What was so bad about the money changers? Every country has a place to exchange currency. Weren't the money changers doing their fellow Jews a service by providing the currency for the Temple?
At the beginning of Jesus' ministry, he whipped the money changers out of the temple to present himself as the Messiah. It was appropriate for him to take such authority and first cleanse the temple of those who, under the guise of being God's chief priests, made God's house one of merchandizing. It was even more appropriate at the close of his career, when he entered the city as a king and publicly claimed authority. The first cleansing was for teaching and warning; the second cleansing was for symbolic judgment. This was part of prophecy.1 Jesus "said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise." (John 2:16) That statement has a ring of the following Scripture and they should get the message.
Isa 56:7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
Jer 7:11 Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord.
There were two types of trading taking place:
- Money changing.
- Every Jew had to pay a temple tax of one half-shekel. This could be paid before going to Jerusalem. A month before Passover, booths were set up in the towns for early payment. After a certain date, it had to be paid at the temple. It's similar to buying tickets in advance for a lower price than buying them the day of the event for a higher price.
- This tax had to be paid in certain currency, although for general purposes, all kinds of currencies were equally valid in Palestine. The money changers exchanged unsuitable currency for correct currency for a price.
- Let's say in US currency you owed 30 cents. If you gave them a 50 cent piece, you'd receive 5 cents in return. They would take the 30 cents and charge you 10 cents for the exchange and another 5 cents for giving back the surplus change. When the worker wage was about a penny a day, that was a high price to pay.2
- Selling of doves
- For most visits to the Temple you were required to bring an offering. Women needed to sacrifice doves for purification after childbirth. Likewise lepers when they needed the priests to attest to their healing. Animals cost a lot less outside the Temple. All sacrificed animals had to be without blemish. The official inspectors for the Temple usually rejected anything purchased outside the Temple and would send people to one of their booths to buy an unblemished offering. A pair of doves could cost as little as 4 cents outside the Temple and as much as 75 cents inside the temple. If you only earn a penny a day, that's highway robbery. Jesus' anger was directed against those who made it impossible for simple people to worship in the House of God. In the noise and business of buying and selling, prayer was impossible.3
As you can see, the money changers weren't just providing a service.
Wm. Barclay. The Gospel of Matthew. London: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975. Vol 2 pp. 244-245
Ibid. pp. 244-245.
Ibid. p. 245.