Holiness, Part 1: Clearing Out the Temple
We want to look at a time in Yeshua’s life that was considered very controversial. I suppose it was the most radical time in His life. It was when He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. I have heard people even say that this could have been a time when Yeshua sinned because He was angry and He did this destructive act. We know that Yeshua was sinless, but we do want to take a closer look at this time in Yeshua’s life. We might find that Yeshua’s message is for today and it is still as shocking as it was then.
Matthew 21:12 tells us, “Yeshua entered the Temple and cast out all those who were buying and selling in the Temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves.” So who were these moneychangers? The moneychangers (shulchani) were there to exchange foreign currency into the Temple shekels. You see, at the time of Yeshua, the people would have used Roman currency which had the image of Caesar on it, and it was forbidden to carry this currency into the Temple because of its pagan image; Caesar was considered a god. Most likely, those who sat at these tables were priests and Levites who had become dishonest. They were adding service charges and collecting far above the rate of exchange. Because of the Diaspora, many Jews had to travel to Jerusalem to make their sacrifices. At times it was too difficult for them to carry their sacrifices with them, so doves were sold to these people in the outer courts of the Temple. Though these people were offering a service for these travelers, it was against God’s Word to be doing this in the Temple; they should have been buying and selling on the street, not in the Temple courts.
Now, we have to put this in its proper perspective so that we can understand Yeshua’s actions. It was the time of Passover, and according to Torah, one was to thoroughly clean one’s house and rid it of any leaven, even if it was just a crumb. Leaven symbolized sin and corruption. How appropriate, then, it was for Yeshua to go into His Father’s House and clean it of the leaven, the sin and corruption. Yeshua, as He overturned the tables, quoted two Scriptures. We will be looking at both of them over the next two newsletters to get a better understanding of what Yeshua was thinking.
Isaiah tells us, “I will bring them to My sacred mount and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices shall be welcomed on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” We want to see why Yeshua would have quoted this verse.
First, I want to say that Rabbinically, when one quoted a part of a verse, it is as though he quoted the whole verse. So what was the content of this section of Scripture? The Scripture starts with “Observe what is right and do what is just; for soon My salvation shall come and My deliverance be revealed. Happy is the man who does this, the man who holds fast to it: who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and stays his hand from doing any evil,” (Isaiah 56:1-2). Isaiah declares that doing what is right and just and being obedient and careful in observing the commandments would give the people identity as a community. The declaration also states that the foreigner would also be allowed to become members of the community. Verse 3 goes on to say, “Let not the foreigner say, who has attached himself to the Lord, ‘The Lord will keep me apart from His people.'”
The prophet, speaking for God, tells the people, mainly foreigners who felt excluded, that Torah observation makes them complete members of the community. When we obey God’s Word, we will be a light to the nations and people will be drawn into our congregations. It seems as though Christians play the revolving door game. They just circulate from church to church, but this is not true church growth. This is not the lost coming out of darkness into the light. Throughout history we see many foreigners attaching themselves to Israel. We see this in the Exodus from Egypt; also, people like Rahab and Ruth who attached themselves and became part of the royal line of Yeshua. When the Jews left Babylon, many people turned to the one true God and went back with the exiles. In Yeshua’s day we see the Centurion who was a God fearer and also Cornelius who sent for Peter. This is why the Torah specifically addresses the issue of the foreigner and alien who sojourns with Israel.
In verses 6-7 God says, “As for the foreigners who attach themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants—all who keep the Sabbath and do not profane it and hold fast to My covenant—I will bring them to My sacred mount and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices shall be welcome on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” We clearly see that Yeshua’s heart was that all people would worship on His holy mountain and indeed they will, as He declared, “For My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.”
But this requires more than what we may think. He was not just referring to people going to their local church, but one day all people would be worshiping Him in Spirit and in Truth. One day all people would be keeping Sabbath and the whole of Torah.
A Heavenly Picture
As we go on, we will see that what Yeshua did that day and what He was declaring to the people was quite a serious charge and one that we need to heed today. God made it clear to Moses when He told him to be careful to do all that He had told him to do in the making of the tabernacle. God’s sanctuary here on earth is to represent the throne room of God in heaven. Every detail and every item represented the exactness in heaven. God is holy and He demands holiness and obedience to His Word. Isaiah declared, “I beheld my Lord seated on a high and lofty throne; and the skirts of His robe filled the Temple. Seraphs stood in attendance on Him. Each of them had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his legs, and with two he would fly. And one would call to the other, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy! The Lord of Hosts! His presence fills all the earth.’ The doorposts would shake at the sound of the one who called, and the House kept filling with smoke. I cried, ‘Woe is me; I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have beheld the King, Lord of Hosts.’ Then an angel took a coal from off the altar and touched his lips.” We see that even the angels must cover themselves in the presence of God. Isaiah, in the presence of God, recognized his sinfulness and his need to be cleansed.
The Temple laws were all about holiness and purity. The priest would stop at the laver, which was symbolic of one submerging himself in God’s holiness, cleansing himself from sin. There were many laws concerning purity which we are not going to go through now, but remember that the unclean represents sin and the clean represents purity. They both represent the two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness. The Psalmist writes, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, and has not sworn deceitfully.” This is talking about who may enter God’s presence.
God requires holiness; in fact, He demands it. Before we can approach God, we have to repent and confess our sins so that we remain in right standing with God. Then, we can approach God with confidence and liberality. We take that Scripture so out of context that we can approach God with boldness and a confidence. Yes, we can, but only if we have cleansed ourselves before God. We must understand that God is holy and He takes His holiness quite seriously. Paul tells us that we should examine ourselves before communion so we do not partake in an unworthy manner. Examine ourselves for what? SIN. When we pray, are we not having communion with God? James, writing to believers, says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you,” (James 4:7-10).
Cleansing is not just a one time deal, but daily we are to come before God and confess our sins. Scripture says that everyone who has the hope of His coming purifies himself, just as He is pure. Sin separates us from God and only repentance cleanses us. God says, “A broken and a contrite heart I will never turn away.” Even though the physical Temple is gone, the operation of the Temple still remains. Now we are the Temple of the Lord. Our Temple must be pure and holy. Nothing unclean must enter our Temple. We are the priesthood and we must be clean and holy as we are going to approach the altar of the Lord. Only holiness can approach a holy God.
The Flesh vs. the Spirit
Yeshua tells us that God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must be in spirit and truth. Paul writes, “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Yeshua the Messiah and put no confidence in the flesh,” (Philippians 3:3). So what is this putting confidence in the flesh? Yeshua tells Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” (John 3:6). He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God,” (verse 5). Paul writes, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that please you. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law,” (Galatians 5:17-18). Why? Because if you are following the Spirit you are keeping the law.
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. You who practice such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God… But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh… For those who are led by the Spirit are the children of God,” (Galatians 5:19-21, 16; Romans 8:14). What are the deeds of the Spirit but love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, to mention a few.
Yeshua was against those who were corrupt, those who did not live by the Torah, those who were not living a holy life, and they brought this corruption and sin into the sanctuary of God. John writes to believers in his first letter, “Do not love the world, or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever,” (1 John 2:15-17).
We Christians like to believe that when we accept Yeshua as Lord and Savior that we now have a license to live as we want, for all our sins have been washed away. But this is only part true. Yeshua made the way for us to be forgiven and to be made right with God, but we must live according to His Word and keep His commands. Sin still separates us from God. We still must repent of our sins daily. John writes to believers, “If you say that you are without sin you are a liar,” (1 John 1:8). I know that I don’t always walk by the Spirit, and I know that if you are honest with yourself that you don’t always either. John writes in that same letter, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin,” (1 John 1:6-7).
We must daily walk with God, living by His Word, being led by His Spirit and walking in truth and righteousness. But, because we wrestle with the flesh that is at war with the Spirit in us, we struggle and we do not always walk as we should. We must repent and return, walking in God’s ways. We must not continue to lie to ourselves and think that God has overlooked our sins because of Yeshua. God is holy and He demands holiness from His people and that requires us to walk daily in the Spirit, crucifying our flesh. The leadership of our congregations must speak out about sin and they too must deal with their own sin. Scripture tells us in the last days that people will not accept sound doctrine but they will only want their ears tickled.
As the days go on, deep darkness will cover the earth and the evil deeds of men will increase and the Bible speaks of a great apostasy, the falling away of the saints. And we can only wonder, “Why?” The answer is in the second part of Yeshua’s message.