driving_out0215.  So they came to Jerusalem.  Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.

It seems that, as soon as the Lord left in Matthew 21, these men had set up shop again in the temple.  This was the second time the Lord did this within a week, and He had even done it once before early in His ministry, as we read in John 2:14-17.  Apparently the men who were making these dishonest transactions in the temple had not heeded His words, but rather had returned to their thieving ways, probably encouraged by the religious leaders, who profited from their businesses.  History records for us that what was happening here was a money exchange for the feast of Passover or the various offerings.  Since many Jews would come from far away to celebrate the feast, it was impractical for many of them to bring their own Passover lamb to the celebration.  This would also apply to doves, which were to be offered at the dedication of infants, which many people would have been doing all year round.  Therefore, the scribes and chief priests had set up a custom where they could buy their Passover lamb or doves for infant dedication at the temple.  This seems like a good idea, except that they were charging exorbitant prices for the animals, thus robbing the people, as Christ complains here.  Also, even those who did bring their own animals, the religious leaders and priests would demand that their animals be inspected, and if they found the slightest excuse to reject the animal, they would, forcing the one bringing the offering to pay their exorbitant prices for a substitute.  They were also demanding that those who brought money to offer at the temple pay not in Roman money but in “temple coin.”  To get temple coin, they had to exchange their Roman money for it, and the custom was to give them an unfair and unequal exchange rate, again robbing them.  These practices were simply more of the money-loving ways of the Pharisees, and were what the Lord was stopping here.

16.  And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.

The temple was a holy place to God, yet they had turned it into little more than a tourist trap!  The Lord finds this offensive, and so He not only casts these robbing merchants out, but also polices those entering the temple, not allowing them to carry wares through it.  It seems that some were treating the temple as if it were just another street that they could use for getting from one side of Jerusalem to the other!  This too was dishonoring to the Lord’s house, and He did not allow it.  There is no mention of Him doing this at the former cleansing in Matthew 21.  Instead of easing up on these people as they refuse to heed His demands for cleansing, the Lord becomes even stricter about honoring the house that was built for Him!

17.  Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?  But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

The Lord teaches, once again, why He is doing this the third time, explaining from the Old Testament Scriptures how the temple campus is to be used.  Isaiah 56:7 reveals that the temple will one day be a house of prayer for all nations.  Jeremiah 7:11 complains that they have made it a den of thieves.  Alas, at this time the latter was true, if not the former!

18.  And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching.

The scribes and chief priests sought to destroy Him, seeking to protect their extortion racket.  However, they feared to do it openly, for the crowds greatly respected the Lord Jesus and His teaching, as we see here.  This destruction they sought was not necessarily His death, for we read later how they sought to trap Him with words.  If they could have found something to speak against in His teaching they believed that they could turn the people against Him.  As we know, they were unable to do so, so they turned instead to murder.

19.  When evening had come, He went out of the city.

Again Christ leaves that night, probably returning to the home of His friends in Bethany.

20.  Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.

The Lord’s curse had not only stopped the tree from producing fruit, but had dried it up altogether.  Woe to the tree that earns the Lord’s wrath!

21.  And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look!  The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”

Peter sees the tree and remembers what the Lord had said about it.  He points this out to the Lord.  As if there could have been any doubt that this would happen when the Lord spoke thus against it!

22.  So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God.

Peter was amazed at this miracle, but the Lord Jesus admonishes him to have faith in God.  When Christ had spoken so plainly, how could he expect anything else?

23.  “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.

If God wishes to do so, He can move mountains, not just wither fig trees.  However, this does not mean we can just walk up to mountain X and say, “Move over!” and it will do so.  Some actually suggest that this is what this means, and that our problem is that we just don’t have faith!  What those who say this do not understand is that in order to have faith, one must be believing something that God told him to do.  We know that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  (Romans 10:17)  If one has no command from God to move a mountain, then one can have no faith in God to move it.  Having faith in God requires knowing what God’s will is and acting on it.  For me to move the nearest mountain into the sea would not be God’s will.  If everyone was able to do this the water level of the ocean would rise, and besides, what would happen to anyone living on the mountain?  No, it has to be the Lord’s will for a mountain to move before one can have faith to move it.

24.  “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

If we take this as an absolute statement, then it was not even true of the disciples, for we read of things in the book of Acts like famines and men being killed for their faith, and it would be hard for us to imagine that none of the disciples prayed for the deliverance of their imprisoned comrades or for rain to relieve the drought.  If we take this in the context of having faith in God, however, we then see that the things asked for are things that God has already promised to supply.  Therefore, the prayer is a prayer of faith, and will be answered, as Christ says here.

25.  “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
26.  “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

This was the word of the Lord Himself on this matter, and it was certainly true for those to whom He said it.  Yet if we try to take this law and apply it to today, then we will be in constant confusion.  We are no longer under an administration of judgment or government, as these men were.  We are now living in an administration of God’s grace, and we are to forgive, not to receive forgiveness ourselves, but rather in gratitude for the forgiveness we have already received.  We read this in Ephesians 4:32, which states, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”  This is the truth for today, not the Kingdom truth Christ relates here.

27.  Then they came again to Jerusalem.  And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him.

These men were no doubt stewing over the Lord’s actions of the day before in policing the temple.  Not only did they consider that THEIR JOB (although of course they were neglecting it,) but He had also stopped the merchandising in the temple that they had set up (or at least allowed) for their own profit.  It is not a wonder that they came to Him, only that they had not come to Him before this!  Perhaps they rightly realized their own guilt in these matters, and that He was righteous in what He was doing.  Thus, they had to figure out some tack to take in condemning Him.

28.  And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things?  And who gave You this authority to do these things?”

It seems that all they could come up with to say against what He was doing was to question Him as to where His authority came from.  They certainly couldn’t question the rightness of what He claimed about proper respect for the temple!  Of course, if they had acknowledged the miracles He had done they would have already known where His authority came from, but they would not acknowledge them.

29.  But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things:

Jesus does not answer the question.  Certainly they would not have accepted His answer any more than they accepted His miracles!  He instead asks them a question.  This was common for the Lord: to respond to a question with another question.  The Companion Bible calls this the figure of speech anteisagoge, or “counter question.”  In this case, His question results in turning the trap back upon them.  They no doubt hoped to criticize Him for His answer, but now they are the ones in danger of criticism.

30.  “The baptism of John–was it from heaven or from men?  Answer Me.”

The question the Lord used to stump the chief priests, scribes, and elders is this question about John the Baptist.  Was his baptism from heaven or from men?  “From heaven” was also a figure of speech meaning “from God.”  Was John’s baptism truly something God had commanded, or was it something that the man John just made up out of his own head?  This is the question the Lord demanded that these men answer.

31.  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’

They talk among themselves, and realize the trap they are in.  If they acknowledge that the true source of John’s baptism was from God, then the Lord will be able to condemn them for not believing him.  John’s baptism was from God, and these men are worthy of condemnation for rejecting it!

32.  “But if we say, ‘From men’”–they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed.

These men themselves did not acknowledge John as a prophet, and had refused to believe his words.  Yet they knew the opinion of the people, and therefore were afraid to be honest.  If they say they think his baptism was just something he devised, they fear the people, for they know the people all counted John to have been a prophet indeed.  The popularity-conscious Jews cannot stand the thought of thus reducing themselves in the eyes of the people, even though they know that this was their real opinion.  Plus, they might even have fear for their lives.  They know the people would not take kindly to anyone rejecting someone they considered a true prophet of God, and they might fear that Christ could stir up the people to stone them.

33.  So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.”  And Jesus answered and said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

They cannot overcome the trap, and have to admit defeat.  Their lame answer is that they do not know where John’s baptism was from.  This allowed them to save face in front of the people, yet it accomplished what the Lord intended, for now He did not have to answer the question regarding His Own authority.  For both the Lord and the religious leaders knew that John had testified to the Lord Jesus Christ, so if his baptism was from God, his testimony was accurate, but if it was from men, then his testimony was inaccurate.  By failing to answer His question regarding John’s authority, they testified that they did not know where the Lord Jesus’ authority was from either, and so they could not condemn it as being not from God.  He had removed any authority they might have tried to pull on Him by this question, and left them without a leg to stand on in condemning Him.  The powerlessness of their attempts to trap the Lord with words would soon lead to their conclusion that only His death could solve their predicament.

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