Matthew 21(12–17)


Last week we read how the Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey and the crowds welcomed him as the Son of David. He is King David’s greater Son and God’s Anointed King who had come to save his people. But he had not come to save his people by raising an army and leading them into battle against the Romans. He had come, not to kill, but to be killed. He had come to give up his life on the cross to save us from sin and death so that all who are united with him by faith may receive forgiveness and peace with God.

However, the time for him to die had not yet come. That would happen a week after his entrance into Jerusalem. And so, today’s reading is not about his death on the cross, but it’s about the time he went up to the temple and drove away all who had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers.

Verses 12 and 13

This story is also recorded in Mark and Luke. John, in his gospel, also records a time when the Lord Jesus went into the temple and made a whip and used it to drive people from the temple area, because they were selling animals and exchanging money in the temple. Many of the commentators suggest that John is recording the same event as Matthew, Mark and Luke. However, the event John records occurs near the beginning of the Lord’s public ministry, whereas the event Matthew, Mark and Luke record occurs at the end of his public ministry. It’s possible that John moved the episode to make it fit in with what he wants to tell us about the Lord Jesus. However, the two stories are not quite the same and so it’s perhaps more likely that the Lord drove people out of the temple on two occasions: one time near the beginning of his ministry and another time near the end of his ministry.

When Matthew refers to people who were buying and selling, he means they were buying and selling animals which would be offered up to God as a sacrifice. The sellers were providing a service for the worshippers. If you wanted to offer the Lord a bull or goat, it would have been inconvenient for you to bring that bull or goat with you from the family farm located miles away from Jerusalem. It was much more convenient to wait until you reached Jerusalem before buying an animal for the sacrifice. And that’s the service the sellers were providing. Furthermore, the people who were exchanging money were also providing a service for the worshippers, because the temple tax, which everyone had to pay, had to be paid in a particular currency. And so, the money-changers were there to change the currency you might use at home into the currency accepted in the temple.

So, the sellers and money-changers were providing a service for the worshippers. The only problem was that they had moved their business into the temple area. The temple area was divided into several main parts: there was the court of the Gentiles; and then there was the court of the women; and then there was the court of Israel; and then, beyond the court of Israel was the temple itself, containing the main hall and the Most Holy Place. It’s likely the sellers and money-changers had set up their stalls in the court of the Gentiles, where Gentiles who wanted to worship the Lord could come. But how could they worship the Lord when the area was filled with people doing business? Think of what it’s like when you visit a market and how noisy it can be and how busy it can be. If it’s crowded, you’re having to squeeze past people and other people get in your way and it can be bedlam. So how could anyone be expected to pray to God in that kind of environment?

That’s what was happening here. And the Lord therefore drove out those who were buying and selling and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, which were also used for sacrifices. And in verse 13 the Lord quotes from Isaiah 56:7 and from Jeremiah 7:11. Isaiah 56 is about how the nations will come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord and the temple in Jerusalem will be for them a house of prayer. In other words, the prophet anticipated a time when foreigners will come to Jerusalem to worship God. But then in Jeremiah 7, the Lord complains about his people because they have turned the temple into a den of robbers. It had become a den of robbers, because the people had turned away from the Lord and they were worshipping false gods, and they were doing what is evil in God’s sight. And the Lord Jesus combines those two verses from the Old Testament and applies them to what was going on in the temple at that time. The temple was to be a place of prayer for the Gentiles who had heard about God and who had come to worship him. But God’s own people had ruined the house of prayer by turning it into a market. And since the Lord refers to them as robbers, then presumably that means they’re not even conducting their business in an honest way; and the sellers and money-changers are taking advantage of the worshippers. And so, the Lord Jesus drove them out.

I mentioned on Sunday that the temple in Jerusalem recalls the Garden of Eden, which was a temple-garden, because it was the place where Adam and Eve met the Lord. And Adam was to be priest over that temple-garden and he was given the task of working it and taking care of it. That’s what we read in Genesis 2:15. But the word translated ‘take care of’ really means ‘guard’. It was Adam’s job to guard the Garden of Eden and to prevent anything evil from coming in and spoiling it.

Adam, of course, failed to guard the temple-garden and he allowed the serpent to come into it. If he had been a faithful priest, he would have diven the devil away. But he failed and he allowed the devil to speak lies to Eve and to tempt her to disobey the Lord.

And then, years later in the days of Moses, the priests and Levites were commanded to guard the tabernacle in the wilderness. When the Israelites camped around the tabernacle, which was God’s dwelling place at that time, the priests and Levites placed their tents between the tabernacle and the rest of Israel to keep away anyone who was unclean and who would spoil God’s holy dwelling place. So, they were given a similar task to Adam. And clearly the priests and Levites who were alive when the Lord Jesus was on the earth were failing to guard the temple. Otherwise they would have kept the sellers and money-changers out of the temple.

And so, here comes the Lord Jesus now. And he does what Adam failed to do. And he does what the priests and Levites had failed to do. The priests and Levites should have kept the sellers and money-changers out of the temple area; and their presence in the temple was spoiling the purity of God’s house. And therefore the priests and Levites had let the temple become a den for robbers, when they should have guarded the temple and let it be a place of prayer for the Israelites and Gentiles. But the Lord Jesus, who is the Second Adam, and our Great High Priest, drove the sellers and money-changers out of the temple in order to keep it holy.

And what we read here anticipates what we read in Revelation 21 about the New Jerusalem which is the church in glory. We’re told at the end of Revelation 21 that the nations will be there. So, people from every nation will be part of the New Jerusalem; and they will worship God there as members of God’s people. But nothing impure will ever enter the New Jerusalem, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. The Lord Jesus will keep out all those who do not belong and who will only make the New Jerusalem unholy and impure.

None of us deserves to be there, because all of us are sinners and we are impure because of Adam and because of the things we have done. And yet, through faith in Christ we are washed and cleansed and made holy; and, for the sake of Christ our Saviour, we can look forward to coming into God’s presence in the life to come to be with him forever.

Verses 14 to 17

Notice now from our reading that the blind and the lame came to the Lord Jesus and he healed them.

The blind and the lame probably gathered at the temple in order to beg for money from the worshippers. So, think of the time in Acts 3 when Peter and John went up to the temple to pray and they met that lame man on the way who was being brought to the temple to beg. ‘Silver or gold I do not have’, Peter said, ‘but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ And the man was healed. That’s from Acts 3.

And here in Matthew 21, the blind and the lame came to Jesus Christ himself and he healed them. By healing them like this, the Lord was making clear that he was indeed the Christ, God’s Anointed King, sent by God to deliver his people from their sin and misery. He was making this clear because the Old Testament foretold that when the new age of salvation arrives, the eyes of the blind will be opened and the lame will leap like deer.

And the children in the temple area were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ So, they were repeating what the crowds had said when the Lord rode into Jerusalem. And as I said last week, ‘hosanna’ was an exclamation of joy and gladness. And when the people shouted it, they were saying they were glad that the Son of David had come; and they were praising God because of him. And the children were now echoing their words. And Jesus is the Son of David. He is King David’s Greater Son whose kingdom will never end.

But the chief priests and the teachers of the law were indignant. They did not believe in him, even though everything he did demonstrated that he was indeed the Son of David and he had come from God to be our King and Saviour. They did not believe, because their hearts were hard. And instead of bowing before Christ the King, they only became angry.

And they think there’s something wrong in what the children were saying. But the Lord Jesus makes clear that the children were right to be glad. After all, hadn’t God foretold in Psalm 8 that the lips of children and infants would praise him? And here they are now, praising God, for sending the Lord Jesus into the world to be our King and Saviour.

And it’s interesting to note that in Psalm 8, which the Lord now quotes, the words about God ordaining praise from the lips of children and infants are followed by these words: ‘because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.’ That is: God has ordained praise from children because of his enemies who are not praising him. And the point is that the chief priests and the teachers of the law should have praised God for sending the Lord Jesus into the world to be our King and Saviour. They should have praised God. But since they would not praise him, God has instead opened the mouths of these children to praise him for sending the Saviour.

And we too should praise God for sending the Lord Jesus into the world to be our King and Saviour. And we should pray that God will enable children and infants and men and women around the world to give him the praise he deserves for sending his Son to save them.