12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers."
14The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became angry 16and said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself'?" 17He left them, went out of the city to Bethanynd spent the night there.
18In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once. 20When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" 21Jesus answered them, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will be done. 22Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive."
The soft and gentle Jesus is a product of our imagination. It is certainly not a product from the pages of Scripture. Jesus is gentle, in a way. But Jesus is not soft -- if by "soft," we mean someone who is harmless and timid, someone who allows people to do whatever they want.
Just picture the action of these verses above. Jesus enters the temple and drives out those selling and buying in the temple. If you know anything about outdoor markets or semi-outdoor markets, you would know that these places are loud (loud with bartering and other talk). So when Jesus drives these folks out, Jesus is yelling at them. In addition, Jesus is overturning the tables of money changers (the coins and scales spilling unto the floor) and knocking over chairs of those selling doves (you can picture the birds aflutter with fear). Jesus is none too happy. Jesus is ticked. Righteously ticked off. Why?
Quoting from two OT verses, Jesus tells them (the ones he has chased out and those within earshot) that they have made the temple of God a "den of robbers" [Jeremiah 7:11] instead of what the temple is for -- "a house of prayer" [Isaiah 56:7].
Jesus, theologically speaking, has the full right to act as he does, for Jesus is the Lord of the temple. The temple is his Father's house. Jesus is the real temple.
The fact that the temple has been reduced to a place of buying and selling and a place of mere religious ritual only showed Jesus how spiritually dead Israel had become. (Hence the cursing of the barren fig tree, which is a symbol for Israel. The judgment against the fig tree has nothing to do with horticultural anger. Rather, it is God's judgment against spiritual deadness.)
What do the words and actions of Jesus tell us about God's Kingdom Culture?
1. Jesus is zealous for his house (his church) as a house of prayer. Apostle John remembers Jesus' intense behavior in clearing the temple by saying, "His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” [John 2:17; Psalm 69:9]
2. Spiritual deadness/spiritual apathy is a serious issue of concern for Jesus. Elsewhere in Matthew, we read, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 7:19). Similar to the cursing of the fig tree.
3. Conversely, we can say that Jesus rejoices when his house is a house of prayer (for all nations) and when his people are spiritually alive and responsive. The flip side of Jesus' anger is his joy. Let's give joy to Jesus!
Let's pray: Father God, we ask that you would continue to remind us that we are called to be a house of prayer, a house of prayer for all nations. What a glorious calling that is. And what an incredible heavenly work that is -- the work of prayer. If we were able to see the transactional fireworks involved in prayer, like what Jacob saw, the angels ascending and descending, we would all be people of heart-engaged prayer. We also pray for ourselves and our friends in Jesus that you would keep us spiritually alive. That we would be alert and ready, sensitive and obedient, soft and gentle with your love. To be alive in you is the greatest way of being. So help us to be that way all the days of our lives. In Jesus' name, amen.