On reaching Jerusalem, 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. And as he taught them, he said, “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.’” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this incident; John does not, although he does record the time early in his ministry when Jesus had previously cleared the temple (John 2:13-22). The temple was a huge structure, containing four sections. Moving from inner to outer, they were: the priests’ court (where only they could go), Israel’s court (open to all Jews), the women’s court (this was as far as the women could go), and the large outer court, the court of the Gentiles (which was as far as they could go). Worshippers coming to the temple would need to pay the temple tax and most likely buy items for sacrifices; thus, tables were set up for this.
Here’s the problem: the tables were set up not right outside the temple, but in the court of the Gentiles! Thus, an area that was set aside for worship of God was given over to commercial transactions. The murmurs of prayer were drowned out by the cacophony of commerce. Jesus sees this and begins to overturn tables and benches and drive the moneychangers and merchants out of the temple.
Quoting Isaiah 56:7, he tells the people that God’s house is to be a house of prayer for all the nations. Those Gentiles whom the Jewish merchants saw fit to inconvenience and even cast aside are among those desired by God as his worshippers! No wonder the priests and teachers were angry at Jesus; he actually wanted them to pray with the Gentiles, not profit from them.
Praise God that now Jews and Gentiles, people of all nations and languages and people groups, can come together in praise and worship of the Savior who has laid down his life for his sheep, who has offered the complete and final sacrifice for sin! And, pray that the gospel would go forth into all the world!
Bring distant nations near
To sing thy glorious praise;
Let ev’ry people hear
And learn thy holy ways.
Send forth thy glorious power,
that Gentiles all may see,
and earth present her store
in converts born to thee:
God, our own God, thy church O bless,
and fill the world with righteousness,
and fill the world with righteousness. (William Hurn)