Luke 19:45–20:8 . . . Bible Study Summary with Photos
A Variety of Temple Cleansings
Last week's studied passage dealt with Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowd was jubilant, carpeting Jesus' path with garments and foliage, waving palm branches, and shouting "Hosanna! Save us!" and "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" But the Pharisees were scowling and angry at that popular acclaim. However, Jesus showed no sympathy with the unbelief of the Pharisees. His words were a judgment on their blindness — indeed the blindness of Jerusalem as a whole, both its leaders and people.
Today's passage covers two short sections: Jesus' cleansing of the temple, and the dispute over Jesus' authority to teach. Both relate to the utter blindness of his opponents. We, his disciples, need to keep our antennae up so we can learn what Jesus wants us to learn from both incidents. Let's begin to learn.
Jesus Attacks Religion Instead of Rome
Did the Israelites expect Jesus, who'd made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to immediately wage an attack on Rome and its rule? Jesus made no such attack. Instead, he attacked the Jewish religious system itself and renounced its evils. Marching on the temple for a second time (cf. John 2:13–16), Jesus cast out the money-changers. He did this during the holiday season when "business" there in the temple area must have been booming. Sadly, instead of using the temple for a place of prayer and worship, the religious leaders made it a venue for personal gain. Jesus had subsequently returned to the temple daily, teaching the people therein. For a short time thereafter, the temple served its original purpose. Soon, that temple, as indicated in last week's closing passage (Luke 19:43–44), would be destroyed. God was going to see to it that the old temple would be torn down, and that a new temple would be created; the new temple wouldn't be made by hands and wouldn't distinguish between Jews and Gentiles.
Jesus' attack on the religious system of his day was strongly reacted to by those with a vested interest: the chief priests, the teachers of the Law, and the leaders of the people. They weren't yet able to kill Jesus, due to the crowds, but they were intent on putting him to death at the earliest possible moment. The battle lines were drawn, but the lines weren't between the Messiah and Rome; instead they were drawn between the Messiah and religion — the Jewish religion.
Driving Commercialism Out of the Temple (vv. 45–46)
Luke touches on Jesus' cleansing of the temple only briefly; most of our data comes from the other gospel writers (Matthew 21:12–13; Mark 11:15–17; John 2:13–16). John gives the most detail, but places "Jesus Clears the Temple Courts" at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry. Is this the same event as the cleansing of the temple event that happened just before Holy Week, or were they two separate events? There are good arguments on both sides. However you interpret the timing of the event, Jesus' action was angry and violent. He "drove out" the money-changers and those selling "temple-approved" sacrifices. The Greek word is ekballo, "force to leave, 'drive out, expel.'" The same word was often used to describe Jesus powerfully driving out demons from the afflicted.
Apparently, sales within the temple were conducted under the auspices and with permission of the high priest's family, which received a commission from every sale. Jews couldn't give Roman coins as an offering, so they exchanged their Roman coins for Tyrian coinage, and the money-changers made a profit on each exchange. Likewise, sacrifices to be offered in the temple needed to be certified by a priest as being "without blemish." For convenience, many pilgrims would purchase an animal sacrifice inside the temple area rather than herd around for several days one that they'd brought on their way to the Holy City for Passover. Yes, it was a convenience to purchase sacrifices at the temple; but the related price gouging was often terrible, which is why Jesus condemned these crooked dealers as being "robbers" (NIV) or "thieves" (KJV).
Death Threats Toward the Temple Teacher (vv. 47–48)
It's easy to see how the number of Jesus' enemies multiplied daily. Previously, Jesus had challenged the Pharisees. Now he threatens the economic basis of the high priests' family, albeit at such a lucrative time — Passover! Jesus has become a marked man (v. 47). Although not previously united, we see in that verse who Jesus' enemies are and how they stand together in their attempts to bring charges against him. They include: the chief priests, teachers of the Law, and leaders among the people.
The Question of Authority (20:1–2)
Authority is always subject to abuse. Such was the case in biblical times as well as it is today. Luke alerted his readers to that reality early in his gospel when he told us that John the Baptist instructed repentant tax-collectors not to collect more than they'd been ordered to collect, and urged the soldiers not to extort. Both instances had demonstrated a clear abuse of authority (3:12–14).
The issue underlying this section of Scripture is that of authority. Jesus had clearly declared himself as being Israel's Messiah by his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He demonstrated his right as Messiah to possess his kingdom, including the two donkeys (19:30–35). The words, "the Lord needs them," spoken by his two disciples, was all that was needed to convince the donkeys' owners that they could be taken. The entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem, his acceptance of praise as Messiah, and his refusal to silence the multitudes, all demonstrated his right, as God's Son, to possess men's praise. And, his entrance into the temple, his cleansing of it, and his taking possession of it to teach daily there, were proof of his authority to possess and make proper use of his temple.
Truth or Consequences (vv. 3–8)
The issue in these six verses is compelling, for John the Baptist had introduced Jesus to Israel as the Messiah. If the Jerusalem leaders were going to accept and acclaim Jesus' authority, they'd also have to accept John's authority, for if John was a divinely appointed prophet (i.e., a spokesman for God), then Jesus was certainly the Messiah. Jesus forced his opponents to deal with the testimony of John before he'd bear witness to himself. Furthermore, if they refused to accept John's witness, then they surely wouldn't receive Jesus. Therefore, let them declare themselves on John's authority. But, what authority did John have, and who sent him? If they'd answer Jesus' question, then he'd answer theirs.
As he did on other occasions when asked trick questions, Jesus sidestepped and asked his opponents a trick question of his own. Since they were unwilling to answer his simple question, he refused to answer their question. His deft handling of their question successfully put off his opponents, at least for the moment. This was only Round 1 in his opponents' self-conceived and -perpetuated lethal game.
We ought to look closely at the basic question that Jesus posed to his tricksters: Was John sent by God, or did he simply go on his own? Note that Jesus reduced the options to only two, indeed the only two possible options: Authority is either human or divine. Thus, Jesus pressed his opponents to declare whether John's authority was from God, or whether John was simply acting on his own (human) initiative.
The deliberation of the leaders is amusing, enlightening, and tragic, all at the same time. Never do they explore this issue with an intent to "learn the truth." Sadly, they're not interested in truth, but in consequences. They've already made up their minds but they lacked the courage to speak up and allow the crowd to hear them. They differed with the majority who'd held John to be a prophet; the leaders rejected him as such. Thus, they were forced, by Jesus, to consider the consequences of whatever answer they might give. They resembled politicians rather than spiritual leaders. Their prime concern became: What will the people do if we say this or that? They didn't want to lose their position or power; for them the entire discussion was merely pragmatic.
The so-called leaders dared not say what they really believed; as a result, they had to say nothing. Their answer was probably one of the most painful they'd ever given, for they were forced to say, "We don't know." For leaders whose authority was based on their "knowing all," this was the kiss of death. How they must have choked on those words, especially when they were convinced that they knew the answer. Because they refused to answer, so did Jesus. How could they demand an answer from him when they wouldn't truthfully reveal their answer?
It Makes You Wonder . . . .
- Q. 1 What reason does Jesus give for driving the money-changers and sacrifice-sellers out of the temple?
- Q. 2 The chief priests had corrupted themselves with proceeds from temple sales, and Jesus had threatened their revenue. How can we Christians be corrupted by money?
This Week's Passage
Jesus at the Temple
45When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. 46"It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"
47Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. 48Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.
The Authority of Jesus Questioned
20 One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2"Tell us by what authority you are doing these things," they said. "Who gave you this authority?"
3He replied, "I will also ask you a question. Tell me: 4John's baptism — was it from heaven, or of human origin?"
5They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Why didn't you believe him?' 6But if we say, 'Of human origin,' all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet."
7So they answered, "We don't know where it was from."
8Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."