The Atonement and the Money Changers. 

Four times in the gospel accounts we read of Jesus having interaction with those who did business at the Temple.  Once, early in this ministry, he fashioned a whip out of cords and showed some emotional anger.

The four gospel accounts lead us to understand Christ twice gave the Temple a cleansing – once, during his first public Passover, and then again during the final week of His life.

Jhn 2:13-17         And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,   And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:  And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;  And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.  And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.

Here was business as usual to the Jews.  Most of them had been raised to accept the actions at the temple as normal and because of the pious location, those proceedings were beyond questioning.  But what really happens at the Temple?

Jews coming to Jerusalem to pay their Temple tax could only use a special coin, called the half-shekel. Weighing in at about half an ounce, it was similar to our quarter dollar in size.  It was unique in that it was pure silver and the weight was certain; it had no pagan Emperor’s image and in the eyes of the Jews this made it the only acceptable coin for use in the Temple.

Because it was used almost exclusively near the Temple, they were not easy to locate.  The money changers took advantage by cornering the market, and raising the value of the coins to whatever they felt they could get away with.  As with any commodity, a monopoly leads to great profits for those in charge.

In his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah historian Alfred Edersheim reports Josephus and the Rabbinic writings of the time claim that Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, was in charge of the “Temple-market.” The Rabbinic efforts referred to this market as the “Bazaars of the sons of Annas.”  Josephus claimed Annas was very rich and guilty of “despoiling by open violence the common priests of their official revenues.”

The office was the high priest was corrupted completely.  While the law says one high priest, these men were by deceit controlling the office and the finances generated by the operation.  Corruption had reached Israel’s highest position:

Luk 3:2  Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.

Recent discoveries in Jerusalem have revealed what is believed to be the dwelling quarters of the high priest on the Eastern side of the city overlooking the temple.  Initial reports compare the opulence displayed to be on par with today’s billionaires.


While most Jews lived day to day in small, crowded dwellings, the residence of the High Priest was a palace.  Far from what God intended for a humble servant.


A Price for Convenience.

For males above age 20 travelling far distances three times yearly, not having to shepherd an animal from home, given the ease of purchasing a lamb or dove at a market price might have been a great convenience, but it wasn’t what the Lord said to do. 

A personal animal sacrifice means more than just buying one and handing it over.  Giving the Lord a portion of your windfall is not as meaningful as handing over a portion of your hard-earned wages.

Jesus highlights the hypocrisy of the corrupted system using the widow’s offering as an example.

Mar 12:38 And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,

Mar 12:39 And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:  Mar 12:40 Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.

Mar 12:41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

Mar 12:42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

Mar 12:43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into  Mar 12:44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

While we always take from this the lesson she gave more than they and did so on faith, the larger message is the corruption of those in charge who “devour widow’s houses.”  Consider for a moment the system that God had set up to provide for the poor and the widow and the stranger, from this very treasury, yet it had become so perverted they encouraged even the penniless to pour their living into the High priest’s coffers.

Mar 11:15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;

Mar 11:16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.  Mar 11:17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Mar 11:18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.

On this final cleansing trip, Jesus effectually disrupts their business so completely they seek to take his life.

Why the second trip?  He had chased the money changers out once before early in his ministry.  Now, in the final week of his life, he angers them again.

I entitled this effort “Atonement and the Money Changers” but have yet to use the title word.  The word atonement appears 81 times in 70 verses in the King James translation of the scriptures.  I found this fact to be both overwhelming and awe inspiring:  It only appears once in the New Testament.*

Here is the true atonement for our transgressions:  Hbr 9:26  For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

The word atonement, comes from the Greek katallagē, meaning

1) exchange

Our death in trespasses and in sins was exchanged for a life in Christ Jesus.  Our sinfulness and sinful nature were exchanged for His righteousness.

2) adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favour

Christ more than adjusted the difference of our condition, He paid the full price.

Katallagē comes from the root word:  Katallassō meaning to change, exchange, as coins for others of equivalent value

a) to reconcile (those who are at variance)

Christ reconciled us to God.

b) return to favour with, be reconciled to one

Christ returned us to the wanted position of righteousness and favor.

c) to receive one into favour

And bestowed upon us His grace.

Why did Jesus physically remove the money-changers?  They represented a type of atonement. 

There can only be one true atonement.

* Rom 5:11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

Royce Ellis