No room for "all nations"

Missions: The heart of God

Commentary on Mark 11 -- How is Jesus driving the money-changers out of the Jerusalem Temple related to world evangelism?

"[Jesus] said to them, 'The Scriptures declare, "My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,1" but you have turned it into a den of thieves.'" -- Mark 11:17

Rarely does the story of Jesus driving merchants and money-changers out of the Temple prompt reflections about world evangelism. That is lamentable given that Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7 as the reason for His actions: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations."

Conversations on the cleansing of the Temple almost never mention Isaiah's "for all nations" phrase. One reason may be that only Mark records the entire verse from Isaiah. However, by ignoring those last three words of Isaiah 56:7, we may well miss what was really going on that day.

The core issue that day in Jerusalem may not have been just corrupt and abusive commerce, as bad as that was. The central issue may have been that the Court of the Gentiles had been taken over by such activity. That essentially evicted non-Jews from the Temple. It meant that the Temple could no longer be "a house of prayer for all nations."

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place Jesus' purifying of the Temple on Monday of Holy Week. On Friday of that same week, Jesus died as a sacrifice "for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). Thus, as Jesus entered the Temple at the beginning of Passover Week, a concern for all peoples on earth was likely weighing heavily on Him. Maybe He was already formulating in His mind the exhortation He would give His followers about preaching the gospel "to all creation" (Mark 16:15) and being witnesses "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

What thievery had the money changers in the Temple committed?

Given what Jesus was going to face later in the week, isn't it logical that His heart would have been focused that Monday on "all nations"? That would have made Him especially sensitive to the Court of the Gentiles being occupied by money-changers and sellers of animals and birds. The price-gouging and currency-exchange fraud certainly desecrated God's holy Temple. However, what may have pushed Jesus to the boiling point was seeing the Gentile area usurped and turned into "a den of thieves" (a phrase from Jeremiah 7:11). With the Gentiles effectively squeezed out, the Temple could no longer serve as "a house of prayer for all nations." Their place to worship had been stolen from them.

Jesus' life on earth begins in Bethlehem with a plaintive "no room in the end" story. Isn't it ironic that at the end of his earthly life, Jesus faced another "no room" sign?

The "No Room for Gentiles" sign put up in the Court of the Gentiles not long before Jesus' arrest and crucifixion barred the way to the Temple for many of those for whom He was about to die! Is it any wonder that our Savior's emotions boiled over that day? Shouldn't ours do the same when something hinders "all nations" from hearing the call to worship their Creator?

Discussion questions

  1. What is the significance of the phrase "for all nations" in Isaiah 56:7? Can it be said that Jesus' reference to Isaiah 56:7 reflected His passion for world evangelism?
  2. Why do you think that conversations about Jesus' cleansing of the Temple frequently omit the phrase "for all nations" from Isaiah 56:7? How important is the phrase "for all nations" in reflections on the cleansing of the Temple?
  3. What was the ultimate result of the Temple Court of the Gentiles being taken over by money exchangera and sellers of animals and birds? How does this relate to the call to evangelize people in all nations?
  4. Should the "no room" sign at the end of Jesus' earthly life evoke the "no room" sign at the beginning of his life? What do these two "no room" messages in Jesus' say about the cause of world evangelism?

1In the Bible, the word "nations" does not mean political entities like China, India and the USA. Rather, it means people groups or societies in which people speak the same language, have the same culture and live in or have originated the same area. "Nations" is synonymous with the plural word "peoples." In other words, nations in the Bible means all of the people groups of the world other than the people of Israel.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen articles in the "Heart of God" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine.

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