The Unexpected Jesus, Once Again

By Mark D. Roberts

January 5, 2017

And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Mark 11:17


Chess pieces overturned and laying in many different directions.

When Jesus entered the Temple on the day after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, those who had welcomed him the day before no doubt expected something big to happen. Perhaps Jesus was going to announce the beginning of his kingship. Perhaps he was going to raise up an army to oust the Romans. Perhaps something even more amazing.

Nobody would have expected Jesus to do what he actually did in the Temple. There, in the holy place of God, in the center of Jewish religion, Jesus drove out the people who were selling sacrificial animals and overturned the tables of the money changers who enabled foreign visitors to purchase sacrifices. In effect, Jesus shut down the operation of the Temple. How shocking this must have been to all, even Jesus’s closest followers.

He explained his actions by quoting Scripture. First he cited a portion of Isaiah 56:7 that referred to the Temple as a “house of prayer.” In fact, this prophecy spoke of the Temple as a house of prayer for the Gentiles. Jesus connected this passage with one from Jeremiah that referred to the Temple as a “den of robbers” (Jer 7:11). In context, this phrase revealed that the Jewish people had been thinking that they were safe from God’s judgment because they could “hide out” in the Temple, even though they were egregiously violating God’s law. Through Jeremiah, God predicted that he would destroy the Temple in Jerusalem and send his people into exile (Jer 7:14-15).

Thus, Jesus not only ransacked the Temple courts and interrupted its sacrificial function, but also quoted a passage of Scripture that pointed to the destruction of the Temple itself. This unexpected action and explanation no doubt distressed those who supported Jesus. It gave his opponents reason and perhaps even the opportunity to have Jesus killed.

Even today, when we seek to take Jesus seriously, he does the unexpected. Sometimes this happens as we wrestle with his words and see something that we have overlooked before. Sometimes this happens as Jesus, through the Spirit, calls us out of our comfort zone and into risky discipleship. Sometimes this happens as we are quietly praying. Sometimes this happens right in the middle of our workplaces. In so many ways, Jesus overturns our expectations as he seeks to mold us and use us for his purposes.


When have you experienced the unexpected Jesus?

Do you sense that, even now, Jesus is calling you to something that you had not anticipated? How are you responding? Why?


Lord Jesus, even as you spoke and acted in such unexpected ways when you entered Jerusalem and its Temple, so you have done in my life. Perhaps the most unexpected of all is my experience of your grace. This is nothing I ever deserved or would think to receive. Thank you!

You have taken my life in unexpected directions. Some of them I have welcomed. With others, I have dragged my feet. But, as I look back on my life, I can see how you have been mercifully and wondrously guiding me. Thank you!

Lord, I would confess that I like to have you “figured out,” as if this were possible. Help me to be open to who you really are and what you really want to say to me. May I be ready to embrace the unexpected as you surprise me with your vision and grace. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentaryThe Temple Incident (Mark 11:15-18)


Life for Leaders  Guide Series

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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