It was the year 1510 when the monk Martin Luther first visited the holy city of Rome. Luther had greatly anticipated seeing Rome. When he first glimpsed it from afar, he fell to his knees and lifted his hands in praise, saying, “Hail to thee, O Holy Rome.” Luther’s excitement, however, quickly dwindled with every step he took into that alleged holy city. Luther later wrote, “No one can imagine the trickery, the horrible sinfulness and debauchery that are rampant in Rome.”
As furious as Luther became over the immorality of Rome, his fury paled in comparison to that of another man who entered another alleged holy city. When Jesus entered the Temple in Jerusalem, he too became indignant (John 2:13-25).
God had commissioned the Temple in Jerusalem to function as the center of Jewish religious life. Like the nucleus of a cell, religious life was to replicate, multiply, and permeate the nation from the Temple. If the Jews got the Temple wrong, what came out of it would spread like cancer. So, Jesus became livid when he saw the place that God set apart polluted and desecrated.
Jesus’ prophetic inditement of the Temple back then serves as a warning for the church today. When the church cares more about money or the selling of religious goods than prayer, when the church cares more about filling the seats than maturing the body with the Word, when the church puts in more time at committee meetings than Bible study, when weighing preferences replaces a sincere desire to glorify God, when indifference replaces a desire to reach the lost, when even good things like social justice replace the centrality of the gospel message, then Jesus would be perfectly justified to take out his whip again and drive out the things that pollute the place he purchased with his blood and calls holy.
If the day ever comes for Jesus doing such a thing again, we should welcome him to do it, thank him for driving out our idolatrous practices, and cheer him on as we join him in overturning the tables, which we set up to peddle an empty brand of religion. If he is to whip us, it is only to whip us into shape.