It was the Passover, and both Jewish and non-Jewish pilgrims
alike from all over the world would come to Jerusalem to
seek after God at the Temple. They would come marching
through the hills singing and rejoicing of the great things
that God has done. It was a wonderful time of joy and
festivity. Once they arrived, the foreigners would come to
the Court of the Gentiles (or in its porch), and they would
be confronted with the "moneychangers." When Jesus saw them
He made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the Temple
and said "Do not make My Father's house a house of
The large outer court was called "the Court of the Gentiles"
because it was devoted to the foreigners who had come to
worship God at the Temple and they could proceed no further.
It is interesting that Jesus chose to stop at this place to
show forth His anger toward the moneychangers, the Court of
the "Gentiles," and this was not the first time that He came
to the aid of non-Jews.
The profanity and abuse of the moneychangers was no small
thing. They treated the foreign guests with much contempt
and even the Jewish authorities constantly scorned this
place and abused the pilgrims who came to worship.
The Money Changers
The word "moneychanger" means money-banker or money-broker.
They would make large profits at the expense of the
pilgrims. Every Israelite, rich or poor, who had reached the
age of twenty was obligated to pay a half shekel as an
offering to Jehovah into the sacred treasury. This tribute
was in every case to be paid in the exact Hebrew half
shekel. At Passover everyone in the world who was an adult
male and wished to worship at the Temple would bring his
"offering" or purchase a sacrificial animal at the Temple.
Since there was no acceptance of foreign money with any
foreign image the money changers would sell "Temple coinage"
at a very high rate of exchange and assess a fixed charge
for their services.
The judges, who sat to inspect the offerings that were
brought by the pilgrims, were quick to detect any blemish in
them. This was expensive for the wealthy pilgrims, not to
say how ruinous this was for the poor who could only offer
their turtle-doves and pigeons. There was no defense for
them or court of appeal, seeing that the priestly
authorities took a large percentage on every transaction.
The House of God or the National Treasury
Jesus referred to the Temple as the "House of God" and
called it a "House of Prayer," not just for the Jews, but
for all nations. When Jesus arrived with the mass of
pilgrims, He overturned the tables and called it a den of
thieves and a house of merchandise. The Temple was in some
sense the national bank. It was a great public treasury with
vaults containing immense stores of private wealth. These
deposits never sat idle, but were loaned at high rates of
interest. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote an account of
the burning of the archives in Jerusalem and it gives an
appalling picture of the incredible debts that were owed by
the poor to the rich. It is believed that the intention of
the burning was to 'destroy the money-lenders' tallies and
to prevent the exaction of debts. After reading about how an
infuriated mob (around 30 years later) robbed the Temple
booths and dragged the sons of Annas to their death, it can
only be imagined how much the Jewish authorities were hated
by the humble commoners.
The Wealthy and the Poor
There was tremendous wealth in Jerusalem. Many of the rich
publicans (tax-gatherers) and influential leaders resided in
Jerusalem, not only in their houses, but their summer
residences, their large parks, and their country estates.
Their vast wealth reached unbelievable proportions in the
days of Herod. These plutocratic families were powerful in
government circles and "prided themselves in their
excesses." The gulf between the rich and the poor was
immense and the very poor families were often driven from
their homes to become the slum-dwellers of Jerusalem.
By the time of Jesus Jerusalem had become a parasitic city,
lying in wait for the multitudes of pilgrims who flocked
into the city in their hundreds of thousands at each
Festival. At the Passover there would be at least a million
visitors, and Josephus multiplies this figure by four.
Jesus promised the religious aristocracy that their "Temple
would be left desolate," and not a single stone of the
Temple would be left on top of another that would not be
thrown down. Not even forty years passed when it all
happened, for in 70 A.D. the legions of Rome came, led by
Titus, and the Words of Christ were fulfilled.