12And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. 14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. 15 And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased” (Matthew 25:12-15, KJV).
First thing we will notice from prior scripture is that they are in Jerusalem for the passover (this is the passion week).
Jesus went straight from the triumphal entry to the temple. The for temple here in the Greek is ἱερός (hieros) meaning sacred. In terms of the temple it means the entire complex of buildings (including its major temple) consecrated for the the worship of a deity (Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.)
The NIV adds something that several versions don’t, that Jesus walked into the “temple courts.” We’re not arguing over the addition of courts but it does beg us to understand what courts are meant by here. The temple had courts?
For a more extensive study on the Temple look at Edersheim’s “The Temple, its ministry and services as they were at the time of Jesus Christ” (2003). For a smaller more condensed look we will notice that especially after Herod’s construction on the Temple that it was a huge complex. Josephus wrote that Herod increased the size of temple complex from “one Stadium to six stadia” (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14304-temple-of-herod). If you google a map of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day (or look in the back of some Bibles) you will notice that the temple looks to be almost a quarter of the city. It was a large complex with many sections. Many of which were not dictated by the scriptures but by extra-biblical Jewish scriptures. The courts from outer to inner were, Gentiles, Women, Israel, and Priests. The idea was that the closer one came inside the more holy the place became.
The rules of the temple major reached the entire structure except by the provision that each court made. In the court of gentiles, any traveler, that was deemed whole, could enter. In the court of women, only Jewish men, women and children could enter. In the court of Israel, only Jewish men. Finally, the court of Priests, the actual prescribed biblical court, was for the priests only.
So for as much as a precise location named, we won’t find that in scripture. He just somewhere in the temple. But there are other pieces to this puzzle that gives us a good understanding.
Two key things help us from our passage. Some key actions and people help us find this out. The key action is that in verse twelve sharing that selling was taken place. The key people are found in verse fourteen where it notes that the blind and lame were in the temple, and verse fifteen shows that children were present in the temple.
The temple is believed to always had a market for those who may of lacked in their own resources to sacrifice. We see that “The temple market is supposed to have been established after the captivity, when many came from foreign lands to Jerusalem. Lightfoot says: “There was always a constant market in the temple in that place, which was called ‘the shops’ where, every day, was sold wine, salt, oil, and other requisites to sacrifices; as also oxen and sheep in the spacious Court of the Gentiles” (Freeman, J. M., & Chadwick, H. J. (1998). Manners & customs of the Bible (p. 451). North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers.)
By the way, there was selling in the day of Zechariah the minor prophet, as one of the fulfillments of the Messiahs coming was that there would be no more selling, “Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the LORD of hosts: And all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: And in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts” (Zech 14:21). The word Canaanite כְּנַעֲנִי (Kenaani) means one who travels for trade or profit, hence it is translated as “trader” in many versions.
Also, some of the people present support this notion that they at in the Court of the Gentiles. The lame and the blind were not permitted to be any where on the holy grounds, “And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind, that are hated of David’s soul, he shall be chief and captain. Wherefore they said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house” (2 Samuel 5:8). The fact that they were in the temple to be healed still means they could be present anywhere but most likely they were court of Gentiles, in “the shops.” section.
So, perhaps the noise of the animals and people selling reducing the atmosphere of a sacred place to another market street was a reason for cleaning. Maybe the fact that some record that it be a travel route north to south for people to just pass through the court of gentiles was a reason for cleansing. Or it may be the lack of access for all people to reach God (division by the courts) was all a part of the reason that Jesus cleansed. Not just that they were selling.