Jesus of Galilee
TEMPLE AT JERUSALEM
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. John alone, of the four gospels, reported this first trip of Jesus ministry, so he was undoubtedly one of those few who accompanied him.
The Temple must have been a shambles, as a place of worship. At the Passover they slaughtered many thousands of lambs, and daily there were animals awaiting slaughter and carcasses hanging in rows. The air was filled with the odor of burning flesh and the reek of blood, as well as with the clamor of the work going on, the chanting of psalms and prayers, the trumpet blasts, and signals to the people outside.
The elaborate and extensive ceremonies of the Temple required a great number of priests and Levites. At the head of them was the ruling high priest with about 200 of the higher clergy who served as overseers. There were also about 7,800 ordinary priests and about 9,700 Levites of minor clergy, who served, not all at the same time.
The Levitical priesthood receives its name from the tribe of Levi, who were appointed by Moses through his brother Aaron, to administer all priestly functions of the Hebrews. This tribe with their families received the tithe and were thus supported by the rest of Israel.
The high priest was literal head of the whole Jewish nation, which was organized on a foundation of religion, but in the time of Jesus his power had become somewhat lessened, for he was under the temporal watch of both Herod and the Roman procurator. He was the chief minister in the Temple, but not obliged to serve except on the Day of Atonement when only he could enter the Holy of Holies, once yearly.
He was head of the Sanhedrin, the supreme national-religious body of seventy-one members, divided into three groups -- chief priests, influential aristocrats, and thirdly, Scribes, or doctors of the Law. Any case which found jurisdiction under Jewish law could be tried by the Sanhedrin.
The majority of temple priests were a haughty lot, and since they had the proud office of the sacrifice for sins, they did not bother to study the law of Moses as did the Pharisees, but were content to know the detailed rules of their own office, part of which was the slaughtering of animals for sacrifice. It had come to be more of a profession than a spiritual office.
The Temple consisted of three courts on successively higher planes. The Court of the Gentiles was open to everyone and was a favorite meeting place for travelers or friends. A sign was posted forbidding any non-Jew to enter further into the Temple on pain of death. On feast days this area became somewhat of a market place as well, with the animals required for sacrifice on sale here and money-changers who would change the foreign coins of pilgrims into local currency. It was this mercenary display in the Temple which Jesus cleared out.
A few steps up from the outer court was a second court surrounded by thick walls and divided into two parts, the first or outer section of which was the Court of Women, and the second, called the Court of Israel, was for Jewish men.
Still further steps upward brought one to the Court of Priests, where the altar of sacrifice stood open to the sky and where animal sacrifices were offered.
The final steps led one upward to the true Sanctuary, divided into three parts, a vestibule and two chambers. The first chamber was called the Holy Place where stood the shew bread and seven-branched candlestick, and the second and inner room was the Holy of Holies, an empty place since the Ark of the Covenant of Moses was lost. It was here the high priest came once a year only, to offer atonement for the people.
Joined to the northwest corner of the Temple stood the fortress of Antonia which the Roman procurator would use to transact business whenever he came in to Jerusalem from Caesarea. In Jesus' time a few Roman guards wandered about in the Temple to spot any unrest or trouble.
When Jesus visited Jerusalem at his first Passover feast since the baptism, "he found in the Temple those who were selling cattle, sheep and pigeons; and there were the money-changers seated at their tables."
These animals were being sold to such persons as wished to present a sacrifice for their own sins in the Temple, but had not been able to bring any such offerings from their flocks at home. Since many of the Jews traveled some distance for the Passover, some being merchants in Alexandria, or living outside the borders of Palestine in the surrounding foreign territories, money-changing was a logical business to carry on in the proximity of these animal sales.
The money carried into the country by these travelers had to be changed into local currency, and because of changing rulers the currency was not fully standardized, so some knowledge was required to do this.
Such a state of affairs had rankled long in Jesus' heart, and he knew it had to be corrected. The first place to start any reform of people or government is at the heart of their religious worship, at the nucleus of their lives. In a sense, he too had to "make straight the way of the Lord" by clearing a pathway through the debris of His inner sanctuary.
Of course, the original purpose of this outer court of the Temple was not that it should become a raucous public marketplace but rather a place where persons of all faiths and nations could come for a prayerful visit to the Temple of Yahweh, and at least be near His sacred Ark of the Covenant.
Jesus knew this was not to be accomplished by formal discourse or argument; the only way was to do it. As he approached with fire and determination in his eye, one might well have remembered the words of the Psalmist, "Zeal for Thine house hath consumed me." (Psalms 69:9).
"So Jesus made a whip of small cords and drove them out of the Temple -- the sheep, cattle and all. And he poured out the exchange currency of the money-changers from their trays and overturned their tables, scattering the coins."
When he had finished it was as though a tempest had struck the place.
Then he turned on those who sold pigeons and said, "Take these things away. You must not make my Father's house into a trading house."
Was this a gentler note in deference to those innocent and gentle persons who in good faith seek to follow the Law that is handed down from God, the poorer folk who could afford only pigeons? Was it here that his own parents purchased two pigeons which were sacrificed in his behalf as a first-born male infant?
The wild consternation of that scene was the occasion for much flurry and consultation on all sides. He had so taken them by surprise that no one argued with him as he cleared the courtyard, and bystanders remained stunned until all was over. He acted with a clear-cut air of purpose that could belong to no mere rabble rouser. He was carrying the Sword of the Word into action, and they must respect this fiery prophet, who was a stranger to them.
So some of the Jews challenged Jesus, asking, "What sign can you show us as authority for your action?" This seemed reasonable enough, but Jesus could not accomplish this mission with reason, so he spoke to them a prophecy, which they could not understand. He spoke it not for the present but for the ears of the future, especially for his companions, the few who had followed him to Jerusalem, so that they could remember his words when the work was finished, and this would then be a sign to all who had heard. So he answered them thus, "Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up again."
The Jews scoffed, "It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" And so saying they walked away, but kept an eye on him after that.
Jesus was speaking of the temple of his own body, wherein burns the Eternal Flame of the indwelling God, but even his disciples would not know the meaning of his words until after he had been crucified and raised from the dead. The saying became engraved on their minds, for they were as amazed as the others, but they treasured all his actions and sayings, sharing them as children who both watch and learn. From this statement it is clear that Jesus by now knew the whole Path that would have to be traveled, and he was in serious earnest.
There were other signs that Jesus did while at the Passover Feast, and because of these strange doings many came to believe in his name. But Jesus entrusted himself to no one, confided in none, for he knew their hearts and minds, and could read them with such clarity that he needed none to tell him anything about a person.