Others had deplored Israel’s spiritual condition and had withdrawn, determined to disassociate from Jerusalem’s moral bankruptcy. The Essenes and Qumran community waited in isolation for better times. Even John the Baptist remained an outsider in the wilderness. In contrast, Jesus refused to be marginalised, and confronted Israel at the heart of their religious life.
It was His temple, and He challenged its right to exist if it no longer fulfilled its God-given purpose. It was originally conceived in the magnificent days of David’s widespread military success, and Solomon opened its doors in a flourish of glory and magnificent covenant promises.
The Temple’s restoration in Ezra’s day was again accompanied by amazing promises of its international, spiritual significance. God wanted it rebuilt for His own pleasure. It was no man-made, religious shrine. God commissioned its renovation. Builders were employed at His bidding.
He would not only find pleasure in it; He promised that He would personally appear there in His glory, taking up residence among His people. This was Israel’s unique privilege. God had promised to actually make His personal presence known in the centre of Israel’s national life.
He had originally demonstrated His power to the nation at Mt. Sinai, where He had made a mountain shake, sent thunder and lightning, sounded a trumpet, and actually spoken to a nation of two million in the most incredible open-air service ever to take place on planet Earth! A whole nation trembled at the breath-taking encounter with their Creator. Now, that same God wanted a house where His presence could dwell. He would come from Sinai, and dwell in Zion in His holy house.
Ripe for God’s fury to be expressed
Tragically, by Jesus’ day, the Temple had become the centre of religious corruption. Devoid of the fear of God, mere religious men had made it a den of robbers. Suddenly, God arrived in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, infuriated at the squalor of this market place masquerading behind a religious façade, and exploding in anger that it had become a huge commercial centre. International Jewry had to change foreign currency into kosher Temple coinage in order to purchase acceptable, sacrificial lambs for offerings. Every feast day became another opportunity for renegade priests to make money.
To co-exist with this travesty was impossible for Jesus. Tables had to be overturned! War had to be declared! Jesus was the ultimate table-turner! Of course, the actual table-turning only symbolised the radical, spiritual upheaval he came to perform. They were angry that he upturned their tables, but he came to overturn their whole Temple! Not one stone would stand on another. His own personal presence fulfilled its purpose. His unique, atoning sacrifice would make its sacrificial system obsolete, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the living stones of the Church would consign the Temple to history.
At his death, the curtain of the inner sanctuary was torn from top to bottom. God had no further need of this particular building! Never again would it matter whether He was worshipped on this mountain or that (John 4:21). Geography was irrelevant. He now wants to be worshipped in Spirit and in Truth. Temples made with human hands are outdated and irrelevant. Malachi had warned, ‘The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple, and who can stand when He appears?’ (Mal. 3).
What if He should come to His church today? What tables would need to be overturned in modern evangelicalism? Everything that does not have its origins in Him! As the coins spilled in every direction, the question was asked, ‘By what authority do you do this?’ Jesus replied, ‘It is written, “My Father’s House shall be called a House of Prayer for all the nations.”’
It is written
For Jesus, ‘It is written’ was enough to withstand man or devil. Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, submitted himself to the absolute authority of words written on ancient manuscripts. Trends or contemporary views were insignificant to him. Reformation was not a matter of keeping up with the changing times, but conforming to God-inspired prophets and their writings.
So what about today?
Tables must be overturned if we are to return to authentic Biblical Christianity. Human traditions, unknown in Scripture, have become foundational in many churches. The Bible speaks of churches led by God-appointed and Spirit-filled leaders, but thousands of churches opt for democracy and voting procedures. Bishops and clergy are often heard on national media representing the church to the nation, while at the same time giving scant acknowledgement to the authority of Christ or his Word.
The man in the street remains ignorant to the authentic gospel. Tables must be overturned. God is not only looking for individual, private obedience and personal sanctification; He also wants corporate obedience in the church. Whole churches must obey Scripture and let God be God in His own Temple.
Not simply personal, individual obedience
What point is there in calling for private, personal obedience from individual believers, if churches blatantly ignore Biblical instruction regarding church life? We are called to change the expression of Christianity in the world in our generation. Whole churches must be transformed if we are to fulfil God’s purpose, and reach our generation.
Praise God for Together on a Mission in Brighton where 4,000 leaders from 50 nations gathered, expressing willingness to embrace radical change. Much has happened in the last few decades, but there is no reason for complacency. New churches must be planted. Foundations must be laid for church life which honours the Bible’s authority and the Holy Spirit’s presence. Churches must be built that do not withstand divine visitations, but welcome them.
Ultimately, God’s purpose is not merely to overturn church life, but to turn the world itself upside down. The world’s perverted thinking has to be revolutionised. God has declared His intention. He will ‘destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever, He will frustrate.’ To do this, He will take the foolish, the weak, the poor and those who are not, to nullify the things that are so that no one can boast before Him (1 Cor. 1:28).
His foolishness is wiser than men, and His weakness is stronger than human strength. The meek will inherit the earth, overturning tables in city after city and nation after nation, not by human bravado but by taking seriously their call to turn the world upside down in His name. We follow a table-turning Saviour – let’s not be status quo disciples.