When Christ came into Jerusalem, he did not go up to the court or the palace, though he came in as a King, but into the temple; for his kingdom is spiritual, and not of this world; it is in holy things that he rules, in the temple of God that he exercises authority. Now, what did he do there?
I. Thence he drove the buyers and sellers. Abuses must first be purged out, and the plants not of God’s planting be plucked up, before that which is right can be established. The great Redeemer appear as a great Reformer, that turns away ungodliness, Rom. 11:26. Here we are told,
1. What he did (Matt. 21:12); He cast out all them that sold and bought; he had done this once before (John 2:14, 15), but there was occasion to do it again. Note, Buyers and sellers driven out of the temple, will return and nestle there again, if there be not a continual care and oversight to prevent it, and if the blow be not followed, and often repeated.
(1.) The abuse was, buying and selling, and changing money, in the temple. Note, Lawful things, ill timed and ill placed, may become sinful things. That which was decent enough in another place, and not only lawful, but laudable, on another day, defiles the sanctuary, and profanes the sabbath. This buying and selling, and changing money, though secular employments, yet had the pretence of being in ordine ad spiritualia—for spiritual purposes. They sold beasts for sacrifice, for the convenience of those that could more easily bring their money with them than their beast; and they changed money for those that wanted the half shekel, which was their yearly poll, or redemption-money; or, upon the bills of return; so that this might pass for the outward business of the house of God; and yet Christ will not allow of it. Note, Great corruptions and abuses come into the church by the practices of those whose gain is godliness, that is, who make worldly gain the end of their godliness, and counterfeit godliness their way to worldly gain (1 Tim. 6:5); from such withdraw thyself.
(2.) The purging out of this abuse. Christ cast them out that sold. He did it before with a scourge of small cords (John 2:15); now he did it with a look, with a frown, with a word of command. Some reckon this none of the least of Christ’s miracles, that he should himself thus clear the temple, and not be opposed in it by them who by this craft got their living, and were backed in it by the priests and elders. It is an instance of his power over the spirits of men, and the hold he has of them by their own consciences. This was the only act of regal authority and coercive power that Christ did in the days of his flesh; he began with it, John 2:12-25 and here ended with it. Tradition says, that his face shone, and beams of light darted from his blessed eyes, which astonished these market-people, and compelled them to yield to his command; if so, the scripture was fulfilled, Prov. 20:8; A King that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes. He overthrew the tables of the money-changers; he did not take the money to himself, but scattered it, threw it to the ground, the fittest place for it. The Jews, in Esther’s time, on the spoil laid not their hand, Est. 9:10.
2. What he said, to justify himself, and to convict them (Matt. 21:13); It is written. Note, In the reformation of the church, the eye must be upon the scripture, and that must be adhered to as the rule, the pattern in the mount; and we must go no further than we can justify ourselves with, It is written. Reformation is then right, when corrupted ordinances are reduced to their primitive institution.
(1.) He shows, from a scripture prophecy, what the temple should be, and was designed to be; My house shall be called the house of prayer; which is quoted from Isa. 56:7. Note, All the ceremonial institutions were intended to be subservient to moral duties; the house of sacrifices was to be a house of prayer, for that was the substance and soul of all those services; the temple was in a special manner sanctified to be a house of prayer, for it was not only the place of that worship, but the medium of it, so that the prayers made in or toward that house had a particular promise of acceptance (2 Chron. 6:21), as it was a type of Christ; therefore Daniel looked that way in prayer; and in this sense no house or place is now, or can be, a house of prayer, for Christ is our Temple; yet in some sense the appointed places of our religious assemblies may be so called, as places where prayer is wont to be made, Acts 16:13.
(2.) He shows, from a scripture reproof, how they had abused the temple, and perverted the intention of it; Ye have made it a den of thieves. This is quoted from Jer. 7:11; Isa. this house become a den of robbers in your eyes? When dissembled piety is made the cloak and cover of iniquity, it may be said that the house of prayer is become a den of thieves, in which they lurk, and shelter themselves. Markets are too often dens of thieves, so many are the corrupt and cheating practices in buying and selling; but markets in the temple are certainly so, for they rob God of his honour, the worst of thieves, Mal. 3:8. The priests lived, and lived plentifully, upon the altar; but, not content with that, they found other ways and means to squeeze money out of the people; and therefore Christ here calls them thieves, for they exacted that which did not belong to them.
II. There, in the temple, he healed the blind and the lame, Matt. 21:14. When he had driven the buyers and sellers out of the temple, he invited the blind and lame into it; for he fills the hungry with good things, but the rich he sends empty away. Christ, in the temple, by his word there preached, and in answer to the prayers there made, heals those that are spiritually blind and lame. It is good coming to the temple, when Christ is there, who, as he shows himself jealous for the honour of his temple, in expelling those who profane it, so he shows himself gracious to those who humbly seek him. The blind and the lame were debarred David’s palace (2 Sam. 5:8), but were admitted into God’s house; for the state and honour of his temple lie not in those things wherein the magnificence of princes’ palaces is supposed to consist; from them blind and lame must keep their distance, but from God’s temple only the wicked and profane. The temple was profane and abused when it was made a market-place, but it was graced and honoured when it was made an hospital; to be doing good in God’s, is more honourable, and better becomes it, than to be getting money there. Christ’s healing was a real answer to that question, Who is this? His works testified of him more than the hosannas; and his healing in the temple was the fulfilling of the promise, that the glory of the latter house should be greater than the glory of the former.
There also he silenced the offence which the chief priests and scribes took at the acclamations with which he was attended, Matt. 21:15, 16. They that should have been most forward to give him honour, were his worst enemies.
1. They were inwardly vexed at the wonderful things that he did; they could not deny them to be true miracles, and therefore were cut to the heart with indignation at them, as Acts 4:16; 5:33. The works that Christ did, recommended themselves to every man’s conscience. If they had any sense, they could not but own the miracle of them; and if any good nature, could not but be in love with the mercy of them: yet, because they were resolved to oppose him, for these they envied him, and bore him a grudge.
2. They openly quarrelled at the children’s hosannas; they thought that hereby an honour was given him, which did not belong to him, and that it looked like ostentation. Proud men cannot bear that honour should be done to any but to themselves, and are uneasy at nothing more than at the just praises of deserving men. Thus Saul envied David the women’s songs; and “Who can stand before envy?” When Christ is most honoured, his enemies are most displeased.
Just now we had Christ preferring the blind and the lame before the buyers and sellers; now here we have him (Matt. 21:16), taking part with the children against priests and scribes.
Observe, (1.) The children were in the temple, perhaps playing there; no wonder, when the rulers make it a market-place, that the children make it a place of pastime; but we are willing to hope that many of them were worshipping there. Note, It is good to bring children betimes to the house of prayer, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Let children be taught to keep up the form of godliness, it will help to lead them to the power of it. Christ has a tenderness for the lambs of his flock.
(2.) They were there crying Hosanna to the Son of David. This they learned from those that were grown up. Little children say and do as they hear others say, and see others do; so easily do they imitate; and therefore great care must be taken to set them good examples, and no bad ones. Maxima debetur puero reverentia—Our intercourse with the young should be conducted with the most scrupulous care. Children will learn of those that are with them, either to curse and swear, or to pray and praise. The Jews did betimes teach their children to carry branches at the feast of tabernacles, and to cry Hosanna; but God taught them here to apply it to Christ. Note, Hosanna to the Son of David well becomes the mouths of little children, who should learn young the language of Canaan.
(3.) Our Lord Jesus not only allowed it, but was very well pleased with it, and quoted a scripture which was fulfilled in it (Ps. 8:2), or, at least, may be accommodated to it; Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise; which, some think, refers to the children’s joining in the acclamations of the people, and the women’s songs with which David was honoured when he returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, and therefore is very fitly applied here to the hosannas with which the Son of David was saluted, now that he was entering upon his conflict with Satan, that Goliath. Note, [1.] Christ is so far from being ashamed of the services of little children, that he takes particular notice of them (and children love to be taken notice of), and is well pleased with them. If God may be honoured by babes and sucklings, who are made to hope at the best, much more by children who are grown up to maturity and some capacity. [2.] Praise is perfected out of the mouth of such; it has a peculiar tendency to the honour and glory of God for little children to join in his praises; the praise would be accounted defective and imperfect, if they had not their share in it; which is an encouragement for children to be good betimes, and to parents to teach them to be so; the labour neither of the one nor of the other shall be in vain. In the psalm it is, Thou hast ordained strength. Note, God perfecteth praise, by ordaining strength out of the mouths of babes and sucklings. When great things are brought about by weak and unlikely instruments, God is thereby much honoured, for his strength is perfected in weakness, and the infirmities of the babes and sucklings serve for a foil to the divine power. That which follows in the psalm, That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger, was very applicable to the priests and scribes; but Christ did not apply it to them, but left it to them to apply it.
Lastly, Christ, having thus silenced them, forsook them, Matt. 21:17. He left them, in prudence, lest they should now have seized him before his hour was come; in justice, because they had forfeited the favour of his presence. By repining at Christ’s praises we drive him from us. He left them as incorrigible, and he went out of the city to Bethany, which was a more quiet retired place; not so much that he might sleep undisturbed as that he might pray undisturbed. Bethany was but two little miles from Jerusalem; thither he went on foot, to show that, when he rode, it was only to fulfil the scripture. He was not lifted up with the hosannas of the people; but, as having forgot them, soon returned to his mean and toilsome way of traveling.
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