What didn’t Jesus do?
What’s with those money-changers?
Jesus also came as rabbi, teacher. Here’s one good example of his methods, as a typical 1st Century rabbi:
There you were, minding your own business, among the throng at the gates of the Temple, joining the larger of the two queues leading to the livestock enclosures. You were there to pay your annual Temple dues and buy your Passover sacrifice. Hours later, you could see, hear and smell the object of your visit and were just fiddling around in your pouch for the half shekel, when a loud voice bellowed from behind you. An angry, insistent voice, growing louder by the second as it approached. You couldn’t turn around, your transaction had been initiated. But the loud crash forced a reaction and you twisted your head to see the commotion by the stalls of the money changers. The carefully arranged stacks of coins were no more, money was strewn over the straw, rolling in the dust, as the benches lay on their side, flanked by red-faced angry men. But none was angrier than the one who was at the heart of the mayhem and he was now striding towards you …
“Is it not written”, he declared in a firm, controlled voice, as he made steady progress across the Temple court, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” …
Time froze. You may have only been a poor Jew, but you knew your Scriptures. Everyone had some knowledge of the Prophets and wise ones and the words spoken by this Jesus, the Rabbi from Nazareth, were very familiar. They were spoken by the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years earlier, words that described how things should be in God’s house. Uncomfortable words, because everyone knew that how things were, were not how things ought to be. Trying times, but all too easy to blame it on the Romans, cursed be their name. As if he was reading your thoughts, his next words drove home like a stake to the heart. As Jesus spoke them, he raised his arms, as if to encircle everyone who was there and slowly rotated them in a sweeping motion.
“But you have made it ‘a den of robbers …’”
Suddenly there was an even louder commotion, a cacophony of voices, not the coarse speech of the traders, but the cultured whines of the learned, the priests themselves, as well as some Pharisees. The words had made a particular impact on them, because they were the intended targets. And how clever of the Rabbi. He was reminding everyone of a most shameful episode in Jewish history and it was the prophet Jeremiah who expressed it the most clearly. The prophet stood in this very same place all those hundreds of years ago. He was reading out a list of sins of the people, but also told them that only if they changed their ways would they be saved and allowed to live in the land. But he was not a happy man and accused the people of his day of hypocrisy and for turning the Temple into a “den of robbers”.
“Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 7:11)
But there was more than that and it was what Jeremiah said next that resonated so strongly with the priests who were smarting under Jesus’ onslaught.
This meant something to the Jews of Jesus’ day as well as those of Jeremiah’s day. It was a warning. Today, if we want to give a warning you could say something like, remember Hiroshima or remember Vietnam or remember Bill Clinton. These warnings trigger an image that would serve as a warning to a group of people who do remember these things. So, what did Shiloh conjure up?
Returning to your role-play as eye-witness, the next words spoken by Jeremiah come to mind.
“'Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your fathers. I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your brothers, the people of Ephraim.'”
And you remember what happened at Shiloh. You are taken back further to the days of the prophet Samuel, the days of the Judges of Israel. It was at Shiloh that the Israelites lost the Ark of the LORD’s covenant, their holiest possession, to the Philistines. Led by a corrupt priesthood, they used this sacred object as a talisman, thinking that it would gain them victory in war. Instead they were massively defeated and 30,000 men were killed. It was a national disaster, commemorated by the name given to the High Priest’s grandson – Ichabod, meaning “The glory has departed (from Israel)”.
So you stood there, witnessing the confrontation between Jesus and the priests. In that single condemnation, all who were there would have no doubts that Jesus was declaring judgement on this current corrupt priesthood, who had allowed the sacred Temple to be profaned by moneychangers and traders and implying that God would put an end to this Temple and priesthood, just as He did all those years ago at Shiloh.
The anger of the priests and the Pharisees was palpable and, although you did not know it at the time, they would now begin to plot to kill Jesus. It wasn’t just because their pride was hurt by the condemnations from this “upstart Rabbi”, but because they could sense something else …
The whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
You weren’t the only one who marveled at how this Jesus could strike at the heart of the situation with a single declaration. You looked around at the murmurings. You could sense the fear of the priests, but the utmost awe of the pilgrims and worshippers. This man spoke to the heart, he expressed what others could only vaguely imagine, with words spoken in boldness. They won’t take this lying down, you sense, as the priests milled together in shared annoyance.
One single phrase. "'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers’".
Yet the mind of the listener was able to make the connections. They would firstly understand the true purpose of the Temple, from the words of the prophet Isaiah. They would also have been familiar with Jeremiah’s condemnation of how low things had sunk. Then they would have understood the warning that the ultimate fate of the Temple and the priesthood would be as it was at the time of Samuel, with the loss of the Ark at Shiloh.
This was how it was, it wasn’t an illusion. Rather, it was all an allusion, a teaching style used by Jesus, along with other rabbis of his day. Working on the premise that the hearers were thoroughly familiar with key Scriptures, it used connections between different Scriptures to make a point.
This is an extract from the book, Hebraic Church, available for £10 at http://www.sppublishing.com/hebraic-church-101-p.asp