The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Jesus does not tolerate exploitation
This particular passage gets a lot of attention as people wonder why Jesus loses his cool over something seemingly small: we aren’t supposed to do that right? So why does he?
Here’s what I’ve gathered from a little research. During the passover people would flock to Jerusalem to offer animal sacrifices to atone for their sins in accordance with Levitical law. Since many people had to travel far distances, it was not uncommon for people to purchase an animal to sacrifice once they arrived in Jerusalem rather than try to travel with their animals. That said, commentaries claim that the text insinuates that those selling animals were actually up-charging travelers looking for animals to sacrifice to turn a profit, (i.e. exploiting those in need). The house of God was never intended to be place of exploitation; the people of God should not have been exploited as they atoned for their sins; Jesus wasn’t having any of it. He fashioned a whip and drove out the livestock as well as the people selling them. It should be noted that Jesus drove out the people and the sheep and oxen, which would be relatively easy to recover, but he verbally told those selling pigeons to take them away rather than set them loose to fly away, presumably never to be retrieved. Even in his anger, Jesus uses discretion and tempered actions to communicate what he wanted in place of what was happening. He did not “put people out” by setting loose all of their product, but rather told them to relocate out of the house of God.