Then He began to teach them and 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!” – Mark 11:17 (NET)
Mark reports that when Jesus spoke these words that “The chief priests and the experts in the law heard it and they considered how they could assassinate Him, for they feared Him, because the whole crowd was amazed by His teaching” (11:18). Why did they want to assassinate Him? Primarily because the words that Jesus was employing were those previously used by the prophet Jeremiah. All who heard Jesus, including the chief priests, the experts in the law, and the crowds, knew that Jesus, who had gained quite the reputation as a prophet, teacher and healer, was leveling words of judgment and accusation against those who were responsible for the operations of the Temple. The Temple was the place from whence they derived their livelihood and their power.
At the same time, one should not forget that Jesus also speaks in the hearing of crowds which, though amazed at His teaching, also stand in purview of His judging words, as they effectively hear Jeremiah speaking and saying “Listen, all you people of Judah who have passed through these gates to worship the Lord. Hear what the Lord has to say. The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says: Change the way you have been living and do what is right. If you do, I will allow you to continue to live in this land” (7:2b-3).
So Jesus is not merely quoting Scripture. By taking up the words of Jeremiah, He not only calls to mind that which Jeremiah accused the people and the priestly establishment of doing in his own time, but He also reminds the Temple authorities that the Babylonians destroyed that very Temple to which Jeremiah made reference---thus breaking the authority of the priests associated with that Temple. If Jeremiah’s words came true, how much more should they concern themselves with what is being implied by the words of Jesus, who has proven Himself to be greater than Jeremiah.
When it comes to the words of Jeremiah, it is known to be the case that a fair amount of the people, especially the leaders and the wealthy, were carried off into exile in Babylon. As it relates to Jesus, it is known that within the lifetime of many of those who heard His words, the Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, slaughtering many in leadership and driving a large number of people from their ancient land of promise.
Though this is necessary background, this study is not designed to focus on what is to be gleaned from the accusations and the comparison. Rather, it is designed to highlight a degree of historical continuity and congruence within Scripture. Jesus cannot be limited to bringing new teaching and new ways of thinking. His words and ministry had to be rooted within the history and covenant by which Israel was defined in order for it to have any conceivable impact and permanence.
Jesus, as said, quotes from Jeremiah. When He does He not only calls attention to the specific phrases, but also to the words of Jeremiah that led up to, surround, and follow that which was quoted. In conjunction with that which was mentioned by Jesus, Jeremiah also says “Stop putting your confidence in the false belief that says, ‘We are safe! The Temple of the Lord is here! The Temple of the Lord is here! The Temple of the Lord is here!’ You must change the way you have been living and do what is right. You must treat one another fairly. Stop oppressing foreigners who live in your land, children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands. Stop killing innocent people in this land. Stop paying allegiance to other gods. That will only bring about your ruin” (7:4-6). Presumably, Jesus was desirous of communicating such things as well.