Mark 11:15-19 – The Temple Incident

In the so-called temple-cleansing, we have, apparently, prophetic demonstration or, one could say, provocation, in which it was not a matter of driving out all those who sold and the money changers – for such an action would not be possible without a large contingent of troops and a corresponding general riot, and would inevitably have led to intervention on the part of the temple guard and the Romans. We are dealing, rather, with a demonstrative condemnation of their trade, a condemnation which was directed at the same time against the ruling temple aristocracy, which derived profit from it…. Such an episode did not call forth further intervention on the part of the occupation forces, but it did make the hierarchy the deadly foes of Jesus. Martin Hengel, Was Jesus a Revolutionist?, 17-18.

In Mark, this event is framed by the curse of the Fig Tree and provides the clues we need to fully interpret that parabolic action. In fact, this action is also symbolic. Jesus arrives at the Temple as the messiah, inspects the Temple and finds it corrupt. Therefore begins that judgment by causing a disruption in the area used for selling sacrificial animals.

Note that the Temple area is huge, 450 meters by 300. Craig Evans (WBC) thinks that it is unlikely that Jesus completely disrupted all commerce in the area, most people were not even aware Jesus was making a demonstration in one area of the Temple. The action is symbolic. By overturning tables and causing the chaos that he does, he challenges the religious authorities to be obedient to scripture by making the Temple a house of prayer and not a den of thieves.

Is this an attack on a corrupt priesthood? Were the priests corrupt? The Qumran Community thought so, referring to the high priest as the Wicked Priest (1QpHab 1:13, 8:9. 9:9, 11:4). The high priest has gotten wealthy off the temple and defiled the sanctuary of God (1QpHab 12:8-9). Testament of Moses 7:6-10 is another condemnation of the first century priesthood. The Testament of Moses was probably written about A.D. 30, and the Habakkuk scroll from Qumran dates more than 100 years prior to that. Josephus accuses the priests of bribery (Antiq. 20.9.4) and violence (Antiq. 20.8.8).

Jesus is functioning here as a classic prophet from the Hebrew Bible. Criticism of the temple has a grand tradition in the prophets, especially in Jeremiah (7:14, 34; 12:7; 22:5; 22:5; 26:9). There seems to be a real parallel between Jeremiah 7:11 and Mark 11:17. As with Jeremiah, this confrontation with the temple authority can lead only to physical danger and arrest, but at this point the authorities cannot take Jesus for fear of the crowd.

Jesus’ criticism of the temple does not end here, the conflict with the Pharisees is entirely concerned with problems of the temple:

  • The Parable of the Tenants has the priestly aristocracy losing their place of privilege
  • The challenge to Jesus on paying taxes is radical – give to god what is God’s, not necessarily via the temple tax!
  • Even the Widow’s mite is a condemnation of the giving of the wealthy.

The “Temple Action” is therefore a public sign of Jesus’ authority as a prophet of God.  He stands in the tradition of Jeremiah and Ezekiel who condemned the priesthood and Temple authority for their half-hearted worship of God.  Jesus is challenging the worshipers in the Temple to become True Israel, but is he proposing separation from the Temple?  Does Jesus preform a symbolic action (like Jeremiah) which calls for the reformation of the Temple?

9 thoughts on “Mark 11:15-19 – The Temple Incident

  1. It seems probable that Jesus’ clearing of the temple was intended to be a sign of his authority as a prophet of God. Possibly even a higher probability that Jesus had intentions for this act to represent his royalty and Lordship over the people. One thing Jews were expecting to come with the Messiah was cleansing or restoration of the Temple. “We don’t, perhaps, always realize that any such action was staking an implicitly royal claim: it was kings, real or aspiring, who had authority over the Temple” (Wright 127). Another account of Jesus clearing the Temple is found in John 2. In this more detailed account, it’s evident Jesus is proclaiming his authority and the significance of the Temple. Written in 1 Corinthians 1, Jews demand miraculous signs, they do the same here with Jesus asking him to verify the authenticity of his authority through a miracle. “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). Considering it took 46 years to build the temple he told them to destroy, that would certainly qualify as miraculous. Neither the disciples nor any others realized Jesus was referring to his own death and resurrection. His body represents the temple. Mark 14:58 and Matthew 26:61 show that Jesus did make this statement about the rebuilding of the Temple. On the cross there are two accounts of Jesus being mocked on the cross about this. Clearly Jesus’ statement leaves an impact on these people. Jesus did not want separation from the Temple. Jesus’ death and resurrection leads to the replacement of Jewish temple worship with faith in Jesus as Messiah.

  2. I believe that Jesus’ ‘temple action’ was intended to show his authority as a prophet of God who had reason and authority to redeem God’s corrupted house. Throughout the Old Testament we see the Temple referred to as a place for God’s named to be honored (Deut. 12:5) and for God to dwell among his people (2 Sam. 7:13). “It was, in particular, the place where God himself had promised to come and live” (Wright 132). In Jesus’ day, the temple had become a place of business where records of debts were kept and the rich took advantage of the poor. This corruption of God’s house by religious leaders defied the holy nature of the temple. Jews were supposed to experience the temple as a place where heaven and earth met, however the temple’s holiness was being undermined by human greed. Because the visible joining place had been corrupted, Jesus came to establish a new one. The scene in the temple signals the beginning of a new intersection of heaven and earth, the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

  3. I agree with Scott. It was time to “clean house” and start fresh. The temple was suppose to be a holy place and as Scott put it, and intersection of heaven and earth. The death of something allows there to be new life or rebirth, the same as Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was also a true showing of his power and how serious he took the temple’s purpose. I see it as if I was to walk into my home and I were to find people destroying it and ruining it. I would be greatly upset and try to remove them very fast.

  4. I definitely agree that Jesus’ act of clearing out the temple was a demonstration of his authority and a fulfillment of prophecy. But, I wouldn’t say that Jesus was suggesting a separation from the temple, but rather to build a new temple that we would be close to. The temple that he said would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days was his body, as Caprari said. The temple was the intersection of heaven and earth, but now as God incarnate Jesus is where heaven met earth. Jesus brought the kingdom in his life and salvation in his death. Devotion to God and cleansing from sins no longer required the sacrificial systems of the temple. If you want to call that a separation from the temple then let it be. But if Jesus body is the temple, as it is, I would suggest that Jesus makes us to each be temples of the Holy Spirit through his sacrifice for us upon belief of him. I wouldn’t say separation from the temple, but that we are temples. Heaven and earth can now meet as we share the gospel and God to the world. But not only are we these temples bridging the gap from the world to Christ, but Jesus is the ultimate bridge to eternity, to restoration and reconciliation to God. He is the new temple. Which I would suggest we wouldn’t want to be separated from, but from the old system of sacrifices because he is the universal eternal sacrifice.

  5. I do believe that the clearing of the temple is Jesus’ way of showing his authority as a prophet of God. Jesus has every right to point out that the Temple is a symbol in which everywhere you should go or anything you should do should be honoring to God. I think that it is very important to have one’s heart in the right place before they would even consider worshiping God. Jesus knew who all the luke-warm people were as they sat in the Temple “worshiping.” It is a very dangerous place to be when worshiping but your heart is not where it needs to be, because when that happens, it turns out to be more of a show then it would be really worshiping and honoring God, especially when it was a place like the Temple, a place where one specifically goes to honor God and show your dedication to him. I think that Jesus does make it a symbol when he “transforms” the Temple. He could be using it as a way to show people that he is wiping sins away and restoring the old to new.

  6. I think that Jesus act of driving out the people selling and trading money in the temple is extremely symbolic. When Jesus did this he was fulfilling a messianic purpose to state that the temple has been corrupted. I do not think that Jesus was calling for a reformation of the temple, because he knew that he was going to change the way that people were saved from sin. “This is when what happens to space in the Temple and to time on the Sabbath happens, within the life of Jesus, to the material world itself or rather, more specifically; to Jesus’s physical body itself.” (Wright, 143) The spirit of God did not dwell in the temple any longer, but in Christ who is God. He says that he will destroy the temple, and rebuild it in three days. When he threw out the money changers, he threw out the old system. He performed a symbolic act that would change the way people worshiped. In Straus book he suggests that this is the act that pushes the Religious leaders to accuse Jesus. This act of violence is what gets Jesus crucified. But I think that it is also meaningful to look at what happened after, ““The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. The leading priests and teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, ‘Praise God for the son of David.’” (Matthew 21:14-15 NLT)

  7. I agree with a lot of my fellow classmates above! I think that the “Temple Action” was meant to show Jesus’ authority as a prophet of God. I think through Jesus’ action he was reminding the people of Israel that the Temple is a place for prayer and worship of God. The Temple was a place for sacrifice no a place for selling and money changers. Strauss mentions that the Jesus cleansing out the temple could be a symbolic act of judgment (481). I do not know if Jesus intentions were to propose a separation from the Temple. But I believe that Jesus was showing Israel how corrupt they were through their actions and allowing money chargers and sellers to be in the Temple.

  8. It seems possible that the clearance of the temple by Jesus was supposed to be a symbol of his legitimacy as God’s prophet. Perhaps also a greater likelihood of Jesus having ambitions to represent his royalty and Lordship over the people with this act. One thing the Jews wanted to arrive with the Messiah was the Temple’s cleansing or reconstruction. The temple had been a marketplace in Jesus’ day, where lists of loans were kept and the wealthy took advantage of the poor. This abuse of the house of God by religious figures defied the temple ‘s sacred existence. Jews were meant to see the temple as a place where heaven and earth meet, but human greed destroyed the holiness of the temple. Jesus came to make a new one because the visible joining position had been tainted. The temple scene signifies the advent of a new intersection of heaven and earth, the creation on earth of the Kingdom of God. When we spread the gospel and God with the universe, Heaven and Earth will now meet. But not only are we bridging the distance between the earth and Christ in these churches, but Jesus is the greatest path to eternity, to God’s redemption and peace. He is the shrine, the latest one. What I would say we wouldn’t like to be removed from, just that he is the universal everlasting sacrifice, from the old scheme of sacrifices.

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