God loves sinners. And sometimes, if we’re honest, it can be downright annoying. Jesus died so that the worst of the worst could be saved. That includes our least favorite people—the ones who have hurt us, the ones who are still hurting us, and the ones we’re afraid of. If we were assigned the task of doling out grace, these folks would not be on our list. But God’s mercy is bigger than our moral outrage, and it exposes places deep within us where we’re still savoring the forbidden fruit of the garden, clinging to the lie of the enemy: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). We believe we know best, and our compass is made up of the big and small offenses we carry around with us.
We’re not the first to do this though. In Jesus’s day, the Jewish religious leaders had their own way of putting themselves in the place of God. They wanted to limit access to the kindness of the Lord, believing their enemies were God’s as well. But then Jesus showed up in the temple complex.
The Old Testament prophets spoke of a time when God’s people would not just be the people of Israel. Men and women would come from all over the world to worship the world’s true King. Malachi recorded, “‘My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in my name in every place because my name will be great among the nations,’ says the LORD of Armies” (Malachi 1:11). And Isaiah wrote, “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills. All nations will stream to it” (Isaiah 2:2).
But the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day were not so excited about this prospect. These nations, one after another, had not been so kind to them—the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Syrians, and now the Romans (to name a few) had trampled over the people of God for as long as they could remember. No one was eager to roll out the red carpet for these folks. So the people in power promptly ignored what God had said. Naturally, Jesus had to remind them between snaps of His whip (see John 2:15 for that detail): “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?” (Mark 11:17; Isaiah 56:7).
The temple was made up of several sections, becoming more exclusive as one neared the Most Holy Place. The moneychangers and merchants who received the brunt of Jesus’s righteous anger had set up shop in the outer court, known as the Court of the Gentiles. This was the place where people from every nation on earth could come and worship the living God. In fact, it was the only place in the temple complex where they were permitted. In a cool bit of archaeology, two of the signs placed in the Court of the Gentiles from Jesus’s day have been discovered. The best preserved of the pair reads, “No alien may enter within the balustrade around the sanctuary and the enclosure. Whoever is caught, on himself shall he put blame for the death which will ensue.”
The religious leaders of His day were making the same stubborn, rebellious mistakes as their forefathers, pushing aside God and His vision for the world. That’s why Jesus quoted the book of Jeremiah, saying that they had made God’s temple “a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17; Jeremiah 7:11). Jesus lived with the kingdom of God always in view. He knew a day was coming when the dividing line between Jew and Gentile would be torn down and when people of every tribe, tongue, and nation would be citizens of that kingdom. His actions in cleansing the temple were prophetic. He was making room for the future that God was—and still is—bringing.
Wherever God has given us a voice and the agency to do so, let’s make room for the future. Let’s make our world a little bit more like the kingdom every chance we get.
Written by John Greco