In Jesus’ day there were thieves and robbers in the temple. Just imagine! The temple, the beautiful sacred building that God had established, where the sacrificial ordinances that He had ordained were preformed, was defiled. Most of the Jewish leaders became thieves and robbers. They told the people that there could be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of the blood of animals, which was true, but they then devised a system where the people would be forced to buy the sacrifices at exorbitant prices.
Looking at it two thousand years later, it seems a very bold and defiant act of the priests and rulers. How dare they presume to profane the holy temple of the Lord! Did they think they could continue in such a course without incurring the justice and judgments of God?
The Too Timid Believer
Nicodemus was a witness at the cleansing of the temple when all the robbers and thieves were forced out. This occasion, at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, could very well have been his first opportunity of personal contact with Jesus. Ellen White wrote: “He [Nicodemus] was a witness of the scene when Jesus drove out the buyers and the sellers; he beheld the wonderful manifestation of divine power; he saw the Saviour receiving the poor and healing the sick; he saw their looks of joy, and heard their words of praise; and he could not doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was the Sent of God.” The Desire of Ages, 168.
Nicodemus was drawn to the Saviour. He himself had been greatly distressed by the profanation of the temple. He was impressed with the words that Jesus spoke and went to the Scriptures to study anew the prophecies of the Messiah. As he studied, the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah became stronger and stronger, until he sought an interview with Jesus in the night season. (See John 3.) Oh, friends, how wonderful it was! Though the Jewish nation was in deep spiritual apostasy, there was one, a leader in Israel, who accepted the drawing of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of Christ’s ministry.
Though Nicodemus probably had many things to unlearn, because of his education in the pharisaical schools and because of his position (which kept him from becoming one of Christ’s disciples while He was yet alive on earth), Jesus was acquainted with the soil into which He had cast the seed. Nicodemus sought the Saviour, and Christ was able to speak with him because he accepted the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart.
Yes, it is too bad that he was so timid that he would not hold an interview with the Son of God by day. The opportunity of his lifetime was before him, but the political church system of the day kept him back from openly associating himself with Jesus. Today we see similar circumstances.
Many Seventh-day Adventists believe the truth, but they are not willing to stand with those who are upholding truth in the midst of one of the greatest apostasies among God’s people that has ever been. These timid people may well be saved in the end. Nicodemus was never an enemy of Jesus, but he realized after the crucifixion that he had missed the golden opportunity of his life by not closely and openly associating himself with Jesus.
Afraid to Stand?
Dear friend, if you are one who is afraid to stand with those you know are teaching and preaching the truth for fear of what others may say or think, remember Nicodemus. Yes, he did a wonderful work, but what could have been accomplished for the cause of truth had Nicodemus gone to the forefront while Jesus was still living on earth?
No doubt, he reasoned with himself that because of his exalted position in the Jewish nation he could have some influence over the priests and rulers that were not sympathetic to Jesus and His cause. He could protect Jesus while continuing in his present position. After all, being a member of the Sanhedrin was no unimportant position, and he was respected by all. This reasoning carried the day with Nicodemus and is no doubt accomplishing the same results with some today. But at what cost? Not only was Nicodemus himself bitterly disappointed when, after the crucifixion, he saw his fallacious reasoning and the opportunity that he had lost—nevermore to return, but the cause of God also suffered by his timidity and inaction. Oh! May God break through the heart barriers of those today who are allowing the current political system in our church to influence their reasoning and keep them from associating with those who are teaching and preaching the truth at personal risk and peril.
We are thankful, although Nicodemus was too timid to seek an interview by day, that at least he went by night. The seeds of truth that were sown in his heart he hid. “For three years there was little apparent fruit.” The Desire of Ages, 176. But, “After the Lord’s ascension, when the disciples were scattered by persecution, Nicodemus came boldly to the front. He employed his wealth in sustaining the infant church that the Jews had expected to be blotted out at the death of Christ. In the time of peril he who had been so cautious and questioning was firm as a rock.” Ibid., 177.
There were others there at the temple besides Nicodemus, however, whose heart response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit was not the same as that of Nicodemus. The priests and other rulers were there, and they, too, saw Jesus drive out the buyers and sellers. They, too, beheld the wonderful manifestations of divine power. They, too, saw Jesus receiving the poor and healing the sick. And they, too, saw the looks of joy, and heard the words of praise. But in them it roused, not an interest to further study the prophetic writings, but a “determined hatred.” Ibid., 167.
You see, the money changing provided a fraudulent source of revenue for the priests. Notwithstanding, they “were exceedingly proud of their piety. They rejoiced over their temple, and regarded a word spoken in its disfavor as blasphemy; they were very rigorous in the performance of ceremonies connected with it; but the love of money had overruled their scruples. They were scarcely aware how far they had wandered from the original purpose of the service instituted by God Himself’.” Ibid., 155.
“The courts of the temple at Jerusalem, filled with the tumult of unholy traffic, represented all too truly the temple of the heart, defiled by the presence of sensual passion and unholy thoughts.” Ibid., 161.
The temple could never fulfill its divine purpose until it was cleansed. Neither can we fulfill our divine purpose until we are cleansed from sin. “The days of purification of the church are hastening on apace. God will have a people pure and true. In the mighty sifting soon to take place we shall be better able to measure the strength of Israel. The signs reveal that the time is near when the Lord will manifest that His fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 80.
Well could the words of Jeremiah been spoken to the priests and money–changers, “‘Do not trust in these lying words, saying, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord [are] these.”’” “‘Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and [then] come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, “We are delivered to do all these abominations”? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen [it],’ says the Lord.” Jeremiah 7:4, 8–11.
And what of us today? “In the defilement and cleansing of the temple we have a lesson for this time. The same spirit that existed among the Jews, leading them to substitute gain for godliness, and outward pomp for inward purity, curses the Christian world today. It spreads like a defiling leprousy among the professed worshipers of God. Sacred things are brought down to a level with the vain matters of the world. Vice is mistaken for virtue, and righteousness for crime. Temporal business is mingled with the worship of God. Extortion and wicked speculation are practiced by those who profess to be servants of the Most High.” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, 123.
Can you imagine anything worse at the time of Christ? The very system that God Himself established became so corrupted by priests and rulers that the opposite purpose from that for which it was designed was being accomplished. “The ordinances which God Himself had appointed were made the means of blinding the mind and hardening the heart.” The Desire of Ages, 36.
Can you imagine how God must have felt? In giving the sanctuary and its services to His people, He gave them the most wonderful gift that He could give them before He sent His only Son to die for their sins. He longed for that gift to help prepare them for His Son. He desired His people to search out its great truths. In designing it, He thought through the lesson of every detail. Yet, the symbolic value of the sacrifices “were now perverted and misunderstood. Spiritual worship was fast disappearing.” Ibid., 157.
So far had the Jewish nation wandered from God that “The worshipers offered their sacrifices without understanding that they were typical of the only perfect Sacrifice. And among them, unrecognized and unhonored, stood the One symbolized by all their service.” Ibid.
Turning Blessings Into Curses
God specializes in turning curses into blessings, but in a time of apostasy, men turn blessings into curses. In his last sermon, Marshall Grosboll [founder and first director of Steps to Life] spoke of the danger of Seventh-day Adventists turning the church organization from a blessing into a curse. That which God has designed to be a blessing can become a curse if it is perverted.
The divinely instituted services and the biblical instruction itself had been perverted by the Jews until the blessing had become a curse—they had the symbol but not the reality. They sacrificed the animals but rejected the One to whom their entire service pointed. They had the typical priest but rejected the real High Priest. The same thing can happen today.
Better to not Profess
We have the symbol of the three angels everywhere, but if we are not daily preparing for the judgment, the first angel’s message has not done its work in our hearts. Some professed Adventists today do not even believe in an investigative judgment that began in 1844. What good does the symbol do if we do not live out what we professed at our baptism to believe?
If we bring the teachings and practices of Babylon right into professed Seventh-day Adventist churches, the second angel’s picture on our stationary or in front of our churches is a mockery. If we do not believe that a person can keep the law of God perfectly through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, what good does it do to have a picture of the third angel outside the church or on our stationary? We will never risk imprisonment and death in the time of a worldwide Sunday law if we do not believe that God’s law can be perfectly kept.
It would be better to not even make a profession than to profess and then hypocritically not experience what we profess. It would be better if a person knew he was lost than to have a false security created by maintaining the forms of religion while the vital power of the gospel is not being experienced. One of the great earmarks of all apostasies is that professed Christians maintain the symbols, the profession, the outward forms of religion, while the vital godliness—which alone is of eternal value—is neglected.
If you were God, what would you have done? “The ordinances which God Himself had appointed were made the means of blinding the mind and hardening the heart. God could do no more for man through these channels. The whole system must be swept away” “Christ’s work was to establish an altogether different worship.” Ibid., 36, 157.
“Slowly descending the steps, and raising the scourge of cords gathered up on entering the enclosure, He [Christ] bids the bargaining company depart from the precincts of the temple. With a zeal and severity He has never before manifested, He overthrows the tables of the money-changers. The coin falls, ringing sharply upon the marble pavement. None presume to question His authority. None dare stop to gather up their ill-gotten gain. . . . A panic sweeps over the multitude, who feel the overshadowing of His divinity. Cries of terror escape from hundreds of blanched lips. Even the disciples tremble.” Ibid., 158.
I wonder how many of us, if we had been in the temple, would have said, “I really think Jesus handled that situation with the priests, rulers and money-changers in the temple today a little too severely. I believe it could have been handled in a more diplomatic manner. Don’t you think Jesus should have gone and talked privately to the leaders before coming out so boldly against them? I realize the priests and rulers have not been doing everything right, and I do not condone it for a minute, but wasn’t that going a bit too far?” Oh, friends, that may sound sarcastic, but I fear that some are echoing these very sentiments today.
We read of Jesus: “He was filled with holy wrath as he saw the Jewish leaders teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, and he spoke to them with the authority of true greatness. With terrible power he denounced all artful intrigue, all dishonest practices. He cleansed the temple from its pollution, as he desires to cleanse our hearts from everything bearing any resemblance to fraud. The truth never languished on his lips. With fearlessness he exposed the hypocrisy of priest and ruler, Pharisee and Sadducee.” Review and Herald, May 12, 1910.
We must each ask ourselves the question, Where would we have stood the day that Jesus cleansed the temple? Remember that even the disciples were surprised at His severity. Could it be that we, along with the Jews in Christ’s day, have become so hardened from the daily occurrence of sin among God’s professed people that when God performs a work of cleansing and purifying we find it too hard to accept. Or, like the disciples, we are surprised at the means that He chooses to use to accomplish His purposes for His people?
Let us look at the aftermath of the cleansing of the temple. “Soon the tumultuous throng with their merchandise are far removed from the temple of the Lord. The courts are free from unholy traffic, and a deep silence and solemnity settles upon the scene of confusion.” The Desire of Ages, 158.
The Temple of the Heart
At last, the temple was fulfilling the purpose for which it was designed. It was “to be an object lesson for Israel and for the world. From eternal ages it was God’s purpose that every created being, from the bright and holy seraph to man, should be a temple for the indwelling of the Creator.” Ibid., 161. The temple was intended to be a symbol of the heart. Could the temple in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, a symbol of the heart, really be a sacred temple when it was polluted and defiled with the sins of deception and fraud?
It was the presence of Jesus that made the temple sacred. Jesus did not abide in the temple at the same time as the money-changers and the priests. When Jesus came in, they left.
Neither will Christ abide in the heart with sin. “Christ does not abide in the heart of the sinner . . . .” Signs of the Times, August 16, 1905. “God does not live in the sinner. The Word declares that He abides only in the hearts of those who love Him and do righteousness. God does not abide in the heart of the sinner; it is the enemy who abides there.” Sermons and Talks, vol. 1, 343. “In cleansing the temple from the world’s buyers and sellers, Jesus announced His mission to cleanse the heart from the defilement of sin,—from the earthly desires, the selfish lusts, the evil habits, that corrupt the soul.” The Desire of Ages, 161.
There is one difference between the cleansing of the earthly temple and that of the cleansing of the heart. In the cleansing of the temple on earth, Christ made a whip of cords and drove out the money-changers and the priests and rulers without their permission. In the temple of our heart, “He will not force an entrance. He comes not into the heart as to the temple of old; but He says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.’ Revelation 3:20.” Ibid. “How willing is Christ to take possession of the soul temple if we will let Him! He is represented as waiting and knocking at the door of the heart. Then why does He not enter? It is because the love of sin has closed the door of the heart. As soon as we consent to give sin up, to acknowledge our guilt, the barrier is removed between the soul and the Saviour.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 325.
Friend, if you want to be cleansed by the Spirit of Christ from every defilement of sin, you must open your heart’s door to Him by consenting to give sin up and acknowledge your guilt. “No man can of himself cast out the evil throng that have taken possession of the heart. Only Christ can cleanse the soul temple.” The Desire of Ages, 161. “It is necessary that Jesus should occupy his temple in the human heart every day, and cleanse it from the defilement of sin.” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, 124. He longs to exercise His power to expel evil from your heart as He expelled the money-changers from the temple of old. Will we let Him do it? If we really love righteousness and want to be free from every defiling habit that has hold of our lives, we should be glad that Christ’s demeanor in the temple was so stern and powerful. He wants to use that power in our heart.