When Did Jesus Cleanse the Temple?
Did Jesus cleanse the temple on the day of His triumphal entry?
Many Bible students are aware that the apostle John placed Jesus’ cleansing of the temple near the beginning of His ministry, while Matthew, Mark, and Luke positioned the occasion during the final week of the Savior’s life (see Lyons, 2004). The question regarding whether Jesus cleansed the temple on the first day He entered Jerusalem (during the week of His crucifixion) or on a subsequent day, however, is rarely pondered. Why did Mark place the cleansing of the temple on the day after Jesus’ triumphal entry, while Matthew seems to indicate the cleansing took place on the very day Jesus’ entered Jerusalem?
Following Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, Matthew noted: “And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, ‘Who is this?’ So the multitudes said, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee’” (21:10-11). “Then,” Matthew wrote, “Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple...” (21:12, emp. added). Notice that Matthew does not say exactly when Jesus cleansed the temple, only that the event happened “then” (Greek kai, most often translated simply “and”—cf. KJV, ASV, NASB, RSV, etc.). All one can know from Matthew’s account (as well as Luke’s [19:45]) is that (1) Jesus entered Jerusalem, and (2) at some later time, He cleansed the temple.
Mark, however, used more detailed, chronological language. On the first day, Jesus went into Jerusalem and the temple (Mark 11:1-11), then later that day He and His apostles departed for Bethany. “Now the next day, when they had come out of Bethany” (11:12, emp. added), Jesus again went into Jerusalem and into the temple. Unlike His trip to the temple the previous day, this time Jesus entered the temple “to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple” (Mark 11:15-18). Thus, Jesus actually made two trips to the temple: once on the day of His triumphal entry (Mark 11:11), then again “the next day” to cleanse the temple (Mark 11:12,15-18). In this instance, Mark’s account is more sequential, while Matthew’s is more of a summary.
Keep in mind that neither Matthew nor Mark was mistaken in his account. We often report events with the same variety. Sometimes we speak more chronologically, while at other times more generally. Consider the family that returns home to tell friends about a trip to Disney World. One family member may summarize everything they did while at Epcot, while another family member may speak more specifically about how they actually went to Epcot parts of two different days and were able to see all sorts of things. No one would be justified in alleging that either family member was mistaken. Likewise, Matthew and Mark’s accounts are complementary—not contradictory.
Lyons, Eric (2004), “Chronology and the Cleansing of the Temple,” [On-line], URL: http://apologeticspress.org/articles/528.