Den of Thieves

By Joel McNabb

“And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way.  And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.  And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.  And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.   And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadest known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.  For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side,  And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.  And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; Saying unto them, it is written, my house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, and could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him” (Luke 19:36-46).

This was a great moment in the ministry of Jesus: the prophecy of His entry into Jerusalem was being fulfilled. Still, He knew what lay ahead for Him.  As He told John the Baptist, when He went to be baptized, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).   Everything that Jesus did on this earth was foretold by the prophets of old, even to the smallest thing that may not even have been recorded in the Gospels.   “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:  But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30,31).  Jesus fulfilled all that was written of Him in the law, and in the prophets, and in the psalms concerning Him.

The time of His suffering was upon Him, and He had to complete the work that His heavenly Father had sent Him to do.   He came to the city that God had chosen as the place for His house: the place where He would dwell with men.   What Jesus saw there caused His spirit to move within Him, and tears to run down his face, for what it had become.  The house of God that was supposed to be His home was now filled with corruption by the men who had been given the honor of the service of this Holy Place.

The religious rulers who had this honor in the time Jesus’ ministry were corrupt in many ways.  Even though they were under the Roman Empire, they were still filled with pride.  They had control of the Law of Moses, and sat in Moses’ seat.   Jesus said of them  in Matt. 23:27,28, “Ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones,  and of all uncleanness.   Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”   They had made themselves lords over God’s heritage (a condition against which Paul later admonished the leaders of the Church), and now the place where God was to dwell was no longer inhabitable for Him.

His house was to be a place of worship, a place where He could be at home; loved by the people He had chosen.   Here, Jesus, with the zeal of the Lord, saw that God’s house had turned into a place where money and merchandise became the thrust, more so than worship: the true purpose of His house.  He declared it a “den of thieves.”   Sounds a little harsh, does it not?  After all is it not easier to be able to purchase the sacrifices you need, at the place where you are going to use them?  NO, they were supposed to bring their sacrifice into the house of the Lord, not at the convenience for the worshiper, or to pad the pockets of the priest.

John tells us that this occurred at the time of Passover, when all the Jews were to come to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifices for Passover.   It was one of the Feasts of the Lord, a feast to remember the great power of God, who brought them out of Egypt.   “When Jesus found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:  And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.  And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (John 2:14-17).  It cut Jesus to the heart to find this holy place being used in such a manner.

Jacob had a night vision and saw a ladder set up on the earth.  The top of it reached to heaven and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.”  And he was afraid, and said,” How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28).

The house of God is not a place to be taken lightly.  It is a place where God is to be feared, not in terror, but in awe.  When God dwelt on Mount Sinai, He told Moses to take his shoes off, for the place where he stood was holy ground.  In Acts 7, Steven said, Moses trembled and did not want to look when he heard the voice of the Lord.  In Acts 5, Ananias and his wife Sapphira found themselves in this awesome place; they lied to the Holy Ghost and fell dead at the feet of the apostles.   “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.  And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people” (vss.11-12).  They were in the dreadful place that Jacob had seen in his dream, THE HOUSE OF GOD.  Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?

In 2 Peter 2: 1-3, Peter tells how it will be in our day, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.   And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.  And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.”

Many have come in the name of the Lord and used God’s people as did the priests of Jesus’ day.  Churches have become dens of thieves, where the “almighty dollar” is the main focus, and not places of true worship.   “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth:  for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:2).  The ministry is now a career for some, and the church just  another place of occupation.  (I have even been to a church where the sanctuary also doubled as a basketball court.  All you had to do was move the chairs out of the way!)

Peter continues, in 2 Peter 2, to tell us of the judgment of those who have brought in these heresies.  “But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you;  Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children:  Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;  But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet.  These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.” 

We need to take a good look at what is going on in our churches today.  The Bible tells us that judgment must first begin at the house of God.  The question we must ask ourselves: “Why do we go to church?”  Are we there to worship the Lord, and learn about the purpose of man on this earth, and of His will for our lives?  Jesus taught us after this manner to pray: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”   His will is that He will have a place where He can dwell on earth: an awesome place where His name is glorified by people who have the same zeal as His Son Jesus. 

 We must all, with a humble heart, look within ourselves and cleanse any spots that we may have, so that we may stand before the Lord when He once again dwells among men.  May the Lord grant us the grace to be true worshippers in His house.

The Lord bless and keep you is my prayer.                  

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