Before we go ahead reading this study, please read, The Meaning of Eschatology to get a background to understanding the interpretation of prophecy.
Flashback – The Background Setting
Jesus began the last week of his earthly ministry by cleansing the temple and before He does it, He triumphantly enters Jerusalem through the eastern gate riding on a donkey. He rides the donkey to the temple and is welcomed by a big crowd.
Hundreds of people rip off branches of trees and lay them across the path of the King riding on the donkey and its colt. They covered the path with garments and cloaks. They were singing, shouting and dancing with exuberant praises. Excitement filled the atmosphere as they removed their garments and threw them across the path of the donkey, on which they believed rode the Messiah—the Son of David.
Those that were around Him, who went before him and who followed Him—shouted with loud voices saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” [Matthew 21:9]
Who Is This?
In His three and half years of ministry, Jesus had often avoided Jerusalem. There were occasions when Jesus asked His disciples to go ahead of Him to Jerusalem and later followed them in secret. But on this occasion, as He comes into Jerusalem, many among the crowd questioned saying, “Who is This?” [Matthew 21:10] The multitude of followers replied back: “This is the prophet Jesus!” [Matthew 21:9]
These events were chronologically orchestrated by Jesus. He had earlier asked His disciples to go and bring the donkey. He knew where they would find it. He also instructed them to what they should reply if anyone asked what they were doing. With this action, He demanded the fulfillment of prophecy,
Matthew 21:5 – “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
This scripture was a vision seen by Zechariah and it was fulfilled to the dot:
Zechariah 9:9 – Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The Passing Age and The Coming Age
Jesus, sitting on the donkey and its colt showed that the old (Mosaic age) was passing and the new (Messiah’s Age) was coming. Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem indicated that He would in the future come as a judge. This event precedes Him cleansing the temple which prophetically implied the coming destruction on Jerusalem and the temple. As Jesus cleansed the temple, He was symbolically warning Israel of their coming judgement at His hands for rejecting Him.
When He entered the temple, he drove out all who bought and sold in the temple—the money-changers and those who sold doves. He overturned the tables of the money changers. [Matthew 21:12]
Jesus declared, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves and robbers” [Matthew 21:13]
He said, “You have made my house”—talking about His house—God’s house, which was the Old covenant temple—a den of robbers and thieves.
Symbolic In Nature
And after these events, Jesus declared ‘woes’ on the chief priests and the Pharisees who were robbing widows’ houses. [Matthew 23:14] They used the law and their tradition-based religion to defraud, manipulate and oppress the people. Jesus called them robbers and thieves while he whipped them out of the temple. This action was a prophetic one, as the Old Testament prophets usually did strange things and often their actions were symbolic.
This is true of the cleansing of the temple and as Jesus does this He is foreshadowing the complete destruction of the temple that King Herod was building. He was foreshadowing the judgement that was to come upon that generation of Jews and upon the harlot city of Jerusalem. This destruction of the house of God would be a sign on earth that the Old Covenant Age had ended and a New Covenant Age had dawned.
Old Covenant Administration
The temple of Solomon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar after the siege of Jerusalem in 587 BCE and then restored by Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah; and later enhanced, enlarged and repaired by King Herod. The temple was an integral part of the old covenant administration of the Kingdom of God.
Josephus, the renowned Jewish historian and eyewitness of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD. 70, described Ananias, the high priest in the of the temple as:
“…a great hoarder up of money, very rich, and as despoiling by open violence the common priests of their official revenues.” [Josephus, Antiquities, 20.9.2-4]
Prophetic And Symbolic
Several teachers assert that Jesus came to earth to set an earthly, Jewish kingdom. If that were so, then His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was an excellent opportunity to do so. However, He did not do anything like this. In present times, the Church is deceived by some people to believe that Jesus will in the future, do the very thing He rejected to do that day. Much of the Church is fascinated by this belief which emphasises an earthly-Jewish Kingdom as the final will of God and the goal of the ministry of Jesus.
Ignorant of the outcome, a multitude of Christians accept this misleading doctrine. And by doing so, they not only misguide the Church of its mission and occupation, but they distort the true spirit and the prophetic promises of the Lord Jesus Christ. It would reasonably result in a failure to accurately understand who Jesus was and it would produce an erroneous perception of why He came to earth.
Bear No Fruit
Jesus did not enter the courtyard of the temple as a Jewish king or to provoke a revolt against the Roman rule. He entered to confirm with remarkable accuracy that His definite purpose was to bring judgment upon Israel if they rejected the Messiah and curse the fig tree that had borne no fruit. That judgment would begin in the temple, now made into a den of thieves.
The account of Matthew 24 complementing with the other gospels of Mark and Luke give us an exact understanding of the prophetic language which Jesus spoke concerning the destruction of the temple, and we will explore that in the upcoming study articles.