As he “channels” and calls the prophet Jeremiah to the mind of the people of Jerusalem, Jesus had a great deal to say about the Jerusalem Temple. His activity in Jerusalem, as one would expect, was centered around the Temple, though He did not treat it at all in the way which was expected of the messiah. The messiah, more than likely, would have been expected to honor the Temple.
However, when it came to the Temple of Jerusalem, Jesus did and said some rather interesting things. The things He said and did were not necessarily directed against the Temple itself, as it, though a symbol of something much larger, was merely a building. Rather, Jesus’ words were directed against the Temple authorities, who seemingly wielded the presence of a building and what it was meant to represent and contain, against the people of Israel, so as to preserve their own power and position.
With that frame of mind created, one can look at one of the stories recounted in the Gospel of Mark as fairly representative of that which can be seen in both Matthew and Luke. In the eleventh chapter of Mark it is said that “Jesus entered the Temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the Temple courts. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the Temple courts” (11:15-16).
This disruption in business would have had an obvious impact on the sellers, as they would be losing money by being unable to carry out their trade for a period of time. In and of itself, such action is not a critique of the activity of buying and selling (though one could question the legitimacy and necessity of the way in which the sacrificial cult was in operation in that day) but of the greed and corruption that would so often be the companion of the commerce.
Regardless, the disruption would certainly create some enemies for Jesus, as shutting down the buying and selling also shuts down the operations of the Temple, effectively shutting down the Temple itself. Not only is this having an effect on livelihoods, but this is something of a symbolic pronouncement against the Temple, as Jesus actively calls into question not what was there taking place, but rather the ongoing need for the Temple.
Additionally and as would be expected, the disruption would have had an impact on the finances of the Temple authorities, as they would have had a stake in each transaction made within the Temple in relation to the sacrificial cult. Thus, more enemies for Jesus. These are more powerful enemies than the merchants who plied their business at the pleasure of the Temple authorities. Thirdly, Jesus might very well have been taking a chance at angering the people, and turning the populace in general against Him, as they would have been unable to buy the necessary items to make what they understood to be their necessary offerings, thus jeopardizing their right-standing with their God (their covenant status).
However, it would seem that the potential for anger amongst the commoners was quickly diffused, which can be seen when one encounters Jesus’ words in which He said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have turned it into a den of robbers!” (11:17b) In this, Jesus apparently reveals to the people that the merchants in the Temple, in collusion with the Temple authorities, had conspired together to cheat the people through false dealings in their money-changing and sale of animals. Beyond that, it is possible that there is an implication that the Temple authorities were cheating the people through their insistence that the sacrifices were a continuing necessity.