In the whole of The New Testament we have one and only one example of Christ acting out in violence. I find it pertinent at this time to analyze the who, what, when, where and why of that event.
Mark 11:15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; 16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. 17 And He taught, saying unto them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? But you have made it a den of thieves.’” 18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy Him: for they feared Him because all the people were astonished at His doctrine.
John 2:13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, 14 and found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: 15 And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money and overthrew the tables; 16 And said unto them that sold doves, “Take these things hence; make not My Father’s house an house of merchandise.” 17 And His disciples remembered that it was written, “The zeal of Thine house has eaten me up.”
To be fair the degradation Christ walked in on here was not new. In the book of Malachi we see how God viewed Israel after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Malachi 1:7 You offer polluted bread upon Mine altar; and you say, ‘Wherein have we polluted You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is contemptible’. 8 And if you offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto you governor; will he be pleased with you, or accept your person? says the LORD of hosts.
Malachi 3:8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.
The unfortunate truth is though God spoke aggressively about these kinds of activities to His people five hundred years ago or better, they were still doing it at this time. And of course, we/they are still doing it now.
There are several points herein to which we should make note: First we should understand the laws concerning offerings. However, since that, properly covered, would be a book in itself, let’s just cover a few basics. The offerings given by the people were to come from THEIR LIVESTOCK and THEIR PRODUCE. It was to be the firstlings of their stock and their crop. What was set up here was more of a medieval version of McDonald’s where one could just stop by on their way to the Temple and pick up whatever extra meat happened to be lying around.
The offering itself required no work, no sweat of the brow, no real commitment or contemplation; no inspection for spot or blemish, no dedication of the time it took to look over your crop or livestock in order to determine the best parts of it - those parts that were to be given unto God. Here was simply an exchange of coin for a dove or two to chuck upon the altar of God to get the job done and get back to what was REALLY important in life. Basically, asking for forgiveness and offering praise had become a casual custom, rather than an holy convocation; a callous tradition rather than a humble, gesture of submission and servitude. Know anyone who treats church like this?
Yet this was even more radical than that. The people had gotten so far from God and so far from caring what He thought of them - or perhaps no longer believed in Him at all - to the point that they had moved the fast food in right under His nose! They were selling these fast food offerings INSIDE THE HOUSE OF GOD!! It seems almost as if the process itself had become more of a social appeasement, then an act of reverence to the King.
Before we go further, we should try our best to understand and integrate the spiritual message herein as pertaining to self worship. Have you fallen into a habit of repetitious “repentance of sin”? Do you make a “general, speedy lipped” apology without any real contemplation of the severity and consistency of the sins you commit from day to day?
In the time of the Old Testament, every sin required specific consideration. Different kinds of offenses and infractions demanded different kinds of offerings and very specific Hebrew words were ascribed to the different kinds of sins and the offerings that covered them.
For example, the word “Chata” means specifically, “To sin; to miss the mark. Also of the feet, to stumble and fall. Hence, morally a coming short, blameworthiness, though not necessarily willful”; while the word “Aven” means “iniquity, specially connected with idolatry.”
In the spectrum of offerings, “Asam” the “Trespass offering” relates to sins of omission (sins committed due to ignorance or accident), while “Chattah” relates to sins of commission - sins we knowingly commit.
My point is the Hebrews in that day needed to take a much greater care and a much more specific inventory of the sins they committed against God and Mosaic Law. My question here is: should we not be abundantly aware of the sins we commit and perhaps, even in the very moment following the infraction, be sincerely repentant of each and every one? It seems to me that if we took that kind of care and gave that kind of time, thought and energy to each sin we commit, over time I would think we would be more motivated to commit less. I tend to think we have mistakenly, because Christ made repentance of sin so “easy and efficient” for us, tossed the proverbial baby out with the bath water, and our daily repentance has become more mechanical than it is remorseful. If we can indeed fast food our method of repentance, we lose the relational aspect I believe to be a large part of the purpose for which God provided us with it in the first place.
If someone offended you and didn’t bother to call or write or address you about it - then bumped into you at the market a few days later and, out of awkward obligation pitched you a casual “sorry” in between their cell phone calls and Facebook postings, would you regard the apology as sincere, or obligatory? Would you “feel” it, or simply hear the words? God has given us visible, tangible relationships so that we might better understand through experiential means what He desires from us in our relationship with Him. We should not assert that because God is so forgiving and understanding, that He also isn’t “bothered” by our lack of attention or respect, or reverence with regard to Him.
Yet unfortunately, this kind of behavior is not uncommon, even in our relationships with each other. Do not our families, children, or spouses suffer a loss of our time or attention because of the “demands of the world”? Do we not, because we know they will “understand” often treat those closest to us as back burner items because the world just demands so much of us? Why do those we love the most deserve the least amount of our time? This seems so perverse and backwards, does it not?
I believe this to be the one of the core reasons as to why Christ was so angry in this situation. These children God had done everything for, and would soon hang on a cross for, had reduced their relationship with Him to that of an inconvenient chore one would simply scribble on a To Do List between picking up toilet paper and putting gas in the car. And they were so brazen about it that they didn’t even have enough of a conscience to do it in secret. If one had any discomfort at all about an action they were committing, would they not do it when no one was looking? These people did it right out in the open - in what was supposed to be the most holy place in the universe. And they did it en masse.
It was no longer necessary for people to inspect their own crops. It was no longer necessary for merchants who owned no livestock or crop to seek out a farmer and inspect his for the best they could find. It was a quick stop shop inside the temple proper. It was pedestrian.
I think it important to note here that Christ did not react spontaneously from a fit of rage. This was not an impulsive decision and was not based solely on an emotional, fly off the handle kind of response. How do we know this? From John’s account in chapter 2 we know that Christ first entered the temple and observed the goings on. We know He did not react immediately because He “had made a scourge of small cords” AFTER He had observed what was happening there.
A “scourge” is a whip that was used to lash citizens IN PUBLIC as punishment for crimes against the Roman Empire. And “small cords” means multiple ropes made from a flag plant of a rush. Basically Christ fashioned Himself what we would today call a Cat of Nine Tails. But we should consider how He went about this. I suppose it’s a possibility He just happened to bring the proper materials with Him to make such a weapon. Another option is He had to leave the temple, purchase the materials, secure them together, and walk back to the temple weapon in hand. Or perhaps more ironic still, He purchased the materials from the merchants inside the temple and proceeded to beat them down with their own sinful merchandise. Personally, I like that last option best.
The point being - this took methodical premeditated consideration and application. Christ did not make a rash emotional decision and fly into a rage and in similar circumstances neither should we. And when he returned we are told He “drove them all out of the temple...” The word “drove” used in this sentence means to “physically eject or drive out” from a root word that denotes a “violent throwing”.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you Jesus Christ endorses no form of violence or war. That is NOT SO. He simply only endorses it in certain contexts. And from our Scriptural reference point, there is perhaps only one arena in which He does endorse it, and that is when the enemy has invaded, broken into, or perverted the house of our Father and perhaps by extension, our own. When speaking of His return, Christ tells us:
“Matthew 24:43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. 44 Therefore be you also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of Man comes.
Speaking of not knowing when the Son of Man might come, I’m quite certain the moneychangers did not expect the beating they received at the hands of the Messiah.
Yet again we return to our point of origin and the reason I’ve attached this chapter to the previous one: it concerns the priests. Where were they while all of this was going on? These moneychangers were set up. This was a marketplace. This was not thrown up at the drop of a hat - it was not ramshackle. It had order - it was thought out and organized and established.
The priests are responsible for the temple of the LORD. They are it’s protectors and caretakers. At the very least they were negligent in their duties. At the worst, they were the founders of the feast - the orchestrators of the market. We are never told the specifics, at least in the gospels, but through logic we can assume that they either turned a blind eye, or were deeply invested in it. Complacency, or complicit.
We must avoid judgment, and therefore it would be unfair at this time to say concretely what level of involvement the priests actually had. But one might wonder if the priests were at risk - if people might get angry about this “market” in the temple, it might look very bad for them. So what was in it for them? I mean, if they in fact chose to willingly and consciously allow such an enterprise? It was really a win-win for them, was it not? If they took a cut of the profits for what was sold in the temple, or charged a fee for each vendor to be there, they got double the return. Not only did they get the money up front, or at the end of each day depending on their deal - but they also got the offering!! The people would buy the animals, then turn around and give the animals to the priests as a sin or gift offering. So the priests were both paid and fed!! They made out like bandits - err.... robbers as it were. That is - if they were indeed in on the deal. Maybe they weren’t. Who really knows?
But there is no escaping the fact that they knew about the market, allowed it to continue and accepted the cheap, fast food offering that was almost certainly the consistent produce given to them by the public.
And will you pollute Me among My People for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to My People that hear your lies? - Ezekiel 13:19
Is it not interesting to note here how closely the offering people were giving at this time was to the initial offering of Cain? The people were willingly and consistently giving God the dregs - the leftovers - that of the lowest quality. And they simply didn’t care. I’ve wondered if Cain would’ve bothered to take the time to grow his own produce if he could’ve just swung by the temple on his way in and scooped up a leg of lamb. Again, it is either worship God, or worship self. Everything else is peripheral - a watered down example of the same root over and over and over again.
Christ did not go to war against the Muslims. He did not bomb abortion clinics. He didn’t beat down homosexuals or slander prostitutes. No, the one and only time Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior went to war, it was within the confines of His own house. Against those who claimed to be a part of that house. Against the people and the priests who claimed to be “of God”. Should we not heed this example? Should we not be getting our own house in order and more importantly keeping His house in order?! Perhaps it is time we backed off our judgments against those who do not claim our beliefs. Perhaps it is time we focus on our own relationships with God and the edifying and admonishing of ourselves and our brothers in accordance with the word of OUR LORD.
If someone - i.e. a non-christian comes to our church and behaves in a way contrary to the house, they should be first warned they are in error, then if they do not comply with the rules of the house, they should be asked to leave, and if necessary escorted out. But who are we to judge people who don’t believe in our God?! It is our responsibility to inform them and offer them the option of Christ’s grace. But ultimately it is their decision and until they are a member of the house, they are under no obligation to live by the same rules and values that we as christians do.
Yet if we simply worked on living according to Christ’s instructions, as He states, “You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you” - John 15:14, would the blessings that God has promised to fall on us not make us a peculiar people indeed? And would people not see that peaceful overflowing of joy and happiness that Christ provides to those that follow Him and say to themselves, “I wonder where they got that from?? That’s what I want.”? Is not a living example more impressive and profound and motivating then a declaration of judgment and scolding and scathing threats of hellfire? Should we not be viewed as hypocrites if we spend our days condemning the actions of people who have not embraced Christ when we don’t in a methodically disciplined way act like christians?? What would you think if you were them?
Christ’s singular act of aggression and violence in the whole of His ministry speaks not only of what should incite our righteous indignation the most; it not only tells us where
our ire should be focused and directed; it also, by way of comparison and context, perhaps tells us who we are to leave well enough to their own vices until they choose to join the family. We are to follow His lead. He taught all over to all kinds of people. He told them what was right and what was wrong. He told them what their options were. But it was in His house and ONLY in His house that He laid a whip to their backs and demanded correction and righteousness in a physical manner. Take heed, christian - should we direct our focus as our Lord did? Or do our motives and ideas of right and wrong which are many times contingent upon our own convenience, impede our imitation of Christ?
On a side note, Christ ran the offenders out of the house, but He did not pursue them past the borders of it. When the enemy was expelled, Christ put down His arms and began to teach and heal the people.
Finally, I think there is a verse that should be thoughtfully considered by all Christians everywhere. We know from the early portion of the Gospels, that Christ instructed His disciples very clearly on their method when He said to them, "Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way..." - Luke 10:3-4
However, in Luke's account of The Last Supper in chapter 22, we have this instruction: 35 "And He said unto them, 'When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything?' And they said, 'Nothing.' 36 Then said He unto them, 'But NOW, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. 37 For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in Me, "And He was reckoned among the transgressors:" for the things concerning Me have an end.' 38 And they said, 'Lord, behold here are two swords.' And He said unto them, 'It is enough.'"