In the last couple of weeks I’ve heard a handful of Christians say, “Hey, Jesus threw a table. So why can’t we?” One instance was in a conversation about anger. The thought was, “Jesus got angry and threw a table. So why can’t I?” More recently I saw a conversation on Facebook between a group of Christians talking about the Supreme Court’s decision to allow homosexuals a marriage license. The thought was, “When Jesus saw something He didn’t like, He threw a table and cleared the sinners out.” One person wrote in the comment section, “It’s time to take back our country and start flipping tables. That’s what Jesus would want!”
It’s easy to take a scripture out of context and use it to validate what we want to do. Unfortunately this verse does not mean we can throw tables. That’s right. Only Jesus can throw tables (Insert sad emoji here). You may be saying, “What do you mean? Jesus threw tables at sinners and I’m trying to be like Jesus and I would really like to throw tables at sinners too!” I know you would. We’ll get to that issue in another blog. Let’s look at what really happened in this verse.
We find instances of Jesus throwing tables in two places. The first is Matthew 21:12. It says, “Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” It’s believed this is the same story in Mark 11:15.
The other place is in John 2:14-15. It says, “In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables.” Some people believe John and Matthew’s story is the same. A lot of commentators think Jesus cleared the temple twice and that John’s story was actually the first time. It really doesn’t matter.
The point is that, once or twice, Jesus walked into the common area of the temple and saw the buying of selling of animals. It angered him to the point that He decided to purify the temple and drive them out. Once He even made a whip! No that doesn’t mean you can whip people like Jesus. Let’s take notice of a couple things.
1.) Jesus cleared out religious people, not sinners. Jesus didn’t walk in and find just anyone one setting up a booth and making a profit. Jesus found members of the church and religious leaders making a profit. Several commentaries state that most likely religious members of the temple figured out a way to use their position for gain. This was a New Testament con and a lot of people were making a profit. There was even the exchange of foreign money that was not permitted in the temple. This is why Jesus wasn’t the most compassionate person in this situation. He was dealing with people who knew better, not just any sinners.
We see this throughout Jesus’ life. Jesus was very blunt with the religious. He disliked the religious using their position and knowledge of the scripture for their own gain. So how do you think Jesus feels about Christians today using this text to flip over some tables and “take their country back.”
Jesus was confrontational. There is no doubt. Yet He did not allow His disciples to be confrontational. When Peter drew a sword He said, “Put that thing away.” When He sent His disciples out He said to find persons of peace who accept what you have to share. If they are not persons of peace then you should shake the dust off your feet and keep moving. (Luke 10:5-8) Jesus does not want us to flip tables over on sinners. He holds us to higher standards and asks us to be loving, not confrontational.
2. Jesus was purifying His house. They were in God’s house. On each occasion Jesus showed that his great regard was for the pure worship of his Father; and one great design of his coming was to reform the abuses that had crept into His house, and to bring man to proper worship of God. Jesus was concerned with what was going on in His house. He wasn’t attempting to purify the government. He wasn’t trying to get man’s laws in line with His laws. He started turning tables when He saw His house becoming corrupt and religious leaders using their position to take advantage of people for profit.
I don’t think God wants us to purify our government or our country. We’re upset because we believe things are spiraling out of control yet we are reminded in scripture that God is always in control. If we believe that, then we understand we do no have to worry about turning over tables.
I think He wants us to be concerned with how we are worshipping the Father and how well we are sharing the love of Christ with those who do not know Him. I think God would ask us to purify our own houses and not go breaking into others’. I think God would ask us to turn over our own tables before we go after other people’s tables. The good news is that you’ll never be done clearing out your temple so you won’t have time to go after others.
Ultimately, remember that Jesus asked us to go make disciples and spread the good news that He gave His disciples. He didn’t say we had a right to flip tables because He did. He didn’t say it was our job to purify anyone. God does the purifying, not you. God is on control. He holds Christians to a higher standard. He asks us to go out and find persons of peace and to make disciples.