Jesus, our Gracious Sovereign
In previous comments on the “cleansing” of the Temple I mentioned the mercy of Jesus. His mercy stands in stark contrast across all religions. We know that Yahweh is indeed the One full of mercy not because he says it. He shows it. Jesus shows us perfectly what Yahweh’s mercy looks like.
No other religion is so clear and vivid in what it says as the Gospel. The Gospel tells AND shows this mercy-filled good news.
There is another narrative strand in the “cleansing” of the Temple. It’s the sovereign grace of Jesus. When Jesus ransacked the Temple he was no doubt concerned about dishonest leadership. He was no doubt concerned about showing mercy to outcasts. He was very concerned about shady business in the Temple courts.
Yet, when Jesus ransacked the Temple he was doing more than that.
He was trying to bring his people under the care of his sovereign grace.
He was declaring his divine sovereignty over the Temple system. It’s not enough to say that Jesus was (and is) God. Zeus claimed to be God. Caesar claimed to be God. Apollo claimed to be God. So, Jesus is just one more guy in a long line claiming to be God. So what.
Jesus’ claims are higher and better than that. He comes into the Temple in the full authority of the Sovereign One.
Here are a few things that signal his sovereignty:
– In Mark 11:11 immediately after the Triumphal Entry of Jesus goes directly to the Temple. It’s like a sovereign coming home to his palace. He is the head of a new administration. How will he be received? Will the Temple receive him as enthusiastically as the common people did? The Temple leadership should have received him with the same enthusiasm and affirmation that the common people did just a few moments before. They did not.
– After ransacking the Temple Jesus hangs around all week teaching (see Mark 11:22-13:1) openly in the Temple courts. It’s like he’s taken over. He has “moved in” so to speak. What would you think if a friend of yours showed up at your door and moved in without asking permission or negotiating a rental agreement? He is making the Temple a short-term seat of his governing word.
– Later Jesus tells a parable within a parable about a keystone rejected and a vineyard owner’s son murdered. Both of these intertwined parables are a commentary on the Temple leadership of the day usurping Messiah’s divine authority over them.(see Mark 12:1-12)
–Then most shocking of all Jesus declares that this Temple must come down. He is not interested in renovating the Temple system, but in its removal and replacement. This is his way of saying that he is the new temple. (see Mark 13:1 and following)
tip: it helped me to understand the significance of the Temple Cleansing when I started to see it as an event connected to what happens before it and after it. In the BEFORE (the triumphal entry) Jesus is received as King Messiah as he makes his was to the Temple, the climax of this procession, (note: after Jesus ‘cleansed’ the Temple the children were chanting “Hosana, Son of David” – thus the kingly procession continues with the children what was begun with their parents the day before)
in the AFTER (the parable of the vineyard’s son murdered) Jesus assumes all authority over the Temple, its operations, its doctrine and its final destruction. Jesus isn’t claiming only to be God. He is claiming full sovereignty as he moves in and about his Father’s House.
These are sign posts to the sovereignty of Jesus. He is not assistant manager, not vice president, not even prince of the realm with a life time appointment. Jesus is fully and completely sovereign.
The fact of Jesus’ sovereignty is often missed when we conservative Christians talk about the Temple cleansing event. For a long time I saw this Temple “cleansing” event as basically about the dishonest dealings of the Temple leadership or having concern for the poor.
That is true, but there is more. Jesus is “the messenger of the covenant” (see Mal 3:1), an arresting officer, prosecuting attorney and supreme judge all in one. This is Yahweh “suddenly coming to the Temple” to see if covenant stipulations are being obeyed.
They are not.
So with the full authority of the covenant behind him he acts as the covenant’s lord (because he is) and prosecutes covenant sanctions (see Dt. 28) on the corrupt leadership. Jesus has at his disposal full authority to foreclose on the Temple.
And he does.
Jesus is sovereign.
How did I miss this for so long? The Temple leadership saw this. They approached Jesus the next day to confront him on this very point.
[with restrained sarcastic tone]
“Where do you think you get the authority (sovereign right) to do
these things (in our temple)?”
[intense stares while waiting for his answer]
* * *
This, then, is a brief explanation of Jesus’ sovereignty in ransacking and occupying the Temple. He did more than clean the Temple. This is a kind of take over. It’s not a hostile take over, but it is a bold theological take over.
So now you ask, “How does the grace half of this Gracious Sovereign show up in the Temple ransacking?”
Ah, good question. His grace is in his declaration about the Jubilee while he is “cleansing” the Temple.
More about this Ultimate Jubilee next time.
“We stop trying so hard to be
good Christians when
we see how good it is to
be in Christ.”