No room for "all nations"

Howard Culbertson
Sunday, April 1, 2012

 

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Only rarely does the story of Jesus driving merchants and money-changers out of the Temple prompt discussion about world evangelism. That is lamentable, given that Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7 as the reason for His actions: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.

Conversations on the cleansing of the Temple almost never mention Isaiah’s “for all nations” phrase.  One reason may be that only Mark records the entire verse from Isaiah.  However, by ignoring those last three words of Isaiah 56:7, we may well miss what was really going on that day.  The central issue may not have been the corrupt and abusive commerce in and of itself. The central issue may have been that the Court of the Gentiles had been taken over by such activity. That essentially evicted non-Jews from the Temple and meant that the Temple could no longer truly be “a house of prayer for all nations.”

Matthew, Mark and Luke all place Jesus’ purifying of the Temple on Monday of Holy Week.  On Friday of that same week, Jesus died as a sacrifice “for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).  Thus, as Jesus entered the Temple at the beginning of Passover Week, a concern for all peoples on earth was likely weighing heavily on Him.  Maybe He was already formulating in His mind the exhortations He would give about preaching the gospel “to all creation” (Mark 16:15) and being witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Given what Jesus was going to face later in the week, it is logical that His heart would have been focused that Monday on “all nations.”  That would have made Him especially sensitive to the Court of the Gentiles being occupied by money-changers and sellers of animals and birds.  While the price-gouging and currency-exchange fraud certainly desecrated God’s holy Temple, what may well have pushed Jesus to the boiling point was seeing the Gentile area usurped and turned into “a den of thieves” (a phrase from Jeremiah 7:11).  With the Gentiles effectively squeezed out, the Temple could no longer serve as “a house of prayer for all nations.”

Jesus’ life on earth begins in Bethlehem with a plaintive “no room in the inn” story.  Isn’t it ironic that at the end of his earthly life, Jesus faces another “no room” sign? That one barred the way to the Temple for many of those for whom He was about to die!  Is it any wonder that His emotions boiled over that day?  Perhaps ours should do the same whenever something hinders “all nations” from coming to worship their Creator.

-- Howard Culbertson is professor of missions and world evangelism at Southern Nazarene University, in Bethany, Oklahoma, U.S. Culbertson, who formerly served as a missionary in Italy and Haiti, has published numerous articles, books, and chapters in books on missions. To access his many resources on mission, visit http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/.