Lohmeyer points out that Jesus words and actions in the temple cleansing scene are both strange and revolutionary. First, the portion of the “temple” that Jesus cleanses would hardly have been considered the temple proper in the first century. Most Jews would have viewed the court of the Gentiles as a compromise and/or syncretistic bone tossed to the pluralistic culture they were living in. Thus, for Jesus to go there and call it “God’s House” is rather startling. Secondly, Jesus insists that God’s house be called a “house of prayer.” This is from a prophecy in Isaiah 56:7, and thus it is not a particularly original concept, but again, given what the temple was for (i.e. sacrifice and ritual cleansing), Jesus’ reference suggests a transformation of the house of God. Notice too that Jesus’ actions (e.g. knocking over tables, driving out the merchants, etc.) disrupt (at least momentarily) the sacrificial system. Both his actions and words suggest that there is coming a new way to be ritually clean and a new way to have one’s sins forgiven. It will no longer be found in the other precincts of the temple where various washings and sacrifices occur. Instead, it will occur in the court of the gentiles where people gather for prayer. Thirdly, the rest of the quotation from Isaiah is that God’s house will be a house of prayer “for all nations,” and this is particularly important for the location of these actions. Jesus is acting like the Court of the Gentiles is the center of the Temple, and renaming it God’s “house of prayer for all nations” indicates that Jesus is ushering in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Not only will there be a new way of ceremonial cleanness and purity, a new avenue for the forgiveness of sins, but this way will be opened not only to the Jews but to all nations.
Far from this scene being a moralistic parable about not selling stuff at church or the greed of the first century priesthood, this story is the revelation of God’s purpose to rebuild and transform his Temple, to make a new house, a house of prayer for Jews and Gentiles where all nations can be forgiven, cleansed, and made holy.
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