12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’[c]? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’[d]”
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples[e] went out of the city.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly[f] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Den of Thieves
I wasn’t thinking about this passage very well when I first read it. I thought of the den of thieves as the place where the thieves do their work. However, the den of thieves is where the the thieves hang out. Jesus is not pronouncing judgement on a corrupt financial system where the thieves are stealing from the poor in the temple courts. Jesus is condemning a whole system that has become corrupt. The Israelite nation was meant to bear fruit by being a witness to all the nations, but somehow it kept and horded God’s treasure of atonement and mercy in the temple system. It excluded Gentiles and looked down upon them rather than reaching out with mercy, grace and reconciliation. On his way to the temple Jesus foreshadows what he is going to do by cursing the fig tree, a symbol of Israel, and when we return to the fig tree it has withered. When Jesus arrives in the temple he is condemning the whole corrupted system of atonement and the way that the robbers sit on their treasure like a miserly thief would sit on his stash. The disruption to the temple is ineffective as a rebellious act, but it shows the judgement that God is meting out on the hard hearts of Israel.
Those who are least in the Kingdom of God will be able to dispose of the Mt. Zion focused system and cast it into the sea. They will have Jesus as their high priest and mediator, so for them the temple system becomes irrelevant.
Jesus, I thank you that you are our mediator. I thank you that we can come to you personally and accept forgiveness. You ripped open the Holy of Holies and granted us access to The Father. I pray that I would walk in your courts and bask in your presence. Let me be transformed by your redeeming love, and then please shine through my weakness and be a light for the nations.
- What did Jesus do on his way to and from the temple?
- What did Jesus do in the temple?
- What was the meaning of both symbolic acts?
- Do you follow a system or routine to make yourself acceptable to God?
- Now that Jesus has removed the intricate practices of sacrifice and died to pay their price, how can you make more use of direct access to God?