Den of Thieves, Part 2
Jeremiah 7:11Last Friday, I offered some reflections on Jeremiah 7:11. I explained how the Temple had become, for many Jews in the time of Jeremiah, like a “den of thieves.” They believed that they were safe from God’s judgment for their wickedness because of the Temple. But, through Jeremiah, God said that he would indeed destroy the Temple in Jerusalem as part of his judgment of his people.
When we Christians read Jeremiah 7:11, we rightly hear echoes of another biblical passage. Several centuries after Jeremiah’s ministry in Jerusalem, another so-called prophet came to the city to deliver God’s judgment. Jesus of Nazareth entered the Temple, driving out those who were buying and selling sacrificial animals or exchanging currency so sojourners could purchase sacrifices. Effectively, he completely shut down the Temple operation. He explained this scandalous action by saying, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” The “house of prayer for all nations” line comes from Isaiah 56, a vision of God’s future salvation of Israel and other nations as well. The “den of thieves” line is clearly a quotation of Jeremiah 7:11.
Why does it matter that Jesus quoted this verse from Jeremiah? Because it helps us to understand his meaning and why he so upset most of the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem. By identifying the Temple as a “den of thieves,” Jesus was not merely saying that the business operations of sacrifice-selling and money-changing were ripping people off. He was also implying that what happened before, when a prophet called the Temple a “den of thieves,” was about to happen again. In other words, by using a pregnant phrase from Jeremiah, Jesus was prophesying the destruction of the Temple, something that happened about forty years after his death.
The leaders in Jerusalem surely got Jesus’ point. They understood what he was saying about the obliteration of the Temple. And, given their view of the Temple as God’s house, they heard Jesus’ prediction as blasphemy. His citation of Jeremiah 7:11 became, in fact, one of the main reasons why the Jewish leaders wanted him dead.
Jesus was not simply making a critical statement about the Temple, however. He understood that a new “Temple” had come. He was, himself, the dwelling place of God on earth. As God in the flesh, Jesus had unprecedented authority to forgive sins. Thus, after Jesus offered himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin, the Temple would no longer be necessary. Embedded in his words of judgment about the Temple, therefore, was a vision of new life in him.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: In the past, how have you understood Jesus’ statement about the Temple as a “den of thieves”? Can you see how his use of Jeremiah got Jesus into so much trouble with the authorities? Where do you “go” when you need to experience God’s forgiveness? What has God given us to help us know with confidence that we are forgiven through Christ?PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, how I thank you for all you did leading up to your death. You knew that by calling the Temple a “den of thieves” you were opening up the door to your death. Yet you were truthful and faithful.
Thank you, dear Lord, that I can know forgiveness in you. Thank you for being my “Temple,” my “place” of reassurance. Thank you for being, not just the Temple, but also the High Priest and the once-for-all sacrifice.
Thank you also, Lord, for giving me Temple-like reminders of the forgiveness I have in you. Thank you for the church, where I regularly hear the gospel proclaimed, and where I receive forgiveness when I have done wrong. Thank you for the waters of baptism that show me how you have cleansed my heart. Thank you for the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, where I can eat and drink signs of your forgiveness.
All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, for the new life I have in you! Amen.