We tend to picture Jesus as this nice passive guy who always spoke in hushed tones. However, Jesus wasn’t always mild-mannered, there were times he got angry. And maybe the most famous example was Jesus flipping tables in the temple.
This is a fascinating story that has many applications for our everyday lives today. But it’s also been wildly misused to justify misbehavior. Just go to some comment section on a Facebook post, and you will see Christians using this verse to blast someone into tomorrow.
Often the story of Jesus overturning tables is simply used as an excuse for not offering an apology for our outbursts. That’s not the point of this story, nor is that what Jesus did.
When Jesus overturns tables, he’s not doing so because he lost control of his temper. He’s very much in control. And there’s a valuable lesson for us today.
So let’s dive into the Mark 11:15-18 and Matthew 21:12-13 meaning to see what it holds for us today.
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What Lead To Jesus Overturning Tables In The Temple
There’s actually two instances of Jesus cleansing the temple. The first one is John 2:13-25, and here in Mark 11 and Matthew 21 Jesus makes a whip of strands of rope and chases out the money changers.
In this second instance Jesus overturns tables. That might seem a little less aggressive, but these are big tables and would take a good amount of force. We’ll dive further into this story in a minute, but first I want to look at what happened right before Jesus flipped the tables.
In Matthew 21:1-11 we see Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. People are waving palm branches and shouting, “hosanna.” It’s a royal entrance, similar to what a king would do when returning victorious from battle. In essence the people are proclaiming Jesus king.
And just after Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem he heads for the temple. Now, we tend to think of the temple as a place of worship. And it was that, but also a place of social gathering and a place for business.
So, Jesus walks into the gate that leads right into the outer temple court. It’s chaotic. There are pigeons, sheep, and oxen for purchase for sacrifice. Most people only have Roman currency which needed to be exchanged for the kosher sheqel required in the temple. So there’s also money changers all over which make the exchange and take an extra portion for themselves.
The whole scene is chaotic and infuriating to Jesus. The first time he made a whip and drove them out. This time he starts flipping tables driving out anyone who was buying and selling.
What’s interesting here is who he seemed to target: “He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.”
Doves were the animals that were sold to those who couldn’t afford sheep and oxen. It was the way that God made sure all could worship as they needed. But the money collectors took advantage of the poor by charging for the currency exchange, forcing them to give more money than required.
Jesus went straight to those who were oppressing the poor. He seemed to be most upset that the religious leaders made it harder for the poor to worship.
Mark Moore in his book The Chronological Life Of Christ describes Jesus flipping tables this way: “It is an impressive scene. Businessmen on their hands and knees scrambling to collect their coins scattered across the pavement. Sheep, oxen, goats, and pigeons running wildly, frightened by all the turmoil. People pushing and shoving trying to get out of their way. The Sadducees are scowling from the sidelines, furious that Jesus has interfered with their financial gain. But there is really not much they can do about it. The populace supports Jesus, especially after that impressive parade the day before, and hates the obvious corruption of the temple.”
Why Did Jesus Flip Tables?
Now that we know the story of Jesus flipping tables, I want to switch gears and look at why. Here’s 3 reasons Jesus flipped tables.
1. The Temple Was Supposed To Be Open To All
In Mark 11:17 we see Jesus explain his actions, “And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?”
Here Jesus is referring to Isaiah 56:7. It’s a passage in which Isaiah looked to a time when the temple would become a place of prayer for all people.
Jesus flipped tables because the temple was operating as a business that made it harder for people to come to God. The temple leaders were more interested in money and power than making a place that was open to all nations.
2. The System Exploited The Poor
Jesus has a heart for those who were most marginalized. The whole system that was set up in the temple hurt the poor the most. They were getting nickel and dimed when they already didn’t have much to lose. They were trying to worship God but were being taken advantage of.
Jesus flipped tables because he was ticked off because the poor were being taken advantage of. He wanted his temple to be a place where all could worship and pray.
3. Their Chief Concern Was Control And Power
The final reason Jesus flipped tables was because the temple leaders lost sight of their purpose. The religious leaders felt their sin wasn’t that big of a deal; they controlled the temple thus they were secure.
Jesus time and time again tries to show the religious leaders that though they look good on the outside, they are sinful on the inside. But they don’t believe it. Rather than seeking forgiveness, they try holding onto their power by any means necessary.
When Jesus overturns tables, he’s showing them once again that they’ve got the wrong priorities. But again they don’t listen and seek to have him killed. Their desire for power is greater than their desire for righteousness.
What Jesus Flipping Tables Means For Us Today
Jesus flipped tables because his desire was to include all people and all nations in his family. The religious leaders on the other hand only wanted their own people to be included.
Interestingly, there’s not one recorded time in the Bible that Jesus got mad at a Gentile. He only got mad at the religious who refused to include others.
Still today there are people who want to exclude others and make it harder for people to come to know Jesus. Legalism is alive and well. And I think Jesus would be turning tables in many of today’s churches.
Some followers of Jesus would rather chase platform and profit rather than Jesus himself. And while it might look different than the first century temple, we are in a lot of ways similar to the religious leaders in Jesus’ day.
Now, it’s easy for us to look at those people over there as the problem. It’s easy to spot this kind of attitude in someone else. But my encouragement is to look in the mirror.
I have found this tendency in my life, to start focusing on the wrong things. To want church safe and clean, rather than open to all. And my guess is, if you look, you might see that in yourself as well. Jesus flipped tables to show the religious leaders their focus was wrong. And I think we have the same tendency in our life today.
So, look in the mirror. You cannot control what those people are doing over there. But you can control yourself. You can prioritize the right things. You can reach those around you. You can make sure you are representing Jesus well.
Thank you for reading this blog post! I hope it helped you better understand what Jesus flipping tables means for you today! If it did would you share it with a friend?
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