In the presentation of this episode, Luke adapts the Markan version of the cleansing of the Temple (Mk 11, 11.15-17). Luke abbreviate it by omitting several of the Markan details, including the reference to the violent actions and the phrase “for all nations” (Isa 56, 7) quoted in Mark. Luke has also omitted the preliminary visit and inspection of the Temple and the episode of the cursing of the fig tree. Therefore, in Luke the action in the Temple of Jerusalem tales place immediately after Jesus’ entry into the city. In this context it may be noted that in the Joannine gospel the cleansing of the Temple takes place in the earlier stage of Jesus’ public ministry (Jn 2, 13-17) and not at its end as in the Synoptic gospels.
In Luke, the entire scene is depicted more as an action by which Jesus takes possession of the Temple of Jerusalem which was earlier described by Jesus as “his Father’s house” (Lk 2, 49). Jesus does this, as is evident from the subsequent events, with a view to fulfilling his important teaching there in the Temple of Jerusalem (Lk 19, 47-48; 20, 1; 21, 37-38).
Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem acclaimed by the crowd as “king” (Lk 19, 38). The journey into the city reaches its climax when Jesus enters the Temple. Seeing the profanation of the Temple of Jerusalem, with the prophetic protest, Jesus drives out the merchants from there. Jesus’ action in a way is in continuation of the protest by the prophets of old against the profanation of the Temple of Jerusalem. For Isaiah and Jeremiah (the prophets quoted here in this episode) had protested against the desecration of the Temple of God. Jesus’ action is to be understood in the light of the words of the prophets quoted by him in justification for his action when asked by the chief priests and scribes. Prophet Isaiah sees the purpose of the Temple as universal in scope, as meant for all (all nations). Even those considered outcasts by Israel – the Gentiles – would also take their place in the Temple (Isa 56, 7). To restrict the Temple only for some (Jews) was against the plan of God.
Besides, the Temple is for prayer and worship. Therefore, the abuse of the Temple for business and profiteering is a serious crime. Prophet Jeremiah in his Temple speech had decried against the profanation of the Temple by those who come to worship in it after having disobeyed God’s Law (Jer 7, 1-15). Therefore the cleansing of the Temple from all that is connected with the service of Mammon (Lk 16, 13) is the first step Jesus takes before he begins to do what actually ought to be done in the Temple, namely, teaching the people about God’s will (Law). As we could see in the following episodes, Jesus will use the Temple precisely for teaching the people (Lk 20, 1 – 21, 38).
By going directly to the Temple of Jerusalem Jesus seems to fulfil what was foretold by prophet Malachi: “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (Mal 3, 1). This text, though not alluded to in the episode, was echoed earlier in the gospel of Luke (Lk 19, 38) when Jesus was acclaimed as “the one who comes.” Thus Jesus, the King, the one who comes, the prophet, purges the Temple of all that destroyed its character as a house of prayer and prepares it for his own ministry of teaching.