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Although we learn in Mark’s Gospel that the cleansing of the temple happened the day after Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (that is, the Monday after Palm Sunday), Luke’s Gospel moves straight into the narrative after recording Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem:

45And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

47And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. (Luke 19:45-48)

Unexpected Work

What would you do if you knew that you had less than a week to live? Would you spend the time doing, more or less, the things that you typically do? Would you spend all of that time with the people you knew and loved best? Would you travel to visit places you had always wanted to see?

Or would you drive merchants out of a temple?

Through the entire Palm Sunday narrative, Jesus has been surprising us at every turn. He is the unexpected King who has come to claim an unexpected kingdom. He bursts into tears with unexpected sorrow over a city of unexpected rebels.

And now, instead of all the things that Jesus might do with his last week on earth, he sets straightaway to clearing vendors out of the temple. Then, once the temple is cleared of merchants, Jesus sets about to teaching daily. He devotes himself fully to the work of teaching until the day that Judas betrays him, handing him over to be killed.

Would you spend your last hours at a Bible study?

Unexpected Zeal

Whatever we ourselves might do, this incident shows us where Jesus’ passions lie. He is consumed with zeal for his Father’s house, which is to be “a house of prayer.” Before he does anything else in Jerusalem, Jesus must cleanse this house of prayer from those who have converted it into a den of thieves.

What does Jesus mean by this? By “prayer,” Jesus means, more broadly, “worship.” The temple is to be a place where the people offer pure worship to their God. This is the only right and fitting use for the temple, and Jesus is appalled and horrified to see the temple used by greedy men for dishonest gain as they ripped off travelers who had come to Jerusalem for Passover.

But why does Jesus care so much? Why, for example, doesn’t he simply condemn the practice and spend his remaining time with his disciples?

Well, imagine for a moment that you did have only a week to live, and during that time, you saw a man hitting on your best friend’s wife, or a woman flirting with your best friend’s husband. You would do something, wouldn’t you? And you would do something precisely because your time is so short. More than anything you would want to do something important for someone you loved best, and what better thing to do than to protect his or her marriage?

While Jesus’ chosen work for his last week is unexpected, it shouldn’t surprise us. He loves his Father more than anything else, and when he sees his Father’s honor trampled upon so that people could get a little more cash into their pockets dishonestly, he feels compelled to do something precisely because his time is so short.

Unexpected Resolve

So here we find Jesus in his freshly cleaned out temple, setting himself about teaching daily. All the people were (for the moment) hanging on his words, even though they would later demand that he himself be hanged on the cross. And while all of this is happening, “the chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him.”

Even for Jesus, this is unexpected resolve to do the work that he had received from his Father. Many times he had confronted, challenged, and even openly rebuked the religious leaders, but this time is completely different. In the past, Jesus always managed to escape when he needed to.

This time, there will be no escape.

This time, Jesus would teach until Maundy Thursday, when he celebrated his last Passover with his disciples, and then went out to surrender to those seeking to kill him. This time, Jesus would not slip through the crowd as he had often done before, but would freely go to his death, silent as a lamb led to the slaughter.

And there, Jesus would do the most unexpected work of all: he would be glorified, claiming his kingdom and purchasing his subjects by dying a shameful, agonizing, cursed death on the cross.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your king is coming to you.

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