Confrontation in the Temple

Before his final departure from the Temple, several confrontations occurred between Jesus and the religious authorities – Mark 11:27-12:40

Havana storm - Photo by Dorothea OLDANI on Unsplash
Before his final departure from the Temple, Jesus fielded several challenges from the leaders of the main Jewish sects, confrontations that set the stage for his trial and eventual execution at the hands of Roman authorities. In the gospel accounts, these confrontations all occurred in the Temple during the week leading up to the crucifixion. After these confrontations, Jesus left the Temple complex for the last time, sealing its fate - [
Photo by Dorothea OLDANI on Unsplash].

The Gospel of Mark began with a citation from Isaiah:
  • Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare thy way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
From the start, the Messiah was on “the way” from Galilee to Jerusalem, where he met his inevitable demise. His public ministry began only after the arrest of John the Baptist, and thereafter, his journey was characterized by conflict. From start to finish, priests, scribes, Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees all resisted him, and in the end, plotted his death - (Mark 1:14, 2:6, 2:15-23, 3:1-6, Mark 3:22).

The opposition peaked with his arrival in Jerusalem. Almost immediately, the confrontations began with his triumphal entrance into the city. The enthusiastic reception by the crowds annoyed the Temple authorities. Later, the “chief priests and scribes” took great offense when he overturned the tables of “moneychangers” and disrupted the Temple rituals, however briefly - (Matthew 21:1-17).

The next day, as he was returning to the city, he hungered and approached a fig tree to get some fruit. Finding only leaves, he cursed the tree, which became an enacted parable representing the fruitless Temple and the destruction that was about to befall it - (Mark 11:12-26).

When he returned to the Temple, the “chief priests and scribes” confronted him about the previous day’s activities. By what authority did he presume to act within their domain? Jesus’ response exposed their duplicity. They had refused the preaching of John the Baptist, unlike many less scrupulous Jews; therefore, the “tax-collectors and whores are entering the kingdom of God before you.” This caused great offense to the representatives of the Temple - (Matthew 21:15-32, Mark 11:27-33).

Next, he gave the parable about a landowner who leased his vineyard to others. Just like the “son” in his story, the Temple authorities were conspiring to kill the Son of God - “Let us kill him and take his inheritance!” However, they were about to learn:
  • The stone that the builders rejected was made the head of the corner… I declare to you; the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation bringing forth its fruits.”
The “chief priests and Pharisees” perceived they were the targets of his parable. Enraged, they intended to arrest him, but they hesitated because they feared the crowd - (Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12).

The Pharisees next took another shot at Israel’s Messiah, along with their political rivals, the “Herodians.” This mismatched alliance proceeded to “take counsel how they might ensnare him in his words,” words remarkably parallel to those of the Septuagint rendering of the second Psalm:
  • (Psalm 2:2) - “The rulers took counsel against the Lord and against his Christ.”
Jesus outfoxed this group, using the very coin with which they intended to trap him into committing an act of defiance against Caesar or sacrilege against Judaism – “The things of Caesar, render unto Caesar, and the things of God, unto God.” Dumbfounded, they could only walk away - (Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17).

Next, the Sadducees challenged him about the bodily resurrection, a belief they denied. They looked to the five books of Moses for scriptural authority and rejected the oral traditions promoted by the Pharisees. Jesus used a passage from the Torah itself to demonstrate that the Sadducees understood neither the scriptures nor the power of God – Yahweh is the God of the living, “not the dead” - (Matthew 22:23-33, Mark 12:18-27, Luke 20:27-39).

As the Sadducees slinked off, the Pharisees made one final attempt. They sent one of their lawyers to ask him what is the greatest commandment in the Torah? He responded, swiftly and clearly: “To love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

To this response, the Pharisees could only assent. Then Jesus posed a question to them - If the Messiah is the “son of David,” how could David call him “Lord”? No one could answer; from then on, “No one dared ask him any more questions” - (Matthew 22:34-46, Mark 12:28-37).

Matthew includes a lengthy and striking denunciation of the “scribes and Pharisees,” including a pronouncement by Jesus with literary links to his subsequent discourse on the Mount of Olives, and allusions to the prophecy from Daniel about the “abomination that desolates - (e.g., “This generation.” “Desolate.” - Daniel 11:30-36, Matthew 23:1-39, 24:15. Also - Mark 12:38-40, Luke 20:45-47).
  • (Matthew 23:36-38) – “Verily, I say to you: All these things will come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that slays the prophets and stones them that have been sent to her; how often would I have gathered your children, like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not! Lo! Your house is left to you desolate.
Outwardly, the Pharisees appeared righteous, but “within they were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Their religious attitudes and practices rendered them ritually unclean. They adorned the tombs of the prophets, claiming that if they had been around in the “days of our fathers,” certainly, they would not have slain them. But their very claim affirmed their descent from the men who did murder the prophets of Yahweh.

Jesus Before the High Priest
Therefore, Jesus declared to the religious leaders of Israel: “
Fill up the measure of your fathers,” a clause that alludes to Daniel 9:24: “Seventy weeks have been divided concerning your people and concerning your holy city, to consummate transgression and to sum up sin.” In the plot to murder the Messiah, the sins of the nation reached their zenith, and national destruction became inevitable.

The “desolation” of Israel was promised in the Torah if the nation broke its covenant obligations. Yahweh would “desolate” its highways and bring its sanctuaries and land into “desolation” - (Leviticus 26:22, 26::31-32, 26:34-35).

In Matthew, “desolation” translates the same Greek term used by Jesus in his ‘Olivet Discourse’ for the “abomination of desolation”– (erémōsis - Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:20).

Jesus completed his judicial pronouncement with an ominous warning, but also, with a promise:
  • For I am declaring to you, you will certainly not see me from this time until you say, ‘Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord’” - (Matthew 23:39).
Jesus revealed himself to Israel in his teachings and miracles. However, once he departed the Temple for the last time, that “generation” would not see him again unless they acknowledged their Messiah. In the meantime, the nation would face “desolation.”

The leaders of Israel now had all the “legal” ammunition they needed to condemn Jesus. After his final remarks, he exited the Temple for the last time, leaving it “desolate” – (Mark 12:41-44).


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