Some years ago I was asked the question: “If rebellion is an unbiblical idea, then were the Reformers wrong for protesting against the Catholic Church? Were the signers of the constitution wrong for revolting against the English?”
We read in Matthew 5 that Christians are to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. We read in Mark 12 that we are to render onto Caesar what is Caesars in the form of Taxes. Paul takes this a step further in Romans 13 by instructing Christians to submit to governing authorities as God’s tool to keep the peace among the people. We read in 1 Timothy 2 that we are to pray for Kings that they might live quiet and peaceful lives. We read more of the same in 1 Peter 2 with an emphasis on our good behavior and honor of all being the way to win the hearts of those we come in contact with.
So what gives when we come to a passage about Jesus overturning tables in the Temple of Jerusalem in Matthew 21?
If we are to be Christ-followers, does this mean we should revolt and overturn tables when we disagree with authority?
Friends in Christ, rebellion is not the way of the Lord. So what was Jesus doing in the Temple? He had just entered Jerusalem for His Triumphal Entry to bring peace. The symbolism of riding on a donkey suggests He is the prophesied Messiah spoken of in Zachariah 9:9. But when He comes to Jerusalem He finds the Temple, the place and symbol of the religion of Israel, being misused by those who would make money off unsuspecting worshippers. Now, the Temple was supposed to be a place of sacrifice and so therefore the people needed to buy animals, salt, oil, and such for sacrifice at a fair market value according to the Mishnah in Seqalim 1:3 and 2:4 and that these must be purchased with a Hebrew Shekel according to the Law in Exodus 30:11-14. But the money changers set up shop in the wrong location and were extracting a surcharge from the money exchange to make a profit off of people who simply came to worship. And so Jesus announced, “This is a house of prayer but you have made this a den of robbers.” And He made a whip and overturned the tables and drove the people out and started teaching in the Temple courts, restoring the Temple to its intended purpose.
When asked about this by the Scribes and Pharisees who wanted to find charges against Him to put Jesus to death, the Jewish leadership asked, “By what authority do you do these things?” Jesus’ response in the four gospels (when you piece them together) is to hint at His divinity. In other words, Jesus came to bring a spiritual revival to Jerusalem: (1) the Temple was being misused; (2) the Jewish leadership not only allowed this but was getting rich off of it; and so (3) God’s Son came with God’s authority to cleanse the Temple and restore it to His intended purposes.
So would I have had the authority to cleanse the Temple?
No, because I am not the Messiah. I am not the Author of truth. I am not the Author of morality. I am not the Author of the religion of Israel. And so therefore I am not the Judge who can cleanse the Temple. But Jesus claimed to be the Author of Truth, the Author of morality, and the Author of the Faith of Abraham. Therefore Jesus had Authority to cleanse the Temple.
This was a unique event and there is no other event like it in history. Jesus is a unique person and there is no other person with the Authority He carried.
Jesus literally cleansed the Temple and now He spiritually cleanses the hearts of the people of God, which is the new Temple.
Notice that when the Temple guards came to arrest Jesus, Peter cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant and Jesus’ response was to tell Peter to put away His sword (John 18:10-11). And then Jesus willingly was taken away, beaten, tortured, condemned, and crucified – but this brought a spiritual victory. Peter learned his lesson and taught Christians to walk in Jesus’ footsteps in these same manner of suffering when trials come (1 Peter 2:21-25). This is the way of the cross, the way of Jesus, and what has cause Christianity to become one of the most powerful world religions affecting 1/5 of the world’s population.
May mercy and revival of the heart be what compels you in situations of testimony for Jesus. And then let Jesus bring about the revolution in hearts as spiritual awakening begins. This is how tables of the heart will truly be overturned. But this needs to be done by Jesus and not by us.