| Although not only priests, but all other non-obligatory officers, and those who paid for their poorer brethren, were exempted from the charge of qolbon, it must have brought in an immense revenue, since not only many native Palestinians might come without the statutory coin, but a vast number of foreign Jews presented themselves on such occasions in the Temple.
But even this does not represent all the facts of the case. We have already seen, that the 'money changers' in the Temple gave change, when larger amounts than were equivalent to the Temple-tribute were proffered. It is a reasonable, nay, an almost necessary inference, that many of the foreign Jews arriving in Jerusalem would take the opportunity of changing at these tables their foreign money, and for this, of course, fresh charges would be made. For, there was a great deal to be bought within the Temple-area, needful for the feast (in the way of sacrifices and their adjuncts), or for purification, and it would be better to get the right money from the authorized changers, than have disputes with the dealers.
We can picture to ourselves the scene around the table of an Eastern money changer - the weighing of the coins, deductions for loss of weight, arguing, disputing, bargaining - and we can realize the terrible truthfulness of our Lord's charge that they had made the Father's House a mart and place of traffic. But even so, the business of the Temple money changers would not be exhausted. Through their hands would pass the immense votive offerings of foreign Jews, or of proselytes, to the Temple; indeed, they probably transacted all business matters connected with the Sanctuary. It is difficult to realize the vast accumulation of wealth in the Temple-treasury. But some idea of it may be formed from the circumstance that, despite many previous spoliations, the value of the gold and silver which Crassus carried from the Temple-treasury amounted to the enormous sum of about two and a half millions sterling. Whether or not these Temple money changers may have transacted other banking business, given drafts, or cashed those from correspondents, received and lent money at interest - all which was common at the time - must remain undetermined.
The prices were fixed by tariff every month, and on payment of the stated amount the offerer received one of four counterfoils, which respectively indicated, and, on handing it to the proper official, procured the prescribed complement of his sacrifice. The Priests and Levites in charge of this made up their accounts every evening, and these (though necessary) transactions must have left a considerable margin of profit to the treasury. This would soon lead to another kind of traffic. Offerers might, of course, bring their sacrificial animals with them, and we know that on the Mount of Olives there were four shops, specially for the sale of pigeons and other things requisite for sacrificial purposes. But then, when an animal was brought, it had to be examined as to its Levitical fitness by persons regularly qualified and appointed. Disputes might here arise, due to the ignorance of the purchaser, or the greed of the examiner. A regularly qualified examiner was called mumcheh (one approved), and how much labor was given to the acquisition of the requisite knowledge appears from the circumstance, that a certain teacher is said to have spent eighteen months with a farmer, to learn what faults in an animal were temporary, and which permanent.
The whole of this traffic - money-changing, selling of doves, and market for sheep and oxen - was in itself, and from its attendant circumstances, a terrible desecration; it was also liable to gross abuses. But was there about the time of Christ anything to make it specially obnoxious and unpopular? The priesthood must always have derived considerable profit from it - of course, not the ordinary priests, who came up in their 'orders' to minister in the Temple, but the permanent priestly officials, the resident leaders of the priesthood, and especially the High-Priestly family. This opens up a most interesting inquiry, closely connected, as we shall show, with Christ's visit to the Temple at this Passover. But the materials here at our command are so disjointed, that, in attempting to put them together, we can only suggest what seems most probable, not state what is absolutely certain. What became of the profits of the money changers, and who were the real owners of the Temple-market?
To the first of these questions the Jerusalem Talmud gives no less than five different answers, showing that there was no fixed rule as to the employment of these profits, or, at least, that it was no longer known at that time. Although four of these answers point to their use for the public service, yet that which seems most likely assigns the whole profits to the money changers themselves. But in that case it can scarcely be doubted, that they had to pay a considerable rental or percentage to the leading Temple-officials. The profits from the sale of meat- and drink-offerings went to the Temple-treasury. But it can hardly be believed, that such was the case in regard to the Temple-market.
On the other hand, there can be little doubt, that this market was what in Rabbinic writings is styled 'the Bazaars of the sons of Annas' (Chanuyoth beney Chanan), the sons of that High-Priest Annas, who is so infamous in New Testament history. When we read that the Sanhedrin, forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, transferred its meeting-place from 'the Hall of Hewn Stones' (on the south side of the Court of the Priest, and therefore partly within the Sanctuary itself) to 'the Bazaars,' and then afterwards to the City, the inference is plain, that these Bazaars were those of the sons of Annas the High-Priest, and that they occupied part of the Temple-court; in short, that the Temple-market and the Bazaars of the sons of Annas are identical.
If this inference, which is in accordance with received Jewish opinion, be admitted, we gain much light as regards the purification of the Temple by Jesus, and the words which He spake on that occasion. For, our next position is that, from the unrighteousness of the traffic carried on in these Bazaars, and the greed of their owners, the 'Temple-market' was at the time most unpopular. This appears, not only from the conduct and words of the patriarch Simeon and of Baba ben Buta (as above quoted), but from the fact that popular indignation, three years before the destruction of Jerusalem, swept away the Bazaars of the family of Annas, and this, as expressly stated, on account of the sinful greed which characterized their dealings. And if any doubt should still linger in the mind, it would surely be removed by our Lord's open denunciation of the Temple-market, on two different occasions, as a place for those who rob.
12 Jesus went into the Temple, drove out the merchants, and knocked over the money changers’ tables and the stalls of those selling doves. 13 “The Scriptures say my Temple is a place of prayer,” he declared, “but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”(Matthew 21:12-13, TLB)
15 They came to Jerusalem, and He went into the temple complex and began to throw out those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple complex. 17 Then He began to teach them: “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves!” 18 Then the chief priests and the scribes heard it and started looking for a way to destroy Him. For they were afraid of Him, because the whole crowd was astonished by His teaching. (Mark 11:15-18, HCSB)
45 And having entered into the temple, he began to cast forth those selling in it, and those buying, 46 saying to them, ‘It hath been written, My house is a house of prayer - but ye made it a den of robbers.’ (Luke 19:45-46, YLT)
Of the avarice and corruption of this High-Priestly family, alike Josephus and the Rabbis give a most terrible picture. Josephus describes Annas (or Ananus), the son of the Annas of the New Testament, as 'a great hoarder up of money,' very rich, and as despoiling by open violence the common priests of their official revenues. The Talmud also records the curse which a distinguished Rabbi of Jerusalem (Abba Shaul) pronounced upon the High-Priestly families (including that of Annas), who were 'themselves High-Priests, their sons treasurers (Gizbarin), their sons-in-law assistant-treasurers (Ammarkalin), while their servants beat the people with sticks.' What a comment this passage offers on the bearing of Jesus, as He made a scourge to drive out the very servants who 'beat the people with sticks,' and upset their unholy traffic! It were easy to add from Rabbinic sources repulsive details of their luxuriousness, wastefulness, gluttony, and general dissoluteness. No wonder that, in the figurative language of the Talmud, the Temple is represented as crying out against them: 'Go hence, ye sons of Eli, ye defile the Temple of Jehovah!' These painful notices of the state of matters at that time help us better to understand what Christ did, and who they were that opposed His doing.
These Temple-Bazaars, the property, and one of the principal sources of income, of the family of Annas, were the scene of the purification of the Temple by Jesus; and in the private locale attached to these very Bazaars, where the Sanhedrin held its meetings at the time, the final condemnation of Jesus may have been planned, if not actually pronounced. All this has its deep significance. But we can now also understand why the Temple officials, to whom these Bazaars belonged, only challenged the authority of Christ in thus purging the Temple. The unpopularity of the whole traffic, if not their consciences, prevented their proceeding to actual violence. Lastly, we can also better perceive the significance, alike of Christ's action, and of His reply to their challenge, spoken as it was close to the spot where He was so soon to be condemned by them. Nor do we any longer wonder that no resistance was offered by the people to the action of Jesus, and that even the remonstrances of the priests were not direct, but in the form of a perplexing question.
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23 When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone. (John 2:13-25, NRSV)
For it is in the direction just indicated, and in no other, that objections have been raised to the narrative of Christ's first public act in Jerusalem: the purgation of the Temple. Commentators have sufficiently pointed out the differences between this and the purgation of the Temple at the close of His Ministry. Indeed, on comparison, these are so obvious, that every reader can mark them. Nor does it seem difficult to understand, rather does it seem not only fitting, but almost logically necessary, that, if any such event had occurred, it should have taken place both at the beginning and at the close of His public ministry in the Temple. Nor yet is there anything either 'abrupt' or 'tactless' in such a commencement of his Ministry. It is not only profane, but unhistorical, to look for calculation and policy in the Life of Jesus. Had there been such, He would not have died on the Cross. And 'abrupt' it certainly was not. Jesus took up the thread where he had dropped it on His first recorded appearance in the Temple, when he had spoken His wonder, that those who knew Him should have been ignorant, that He must be about His Father's business. He was now about His Father's business, and, as we may so say, in the most elementary manner. To put an end to this desecration of His Father's House, which, by a nefarious traffic, had been made a place of mart, 'a den of robbers,' was, what all who knew His Mission must have felt, a most suitable and almost necessary beginning of His Messianic Work.
And many of those present must have known Jesus. The zeal of His early disciples, who, on their first recognition of Him, proclaimed the new-found Messiah, could not have given place to absolute silence. The many Galilean pilgrims in the Temple could not but have spread the tidings, and the report must soon have passed from one to the other in the Temple-courts, as He first entered their sacred enclosure. They would follow Him, and watch what He did. Nor were they disappointed. He inaugurated His Mission by fulfilling the prediction concerning Him Who was to be Israel's refiner and purifier.
1 “See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire - see, He is coming,” says the LORD of Hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye.
3 He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 4 And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the LORD as in days of old and years gone by (Malachi 3:1-3, HCSB)
And behind Him was gathered the wondering multitude, that could not but sympathize with such bold, right royal, and Messianic vindication of Temple sanctity from the nefarious traffic of a hated, corrupt, and avaricious Priesthood. It was a scene worth witnessing by any true Israelite, a protest and an act which, even among a less emotional people, would have gained Him respect, approbation, and admiration, and which, at any rate, secured his safety.
And Jesus then and there knew it all, foresaw, or rather saw it all. His answer told it. It was - as all His teaching to those who seeing do not see, and hearing do not hear, whose understanding is darkened and heart hardened - in parabolic language, which only the after-event would make clear. As for 'the sign,' then and ever again sought by an 'evil and adulterous generation' - evil in their thoughts and ways and adulterous to the God of Israel - He had then, as afterwards, only one 'sign' to give:
Thus He met their challenge for a sign by the challenge of a sign: Crucify Him, and He would rise again; let them suppress the Christ, He would triumph. A sign this which they understood not, but misunderstood, and by making it the ground of their false charge in His final trial, themselves unwittingly fulfilled.
And yet to all time this is the sign, and the only sign, which the Christ has given, which He still gives to every 'evil and adulterous generation,' to all sin-lovers and God-forsakers. They will destroy, so far as their power reaches, the Christ, crucify Him, give His words the lie, suppress, sweep away Christianity - and they shall not succeed: He shall triumph. As on that first Easter-day, so now and ever in history, He raises up the Temple, which they break down. This is the 'sign,' the evidence, the only 'sign,' which the Christ gives to His enemies; a sign which, as an historical fact, has been patent to all men, and seen by them; which might have been evidence, but being of the nature of miracle, not explicable by natural agencies, they have misunderstood, viewing 'the Temple' merely as a building, of which they fully know the architecture, manner, and time of construction, but of whose spiritual character and upbuilding they have no knowledge nor thought. And thus, as to that generation, so to all which have followed, this is still the 'sign,' if they understand it - the only sign, the Great Miracle.