Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Hiding in the Den of Thieves

READ Matthew 21:12-13

He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

Matthew 21:13

As Jesus entered Jerusalem to cries of “Hosanna,” the crowd had high hopes for him. Surely, if he were the Messiah, Jesus would gather together an army and soon lead a successful attack on the Romans. Yet as soon as he entered the city, Jesus did something that was not only unexpected, but also scandalous. He entered the sacred Temple. Coming upon the place where vendors sold animals for sacrifice, he knocked over their tables. Then, quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, he accused them of turning what should have been a “house of prayer” into a “den of thieves.”
When we read this story, we might conclude that Jesus was upset about the materialistic enterprise of the Temple. Buying and selling in the temple can be a problem. But, in fact, Jesus’ deeds and words indicate a much more profound critique of the Temple. By turning over the tables of the vendors, Jesus was essentially shutting down, not just their business, but also the whole operation of the Temple itself. Without animals to sacrifice, there would be no sacrifices. Moreover, the phrase “den of thieves” is, in fact, a quotation from the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 7:11). The “den of thieves” was the place where the religious elites believed they could hide from God’s judgment. But, Jeremiah revealed, this was a failed strategy. God would soon destroy his temple. Jesus’ actions in the Temple, combined with his quotation from Jeremiah, undermined the very sacrificial system, and implied that God would soon bring the Temple itself to ruin. By condemning the Temple in this way, Jesus was viewed as blaspheming the God of the Temple. And this, as much as anything, stirred up his opponents to seek his death.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What is your “den of thieves”? How do you hide from God? In what do you put trust, other than God himself?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, of course I don’t have a literal Temple in which to hide from you. But there are times, I must confess, when I can use the thought of your grace as an excuse to sin. And then there are the times when I simply try to ignore you, almost fooling myself into believing that if I’m not thinking of you, you’re not thinking of me. Sometimes I can hide within the apparent safety of right theology. I tell myself that as long as I’m thinking correctly, everything else is okay. I conveniently forget your call to repentance and obedience.
Lord, I expect there are many more “dens of thieves” in my life. You know them. So today, though I must admit it scares me to do so, I invite you to enter these aspects of my life and turn over the tables. Take away my hiding places, so that I might encounter you fully. May I put my confidence in you, and in you alone. Amen.

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