Jesus was mad at the church leaders of his day because they were shutting the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces (Matthew 23:13).
In any study of the anger of Jesus, our minds are naturally going to go to the big one. When Jesus “opened up a can” in the temple.
He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and he would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts (Mark 11).
Keep that “door shutting” idea in your head as we think about what Jesus was mad about. As he was throwing stuff around, he said, (maybe even yelled):
“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Mark 11:17 NIV).
When I was growing up, the interpretation of this incident had given rise to a rule that you weren’t allowed to sell things in the church building. No bake sales, no youth group t-shirts, etc.
Which is ludicrous on so many levels. For one, the church is not the temple – we are (1 Corinthians 3:16). The church building is just a place where all the “temples” gather together. And for another, I don’t believe Jesus was mad about the commerce itself. Yes, he called it a “den of robbers.” Yes, they were probably overcharging, and giving the temple leaders kickbacks.
However, look again at Jesus’ statement in verse 17: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The way the temple was set up, there were special places called courts for all the Jews, and outside of all of that was the Court of Gentiles. This is where the robbers had set up shop: in the “All Nations” part of the temple. This was the place where God provided access to the rest of the world but was now being turned into a market. As if to further illustrate the fact that those on the inside really didn’t care about those on the outside.
In other words, the outsiders, those who felt farthest from the Father, were the ones who suffered the most. They were being robbed, not only by the exorbitant prices and fees but of their very access to worshiping God. This made Jesus angry! Because that’s what he came to provide.
Doesn’t that make more sense now? Jesus wasn’t zealous for the actual building. He prophesied that it would be destroyed soon, and it was. Jesus was zealous for our access to God. He came to rip the veil and give us an all-access pass to a beautiful relationship with our heavenly Father. The relationship for which we were created. He’ll throw tables or animals or people out of the way to give us an all-access pass. He gave up his own life, so we could get backstage.
I’m not advocating for a resurgence in bake sales, I’m trying to help us get the point. Anything that gets in the way of God’s love, especially if it’s instigated by God’s children, will make Jesus angry. It should make us angry as well. And, we should stop doing it.
Can you think of things the current church is doing that make it harder for the “Gentiles” to gain access and be with their Father? What religious attitudes are getting in the way of Jesus’ love? He came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV), so he must still be frustrated when we make it harder for him to accomplish his mission.