Easter without Hindsight: The High Priest Caiaphas’ worst fears….?
Caiaphas’ probably felt his worst fears were confirmed when Jeshua arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday, the first working day of the week that Passover started. Hebrew tradition said that messiah would arrive in Jerusalem through the Golden Gate riding on a donkey. As Jeshua did precisely that, thousands of Passover pilgrims, camped on hillsides around the city, flocked around him. Cheering him on they covered the road to the gate with cloaks and palm branches. Jeshua knew exactly how the Hebrews would interpret his arrival.
His first real action in the Jerusalem though, wasn’t to attack the Romans. He spent Sunday night in Bethany, a village where he usually stayed when he visited Jerusalem. When he returned to the city he made straight for the Temple Mount. There, in one of the most enduring (and now misunderstood) stories about him, he attacked some of the Temple traders. They were the people who sold the birds and animals for sacrifice. They also traded normal currency for the ‘sacred’ currency that the Temple insisted was used to purchase the sacrifices. He turned over traders’ tables and scattered their animals. Jeshua’s words have become famous:
‘It is written “my house will be a house of prayer” but you have made it a “den of brigands”. Caiaphas would have been incensed. Jesus was deliberately disrupting the smooth flow of the Temple’s religious operations at the busiest time. Even worse, he was attacking the centre of the Jewish faith itself.
Jeshua was not particularly attacking the traders. The modern church often interpret these verses as an attack on commerce but that isn’t Jeshua’s point. Monopoly suppliers protected by an institution often line their pockets unfairly but that was a minor issue. Jeshua’s real target was the institution itself.
Jeshua starts by citing Isaiah (Isa 56:7) that Israel’s calling as God’s people was to be God’s light to the rest of the world, reaching out to foreigners. In effect the Temple was to be a house of prayer so that God’s will was done on earth as it is in heaven.
Instead Caiaphas and the authorities had allowed the Temple to become “a den of brigands”. Jeshua adds a quote from the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 7:11). In Jeshua’s days brigands meant rebels and insurrectionists as well as robbers, today we might also say terrorists.
Instead of being the dwelling place of God for the sake of the whole world, the Temple had become a base for those plotting ‘holy’ violence against Rome. They wanted to exclude all foreigners from ‘their’ land. The Temple was no longer part of God’s solution to a broken creation. Jeshua was saying, loudly and clearly, that Caiaphas and company were part of God’s problem every bit as much as the pagan Romans.