Friday, October 15, 2010

“Temple Tantrums For All Nations"

“Temple Tantrums For All Nations”
By Dave Wainscott
Salt Fresno Magazine, Jan 2011

Photo: Several Fresno Christians overlooking the Temple Mount, Jerusalem
(including columnist Dave Wainscott, left; and Salt Fresno supporter, Charlida Kemble, right).

I have actually heard people say they fear holding a bake sale anywhere on church property…they think a divine lightning bolt might drop.

Some go as far as to question the propriety of youth group fundraisers (even in the lobby), or flinch at setting up a table anywhere in a church building (especially the “sanctuary”) where a visiting speaker or singer sells books or CDs.  “I don’t want to get zapped!”

All trace their well-meaning concerns to the “obvious” Scripture:

"Remember when Jesus cast out the moneychangers and dovesellers?"

It is astounding how rare it is to hear someone comment on the classic "temple tantrum" Scripture without turning it into a mere moralism:

"Better not sell stuff in church!”

Any serious study of the passage concludes that the most obvious reason Jesus was angry was not commercialism, but:


I heard that head-scratching.

The tables the Lord was intent on overturning were those of prejudice.

I heard that “Huh?”

A brief study of the passage…in context…will reorient us:

Again, most contemporary Americans assume that Jesus’ anger was due to his being upset about the buying and selling.  But note that Jesus didn't say "Quit buying and selling!” His outburst was, "My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations" (Mark 11:17, emphasis mine).   He was not merely saying what he felt, but directly quoting Isaiah (56:6-8), whose context is clearly not about commercialism, but adamantly about letting foreigners and outcasts have a place in the “house of prayer for all nations”; for all nations, not just the Jewish nation.   Christ was likely upset not that  moneychangers were doing business, but that they were making it their business to do so disruptfully and disrespectfully in the "outer court;”  in  the “Court of the Gentiles” (“Gentiles” means “all other nations but Jews”).   This was

the only place where "foreigners" could have a “pew” to attend the international prayer meeting that was temple worship.   Merchants were making the temple  "a den of thieves" not  (just) by overcharging for doves and money, but by (more insidiously) robbing precious people of  “all nations”  a place to pray, and the God-given right  to "access access" to God.

Money-changing and doveselling were not inherently the problem.  In fact they were required;  t proper currency and “worship materials” were part of the procedure and protocol.  It’s true that the merchants may  have been overcharging and noisy, but it is where and how they are doing so that incites Jesus to righteous anger.

The problem is never tables.  It’s what must be tabled:

marginalization of people of a different tribe or tongue who are only wanting to worship with the rest of us.

In the biblical era, it went without saying that when someone quoted a Scripture, they were assuming and importing the context.  So we often miss that Jesus is quoting a Scripture in his temple encounter, let alone which Scripture and  context.  Everyone back then immediately got the reference: “Oh, I get it, he’s preaching Isaiah, he must really love foreigners!”:
 Foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord…all who hold fast to my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.(Isaiah 56:6-8, emphases mine)
Gary Molander, faithful Fresnan and cofounder of Floodgate Productions, has articulated it succinctly:

“The classic interpretation suggests that people were buying and selling stuff in God’s house, and that’s not okay.  So for churches that have a coffee bar, Jesus might toss the latte machine out the window.
I wonder if something else is going on here, and I wonder if the Old Testament passage Jesus quotes informs our understanding?…Here’s the point:
Those who are considered marginalized and not worthy of love, but who love God and are pursuing Him, are not out.  They’re in..

Those who are considered nationally unclean, but who love God and are pursuing Him, are not out.  They’re in.

God’s heart is for Christ’s Church to become a light to the world, not an exclusive club.  And when well-meaning people block that invitation, God gets really, really ticked.”
(Gary Molander,

Still reeling?  Hang on, one more test:

How often have you heard the Scripture  about “speak to the mountain and it will be gone” invoked , with the “obvious” meaning being “the mountain of your circumstances” or “the mountain of obstacles”?  Sounds good, and that will preach.   But again,  a quick glance at the context of that saying  of Jesus reveals nary a mention of metaphorical obstacles.   In fact, we find it (Mark 11:21-22) directly after the “temple tantrum.”  And consider where Jesus and the disciples are: still near the temple,  and still stunned by the  “object lesson” Jesus had just given there  about prejudice.  And know that everyone back then knew what most today don’t:  that one way to talk about the temple was to call it “the mountain” (Isaiah 2:1, for example: “the mountain of the Lord’s temple”) .

Which is why most scholars would agree with Joel Green and John Carroll:
“Indeed, read in its immediate context, Jesus’ subsequent instruction to the disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain..’ can refer only to the mountain on which the temple is built!... For him, the time of the temple is no more.”  (“The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity,” p. 32, emphasis mine).
In Jesus’ time, the temple system of worship had become far too embedded with prejudice.  So Jesus suggests that his followers actually pray such a system, such a mountain, be gone.

Soon it literally was.

In our day, the temple is us: the church.

And the church-temple  is called to pray a moving, mountain-moving, prayer:

“What keeps us from being a house of prayer for all nations?”

Or as Gary Molander summarizes:

“Who can’t attend your church?”


  1. I don't believe in accidents. This was exactly what I was looking for. I had this teaching about 25 years ago and I was looking for a similar reference. Thanks

    Butch Bondoc

  2. Butch, so glad it was a blessing.

    Your website looks awesome.

    Keep on for the Kingdom, love to be in touch


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!