To put this story in context, see this visualization of the chronology of Holy Week.
Like many of these events leading up to Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, they occur in most, if not all of the gospels. We strongly encourage you to read all of the accounts to get a full picture of the story.
How did they get to a point where Jesus declared the holy temple a den of robbers? Let's go back to the establishment of the temple and some of the rules from the Old Testament. Reading through Leviticus and Deuteronomy, there were many different reasons for the Hebrew people to bring an animal sacrifice or grain offering from their harvest. These could be for ceremonial reasons (sin offerings, peace offerings and the like) or as a tithe of your harvest (either to provide for the temple and the priests, or to throw a big party).
In Deuteronomy 14:24-26, we begin to see an allowance for those who might live far from the temple and for whom it might be difficult to bring a perfect lamb, live birds, or a large amount of grain. It was simple: sell what you are going to offer in your hometown, then take the money to Jerusalem and exchange it there for something to offer. So fast forward to Jesus' day and you can imagine that this became a normal part of life for Jews through the Diaspora (Jews that did not live in Israel).
Why was Jesus angry with them? What gave him reason to accuse them of turning his Father's house into a den of thieves? Simply put, we don't really know. Here are some possible ideas:
Another question that this story raises is whether Jesus sinned when he cleared the temple. The thought of Jesus in a rage of anger, throwing tables around and yelling at people is at odds with the image many of us have of Jesus with chubby kids sitting on his knee. So, did he sin?
Whenever we come across hard passages of scripture, like this one, we should look to other scriptures to help us interpret it. Jesus did not sin. Here's why:
What we see in this story is the God of the universe expressing his extreme displeasure in a people who had strayed so far from the spirit of the law he had given them.
Some might be tempted to not teach this story at all to children, for fear of casting Jesus in a negative light. But God has not asked us to be his public relations. He chose to include this story in his word. In this story, we see Jesus bringing the judgment of God against those who had so perverted the law he gave to Moses. It is important to remember "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15) and that without receiving Christ's forgiveness, we are condemned.
get your kids talking and engaged
Have you ever been angry at a family member or friend? Did you have a right to be angry? What did you do when you were angry? Do you think you did anything wrong when you were angry?
Today, we are going to learn about a time when Jesus was angry.
teach a holistic story
Read story from a Children's storybook Bible for younger children.
For older children, read the story from an age-appropriate Children's storybook Bible or read directly from the Bible.
give them basic Bible skills
Scripture for Kids to Read Aloud: Matthew 21:12-17
make sure they understand the story
First, ask the children if they have any questions about the story. What to do if you don't know the answer?
help them apply the story to their lives and open up a conversation about faith and the gospel; close with prayer
hide God's Word in their heartScripture says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13