15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. (Mark 11:15-19 ESV)
For some reason, in my main Bible (the ESV I got before going to seminary more than decade ago), in the margin of this portion of Mark’s gospel, I have scrawled “Ezekiel 7,” which comes in the midst of several chapters in which promises horrific judgement upon Israel.
“Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come… (Ezekiel 7:10)
God promises violence — war, death, destruction, starvation, disease, disaster upon disaster. “All hands are feeble, all knees turn to hot water,” God promises.
There is some talk of buyers and sellers — “wrath is upon their multitude,” God says, and silver and gold are unable to deliver them. The land, the city, the temple will be defiled:
21 And I will give it into the hands of foreigners for prey, and to the wicked of the earth for spoil, and they shall profane it. 22 I will turn my face from them, and they shall profane my treasured place. Robbers shall enter and profane it. (Ezekiel 7:21-22 ESV)
This is, I think, why I connected these two. Robbers profaning in the temple is a sign of the judgment of God. Jesus isn’t cleansing the temple — he’s giving us a foreshadow of God’s coming judgment, the judgment that will see this temple pulled down, destroyed, no stone left standing upon another.
Ezekiel shows us more in Chapter 8, when we see idolatrous worship in the temple — priests worshipping the sun, worshiping idols in the dark, claiming “The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.”
And in Chapter 9, Ezekiel tells of a man clothed in linen with a writing case at his waist, and God commands this man to pass through the city, to mark those who “sign and groan over all the abominations” while five other men are commanded to go through the city and and kill, to show neither pity nor mercy, and to start at the temple.
And this is only the beginning.
Jesus isn’t cleansing the temple. He is judging it. He is a foreshadow of God’s coming judgment, the army that will arrive and besiege and destroy the city. And so many of those living in it.
God will redeem a remnant. That beautiful passage about removing the heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh only comes after all this. We who await our redemption must remember — it only comes after a terrible time of judgment, of suffering, of death, and of exile.
All the while, those who benefit from the iniquity and injustice of the world, who have come to believe that God no longer sees, that God has truly abandoned the world, are afraid — afraid that judgment means an end to things. And it does.
But we are still afraid too. Our hearts beat, not quite flesh, but no longer stone. We eat our bread and drink our water in trembling and fear. We fear suffering and death, exile and powerlessness, the end of ways which have grown comfortable and profitable, that we will no longer be important or influential.
We fear. And we are right to be afraid. Terrible things are coming. We cannot stop it. We can only watch, powerless, while God does his horrible work.