As I was reading How God Became King by N.T. Wright this week, I was struck by the fact that the story of Jesus is the story of Israel’s God visiting His people. The truth is the story of Jesus can only be rightly understood in light of the story of Israel. Why? Simply put: the story of Israel finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The story of Jesus is really the story of Israel’s God re-visiting His people. During the exile, the presence of God had departed from the temple due to Israel’s idolatry and wickedness. The four hundred years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament is known as the four hundred “silent” years because there was no prophet or divine revelation of any sort. During this time, history was unfolding of course, but God seemed distant.
Mark the evangelist intentionally begins his gospel account by reminding us of God’s promised visit as told through the prophets Malachi and Isaiah:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:1; ESV).
And in Isaiah we read: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God …” (40:3).
Time for a pop quiz. Who was going to visit the people of Israel according to both Isaiah and Malachi? Yes, that is right: God. God was going to re-visit His people! This is huge! This is how explosively encouraging the beginning of the gospel of Mark is. I can only imagine how encouraging this was for the Jewish people during Malachi and Mark’s time.
As I was reading Mark 11:15-19 this week, one phrase stood out to me:
15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city.
And he entered the temple. It hit me there and then: God was re-visiting His temple in the person of Jesus! God was re-visiting His people in the coming of Jesus in general, but here we see, God re-visiting His temple in particular. Malachi’s prophecy was being fulfilled before their very eyes.
Jesus had been preparing His disciples for the moment in which He would enter Jerusalem and all events associated with it would unfold as written in the Old Testament Scriptures.
The disciples were told that the Son of Man was going to suffer, die, and rise from the dead not once, not twice, but three times (read Mark chapters 8-10). In Mark 11:15-19, we see Jesus entering the temple for the first time in the gospel of Mark. The Lord was finally visiting His temple in the person of Jesus Christ, and unfortunately, they completely missed it.
Now, what does Jesus say and do inside the temple? Jesus entered the temple and began to cleanse it. Jesus was bringing God’s judgment to bear on the corruption of the temple. “Why judgment?” you may be wondering. This may seem strange at first, but here we have to go back to Malachi to get more insight. After sharing about God’s promise to re-visit His people, Malachi goes on to say:
“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord” (3:2-3).
Here is the main point: God was, indeed, re-visiting His people in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This was both encouraging, but frightening as well. Why? God’s visitation meant that His life-giving presence was returning to His people alongside His purifying judgment to bring about restoration and renewal.