Mk 11:15-19 Meanwhile, on the Monday morning, Jesus enters the outer courtyard of the Temple (see Malachi 3:1 and Map 12) and begins driving out the merchants who are selling birds to be offered as sacrifices. His symbolic actions – destroying the sacrificial system of the Temple for a short time – point towards the coming destruction of the Temple. With the ultimate sacrifice about to be paid by the death of Jesus – the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) – the Temple has outlived its purpose as the place where Jews offered sacrifices to gain God’s favour.
Map 12 Herod's Temple
The courtyard merchants are making huge profits selling their overpriced doves and pigeons (see Leviticus 5:7). They’re exchanging currency at inflated rates so the Jews can pay their temple tax in pure silver coins that don’t bear the name of any earthly king. The temple tax has to be paid in shekels or half shekels, minted originally in Tyre, but later issued by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, as these are the only coins acceptable to the Jewish priests because they don’t carry the portrait of an earthly ruler.
This payment of half a shekel of silver is equivalent to two silver drachmas (see Matthew 17:24-27). Jesus is exasperated that the Jewish Temple authorities are ignoring this exploitation of the pilgrims who have come to worship God. He shouts out, “It is written in the Scriptures, ‘My Temple will be called a house for prayer for people from all nations.’ But you are changing God’s house into a ‘hideout for robbers’.” (Mark 11:17) (see Isaiah 56:7 & Jeremiah 7:11). Once again, the chief priests look for a way to kill Jesus because the crowds are amazed at his powerful teaching.
The Jewish crowds would also have been well aware that Jesus, by his actions, was fulfilling Zechariah's prophesy about the start of the 'End Times': "At that time there will not be any buyers or sellers in the Temple of the LORD All-powerful." (Zechariah 14:21)
Mk 11:27-33 The following day (Tuesday), Jesus teaches beneath Solomon’s Porch in the Temple courtyards in Jerusalem (see Map 12). The chief priests and rabbis demand to know by whose authority Jesus is teaching, but Jesus replies with a counter-question (a typical form of rabbinic debate) and refuses to say anything that will give them the opportunity to arrest him.
A colonnaded portico on the Temple Mount (Mark 11:27)
The Temple in 30AD
Colonnaded porticos stretched round all four sides of the outer wall of the Temple (see Map 12). They formed wide, open-sided walkways with a roof, supported by rows of columns, providing welcome shade from the intense heat of the sun. The impressive Royal Porch (or Royal Portico) extended across the southern side of the outer courtyard (the Court of the Gentiles) where most pilgrims emerged after climbing up the internal steps from the Hulda Gates into the Temple. This is where the moneychangers had their stalls, and where pilgrims bought doves and pigeons to be offered as sacrifices.
Solomon’s Porch (or Solomon’s Portico) was situated on the eastern side of this outer courtyard. The porch was named after King Solomon who built the First Temple. By Jesus’s day, the Second Temple had been re-furbished and enlarged by Herod the Great. Solomon’s Portico was used by the teachers of the Jewish law, who sat here in the shade, surrounded by their disciples. The early Christians also met here (see Acts 5:12).
The outermost courtyard was called the Court of the Gentiles because Gentiles were only allowed to go this far into the Temple. They were not allowed into the inner courtyards which were were surrounded by screens to form a barrier (see Ephesians 2:14). During the Passover festival, the Court of the Gentiles became a rowdy market place frequented by unscrupulous moneychangers and numerous merchants selling religious souvenirs.
Today, the site of Herod’s Temple is occupied by the beautifully decorated octagonal Dome of the Rock completed in 691AD above the rocky summit of Mount Moriah (see Genesis 22:9). Visitors to the Temple Mount can shelter from the intense heat of the sun by pausing underneath the arched porticos on the inside of the present walls, built by Sultan Suleiman in the 16th century. Only on the lower parts of the retaining wall on the western side of the Temple Mount (the Kotel or Western Wall, where Jews come to pray) are there substantial visible remains of the original Herodian structure that supported the Second Temple. Visitors can, however, climb a restored section of Herodian steps that led to the Hulda Gates at the south entrance to the Temple Mount (see photograph on previous page).
Anyone wishing to see what the Temple and its surroundings looked like in Jesus’s day can walk around a large scale model of Jerusalem in 66AD at the Israel Museum (formerly in the grounds of the Holy Land Hotel).
Model of Herod's Temple in 66AD at the Israel Museum