Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbers’ den.” The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching. (Mark 11:15-18)
This is the second time Jesus came through and cleaned out the temple. It didn’t take long before the first clean out was forgotten and the den of robbers moved right back in and took up business as usual once all the hype of the event calmed down. Even after this temple is destroyed, even after the church is birthed, as the church becomes “popular” and as little churches pop up everywhere, the dens of robbers simply see a new opportunity to market and profit off the name of God. We just have to read the epistles to see this truth and to see how quickly it came about, as well as how widely an issue it became, as I am almost certain that every letter in the New Testament touches on it.
What we see taking place in the temple in the Gospels and in the New Testament church is no different than the men who marketed their slave girl in Acts 16. This girl was held in bondage by demons, and by these men, because they profited from her bondage. When Paul and Silas set her free of the demon that bound her the men who controlled her could no longer profit from her. Therefore, they rise up in anger against those who set her free.
What we see taking place in the temple in the Gospels and in the New Testament church is no different than the man who made his living from selling shrines of Artemis in Acts 19 and who rose up in anger against Paul. This man also gathered others who made their living and profited from the false religion that Paul was exposing as lies as he preached the Truth of God. These gathered men profited from the lie. They profited from the bondage of people believing the lie, and their profit was more important to them than the truth and seeing people set free.
In the Gospels it was the Jews making profit off the manipulation of the requirement of the Law of God. In the the book of Acts it was the Gentiles making profit off the manipulation of the recommended worship to idols. In the New Testament letters it was false teachers making profit off the manipulation of the gospel and the grace and mercy of God and the name of Jesus Christ His Son.
All of these men see the bondage and brokenness of the hearts and souls of the hurting in this world and they use their wounds against them. They see their bondage and they use that bondage to fatten their own pockets, to build their own kingdoms, to hold others down so that they can convince themselves that they are the ones who are rising.
God has all the power in the world. Jesus could have flexed His strength and demanded everyone to bow to Him and destroyed any who didn’t with a simple glance from His eyes, but He didn’t. He never used the power that He knew He had to intimidate, tower over, pressure, oppress, manipulate, or control another human being in any way. He used His power to control Himself.
He used His power to cast out darkness. He used His power to lift up as many who would come to Him out of whatever pits of destruction or chains of bondage that had them overcome. He used His power to strengthen the weak, to give knowledge to the ignorant, truth to the deceived, freedom to the oppressed, and sight to the blind.
Jesus didn’t need the approval of men because He had the approval of God. He didn’t fear what came out of the dark because He walked in the Light. He didn’t need to keep people silent because He had no lies to hide. He had no bottom line to protect because His riches were not of this world.
He could not be silenced. He could not be intimated. He could not be manipulated. He could not be cornered. He could not be controlled… and those who liked to be the ones to exercise those things over others to get their own way and maintain their own power hated Him for it.
Sometimes in order to find out who someone really is it’s more beneficial to look at who and what they hate. Maybe we need to look a little more closely at what they fight against instead of what they are fighting for. Instead of looking at what they are trying to wash their hands clean of, maybe we need to be looking at who and what they are willing to get their hands dirty for.
Jesus said we would know them by their fruit. I think one of our problems today is that we judge ourselves and other people by the fruit of the wrong tree. Maybe we are simply too busy climbing trees rather than being still and simply bearing fruit. Maybe we keep uprooting and replanting (or rebranding) because we discover that we are not bearing fruit and instead of cursing the tree we just throw some fake fruit on it so it looks good and keep climbing higher.
But, we don’t climb higher to meet with Jesus. We come down lower and we invite Him in our house. His presence in our house will either lead us to make all things right at any personal cost or it will cause us to conspire with others who have as much to lose as us in order to push His presence out. The goal, of course, is always to do so in such a way that those watching think we are doing the best thing for them and everyone else when in realty it is simply just best for us.
The den of robbers prospered in the temple because they were able to convince others that they were there to help them be right with God and keep the Law. They profited because they saw someone’s desire and need to be loved and accepted and they extorted it for their own personal gain. They saw a need and instead of meeting that need they simply used it as an opportunity to make money from it but never actually helped anyone but themselves. They were allowed to stay in the temple because those in power enjoyed their fruit… instead of judging them by it.