” so that believers can grow in their faith and be equipped for works of ministry (Ephesians 4). Jesus commanded Peter to “feed my sheep”. The chief role of a pastor and one of the main goals of corporate worship services is to feed God’s sheep by faithfully and clearly teaching the Bible. Yet there are always non-Christians at our services – which is great! Non-Christians come and hear and see what God’s people do when they gather. And the same gospel that grows Christians, converts non-Christians! The Court of Gentiles was meant to be something like that: Gentiles seeing, hearing and experiencing something of the God of the Bible.
Shockingly, this court was used as a place of business. Business needed to be done as Roman currency needed to be exchanged for temple currency and animals and grain needed to be bought for the required sacrifices or offerings. The problem was not business per se, but the place of the business. Instead of the court being a place of quite refection, learning and prayer; it was a place of pushing, shouting and commerce.
I speculate here, but perhaps the temple authorities wanted the market close in order to have a cut of the takings. It wouldn’t be the first time that religion is a cover for greed. It’s not unlike joining a church to get hold of their mailing list for your new business venture. Or getting vulnerable Christians to give to your ministry with promises of riches and rewards, when really just want to buy a new white suit or a private jet. Jesus got angry with those using “worship” as a means to another end. Instead of a place of prayer the temple had become a bazaar. He still gets angry.
Jesus said they had made the temple a “den of robbers”. This is a very interesting phrase that comes from Jeremiah 7. Hundreds of years earlier Jeremiah had also preached in the temple and had rebuked the “worshippers” for their hypocrisy. He said (v9-11):
‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe” –safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching!
The men of Israel were living their lives in rebellion to God and then coming to the temple and thinking they could make a little offering and say a little prayer and be OK with God. A robber’s den or hideout is where robbers feel safe and far from harm. This is how they were treating the temple of God! It was pure hypocrisy.
We do this when:
- We go out and intentionally sin on Saturday night knowing that we can pray for forgiveness at church the following day.
- Having our child baptised so that God will bless him or her, but have no intention of raising that child in a Christian home, setting a Christian example.
- Getting married by a pastor at a Christian ceremony thinking that God is pleased and will bless our marriage when our lives are in rebellion to God, demonstrated by our living together for the past year.
- Asking a minister to perform a funeral service of someone who had rejected Jesus their whole life and thinking that Christian service would help, assist or aid the departed person in some way.
- Having a big Bible cover that you religiously take to church so that other cannot help but see it.
Let me say that attending church services and getting married are good things and big Bible covers are not a bad thing (you can store a pen and sermon notes!). But are we in danger of being religious hypocrites by thinking that being part of a church or performing some churchified service with religious words will help us in some magical way, when our hearts are actually far from God and filled with sin and rebellion? Jesus is angry at this kind of hypocrisy.
God is not the old man upstairs who loves everyone no matter what. God is the Holy One that the Bible describes as a “consuming fire”. We don’t need to go the temple in Jerusalem (or any church building) to worship God. Jesus is our temple. We go to him to connect with God.
John Stott wrote these very sobering words in his book “The Cross of Christ”:
In public worship our habit is to slouch or even [sleep]; we do not kneel nowadays, let alone prostrate ourselves in humility before God. It is more characteristic of us to clap our hands with joy than to blush with shame and tears. We saunter up to God to claim his friendship and blessings, it does not occur to us that he might send us away. We need to hear the Apostles Peter’s sobering words: “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives in reverent fear”.