I was having an online discussion with someone the other day about how the Matthew 21 and John 2 passages regarding Jesus cleansing the temple of those selling sacrifices and money changers applies to churches today; his thought was that it meant nothing should be bought or sold anywhere on church property today. I disagreed and wrote the following:
I actually believe that the money changers in the temple courts is an often misunderstood passage. Many interpret it to mean that nothing should ever be bought or sold on church property, but I don’t believe that to be the case. There were two things going on that I believe triggered Christ’s righteous anger.
The first had to do with sacrifices; the ideal sacrifice came out of ones own home/farm. For example, a family would raise a perfect lamb and then sacrifice it. It would represent a real cost, both practically and even emotionally. Any sacrifice brought to the temple had to be approved by the priests as worthy of sacrificing. The priests had gotten to the point of finding faults with the animals people were bringing, a great frustration for all. Meanwhile, they (the priests) had begun selling acceptable animals at an increased cost. They were essentially holding people hostage; rejecting their sacrifices and forcing them to purchase overpriced ‘approved’ animals so that they could be forgiven. People were buying their sacrifices instead of risking the rejection of the ones they brought, effectively changing the worship practice and making the sacrificial system something purchased instead of a meaningful practice with preparation starting in the home.
The second had to do with the temple court itself. While a Jewish person could still proceed in further into the temple courts, the Gentile Court was where the buying and selling was happening. That particular court was as far as a Gentile follower of God could pass. It was intended to be a place for them to worship, to experience God, to grow in their faith. Instead, the money changers and sacrifice sellers had turned it into a marketplace. They had effectively closed the door to non-Jewish people experiencing God at the temple.
The takeaway to me is that the core issue was worship. Jesus was consistently angry with people that created barriers for approaching God. Through their actions, the commercial activities shut down people’s access to worship, and their full experience of what God had intended. It would be like us turning out sanctuaries today into a marketplace instead of a place of worship. Selling resources, charging for coffee, etc., in parts of the building without taking away from our worship services or Christian education classes is a far different scenario than what happened at the temple. The heart is different, the motivations are different, and worship is not obstructed.