These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Matthew 21:12-17 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Verse by Verse Commentary

Matthew 21:12-17


  1. Jesus at the Temple (12-17)

Discussion Questions

What did Jesus find the people doing in the temple courts?
Why were people selling doves? How about changing money?
Why did Jesus get angry at this?
What can we learn from Jesus’ dramatic response?
Was He momentarily overcome with anger and lost self-control or was this action intentional and the right thing to do in this case? Explain and defend your answer.
If the disciples did the same thing, would it be right or wrong? Why?
What do we learn from Jesus about how to exercise leadership and authority?
What do we learn about anger?
What do we learn about the attitudes and behavior we should display at church today?
What is the purpose for going to church? How can we grow more spiritually there rather than just performing a ritual?
What else did Jesus do at the temple? How did Jesus treatment of the different groups differ?


Jeremiah 7:11 – You have made my house a robber’s den.

Ephesians 4:26 – Be angry, but do not sin.

Psalm 40:6-8 – I delight to do your will.

Jeremiah 7:2 – Stand in the gates of the Lord and proclaim worship to those who enter.

John 4:23-24 – The true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth.

Verse by Verse Commentary

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the temple was the first place that Jesus is recorded as going to. When He was only 12 years He stayed there when His family left the city and said that they should know He wanted to be at His Father’s house. The temple was the spiritual center of the nation. Thus it was the perfect place to go to teach people and minister to the spiritually hungry.

Notice that Jesus entered the temple courts. The temple courts represented the very outer part of the temple. The largest temple court was the Court of the Gentiles. It was about 35 acres. It was largely a social area where even Gentiles and pilgrims from other nations could enter. However, they were forbidden with warnings on many stones under penalty of death not to enter the holy parts of the temple. The next court was the Court of Women. Even Jewish women were not allowed to proceed past this court unless they were offering a sacrifice. So many women congregated their to worship. While the passage does not specify, it is likely that Jesus was in the Court of the Gentiles when He started driving out the animal sellers and money changers.

Jesus drives out the sellers and money changers – At this point in time, it was socially accepted to have these types of businesses in the outer courts. But notice that even though society and the religious leaders accepted it, Jesus did not. According to Jesus, the problem was that the temple was supposed to be a place of prayer, a place to draw close to God, but instead it had become business oriented. Perhaps at one point in time it made sense to allow the purchase of sacrifices in the temple courts. As travelers came from far away, maybe a kind soul began offering animals as a sort of service to lower the burden on those who had to come from a long distance. Perhaps individuals were sometimes willing to exchange money to help travelers do the business they needed to do. But what may have started as a rather innocent or helpful enterprise, had clearly degenerated.

This is the second time that Jesus cleansed the temple, the first taking place early in His ministry and being shown in John 2:15-16. If something is important enough to do once, it is likely important enough to do twice!

Jesus quoted Jeremiah 7:2 and said that His Father’s house was being turned into a den of thieves. The word “thieves” is a strong word. It clearly shows us that the motivation of the sellers in the courts was not altruistic. They were not calm and dignified and offering a social service. Rather a rabble had been attracted. These people took advantage of the good nature of the temple pilgrims and exploited them by overcharging and outright cheating them. One can almost imagine the den of people arguing and shouting, each seller yelling louder in an attempt to get more customers. Occasionally fights were sure to break out as customers realized they had been cheated. The din and commotion would distract people who were coming to pray and worship. Firstly, Gentiles could ONLY visit the outer courts. How could they focus on prayer with the din of merchants plying their wares all around them. Beyond this the sounds were sure to drift into the inner courts. Also, how could people prepare themselves spiritually and calm their hearts to experience a quiet time with the Lord when trying to enter through this mob?

Clearly allowing businesses here distracted people from their mission of coming to the Lord. God was clearly not pleased and Jesus clearly expressed this frustration. Why was it allowed?

The leaders were not being led by the spirit. Perhaps they were receiving kickbacks. Perhaps they only allowed their own relatives the best locations. We don’t know exactly, but clearly they were not making decisions for the spiritual well-being of the people.

What lessons do we learn from this?

Religion often attracts wolves in sheep’s clothes. Throughout the whole history of organized religion, many people have seen it as a way to make money. Subtly sneaking in, they exploit the sheep for money. Perhaps they pursue ministry as a vocation to earn money. Perhaps they hawk wares on television. Maybe they promise miracles in exchange for money. Often their own opulent and extravagant lifestyle give them away. See a “man of God” becoming rich from the flock? Does he own expensive homes and luxury cars? Does he fly around in a private jet? Their could occasionally be a good reason for these types of things, but in almost all cases they should be loud warning bells. God often wants us to have nice things, but luxuriant living with donations is quite another thing altogether.

Application: Firstly, be careful that you are not misled or exploited by such people. Secondly, be alert to the love of money and be sure to maintain a clear conscience in how you use it before God and man. Thirdly, if you see these types of abuses taking place in your church, you may need to do something about it, especially if you are a leader.

The first cleansing of the temple did not result in real life change. Though they had grudgingly followed along when Jesus stopped them the first time, they went right back at it when Jesus left. They acted one way in front of Jesus and another way when He was not around. Guilt, shame, or peer pressure was guiding their actions rather than a pure love of God. Maybe they struggled with their consciences for a while. Finally greed won out and they went right back at it after Jesus left town.

Application: Is there anything that you would give up or change in your own house and way of life if Jesus were to visit you? Do you think you may start it again when Jesus left? Sometimes we act one way in front of other believers and another way when we are by ourselves. We are allowing peer pressure to guide our actions rather than a genuine love of Christ. If you find yourselves acting one way on Sunday and another way at work during the week, you need to confess that to the Lord and live your life in a consistent way no matter who is watching.

There is a time and place for everything. The temple was a place to worship God, not for making business deals. Church is a place for worshiping God. It is not a social club. It is not a business market. It is not a place to network or market our latest products.

Application: Sometimes we go to church out of habit. It is a ritual many of us have done our entire lives. Are you really drawing near to God? Are you really going to worship? Or are we just going because that is what we do on Sunday? I suggest that we can pray and meditate BEFORE we go to church asking God to give us a calm and worshipful spirit. We can also ask Him to lead us by His Spirit and teach us by His Word. During the service, focus on the Lord not other things. And after talk with your friends or family about what you have learned there which you can obey during the week.

Here are more thoughts on the importance of having the right attitude at church. They come from my notes on the parallel passage in Mark (

“IT IS POSSIBLE TO GO TO CHURCH OR FELLOWSHIP EVERY WEEK WITHOUT TRULY WORSHIPING GOD! Many people have the exact same problem today. Evangelists, pastors, and missionaries get on TV, radio, or in front of the church and beg for money. They offer products like prayer cloths, holy water, and even prayer of blessings over any product you send them (many years ago the Catholics also sold papers saying that the person who bought it would have their sins forgiven!). Scandal after scandal has broken out where these have been proved to be fake. Duh! The bad reputation of these evangelist money-grabbers has tarnished the reputation of much of the church. However, this thought process has tinkled down to mass numbers of church-goers. Most of these probably wouldn’t admit to going to church for personal gain, but many do nonetheless. You can see it when people ask what they will get because they follow God. Will they be able to pass their coming exam or having a better job? One guy last week repeatedly asked me what physical benefits we could get from following God. To Him, the spiritual side didn’t count for much if anything at all. So what kinds of reasons to people go to “worship” on Sundays?

Social life – People go to church because that is where their friends are. Hey, churches have lots of nice people that go to them and it is easy to make friends there. There are lots of activities around the week to enjoy during one’s free time. This includes trips to amusement parks, bowling, pizza parties, seafood meals, sports games, park parties, etc. Our church even went on a mission trip to Alaska! This is not to say that any of these things are wrong. One can fellowship in these kinds of settings and make an impact on others for Christ. However, it is all too easy to begin going for the fun, food, or friends. Church is not meant to be a club to meet your friends! Are you going to church to worship God and grow or to be with your friends?

Safe feeling – Many others go to church for the feeling of safety that it provides. It makes them feel they are doing well spiritually. Basically they get their assurance of salvation from going to church rather than from faith in God. In this category can be included people who to church so that they won’t feel guilty. Are you going to church because it makes you feel close to God?

Warm feeling – I’ve invited lots of people to church with me for the first time. After they go to church I often ask them what they thought and what they like about it. The most common answer is that they like it because it makes them feel warm. Even many non-Christians have given this answer! They feel comfortable and peaceful when they go to church. Many continue in this state going to church for years without ever really knowing the gospel and it what it means to truly worship God. Are you going to church because it makes you feel peaceful?

Pressure – Another category go to church because their parents or friends put pressure on them to go. They are the ones who go because they “have to.” Are you going to church because you have to?

Pharisaic – Another very common reason for going to church is that it has become an ingrained ritual. We go because “we have always gone” or it’s “what we do on Sundays”. In a way this is good to set a habit. We should not choose not to go to church because we don’t feel like it on a given Sunday. However, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of letting church become and impersonal ritual. Are you going to church because that is what you do on Sundays?

Psalms 24:3-4. So what is the solution for us to avoid these church-traps? There is no magic trick. We need to have the right attitude and motivation. If you have been going for the wrong reasons confess and ask God to give you right motivation. When you go to church focus on worshiping. Focus on listening to the sermon and growing spiritually. You can try some new things to make church more fresh and personal. Pray on your own during the prayer times. Think deeply about the words of the songs. Make notes and applications about the sermon. Pray beforehand and afterward that God will teach you in that days service. Discuss what you learned with others. Choose one or two points and practice them during the week. Most importantly, remember to go to church for the right reason and don’t think about what you can get out of it. Confess all selfish motivation. Go to worship, learn, grow, and encourage others. Think about what you can give to God and people, not what you can get. John 4:24”

It is possible to be angry and not sin. It certainly appears that Jesus was angry in this passage. But this was not an out-of-control raging anger. Anger is not always sin. See Ephesians 4:26. Sometimes righteous anger is called for. If we never have righteous anger, it is probably because we lack empathy and we just don’t care about people around us. Jesus did care. He wept for Jerusalem. He cared that many sheep were being misled by these money centered practices. So he took calculated, intentional, and dramatic action to deal with the sin.

 Jesus showed us that true authority is. While leaders for the Lord are to be humble and practice servant leadership, they are not to be timid and passive. Just as a shepherd reacts quickly and decisively when the flock is attacked so the spiritual leaders of the church should act decisively to deal with problems or people who are misleading or exploiting the sheep. Jesus was known as the Lamb of God. See Matthew 12:20. He could be very gentle when gentleness was required. But He could be very powerful when strength and fortitude was required. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Can you imagine Jesus walking up and saying calmly and politely, “Would you mind moving that table outside the gates?” What kind of reaction could He expect? People would likely not even hear Him, much less do what He asked. Merchants were busy selling stuff, making money! Even a bull-horn in their face likely wouldn’t have grabbed their attention. So He did what needed to be done to grab their attention. While we may turn the other cheek to people mistreating us, we should not turn the other cheek to sin taking place when we can do something about it.

 What examples can you think of that may pop up which the spiritual leaders around us need to firmly deal with?

Application: Note that we don’t always need to push our nose into the problems around us, but IF those problems are under our sphere of influence or authority, we need to act and not stand idly by.

In Mark 11:18 we learn that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus for upsetting the status-quo (which they were likely getting rich off of). When leaders step up to deal with wrongdoers it is likely their will be a backlash. Don’t be surprised or caught off guard. But also don’t let a potential backlash stop you from doing what you know must be done.

 Jesus heals the blind and lame. Here we can see quite a contrast. Jesus goes from a forceful disciplinarian driving out hordes of merchants and animals one moment to a kind and compassionate healer the next moment. Serving God requires many different attitudes and character qualities so do not get locked in to one.

Application: Strict and tough people may get locked  in to that type of personality. Perhaps such a person needs to deal with misbehaving or naughty children or sheep. If you need to be firm then be so. But be ready to change in a moment. Often gentleness and compassion are required. Use each one as a tool at the proper and fitting time. For example a parent may need to yell at his child who is running out into the road, but yelling at the child who did his homework poorly is not the way to deal with it. Giving a rebuke to a brother who is considering leaving his wife is likely necessary, but talking with a brother who has been abandoned by his spouse requires a softer approach. See Proverbs 25:11.

The children praise Jesus. Jesus happily received their praise and told off the Pharisees who asked Jesus to stop them. Indeed their praise was foretold in Psalm 8:2. Jesus once again shows us that a true leader is versatile and flexible. He shows great discernment and is able to quickly go between different roles.

I once saw an old television show. A couple visited a very small town and and found an inn. After talking to the innkeeper they asked where they could see the justice of the peace and he referred them to the other side of the room. He proceeded to change his hat and help them as justice of the peace. Later he put on his fireman’s hat. And so on. He was able to quickly change roles and demeanor depending on the circumstance. A leader in the church is like this too.

Application: Train your children to sing God’s praises! He loves to hear it!

Study Matthew 21:18-32
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