Was Jesus Violent? The Temple Money-Changers Incident

One incident often comes up in discussions of Jesus and the generally non-violent flavor of his teaching – the time (or two) when he overthrew money-changer’s tables in the temple compound in Jerusalem. [Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, John 2:8]

I am assuming that the reports are accurate. I would like to point out a few things – to help us avoid the idea that Jesus here promoted the kinds of violence we tend to indulge in.

BACK THEN

  1. So far as we know he did not physically hurt any person or animal.
  2. He did not torture or kill anyone.
  3. He did not offer any teaching about the event or encourage anyone to imitate this particular behavior. Given his general style and priorities I assume that if he wanted to emphasize it’s significance as a “ministry” or reform technique he would have made that clear.
  4. He never asked anyone to do anything similar to this, either on a specific occasion or as a general principle.
  5. This action was directed against financial exploiters of people trying to worship God, and of those worshipers’ vulnerability in that particular setting.
  6. It was not directed against those who had to use the “services” of those exploiters.
  7. He was not trying to physically enforce his program or views, or he would have repeated the activity frequently. He would have stayed around to forcibly ensure these legal crooks did not re-establish themselves.
  8. It was very non-violent in the sense that no blood was spilt, no arrests made, no beating or torture practiced – not even once; such events were certainly not established as a pattern.
  9. In spite of this very low level of “violence”, and partly because of the rarity of this kind of action, he was making a very powerful visualization of crucial moral priorities.
  10. It was not Jesus’ standard procedure or on-going policy, but a very tiny proportion of his public activity over those three years.
  11. Thus it was not at all the focus of his work or the substance of his plan for his disciples or for the transformation of the world.
  12. But it did happen, and it was apparently quite intentional.

SO FOR TODAY

I. This moment of “violence” in Jesus’ life was a bloodless illustration of God’s anger at

  • the worship of money-making and extortion where there is pretended focus on God, and
  • the financially ripping off of the vulnerable by those with clout, in the name of the worship of God.

II. Jesus’ behavior on this occasion – or on any other – is in no way comparable to:

  • men (or women) being physically abusive to their spouses, children, or others;
  • invading and occupying small weak nations for no reasons or for reasons only of ego and greed (as the Romans were doing in Judea and Galilee, and we Americans are doing in Iraq);
  • shooting, bombing, and torturing tens or hundreds of thousands of people to death or disability as on-going national policy;
  • lying about and misrepresenting some or all aspects of a situation in order to justify any of the above violent behaviors.


JESUS DID NONE OF THOSE THINGS.
Using this incident in Jesus’ life to justify the massive violence of our presence in Iraq (or any other misuse of force in our world) IGNORES what Jesus was really doing here.

He was physically expressing very appropriate outrage. He was not arresting, torturing, or killing anyone, neither the guilty parties nor innocent bystanders. He was expressing outrage at the misuse of religion in the service of greed, and at the abuse of the common people for the same purpose.

I have no doubt that God is outraged today with some American Christians for similar reasons.


Please. If you agree with what I have written above, do not use or allow others to use this event in Jesus’ life as an argument in defense of the use of violence. Violence in our world – as in Jesus’ day – had a very different flavor than this expression of anger at hypocrisy and greed.


Comments

Was Jesus Violent? The Temple Money-Changers Incident — 16 Comments

  1. I once read what I consider the most logical explanation for this incident, but I do not remember the source. In it Jesus was said to have risen early like 6 AM and went on to the temple grounds and began to preach. By that time he was drawing huge crowds of people (think, rock concert). In their eagerness to hear what he had to say people crowded onto the temple grounds and tried to get as close to him as possible. In the process they climbed over the money-changers tables, knocking over cages, standing on the tables, and releasing the animals just so they could crowd in closer. The moneychangers wouldn’t get there until 10 AM (think, banks). By that time the place was a shambles because of the crowd’s passion to hear Jesus. So, without so much as lifting a finger, Jesus restored the proper function of the temple to a place that one went to hear the word of God. He effectively and non-violently “ejected” the moneychangers simply by the power of his personality and his message. I like this interpretation very much. Does anybody out there know where I read it?

  2. So following the example of Jesus, if someone in church responds to a stock market alert on their cell phone, it would be acceptable for anyone to grab their phone from them and smash it on the floor?

  3. Looks to me like that’s why Jesus was killed. Why didn’t Jesus just tell everyone there that it was wrong to do business in the temple?, instead of wrecking all their stuff. I think it’s going to be impossible for me to ever spin this into anything right. Although I still think Jesus was correct about heaven.

  4. Someone said Peter cut off a soldier’s ear needs to reread the bible. It was the ear of a the servant of the high priest. No Roman soldiers were in that mob that took Jesus that night. He was arrested by local authorities and handed over to Pilate in exchange for Barrababus(sp?)

    The disciples had swords because God permits one to defend their life and family if threatened by another. He was told to put it back in its place.

    No, Jesus would not object to animal sacrifices. They were necessary until he Finished the final sacrifice in which he was the lamb that shed his blood. After that it would not be necessary.

  5. The money changers were thieves and stealing from the poor.

    just as they do in the 21st century. an ounce of gold is still an ounce of gold but the dollar is worth less.

    We make more bricks with the same amount of sticks … hmm .. just like the slaves did for the Pharaoh

  6. I wonder, if our Lord walked among us today, if he would come into the places in which we worship and turn over tables. I actually think he would… I think we sometimes get wrapped up in “blaming” the money changers in this story of our Lord, but I’m wondering if it’s less to do with money and more, the simple prevention of worship. Whether it was money or otherwise, I think Jesus was ticked that the Worship was being shifted FROM the Father to something else. In this story, the “something else” was money… What is it at your place of worship???

  7. Jesus was angered because the Court of the Gentiles had been completely taken over for commerce. This denied the Gentiles access to their Court in the temple which was the place they could pray, worship, and request relief from injustice. Jesus was clearing this court to restore the place of the Gentiles (that’s you and me unless you’re Jewish) and passing judgment on the establishment that denied access to the gentiles by appropriating their Court, and also denying access to the poor by overcharging for the convenience of location. Jesus was seen as a threat to the Temple commerce, and the exclusivity of the Jew. As a threat to the Temple, he was also a threat to Rome; since Rome had thoroughly corrupted the temple, using it to rule the people. As a result he was arrested and crucified.

  8. Look, you can try to justify what Jesus did in the tmple not once, but most probably twice, however let’s examine what actually happened.
    First,don’t forget money changing was going on in the temple for years. Long before Jesus was born.
    It was not something any Jew of the day would have given any thought. In fact, it was a needed service to temple goers given the customs of the time.
    Now enter Jesus. Imagine him taking off his corded belt and whipping it around while he went from table to table heaving them over.. It was pretty hard work as the tables were heavy given the lack of paper money. All the while he was berating the money changers for their wicked ways.
    Did it ever occur to you these money changers had no idea who Jesus was and had never considered what they did to be sinful? I’m confident all the people in the temple that day must have been wondering who is this guy? What’s his problem. Lucky for him, there was no temple security.
    Violent, you bet it was. And probably completely shocking to the witnesses.
    Additionally, why would the disciples carry swords if they didn’t intend to use them? Does anyone actually believe Peter would have survived more than a few seconds after he cut off a Roman soldiers ear? I rather highly doubt it. It either didn’t happen or its an obsurd fabrication.

    • Just because a tradition(tv evangelists bilking old retired people out of their savings)is in place does not excuse the perpetrators. These people knew in their hearts they were taking advantage of the religious system that was in place at the time, as well as Jesus. You do not sit in the temple of God without SOME conviction! You need to read John 18:5-6. Your view of Jesus/God is much too small! He was and IS a man of power in charge of the Hosts of Heaven, both then and now. In vs. 5 when Jesus stated in response to their question, “are you Jesus of Nazareth?” Jesus said, “I am He” and this entire mob was thrown backwards to the ground. They knew in this moment they were in the presence of someone that it would be best not to attempt to do any more to than He, Himself would ALLOW them to do. He healed the man’s ear and went willingly with them to fulfill His purpose. I don’t think there was a soldier in the crowd that would have DARED approach Peter after Jesus’ display of power.

    • Nobody cut off a Roman soldier’s ear. Look at the accounts in all four Gospels: it was a servant to the high priest (named Malchus, according to John.) The disciples had swords because they did not yet understand the nature of the Kingdom that Christ had come to establish.

  9. You all miss a vital point. The temple incident was the only time we saw Jesus use physical force. He was not violent! You must differentiate between the use of physical force in a legitimate way and violent intent to hurt or even kill.

    The reason why Jesus acted the way he did was simply because they had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves and in so doing committed the worst sin – idolatry.

    Mammon is the god of this world and often another name for the devil so in fact Jesus by his untypical reaction showed the gravity of the actitivty, an activity that was askin to blasphemy.

    No one should read into that incident anything more than that or justify the use of force for any other purpose. We must distinguish between phycial force eg as used by a policeman in carrying out his duty to remove and arrest a drunken person or violent man and the striking of another as a violent act per se.

    • That is still a violence. He was angry when he saw the Temple fill with sinners that sinned God badly. Because he is angry, so he has hatred. Hate is a ‘sin’. How are you going to explain this? He might not have sin due to violence, BUT sin due to hatred.

  10. Was it the money changers or animal sacrifice that Jesus opposed? No doubt the Temple priest had a keen interest in “maintaining business as usual” as they had to give a cut or the proceeds to Rome. I was only after repeated tax increases by the Roman Governors that followed Pilate did the Jews revolt. Jesus was a danger to the status quo and the new world order under Rome.

  11. In the Gospel of John chapter 2 verse 15, I have found that reading this passage very slowly brings light to the situation that Jesus found himself in. He did not fly off the handle losing self control because self control is one of the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. He found them selling in the temple and then proceeded to do something which took alot of time. He first went shopping and found some materials to fashion himself a whip made of cords. Then after making the whip and measuring his response to their behavior, he drove them out and threw over their tables. But make no mistake, HE WAS ANGRY!!!! He was the LION not just the LAMB that day. He is not a wimpy Jesus.

  12. Hi!

    I think Jesus was arrested and killed for having threatened economical interests of Romans and great priests of the Temple. It’s quite logical and probable…

    Perhaps some people were killed during the event… who knows ?
    Don’t forget that some disciples of Jesus had swords !
    One of them cut a soldier’s ear when Jesus was arrested.

    Jesus couldn’t be killed for religious reasons but political one. Roman empire was quite tolerant with other religions except if they was a threat against Caesar.

    What’s your opinion about this explaination ?

    Ahimsa.

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