It was, perhaps, His first visit to the city since embarking on His public ministry. It was Passover and He, in obedience to the Word of God, was in Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus made His way to the Temple and, observing the mercantile nature of the activities in the outer court, moved in what seemed a very uncharacteristic manner as He drove out animals and overturned the tables of the money changers. His words, which echoed through the court that day, were both an admonition and a warning: “Make not My Father’s house an house of merchandise” (John 2:16, KJV). Divine light had been shed on the darkness of human activity. Corrective action was needed.
The other gospel writers record a similar yet different scene three years later. Once again the Lord has come to Jerusalem at Passover season. Ultimately, He has come to finish the great purpose of His advent – to die upon a cross. Again, He makes His way to the Temple and there is a repeat performance of the events which transpired three years earlier. (Had he waited three years for the fruit of repentance? Luke 13:8) Animals are forced from the court and the money changers are sent scrambling to pick up their coins. It appears at first to be a carbon-copy of what John reported from earlier in the life of the Lord Jesus.
On closer examination, however, there is one significant and telling difference. On this occasion His words are different. “Ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matt 21:13, KJV). His earlier warning was not to make it a place of normal business transactions. But now, not only was it a place for business, but for business characterized as theft. What had happened and what lesson can we learn from it? What fatal error was made by the nation between visit one and visit two?
At His first visit, the Lord Jesus was establishing the authority of the Word of God in the House of God. The Lord Jesus saw conditions which were not in keeping with the Word of God and the character of God. He knew that if the Word of God was not bowed to, then it would end in conditions spoken of by Isaiah and Jeremiah (Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11). The failure to allow God’s Word to control activities in the house facilitated the transition from, “make not,” to “ye have made it.”
The lessons for us are apparent and telling. The Word of God must have its central place in the House of God. It must not only be revered as the Word of God, but must be allowed to control all the activities in the House of God. Paul, after teaching the “house of God” character of the local church in 1 Timothy 3:15, proceeded to enjoin Timothy to “give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1Tim 4:13, KJV). The reading here is the public reading of the Scriptures. In Colossians 3:16 the assembly is urged to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” This is collective, although it obviously must be individual first.
We must never compromise or minimize the value of Scripture nor mute the voice of Scripture. That would be the inescapable recipe for moving from “make not,” to “ye have made.”