And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, and could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him.
The cleansing of the Temple appears in all four Gospels; this event is of great significance in Christian thought. At the time, Jesus’ disciples, who did not yet understand His impending crucifixion and resurrection, interpreted it as a sign of the same kind as the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. They believed that Jesus’ purification of the Temple indicated He would openly take up the mantle of Israel’s king, and begin the Messianic Age, ruling from Jerusalem. Consider these verses from Malachi.
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years.
But the leadership, mostly Sadducees, was unwilling. Jesus would go on to fulfil His mission, but the Temple would be destroyed and Israel’s exile prolonged. It is important to remember in all of this that the Temple was a reminder of past glories and a symbol of hope for the future. In the days of Solomon, the Shekinah Glory, the Presence of God, dwelled in the Holy of Holies.
And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord. Then spake Solomon, The Lord said that he would dwell in the thick darkness.
-1 Kings 8:10-12
But the Glory departed.
Then the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight: when they went out, the wheels also were beside them, and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord’s house; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above.
The Glory had not returned when the Temple was rebuilt in the time of Zerubbabel and his successors. But the LORD Himself came on the day that Jesus entered the Temple. He proclaimed that His body was a temple, that it would be destroyed and rebuilt on the third day, a reference to His crucifixion and resurrection (John 2:19-22).