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What we need to realize first of all is the fact that animals were not kept in the temple itself. Neither was buying and selling occurring in the temple itself. No person was allowed into the temple except the very priests. The buying and selling of animals and the exchanging of currency occurred in the Court of Gentiles - the furthest district of the temple grounds. The next thing you must realize is the fact that the priests who were of Sadducee sect [Acts 4:1; 5:17] did not turn the temple courts into a common market place where you would go shopping. They kept the animals allowed for sacrifice at the temple grounds so that those who came from far or those who did not have an animal for sacrifice could buy some. Since the only currency in which the sacrificial victim could have been bought was a Tyrian coin they had money changers available to convert the common money into Tyrian coin. The money changers were also there in order to collect the temple tax prescribed in the Jewish Pentateuch. The comment in The New American Bible in reference to Matthew 21:12 also acknowledges these facts:
“The activities going on in the Temple area WERE NOT SECULAR but connected with the TEMPLE WORSHIP. Thus Jesus’ attack on those so engaged and his charge that they were making God’s house of prayer a den of thieves constituted a claim to authority over the religious practices of Israel and were a challenge to the priestly authorities. These activities were carried on in the court of the Gentiles, the outermost court of the Temple area. Animals for sacrifice were sold; the doves were for those who could not afford a more expansive offering [Lev. 5:7]. Tables of the money changers: only the coinage of Tyre could be used for the purchases; other money had to be exchanged for that.”
In regards to John 2:14 we read:
“Oxen, sheep and doves: intended for sacrifice. The doves were the offerings of the poor [Lev. 5:7]. Money changers: for a Temple tax paid by every male Jew more than nineteen years of age, with a half sheckel coin [Ex. 30:11-16], in Tyrian currency”.
Virtually all biblical scholars agree that activities going on in the temple courts in Jesus' day were perfectly lawful as far as the Jewish Pentateuch was concerned. In Deuteronomy 14:22-27 we find the command that those who live too far from the chosen place should take the silver with them and buy the sacrificial animals at the chosen place. Since the Jewish Pentateuch which is also recognized by the Christian Church sanctions sacrificial cult and buying sacrificial animals at the chosen place - why then did Jesus take such a drastic action? Why did he charge the temple clergy of turning the temple into a den of robbers? The answer is obvious. He objected to the sacrificial cult in general. He agreed with Jeremiah that the sacrificial cult was the product of the lying pen of the scribes. It will also become apparent that Jesus regarded the killing of animals as murder. Jesus did not think that the temple should be Jewish only. Nor that it should be a place of sacrifice. He stated that the temple should be The House of Prayer for ALL NATIONS. Jesus believed in the synagogue and not temple. In the synagogue prayer was offered as a sacrifice. In the temple animals were butchered. In the House of PRAYER all nations should participate. In the temple only those of Jewish ancestry were allowed to worship. Gentiles were allowed in the outermost court. When condemning the activities in the temple courts Jesus referred to two Old Testament prophets: Isaiah and Jeremiah - who both opposed the sacrificial cult:
“Is it not written: My house shall be called a HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL NATIONS? But you have made it A DEN OF ROBBERS” [Mark 11:17].
When Jesus stated that temple should be called the “House of Prayer for all Nations” he referred to Isaiah 56:7. Jesus emphasized that ALL NATIONS - that is, GENTILES have the right to participate in the HOUSE OF PRAYER. The second statement “den of robbers” comes from Jeremiah 7:11 - the very chapter where Jeremiah claimed that sacrificial cult did not come from God 7:21-23. What did Jesus mean when he stated that the Sadducees [the priests] transformed the House of Prayer into a DEN of ROBBERS? The answer is quite astonishing. The word den has been translated from the Greek word spelaion - number #4693 in Strong’s and means: a grotto, a cavern. Grotto means: a cave. Cavern means: a hollow cave. The Greek word spelaion has been translated den and cave by the King James translators in the New Testament. The word den itself means a cave. The word den in Jeremiah 7:11 comes from a Hebrew word mearah - number #4631 which means: dark cavern or cave. This Hebrew word has been translated cave, den and hole in the Old Testament of the King James Bible. In the New Testament of the King James Bible the word den appears three times. Each time referring to Jesus' statement a DEN of robbers. The word cave appears only in John 11:38 in reference to the tomb of Lazarus - since his grave was a cave. In the Old Testament [according to Jewish tradition of the Masoretic text] we read that Abraham bought a field with a CAVE. This cave became the grave or burial place:
“Afterwards Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre [which is at Hebron] in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it were legally transferred over to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site” [Genesis 23:19-20].
Abraham himself was buried in the same CAVE [Genesis 25:10]. Isaac, Rebekah and Jacob were also buried in the same cave [Genesis 49:29-32]. Jesus charged the priests of transforming the House of Prayer into a GRAVEYARD. By perpetually cremating the holocausts on the altar - the temple became the graveyard. But what did Jesus actually want to express by the word robbers? The English word robber comes from the word rob which means: to seize and carry off the property of by unlawful violence or threat of violence. This word is distinguished from the word thief in that it involves violence whereas the word thief only implies stealing. The word robbers in Jeremiah 7:11 comes from the Hebrew word periyts - number #6530 in Strong’s and means: violent ones i.e. TYRANTS. This word is also translated destroyers and ravenous in the King James Bible. In the New Testament the word robber has been translated from the Greek word leistes used to render the Hebrew word. It is number #3027 in Strong’s and means: to plunder, a brigand. The word brigand means: a robber in a band of outlaws. An outlaw is a violent robber who resorts to murder. When the temple guards were sent to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus stated:
“Am I a robber, said Jesus, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?” [Mark 14:48].
Robbers were confronted with swords and clubs because they were violent ones. In John 19:40 we are told that Barabbas who was released instead of Jesus was a robber [leistes]. In Luke 23:18 we are plainly told that Barabbas was cast into prison because of rebellion and murder. Barabbas was a ROBBER, that is, MURDERER. Jesus thus charged the priests with murder. He claimed that by perpetually butchering the innocent animals on the sacrificial altar they have become the violent ones. By perpetual slaughter and cremation of the victims they have transformed the temple into a graveyard. After Jesus took control of the temple he immediately allowed access to the blind and the lame.
“The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them” [Matthew 21:14 The New American Bible].
Now please note the comment on this text from the same Bible:
“According to 2 Samuel 5:8 [LXX] the blind and the lame were forbidden to enter “the house of the LORD”, the temple”.
According to 2 Samuel 5:8 David hated the blind and the lame and barred them from entering the temple.
“David said on that day, Whoever smites the Jebusites, let him get up through the water shaft and SMITE THE LAME AND THE BLIND WHO ARE DETESTED BY DAVID’S SOUL. So they say, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house” [The Amplified Bible].
The Masoretic Text uses the word ‘bayith’ which has been rendered ‘house’ and ‘temple’ in the King James and Amplified Bible. The Good News Bible follows the LXX, that is, Greek Septuagint and renders the text of 2 Samuel 5:8 in the following manner:
“That day David said to his men, ‘Does anybody here hate the Jebusites as much as I do? Enough to kill them? Then go up through the water tunnel and attack those poor blind cripples’. That is why it is said, The BLIND AND THE CRIPPLED CANNOT ENTER THE LORD’S HOUSE”.
Jesus nullified this rule and allowed the blind and the lame access to the temple. There he displayed his power by healing them. These are the last healings recorded by Matthew. Luke states that after cleansing the temple, Jesus taught there every day. The priests wanted to kill him but feared the people who were on his side:
“And he taught every day in the temple. But the high priests and the scribes and the elders of the people sought to get rid of him; But they were not able to find what to do to him; for all the people gathered around him to hear him” [Luke 19:47-48].
Mark tells us that after Jesus took full control of the temple he refused to allow anyone to bring anything into the temple:
“And he would not allow any man to bring goods into the temple” [Mark 11:16 Lamsa’s translation from Peshita].
The Greek uses the word skeuos which means: vessel, utensil, implement. Jesus interrupted normal activities of the temple. In doing so he interfered with the daily sacrifice. Since he drove out all sacrificial animals and refused anyone to bring the same into the temple, he obviously made it impossible for the priests to indulge in sacrificial rites. If Jesus identified with the Jewish Pentateuch and the prescription for the daily sacrifice and other sacrificial offerings then he would not have interrupted the same. In our canonical gospels we have an incomplete preservation of Jesus' statement regarding the temple. It is stated that he would destroy the temple and make another in three days. The testimony however does not fully harmonize. In the Gospel of Thomas however it stated that Jesus said:
“I will destroy this house [temple] and no man will be able to rebuild it”.
This statement must be authentic and original. The Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate who was originally a Christian but later abandoned Christianity and reverted back to Paganism actually believed that Jesus said that the temple would never be rebuilt. In order to prove Jesus wrong he gave a command to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. He charged many Jews from the Roman Empire to return to Jerusalem and build the temple. He also provided materials. When the workers went on site to start building the temple, God intervened supernaturally to prevent its construction. They attempted three times to rebuild it and each time there was a supernatural intervention so that the project was abandoned. The events were recorded by Church Fathers and the Roman historian. The facts are stated in many books that deal with supernatural and unexplained mysteries as well as the writings of the several Church Fathers. It is now more than 1900 years since the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. To date it was not rebuilt. We have the word of Jesus that it will never be rebuilt since God had enough of sacrificial cultus.