A clear idea of the layout of the Temple will also help us to understand Jesus’ actions in the Temple and the implications of these actions. The building which housed the Holy of Holies was the most sacred portion of the Temple. Around it were different courts (courtyards). There were three inner courts specified in the order of their proximity to the sanctuary: the court of the priests which was closest to the sanctuary, the court of Israel for male Jews, and the court of the women. The large outer square was called the court of the Gentiles where non-Jews were allowed to enter. It was in the court of the Gentiles that the markets, the tables of the money changers, etc., were set up thus converting the Gentiles’ court into a veritable market. The Gentiles, of course, were not allowed to participate in worship and high partition walls separated them from the Jewish worshippers and from the Temple’s inner courts and sanctuary.
Jesus sees that the Temple is practically unavailable to the Gentiles and that they are segregated and discriminated against. It was in the court of the Gentiles that Jesus’ actions took place. He drove out those who sold animals and birds and other commodities and turned the tables of the money-changers who changed the pilgrims’ Roman and Greek money into Palestinian and Tyrian coinage (Mk 11, 15). Jesus also prohibited the use of the Temple court as a thoroughfare. It is likely that Jesus cleared only a limited area of the Temple court and that his action was a prophetic and symbolic gesture against the commercial activities and the cultic life of the Temple.
More than the cleansing of the Temple, which is bracketed by the narrative of the cursing and withering of the fig tree, must be understood as a prophetic act foreshadowing the destruction of the Temple. It is in this context that the significance of Jesus’ teaching about the Temple (Mk 11, 17) also becomes clear.