|15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. (Mark 11:15-18, NIV)
OK, the sellers and money changers would have been insulted and their business disrupted. Big deal, right? But it was even a BIGGER deal to the Sanhedrin. Let’s explore some history to see why:
The earliest reference to the Sanhedrin is made by Josephus. According to him, the Sanhedrin was established c. 200 BCE. Its purpose quickly became multifaceted.
As a theocracy, Judea’s legal system was defined by Mosiac Law. The (Great) Sanhedrin served both as the ultimate interpreters of the Law and as the Supreme Court when it came to judging the Law. The Sanhedrin even maintained their own “police force” to enforce Mosaic Law.
With the Roman conquest of Judea, the Sanhedrin became the diplomatic interface between the Jewish population and the Romans. While Rome maintained an oppressive military force, Rome allowed a great deal of “ruling” autonomy to the Sanhedrin. Rome was essentially interested in two things from the Jews: paying their taxes and keeping the peace. It was not until later that Rome started the practice of Emperor worship.
Herod the Great razed the Second Temple and began reconstruction in 20 BCE. This was still on-going when Jesus cleared it of the merchants and money-changers. At this time, there were perhaps 6.5 million Jews in the Roman Empire, but only 600,000 in Judea (Palestine) and abut 30,000 permanent residents in Jerusalem. Of those, nearly half were directly employed in either Temple construction or in the commerce conducted in the Temple.
Jewish sacrificial rites could be conducted only in the Temple. Also, many festivals of the Jews brought hundreds of thousands of people to Jerusalem. Sacrificial animals were sold by the Temple merchants for inflated prices. To purchase an animal for sacrifice, you have to have the right kind of money. The money-changers took care of that at exorbitant exchange rates. The Sanhedrin took their cut of all of this.
Members of the Sanhedrin enjoyed tremendous social, political and economic status simply because they were members of the Sanhedrin. It was a really good gig.
Jesus threatens it all
It was certainly bad enough when Jesus disrupted Temple commerce by upsetting tables during one of the merchants’ busiest times. Really bad for business, you know.
What made it much worse is contained in v 18:
|The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.|
The common people knew that they were being ripped off by the merchants and that it was all sponsored by the Sanhedrin. We are generally aware that the Jews in Judea were oppressively taxed by the Romans. We tend to be less aware that the Temple taxes and costs for fulfilling sacrificial obligations were just as oppressive. In many ways the people hated the Sanhedrin as much as they did the tax collectors and Romans.
So, it was much more than challenging their theology that angered the Sanhedrin. Jesus threatened virtually every aspect of their lives.
What was the easiest way to solve this problem? Kill Jesus, of course. But they couldn’t just have Him whacked in the streets. He had too much public support.
We know the story. The Sanhedrin had Jesus stealthily arrested in the middle of the night, held an illegal trial with false accusations and manipulated Pontius Pilate so that Jesus would be crucified.
Yes, Jesus’ clearing of the Temple was a really BIG deal.
And it was all a part of God’s plan.
Alive in The Word