The context to this is that certain areas of the temple had been made into commercial areas defiling the sanctity of the sacred place.

Jewish law required that every man should pay a tribute to the service of the sanctuary of “half a shekel” (Exodus 30:11–16), a Jewish coin. Judea at that time was under Roman rule and the currency used was the Roman coin. Hence it was common for the pilgrims to buy the Jewish half shekel from the money changers at the temple grounds using their Roman coins. There were no fixed currency exchange rate controls and with thousands of pilgrim, the money changers were doing a lucrative business. This would be especially hard on the poor.

The Law also required two doves or pigeons to be offered in sacrifice (Leviticus 14:22; Luke 2:24). Again it is easier to buy the doves or pigeons at the temple than to bring them from home. Other may want to sacrifice sheep or cattle. Again the pilgrims are at the mercy of the merchants selling these animals.

These money changers and merchants may be charging such exorbitant prices as religious observance is a lucrative business. All the pilgrims were affected.  The poorer pilgrims may not be able to worship at the temple as they were unable to pay. Jesus was so upset that He overturned the tables of the money-changers, condemning them for having turned God’s house of prayer into “a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13).

Jesus cleansed the temple twice.

The first time occurred just after Jesus turned water into wine at Cana. From Galilee Jesus must have travelled to Capernaum and eventually to Jerusalem for the Passover. This cleansing of the temple is described in John 2:11–12. The Synoptic Gospels do not record the temple cleansing mentioned in John 2, only recording the second one that occurred during Passion Week.

The second cleansing of the temple occurred just after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This second cleansing is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke but not in John.

There are differences in the two cleansings. In the first cleansing, temple officials confronted Jesus immediately (John 2:18). The chief priests and scribes confronted Him the following day in the second cleansing (Matthew 21:17–23). Jesus made a whip of cords with which to drive out the money-changers in the first cleansing, but there is no mention of a whip in the second.

The two cleansing happened nearly three years apart. This indicated that there had been no change in the mindsets and religiosity of the Jews in the three years of Jesus’ ministry. No wonder, Jesus wept before His entry into Jerusalem. He cursed the fit tree as symbolic of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.

Reflection points

  1. What much do you charge when you offer your services to God’s people to help them to worship God?
  2. When do you consider your charges exorbitant?
  3. How do we avoid the commercialization of our churches?