A House of Prayer

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series The Gospel of Luke


The Cleansing of the Temple is a call to repentance, and a call to come seek joy in the presence of God through prayer.

One of my favorite Facebook posts I’ve seen says, “If anyone ever asks you ‘what would Jesus do?’ wwjdwhipremind Him that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.” It’s not entirely clear whether Jesus was using the whip to drive out the people or the animals – and some people want to argue about it. But doing so misses the point. The temple cleansing is less about the cleansing and more about the reason it was being cleansed. Jesus is rightly consumed with a zeal for His Father’s house; a zeal too often lacking in ourselves.
It is a brief text, but please stand with me and read Luke 19:45-48.
Luke doesn’t tell us when the temple cleansing happens, but Mark 11:11-12,15 shows that it was Monday of Jesus’ final week. And John’s gospel (John 2:13-17) reveals that Jesus actually cleansed the temple twice. One apparently at the beginning of his earthly ministry, and the second time here at the end. That ought to be enough to get anybody’s attention; not only the first century Jews but also ours.
Jesus walks into the temple, sees the scene hasn’t changed in the last three years and makes a whip out of cords, starts flipping tables over and starts driving out the merchants. As he does so he quotes scripture. In particular he quotes from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.

Isaiah 56:6-7 REBUKE

Isaiah 56 is poignant because it speaks about us, and our actual relationship to God. In that chapter God is telling the people of Israel that they needed to preserve justice and righteousness because God’s salvation is about to come. What a great kickoff for Jesus to reference as he stands in the temple just a few days before God brings salvation through the crucifixion of Jesus. As Isaiah 56 continues, the Lord begins to speak encouragement to the gentiles – the non-Jews who join themselves to the Lord. God promises that those who join themselves to Him – He will make joyful in His house of prayer – indeed the temple will be called a house of prayer for all of the nations. This is set in very stark contrast to the Jews who had come to believe that God was for them alone.
“My house will be a house of prayer for all nations” is a declaration of God’s enduring, amazing, welcoming grace to everyone who joins themselves to Him.
Through Jesus Christ alone do we now join ourselves to God the Father. When joined with him, we enter into a relationship that is far more gracious than we know. In fact, God’s mercy is so magnificent that he actually invites us into a joyful, continual conversation with Him.
Please note that God says in Isaiah that by joining ourselves with Him we will be made JOYFUL in His house of prayer for the nations. May I suggest that if you find more drudgery than joy in your prayer it may be because you are joining yourself to religion rather than to God. For God says, he “will make them joyful in My house of prayer.”

Jeremiah 7:11 REPENTANCE

Jesus also quotes from Jeremiah 7:11.
The content there is pretty brutal. God’s divine ideal for worship is that his house be a house of relationship, of intimate communion with God. But in Jeremiah’s day, just like in our day, people valued ritual over relationship. They were living in ways that were blatantly inconsistent with God. They were oppressing the foreigners, taking what wasn’t theirs, murdering, committing adultery, and more. But they still kept coming to the temple – not with repentance, but with an expectation that God didn’t care or couldn’t see it. As far as God was concerned by coming to the temple without a shred of repentance they had equated it to a den of thieves. It was turning the temple into the equivalent of a good old boys club.
The contrast between what God requires and what was happening in the temple filled Jesus with both disgust and zeal. Disgust, not because they were selling cattle, sheep, and doves to worshipers who needed something to sacrifice; but because they were demonstrating contempt for God by bringing unrepentance into the temple and by effectively blockading the worship of the very people God wanted to reach. God wanted his temple to be a house of prayer for the nations; but the animals in the temple court, the apparent high prices being charged, and the obstruction of worship demonstrated an altogether unrepentant religion that required a firm rebuke.

Luke 19:47-48 RESTORATION

Once the temple is cleared, Jesus returns every day to teach in the temple. None of the gospels spell it out, but a part of me at least wants to believe that Jesus did a fair bit of his teaching for the rest of the week in the very court of the gentiles that he had purged. Either way, Jesus restored the temple to its rightful role and he upset the most powerful people in the temple as he did so.


The temple cleansing is an assault on religion. It is an assault on the things people do in God’s house. It is, for that matter, an assault on our thinking about God’s house. And it is, out of those two, an assault on prayerlessness. At the same time it is a demonstration of God’s eagerness to restore a right relationship with him.
Assaults our activity in the house of God.

The Lord punishes the attitude that God’s house is a place where merely following ritual is adequate to approach the Lord of Glory. It assaults the idea that it is ok to commit fraud in the name of the Lord.
God’s house: his temple, his building, his people is meant to be a house of prayer. A house of prayer is a place in which prayer resides. This church building is not the temple of Israel, but the principle can fit here nicely. Prayer belongs here, and prayer is suited for this place. And by extension this place – this building which serves as the designated place that we come to worship Christ is itself set apart by that purpose and sanctified for the purpose of prayer.
If your approach to these halls is one of external adherence to ritual than you are profaning the grace of God as much as the profiteers in the temple of Christ’s day.
What was it that Jesus objected to? He objected to unrepentant people.

When Jesus walked into the temple, he wasn’t entering the holy of holies. The temple complex was laid out in a series of greater or lesser restricted zones. The innermost zone of the holy of holies was for the high priest alone and only on special occasions. The holy place was for the priesthood only when the sacrifices called for it, and the temple court proper which contained the altar of sacrifice was for the Jewish worshippers and for the priest who was helping to administer the sacrifice. Outside of this the Jews had erected a courtyard that was only for women so that it was as close as a woman could come to God. Beyond that was the court of Gentiles, and this was as close as the gentiles could get. When Jesus entered the temple complex, it was here at the court of Gentiles that he noted the buying, the selling, and the scent of animals being sold at what is generally acknowledged to be an exorbitant price. The gentiles who came to worship God had to do so in the middle of a marketplace; as a result they essentially couldn’t draw near to God.
At the very least we have to recognize that THIS is what Jesus was objecting to, and it becomes abundantly clear in the texts he was citing. The temple was meant to be a HOUSE of PRAYER for the NATIONS. That is to say, God’s intent even in the Old Testament was that his temple would be a place that empowered the nations to come to Him in worshipful prayer. Instead it became a place for the so called people of God to flaunt their lack of repentance the way thieves would in their den.
Assaults our interpretation of What God’s house is.
On one level this text assaults the way we view church. A house of prayer is not a place of exclusion, cliques, and pretension. A house of prayer is a place of humility, grief over sin, repentance, faith, and trust in the promise of God’s outstretched hand to all who come to Him. Is this how you consider coming to Church?
Moreover, does not scripture say now that YOU are God’s temple? (1 Cor 3:16-17)
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17, NASB95)
Can we be called a house of prayer or a people of prayer if prayer is only tangential to our lives?
Maybe the table that needs overturned is our own heart.

Assaults prayerlessness
Maybe it doesn’t assault prayerlessness as much as it highlights something we need to understand: God has established a place, born out of his desire to have communion with us, for us to have a conversation with Him.
Don’t miss this. The summons to prayer is an invitation not an accusation. I know that when we start talking about prayer we start to struggle with guilt. Now you need to deal with those feelings with God in prayer. But pay attention to the fact that God created a place for prayer because he wants us, he wants you, to pray. God wants you to experience satisfaction in your prayer life with Him. He wants you to settle your hearts, calm your fears, and experience his pleasure.

The cleansing of the temple is a call to repentance and a call to come seek joy in the presence of God through prayer.

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