The Prophet Jeremiah pointed his finger at the religious leaders of Judah and accused them of empty rituals that serve to disguise the actual depth of their sinfulness. He has specifically addressed their insistence on preaching that the ritual sacrifices and practices associated with the temple are how the people can be right with God.  The cry of the men of Judah in Jeremiah 7:4 was “The Temple of the Lord. The Temple of the Lord. The Temple of the Lord.” Their religion had become a superstition by which they were guaranteed God’s acceptance and protection. But the priests and Levites corrupted these practices surrounding the Temple in Jeremiah’s day to be how they coerced money from the people. He addresses this abuse directly in Jeremiah 7:11. He says to those running the Temple rituals, “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.” This verse should make all our ears perk up! Where do we know this from?

In Matthew 21:13, Jesus quotes this verse, “He said to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.’” We mostly know about the cleansing of the temple by Jesus. He drove out the money changers and turned over their tables. John’s Gospel says in 2:16-17, “And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” This action by Jesus was foretold some five hundred years earlier by Jeremiah. It seems that the sin that the religious leaders committed in Jeremiah’s day continued to the time of Jesus.

Are we not in danger of the same sins today? Whole systems of theology can become the idols we hide behind and use for our protection. We use Jesus’s words, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” as applying to our theological framework. Cranfield said, “If we imagine that every denominational tradition and every ecclesiastical vested interest and every bit of ecclesiastical pomp and circumstance are entitled to luxuriate behind the promise that ‘the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,’ we are like those who fondly repeated, ‘The Temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.’”[1] Dearman is right, “Theology does matter, not because God insists on a rigid intellectual system, but because unless we understand who God is, we will be in basic error about everything else that is ultimately important. The church will not save anyone (nor did the temple or animal sacrifice); it is a means to a goal, not the end itself. Understood correctly it is a means to know God and be rightly related to him.”[2]

[1] Walker, Larry L., Elmer A. Martens. 2005. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, & Lamentations. Vol. 8. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

[2] Dearman, J. Andrew. 2002. Jeremiah and Lamentations. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.