For the Jews, the Temple in Jerusalem was the center of everything Jewish, the very center of the Jewish people and Nation. It was the embodiment (if I can use that term for a building) of their very identities as a people; it was their pride, it was their joy, and it was their hope for a better day. Yet the real significance of the Temple ran far deeper than all of that, for its true significance was entirely apocalyptic in nature.
The Temple in Jerusalem was the symbol of God dwelling in the midst of His people, the symbol of their exalted status as God’s chosen; God’s elect. There, in the Most Holy Place, dwelt the Spirit of God Himself on the earth; in the heart of Israel’s capitol city. It was a place of gathering in community, a place of teaching and instruction, a place of worship and prayer, and it was also a place of atonement; it was by any definition a sacred place.
When Jesus entered the city on that donkey colt as the son of David, He went directly to the Temple, and He did so in a manner that asserted His authority as king and Messiah, as one who is greater than the Temple itself (12:6). His actions there demonstrated prophetically what the Temple had become, and in doing so, Jesus went to very heart of the corruption of Israel, for they had perverted the very blessing that set them apart from everyone else, and that blessing was their relationship with God. In His actions on that fateful afternoon, Jesus told an active parable about what would be the fate of the Temple, for it would be utterly destroyed. Later in chapter 24, Jesus would speak to His disciples prophetically about this destruction. But on this day, Jesus, by His actions, would deliver a stinging indictment of the entire ideology that had developed within the teachings of the Jewish religious leaders concerning the Temple.
As a result, they question His identity (21:10), and His authority (21:23); they were indignant (21:15). Later in the drama, Jesus’ predictions concerning the Temple’s destruction are levied against Him at His trial (26:61) and hurled at His in the form of taunts at His crucifixion (27:40). Yes sir, the Messiah was on the scene, and He has brought to them a message that says serious house cleaning is needed, and in so doing, He has “let loose the dogs of (spiritual) war”!