In my days as a "freethinking agnostic" I often used the story of Jesus and the Temple moneychangers as an example of a glaring contradiction in the story of the New Testament. Now, as a heretic who prefers to look at these stories without getting bogged down by two thousand years of reinterpretations, I've had pause to study it again.

The contradiction I wrote about some twenty years ago had to do with the sudden change in the Nazarene's behavior, from one who embraced and loved all to one who suddenly had a complete mental fit and started throwing tables and money all over the place. After all, this is the dude who embraces and welcomes a hated tax collector into his circle of friends. How are these moneychangers any different than Levi the tax collector?

Levi, later renamed Matthew, was a government tax collector. He worked for the government and part of the functioning of the government involved the collection of taxes. Regardless of the fairness and equity of Levi's actions and whether he was involved in self-serving corruption or not was not important. It relates to the "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" business, which has nothing to do with Caesar specifically but the workings of the temporal world.

The machinations of the temporal world are not of concern to the Nazarene, only the well being of the souls of those who are consigned to the temporal world. The temporal world offers temptation, easy paths to sin and opportunities to do wrong by one's brothers and sisters. The Nazarene accepts this to be true. What he takes issue with is the corruption of the spiritual world by the temporal world through the elements of the Temple of Jerusalem, held in regard by the people as the House of God.

The Nazarene's quest to go to Jerusalem has little to do with taking a "seat of power" as some kind of king. It has to do with his sorrow over the heart of the law being overshadowed by the word of the law and the consolidation of temporal power by those who claim to be representatives of the spiritual world. In a sense, the Temple itself has become no more than another political manifestation that sets laws and passes judgment on people as good, devout Jews or sinners to be cast out.

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

--Matthew 7:1
(New International Version)

Instead of offering comfort and acceptance to a people living under a difficult occupation, the Temple has become a place of judgement and of opulence in a time of suffering. The moneychangers exist because the temple priests insist on following the letter of the law regarding graven images on money. It follows with the Nazarene's cries of hypocrisy, the ignorance of the heart of the law overshadowed by the pomp and circumstance of following the letter of the law.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

--Matthew 23:23
(New International Version)

The people, who are already heavily taxed by the Romans, travel to Jerusalem to follow the letter of the law, but in order to do so they are asked to exchange their money before paying the tithe. Here they are again taxed, this time essentially, although indirectly, by the Temple itself for the moneychangers charge them a variety of exchange rates. They are indirect representatives of the Temple, which is supposed to be representative of the spiritual world. Profit is being made by the requirements of the spiritual law. Profit is a machination of the temporal world which has taken hold within a symbolic representation of the spiritual world. This is what sets off the Nazarene. It is also the point at which he establishes himself as standing apart from the religious hierarchy of the time. In essence, it is where he proves himself to be a heretic. To question the laws, rules and regulations of the Temple itself is open heresy.

Those things which are of the temporal world, such as the Temple of Jerusalem, are merely symbolic. When the Nazarene says he could tear down down the Temple and rebuild it in three days he is mocking the high value placed on the Temple over what it is meant to represent. The opulence and riches of the Temple mean nothing. The overwhelming focus on the value and importance of the Temple have come to overshadow what it is supposed to stand for. This is why the symbolic mental fit of the Nazarene is important. In following his teachings you find, time and again, that the true temple is within the heart and soul of the individual and that such majestic symbols as the Temple of Jerusalem can fall and be destroyed without it meaning anything in a spiritual sense. The destruction of the Temple only matters in a temporal sense.

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

--Matthew 7:7
(New International Version)

The Kingdom of Heaven is inside you
No structure, no construct of the temporal world, means more than that.