Just a Thought

Cleansing the Temple: Cleansing Us

Just days before Jesus bore the bitter agony of Gethsemane, walked the lonely path to Golgotha, and willingly died that we might live, He cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. With authority, Jesus rebuked the moneychangers and peddlers, declaring, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12–13). In this dynamic act, Jesus taught that cleansing the temple was had everything to do with cleansing us.  

A Disturbing Dream

Not long ago, I experienced an unsettling dream. In the dream, I sat inside a modern-day temple seeking solace from some unknown struggle. I recognized my surroundings and, dressed in white, I anticipated the feelings of peace and comfort I knew would be there. But as I turned to my left— and then to my right—fear seized me. Seated all around me were worldly people with evil, dark countenances. As I looked into their faces, my peace fled. The images in the dream were so unexpected and unwelcome, they woke me from my sleep. Throughout the day, I remained uneasy about the presence of darkness in a temple of God.

Temple Boundaries

When Moses and the children of Israel left Egypt, they eventually encamped at the base of Mount Sinai. While there, the mount became their temple—the place where God dwelt. The Lord invited the people to sanctify themselves (become clean and holy) to prepare to enter His presence on the mount.

But He also set limitations. “Thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live” (Exodus 19:12–13).

At first glance this seems counterintuitive. If the Lord wanted His people to enter His presence, why set boundaries that would keep them out or kill them? The answer ties back to why Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem, why my dream left me so unsettled, and why temple entrance today is restrictive. It’s a question of purity and protection.

A Question of Purity and Protection

The Lord loves His children. He wants to give us all the blessings we can comfortably handle. However, His glory is far beyond our own. Without sanctification, we could not bear to be where His is. And that requires effort on our part to become pure even as He is pure.

The prophet Moroni described it this way. “Do ye suppose that ye shall dwell with him under a consciousness of your guilt? Do ye suppose that ye could be happy to dwell with that holy Being, when your souls are racked with a consciousness of guilt that ye have ever abused his laws? Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell” (Mormon 9:3–4).

Those are powerful words. But they teach this simple principle. God does not close the door to keep us out. He closes the door to protect us, just as He did the children of Israel, until we can be comfortable in His holy presence. He may have promised physical death for violating the boundary around Mount Sinai, but the true death for entering God’s presence unworthily is, to us, spiritual. The temple cleanses and purifies us. But we have to be in a preparatory state of purity before that process can take place. We have to be worthy.

A Refuge from the Storm

But the boundary doesn’t just protect us from entering unworthily. It also protects us, when we are worthy, from the influences of the world. The Savior understood this need for purity in His house. It needed to be “a place of refuge, and … a covert from storm and from rain” (Isaiah 14:6). Worldliness had to be expelled to create a sanctuary.

After Jesus cleansed the temple, He performed miracles within its walls. The scriptures recount, “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14). In His house, the Savior cleansed.

God has again established temples on the earth to provide a refuge from the storm and a sacred space for healing, revelation, and peace. These temples are built to exacting standards. And exacting standards are set to enter. As with Mount Sinai, they are holy places where God dwells. They can keep us safe from the world. But the requirements remain the same. We must be worthy to enter.

Worthy to Enter

Fortunately, worthy does not mean perfect.  President Russell M. Nelson taught, “The Lord does not expect perfection from us at this point in our eternal progression. But He does expect us to become increasingly pure.” Just as the Lord told Moses to sanctify the people, His prophet today invites us to become sanctified, holy, pure.

This process begins with repentance. President Nelson said, “Daily repentance is the pathway to purity, and purity brings power.” Purity gives us confidence to enter the temple and seek God’s face. The scriptures teach, “Let virtue [purity] garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God” (Doctrine & Covenants 121:45). When we repent, we access the Savior’s Atonement and can claim the protection and peace found only in the house of the Lord.

Coupled with repentance is obedience. If we want to be pure like our Savior, we must follow His example of obedience. In all things, He submitted to the will of His Father, even unto death.  Sister Carole M. Stephens taught, “The ultimate expression of obedience and love is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Submitting Himself to the Father’s will, He gave His life for us.”

As we sanctify ourselves through repentance and obedience, we may “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). When we come, He will cleanse and sanctify us through the blessings found in His holy house.

An Easter Invitation

Jesus cleansed the temple to make it more holy. When we prepare and sanctify ourselves to enter the temple, we can become more holy too. This Easter, as you remember Jesus Christ, consider the importance of His holy temple.

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