Mark Chapter 11, verses 15 - 19 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area 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, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 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.' " 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. When evening came, they n went out of the city.
Herod's newly built white marble temple complex with its gilded inner sanctum and well-developed water system was principally a place of sacrifice. In the large courtyard around the sanctuary building stood eight altars where the priests helped by the Levites sacrificed the animals brought by the pilgrims at the great festivals like the Passover. Passover was the most important festival of the Jewish year when the Jews remembered their liberation from slavery in Egypt, and Jews from all over the known world tried to come to Jerusalem at least once in a lifetime.
During the sacrificial ceremony a choir of Levites chanted Psalms 113-118 repeating the chanting until the whole sacrifice was over. Each man killed his own sacrifice. The priests caught the blood in gold or silver vessels and dashed them against the altar and the blood was washed away by the flowing water. The priests flayed and dressed the animal and offered the fat on the altar. The now blessed animal was taken home and roasted on spits of pomegranate wood for the family meal. Having eaten food which had been blessed they also felt blessed.
There was also a daily offering of ritual sacrifice which was heralded by the blowing of trumpets. There would seem to have been about fifty priests on duty each day together with Levites and representatives of the laity. Besides the sacrificial ritual, Temple worship of prayers of confession, two readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, the reciting of the Ten Commandments and the singing of Psalms took place. Music was provided by choirs accompanied by lutes, harps, other musical instruments and even a kind of organ.
Jews had to pay a Temple tax to pay for all this worship activity and the Temple Treasury was controlled by a staff of officials. The Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews, met in the Hall of Hewn Stone within the Temple precincts.
To imagine the scene when Jesus was so angry about the trading and money-changing activities we have to visualise an area about 30 acres in extent covering the top of Mt Zion surrounded by great walls. This area was divided into four courts. The first was the Court of the Gentiles into which anyone could go. At its edge was a low wall with tablets inset which said that if a Gentile passed that point the penalty was death. The second court was the Court of the Women beyond which women might not go unless they had actually come to sacrifice.
Then came the Court of the Israelites where the congregations gathered on great occasions and where stood the altars of sacrifice. The innermost court was the Court of the Priests where stood the actual Temple building. On entering one came first to a porch or vestibule and then into the Holy Place which contained sacred objects such as the Altar of Incense and the seven-branched candlestick which has come to have a symbolic value for Judaism.
Opening off this was the Holy of Holies to which there was no door, but only an open space screened by two veils or curtains. It was these which were rent when Jesus was crucified. Only the High Priest could enter.
The Temple complex would be more than ever crowded with pilgrims, the noise of people and animals, the sound of chanting and over all would hang the smell of animals, burning fat mingled with incense on that day when Jesus entered the Court of the Gentiles.
When Jesus said "It is written in the Scripture that God said 'My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations' but you have turned it into a den of thieves" he was protesting against what had become for many an empty ritual. We are reminded of the message of the Old Testament prophets who taught the people that the sacrifice God wanted was a humble and contrite heart and to be right with Him meant acting justly, being merciful and walking humbly with Him.
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