Luke 19.41 – 48
41As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” 45Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” 47Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; 48but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
As Jesus rode the donkey down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, he stopped on a rise overlooking the city, and he wept. There is a church at the place where Jesus wept; the front of the church is topped by urn-shaped pediments; these are shaped as the little jars in which people once kept their tears – they are there to remind us of Jesus’ tears.
Jesus wept for Jerusalem – he knew what was coming. They had refused to see the way of peace; they would rebel against Roman oppression and be utterly crushed. The leaders of the rebellion would fortify Jerusalem, take up residence in the temple itself, and fight among themselves as to who should lead. They would desecrate the temple themselves, with murders within its walls. And Rome would indeed set up ramparts against it, and the siege would last for many months, and people would starve within the walls, until finally Rome would breach the walls and completely destroy the city, leaving no stone upon another – or at least very few stones remain. The West Wall (Wailing Wall) was long believed to be the only part of the temple remaining, not actually a wall of the temple, but a retaining wall for the temple mount. Today another part of that wall has been unearthed, along with the “teaching steps” leading to the temple gates, but that section does not have the religious significance of the Wailing Wall.
But on Palm Sunday, Luke says Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those selling goods there. (Mark has this event occurring on Monday.) The merchants in the temple courts occupied the “Court of the Gentiles”, the outer courts. The Jewish men did not object; they could go on into the courts reserved for them. But for Gentiles who traveled a great distance to worship, this was the only place they were allowed. But the high priest, Caiaphas, had rented this space to merchants, at a significant personal profit. And the merchants there were favored – if someone brought an offering from outside, it might be rejected as “imperfect”; the lambs and doves sold in the temple were “certified” by the priests. Likewise, only “temple” coins were accepted in the temple; Roman coins had an image of Caesar, considered idolatry; yet the exchange rate from the temple money changers was outrageous. They were cheating the poor, and eliminating a place of prayer for the Gentiles. And Jesus was angry! He quotes scripture as he drives them out (Isaiah 56:7). The about that – scripture records very few times when Jesus is angry, but people cheating the poor and preventing people, even outsiders, from praying in the temple courts, all in the name of righteousness – that made Jesus angry.
After that, Jesus comes into the temple each day of Holy Week, teaching in the temple courts.