Think about it. Some say it's because those buying and selling were actually cheating their customers by charging exorbitant prices for the animals. But, John 2 doesn't say they were ripping people off. Neither does Matthew 21. Matthew 21 uses the phrase den of thieves, which perhaps implies that the business dealings were unfair, but it doesn't actually say that. Was what these moneychangers doing really so wrong? After all, they were selling animals for the sacrifices. If people lived far away from Jerusalem, wouldn't have been more convenient for them to buy their animal sacrifices upon arriving in Jerusalem rather than bringing them from home? It would be much less costly that way. In fact, these moneychangers were providing a great service. After all, the people were going to have to get the animals from somewhere. If they didn't buy them in the temple, they would have bought them from someone else. What's the big deal that Jesus on two separate occasions so fiercely drives these people and their merchandise out of the temple? Was He against people offering their sacrifices? Wait a minute. Wasn't God the one who told them to do all these sacrifices!?
I think the key is found in Jesus response in John 2. We've read these words so often, and heard this story so many times, but have we really ever thought about what it is Jesus is actually saying here? ...Make not my Father's house an house of merchandise. But why? Why is it so wrong to buy and sell in the temple? Perhaps it wasn't the buying and selling that was the problem, but what it represented. By buying and selling in the temple, these moneychangers had brought the world into the house of God. Worldliness was the problem, and by Jesus' actions in John 2 it's clear He was vehemently opposed to it coming into the house of God.
I'm sure we've all heard many times that the "church" is not a building, but is made up of people. This is true; however, God clearly has expectations for how His building is to be treated. The temple was a building. Just a building. It took forty-six years to construct. It must have been very beautiful, but it was still just a building. Yet in this building, God was worshipped. God was glorified. God met with His people. Sacrifices took place in the temple that were representing the ultimate Sacrifice that would one day come in the person of Jesus Christ to pay for the sins of the world. Even though the temple was "just a building" it was an important building to God, and He had expectations for what would go on in His building and how it was to be treated.
This concept is seen all through Scripture, and sadly, I think it is far too neglected in Christian circles today. I've been reading through Exodus and Leviticus the last few weeks in my devotions. The instructions God gives about His building are so detailed! It's amazing. His detail shows how much He cares, and just how important the temple was to Him. Today churches want to focus away from buildings. Many churches have no reverence for their buildings. They bring the world in all the time. Churches rent their buildings to outside groups like Bridge clubs, Alcoholics Anonymous, and a host of other community and social groups. Churches bring the world in by allowing rock music in their services, poorly dressed people being involved in ministry, showing secular movies, having dances, parties, wrestling matches, magic performances, variety shows, and by lowering standards in all sorts of areas. God had a very high standard for the priests who served in the Temple. He gave them detailed instructions on everything from what to wear, what to do, and how to act. Even their personal lives were governed by God's instructions. Who to marry, when to wash, what to eat, when to eat, etc. Worship in the temple was specifically spelled out by God. When to sacrifice, what to sacrifice, how much to sacrifice, all down to the very last detail. Has God changed since then? Why in the 21st century is it suddenly OK for any person regardless of personal conduct standards or spiritual standards to serve in a church? Why is it suddenly OK to worship God in any manner or method that a person sees fit? Oh I know... it's only the "heart that matters." But, did God stop giving instructions for external behaviour in the book of Leviticus? I don't think so.
Churches today bring in worldliness by making church about social issues and entertainment, instead of what it's supposed to be about, and that is worshipping God, living for Him, and sharing the Gospel with a lost and dying world. Churches bring in worldliness by making church all about "me" and "I", by meeting personal "felt" needs, by emphasizing emotions over Scripture. Instead of rallying for the Bible, holy living, and revival, churches come together for causes like abortion and human trafficking. Is the Scripture against abortion and human trafficking? Absolutely, but they could be dealt with much more effectively if the church got rid of the worldliness and started preaching the gospel on the Gospel. Churches bring in the world, by preaching a self-esteem-feel-good-message, instead of condemning sin and demanding lives wholly lived for God.
Here's the thing. It wasn't wrong for the people in John 2 or Matthew 21 to buy animals for their sacrifices. It wasn't even wrong for people to sell animals for the sacrifices. The message wasn't wrong. The method was! Is God concerned about our methods? Absolutely! Why else would Jesus drive out these men and animals with a whip? The overwhelming majority of churches today will tell you the complete opposite, but don't believe them. The Scriptures are clear. God has spoken. Methods and message both matter to God! His house is important and deserves to be treated with respect and reverence. Christians should abhor bringing the world into the church. That includes the world's philosophies, methods, and/or message. God's house is holy and He does care what goes on in it.
For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up...
* Isn't it interesting that Jesus threw out the moneychangers in John 2 and just three years later they are back again in Matthew 21! Apparently it doesn't take long to forget...