In my county, we have many farmers’ markets and bazaars, places where people can rent space, set up a stand and sell their produce or wares. The three most popular and busy are probably Central Market in the city, Green Dragon in Ephrata, and Root’s in Manheim, though there are others. They are incredibly fun places, filled with people walking the aisles of stalls, looking for meats and vegetables, and antiques, crafts, and delicious food. If you visit Lancaster County, these three markets are stops you’ll want on your intinerary.
One time Jesus visited a place like these, and it made him react in a way that was quite surprising. If you want, you can open your Bible and turn to Matthew 21, one of the chapters that tells this story. We’re studying Matthew 21 this week because, as we saw in the previous post, it describes what is traditionally called Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into the city of Jerusalem. Riding on a lowly donkey, the crowds that day proclaim Jesus as the embodiment of the messianic king, of the line of the great Israelite king David.
We read in verse 10 that news of this momentous event spread like an earthquake through the city. Everyone was talking about it.
It is interesting that in verse 11 Jesus is also identified as a prophet. God, through Moses, in Deuteronomy 18, had predicted that a great Prophet would one day come to Israel. Over the years, of course, many prophets did minister the word of the Lord in Israel, and Jesus was by far the epitome of them all. So both designations are correct, as he is Prophet and King. What would this prophet king do?
In verse 12 we read that Jesus enters the temple. The temple area Matthew refers to is an outer court that was used almost like a concessions area in a stadium. Imagine you’re going to a baseball game when the virus is finally past us. You enter the stadium and all around the field is the seating area, but underneath or behind the seating areas are concessions where you can buy food and memorabilia. It was very similar at the temple in Jerusalem.
The temple complex was massive. It had various courtyards around the main temple building, and these courtyards were restricted based on who you were. Almost like security clearances.
If you were the high priest, you had access to every part of the temple complex. If you were a regular priest you could go everywhere but the holiest place deep inside the temple building itself. If you were a Jewish male, you could go to all the courtyards. If you were a Jewish woman, you could only go to the women’s courtyard. If you were non-Jewish, you could only go to a place called the Court of Gentiles.
The heart behind all this, even though it is culturally different from the “open to all” approach of the New Testament church, was still that there would be a place for all to worship. But in that Court of Gentiles, the priests had set up a kind of concessions area, and people would come to buy and sell there. What did it look like? Think of a farmer’s market, with many different stands, busyness and business all around, with lots of noise and hustle and bustle. As we’ll see, there was especially lots of hustle going on.
Why did they set up a concessions area in the temple? The priests weren’t just outright saying, “Guys, we have all this space, let’s set up a market and make cash.” No, in that area they allowed two kinds of businesses specifically supporting to the sacrificial system of the temple. Check back in to the next post as we learn what these businesses were about, and why Jesus reacted so strongly against them.