The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 3


Chapter 2—Cleansing the Temple

As Jesus entered the outer court of the temple it was like entering a vast cattle-yard. Mingled with the lowing of the oxen, the bleating of the sheep and the cooing of the doves, were the sharp clinking of coin and the sound of angry altercation between traffickers, some of whom were ministers of sacred rites. The holy precincts of the temple presented a most unsanctified and painful spectacle to those conscientious Jews who, while deploring the desecration of God's holy place, were unable to prevent it; for the dignitaries of the temple themselves engaged in buying and selling, and the exchange of money. They were artful and avaricious, and the greed of gain overbore all religious scruples, and they carried their traffic to such extremes that they were no better than thieves in the sight of God. 3SP 20.2

Three years before at the commencement of his ministry, Jesus had driven from the temple those who defiled it by their unholy traffic; and by his stern and God-like demeanor had struck awe to the hearts of the scheming traders. Now, at the close of his earthly mission, he came again to the temple of God and found it still desecrated by the same abominable practices and the same defilers. Little did the priests and rulers realize the solemn, sacred work which it was their office to perform. At every passover and Feast of Tabernacles thousands of cattle were slain, and their blood caught by the priests and poured upon the altar. The Jews had become familiar with blood as a purifier from guilt, and they had almost lost sight of the fact that sin made necessary all this shedding of the blood of beasts, and that it prefigured the blood of God's dear Son which was to be shed for the life of the world, and that by the offering of sacrifices men were to be directed toward a crucified Redeemer. 3SP 21.1

Jesus looked upon the innocent victims of sacrifice, symbolizing himself, and saw how the Jews had made these great convocations scenes of bloodshed and cruelty, thus in a great measure destroying the solemnity of the institution of sacrifices. The bringing together of such a vast number of cattle and sheep made a noisy market of the temple court, and gave scope to that spirit of avarice and sharp trading which characterized the leaders of the people, who endeavored to keep the business in their own hands. These persons realized immense profits by their exorbitant prices and false dealing. The indignation of Jesus was stirred; he knew that his blood, soon to be shed for the sins of the world, would be as little appreciated by the priests and elders as the blood of beasts which they kept incessantly flowing. 3SP 21.2

In place of humble repentance of sin the sacrifice of beasts was multiplied, as if God could be conciliated by such heartless service. Samuel said: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” And Isaiah, seeing through prophetic vision the apostasy of the Jews, addressed them as rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?” “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” 3SP 22.1

The Saviour witnessed the fulfillment of this prophecy. Three years before he had cleansed the temple, but all that defiled its courts at that time existed now in a much greater degree. In fulfillment of ancient prophecy the people had proclaimed Jesus to be the King of Israel; he had accepted their homage and the office of king and priest. He knew that his efforts to reform a corrupted priesthood would be in vain; but nevertheless, his work must be done, the evidence of his divine mission must be given to an unbelieving people. 3SP 22.2

As the piercing look of Jesus swept the desecrated court of the temple, all eyes were instinctively turned toward him. The voices of the people and the noise of the cattle were hushed. Priest, ruler, Pharisee and Gentile all looked with mute astonishment and indefinable awe upon the Son of God, who stood before them with the majesty of Heaven's King, divinity flashing through humanity and investing him with a dignity and glory he had never before displayed. A strange fear fell upon the people. Those nearest Jesus instinctively drew as far from him as the crowd would permit. With the exception of a few of his disciples the Saviour stood alone. All sound was hushed; the deep silence seemed unbearable, and when the firm, compressed lips of Jesus parted, and his voice rang out in clarion tones, there was an involuntary groan or sigh of relief from all present. 3SP 23.1

He spoke in clear accents and with a power that caused the people to sway as if moved by a mighty tempest: “It is written, My house is the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” He descended the steps, and, with greater authority than he had there manifested three years before, with indignation that quenched all opposition, in tones that rang like a trumpet through the whole temple, commanded, “Take these things hence.” The displeasure of his countenance seemed like a consuming fire; there was no questioning his authority; all fled in the greatest haste from his presence, taking with them, and driving before them, the cattle and merchandise that had desecrated the temple of the Most High. Here Christ evidenced to the world that, with all his infinite love and mercy, he could execute stern justice. 3SP 23.2

Three years before the dignitaries of the temple had been ashamed of their precipitous flight before the command of the youthful Jesus, and had since wondered at their own fears and unquestioning obedience of a single humble man. They had felt that it was impossible for such an undignified surrender on their part to be repeated. Yet a second time they were more terrified and in greater haste than before to obey his command. After the buyers and sellers had been expelled, Jesus looked upon the flying crowd with the most profound pity. Many remained anxiously hoping that this man, who assumed such power and authority, was the longed for Messiah. 3SP 24.1

The crowd, rushing from the temple courts, driving their cattle before them, met a throng that came, bearing with them the sick and dying, and inquiring for the great Healer. The flying people gave the most exaggerated report of the act of Christ in cleansing the temple. Upon hearing this some of those who were hastening to find Jesus turned back, fearing to meet one so powerful, whose very glance had driven the priests and rulers from his presence. But a large number pressed their passage through the hurrying throng, eager to reach Him who was their only hope, and feeling that should he fail to relieve them of their sorrows and maladies they might as well die at once, as his power was greater than that of all others. 3SP 24.2

A wonderful spectacle is now presented before the disciples; the court of the temple, cleansed from its defilers, is filled with the sick and suffering, some of whom are brought in a dying condition before Jesus. These afflicted ones feel their distressing need; they realize that they must perish unless the great Physician takes pity upon them. They fix their eyes imploringly upon the face of Christ, expecting to see there that severity of which they had heard from those whom they met leaving the temple; but they read in that dear face only love and tender pity. 3SP 25.1

Jesus kindly received the sick, and disease and approaching death fled at a touch of his hand. He gave hope to the sorrowing and despondent, and lifted the burdens from the hearts of those who sought him. The dumb, blind and paralytic went from his presence rejoicing in perfect soundness. He gathered little children in his arms as tenderly as would a loving mother, soothed their fretful cries, banished the fever and pain from their little forms, and handed them back, smiling and healthful, to their grateful parents. 3SP 25.2

That morning the court had been a scene of trade and traffic, full of the noisy clamor of men and of beasts; now, all was calm within that sacred enclosure; and the eager multitude heard the words of eternal life from the lips of the Saviour. Nothing interrupted his discourse save new applications for mercy and freedom from disease, and the glad shouts of praise to the Healer as he relieved them from their suffering. 3SP 25.3

The priests and rulers were involuntarily drawn back to the temple. After the first panic of terror had abated they were seized with an anxiety to know what would be the next movement of Jesus. They expected him to take the throne of David. Quietly returning to the temple, they heard the voices of men, women and children praising God. Upon entering, they stood transfixed before the strange scene being enacted before them. They saw the sick healed, the blind restored to sight, the deaf receive their hearing and the cripple leap for joy. The children were foremost in rejoicing. They repeated the hosannas that were shouted the day before, and waved palm-branches triumphantly before the Saviour. The temple echoed and re-echoed with acclamations of “Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord!” “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee. He is just and having salvation!” “Hosanna to the son of David!” 3SP 25.4

As the dignitaries of the temple beheld all this commotion, and heard the happy unrestrained voices of the children, their old intolerance returned and they set about putting a stop to such demonstrations. They represented to the people that the holy temple was polluted by the feet of the children and by their noisy shouts and rejoicing. They who had permitted and even engaged in angry altercations, and buying and selling within those sacred walls, who had heard unmoved the distracting noise of the various animals allowed within the precincts, were apparently overwhelmed with indignation that the innocent rejoicing of glad children should be tolerated within the temple court. 3SP 26.1

The priests and rulers, finding that they made no impression upon the people who had felt and witnessed the power of the divine Teacher, ventured to appeal to Christ himself, “And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” Had the voices of those happy children been silenced, the very pillars of the temple would have sounded the Saviour's praise. Jesus was ever a lover of children; he accepted their childish sympathy and their open, unaffected love. The grateful praise from their pure lips was music in his ears, and refreshed his spirits which were depressed by the hypocrisy of the Jews. On this occasion he had healed the maladies of the children, clasped them in his arms, received their kisses of grateful affection, and they had fallen asleep upon his breast while he was teaching the people. Wherever the Saviour went the benignity of his countenance, and his gentle, kindly manner won the love and confidence of children. 3SP 26.2

The Pharisees were utterly perplexed and disconcerted at the turn things had taken and the failure of their attempt to quell the enthusiasm of the people. One was in command whom they could not intimidate with their assumption of authority. Jesus had taken his position as guardian of the temple. Never before had he assumed such kingly authority; never before had his words and acts possessed so great power. He had done great and marvelous works throughout Jerusalem, but never in such a solemn and impressive manner. 3SP 27.1

Jesus, in taking charge of the temple court, had wrought there a wonderful change. He had banished the buyers and sellers, the money-changers and the cattle; “and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.” So sacred did the world's Redeemer regard the building dedicated to the worship of God. The priests and rulers dared not show open hostility to Jesus in presence of the people who had witnessed his wonderful works. Though enraged and confounded by his answer they were unable to accomplish anything farther that day. 3SP 27.2

On the following morning the Sanhedrim was assembled for the purpose of deciding what should be done with Jesus. His singular invasion of the temple was so presumptuous and surpassingly strange in their eyes, that they urged the propriety of calling him to account for the boldness of his conduct in interfering with the authorized keepers of the temple. Three years before they had challenged him to give them a sign of his Messiahship. Since that time he had wrought mighty works in their midst. He had healed the sick, miraculously fed thousands of people, walked upon the boisterous waves, and spoken peace unto the troubled sea. He had repeatedly read the secrets of their hearts like an open book; he had cast out demons, and raised the dead to life; yet they still refused to see and acknowledge the evidences of his Messiahship. 3SP 28.1

They now decided to demand no sign of his authority for his bold action regarding the temple, but to confront him with questions and charges calculated to draw out some admissions or declarations by which they might condemn him. After carefully arranging their plan they repaired to the temple where Jesus was preaching the gospel to the people, and proceeded to question him as to what authority he had for his acts in the temple. They expected him to reply that God had invested him with the authority which he had there manifested. This assertion they were prepared to deny. But instead of this Jesus met them with a question apparently pertaining to another subject: “The baptism of John, was it from Heaven, or of men?” His questioners were at a loss how to reply. If they should deny the mission of John and his baptism unto repentance, they would lose influence with the people—for John was acknowledged by them to be a prophet of God. But if they should acknowledge that John's mission was divine, then they would be obliged to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah; for John had repeatedly pointed him out to the people as the Christ, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.” John had spoken of Jesus as one whose shoe-latchet he was not worthy to unloose. 3SP 28.2

Jesus laid the burden of decision upon them as to the true character of John's mission. “And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say from Heaven, he will say, Why believed ye him not? But and if we say, Of men, all the people will stone us; for they be persuaded that John was a prophet.” In their hearts they did not accept the teachings of John. If they had done so they could not have rejected Jesus, of whom John prophesied. But they had deceived the people by assuming to believe in the ministry of John; and now they dared not, in answer to the Saviour's question, declare that John's mission was divine lest Jesus should demand their reason for not receiving the prophet's testimony concerning him. He might have said, If John was from Heaven, so am I; my ministry and work is so closely connected with his that they cannot be separated. 3SP 29.1

The people were listening with bated breath to hear what answer the priests and rulers would make to the direct question of Jesus, as to the baptism of John, whether it was from Heaven or of men. They expected them to acknowledge that John was sent of God; but, after conferring secretly among themselves, the priests decided to be as wary as possible; “and they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” Scribes, priests and rulers stood confused and disappointed before the people, whose respect they had lost in a great degree by their cowardice and indecision. 3SP 30.1

All these sayings and doings of Christ were important, and their influence was to be felt in an ever increasing degree after the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension. Many of those who had anxiously awaited the result of the questioning of Jesus, were finally to become his disciples, first drawn towards him by his words on that eventful day. The scene in the temple court was never to fade from their minds. The contrast between the appearance of Jesus and the high priest, as they talked together, was very marked. The mighty dignitary of the temple was clothed in rich and gorgeous garments, with a glittering tiara upon his head. His majestic bearing, and his hair and long flowing beard silvered by age, gave him a strikingly venerable appearance, calculated to inspire the people with profound awe. 3SP 30.2

The Majesty of Heaven stood before this august personage without ornament or display. His garments were travel-stained; his face was pale and expressed a touching sadness; yet there was a dignity and benevolence written there which contrasted strangely with the proud, self-confident and angry air of the high priest. Many of those who were witnesses of the marvelous words and deeds of Jesus in the temple, enshrined him in their hearts from that time as the prophet of God. But the hatred of the priests toward Jesus increased as the popular feeling turned in his favor. The wisdom by which he escaped the nets set for his feet, added fresh fuel to their hatred, being a new evidence of his divinity. 3SP 30.3

As they stood mortified and silent before the Saviour, humiliated in presence of the great multitude, he improved his opportunity of presenting before them their true characters, and the retribution sure to follow their evil deeds. He arranged the lesson in such a manner that the priests and elders should pronounce their own condemnation: “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not; but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir; and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?” 3SP 31.1

This abrupt question threw them off their guard; they had followed the parable closely and now immediately answered, “The first.” Fixing his steady eye upon them, Jesus responded in stern and solemn accents: “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him; and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” 3SP 31.2

These terrible truths struck home to the hearts of the hypocritical priests and rulers. The first son in the parable represented the publicans and harlots who at first refused obedience to the teachings of John, but afterwards repented and were converted. The second son represented the Jews who professed obedience and superior virtue, but insulted God by rejecting the gift of his Son. By their wicked works they forfeited the favor of Heaven. They despised the mercies of God. The most thoughtless and abandoned are represented by Jesus as occupying a more favorable position before God than the haughty and self-righteous priests and rulers. 3SP 32.1

They were unwilling to bear these searching truths, but remained silent, hoping that Jesus would say something which they could turn against him; but they had still more to bear. Jesus looked back upon the past, when his ministers, the prophets of God, were rejected and their messages trampled upon by the ancestors of the very men who stood before him. He saw that the sons were following in the footsteps of their fathers, and would fill up the cup of their iniquity by putting to death the Lord of Life. He drew from the past, present and future to compose his parable:— 3SP 32.2

“Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first; and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?” 3SP 32.3

Jesus addressed all the people present; but the priests and rulers, not anticipating that the parable was to be applied to them, answered at once, “He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.” Again they perceived that they had pronounced their own condemnation in presence of the people who were listening, with rapt interest to Jesus. The Saviour referred to messenger after messenger that had been sent in vain to Israel with reproofs, warnings and entreaties. These faithful bearers of truth had been slain by those to whom they were sent, even as the faithful servants were slain by the wicked husbandmen. In the beloved son whom the Lord of the vineyard finally sent to his disobedient servants, and whom they seized and slew, the priests and rulers suddenly saw unfolded before them, a distinct picture of Jesus and his impending fate. Already they were planning to slay Him whom the Father had sent to them as a last and only appeal. In the retribution visited upon the ungrateful husbandmen was portrayed the doom of those who should slay Christ. 3SP 33.1

In the parable of the vineyard Jesus brought before the Jews their real condition. The householder represented God, the vineyard the Jewish nation hedged in by divine law which was calculated to preserve them as a people separate and distinct from all other nations of the earth. The tower built in the vineyard represented their temple. The Lord of the vineyard had done all that was necessary for its prosperity. So God had provided for Israel in such a manner that it was in their power to secure the highest degree of prosperity. The Lord of the vineyard required of his husbandmen a due proportion of the fruit; so God required of the Jews a life corresponding with the sacred privileges he had given them. But as the servants who demanded fruit in their master's name were put to death by the unfaithful husbandmen, so had the Jews slain the prophets who had come to them with messages from God. Not only were these rejected, but when he sent his only Son to them, the destined Heir to the vineyard, thinking to preserve the vineyard to themselves, and to secure the honor and profit accruing therefrom, the haughty Jews, the unfaithful servants, reasoned among themselves, saying, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him.” Thus Jesus revealed in his parable the dark purposes of the Jews against himself. 3SP 34.1

After Jesus had heard them pronounce sentence upon themselves in their condemnation of the wicked husbandmen, he looked pityingly upon them and continued: “Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected the same has become the head of the corner; this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” 3SP 34.2

The Jews had often repeated the words of this prophecy while teaching the people in the synagogues, applying it to the coming Messiah. But Jesus connected the heir so cruelly slain with the stone which the builders rejected, but which eventually became the principal stone of the whole building. Christ himself was the originator of the Jewish system, the very foundation of the costly temple, the antitype to whom all the sacrificial services pointed. The Jews had watched with apparent anxiety for the coming of Christ. The scribes, who were learned in the law and acquainted with the declarations of the prophets regarding his coming, knew from prophetic history that the time of looking and waiting for his advent to the world had expired. Through the parables which Jesus spoke to the Jews, he brought their minds to prophecies which had foretold the very things which were then being enacted. He sought by every means within his power to awaken their consciences and to enlighten their understanding, that they might consider well the steps they were meditating. 3SP 35.1

In these parables he laid the purposes of the Pharisees before them, together with the fearful consequences resulting. A solemn warning was thus given to them. And to leave the matter without a shadow of doubt, Jesus then dropped all figures and stated plainly that the kingdom of God should be taken from them and given to a nation bringing forth fruit. At this the chief priests and scribes were so enraged they could scarcely restrain themselves from using violence against him; but perceiving the love and reverence with which the people regarded him they dared not follow out the malice of their hearts. 3SP 35.2