By the time Jesus walked up to the temple that day, it was clear that it was a shell of its former glory and mission. Instead of being a holy place -- its core identity and function -- it had become a shopping mall, bank, government building and revolutionary symbol wrapped into one. The money changers and sellers made a profit selling sacrificial animals to the people, especially the poor; the treasury and records of debt were administered there, the high priest, who was a Roman appointee, and the scribal lawyers had their offices there; and the zealots looked to it as a national symbol that, if it could be recaptured, could house a new government. Every interest group saw the temple as the symbol of salvation, but none of these functions were going to save it or the people.
So Jesus walked right in and drove out the sellers, which effectively shut down the temple's sacrificial function for a brief time. Jesus was performing an acted parable, presaging in his actions the great going-out-of-business day to come. Jesus was occupying Wall Street, as it were. He announced a foreclosure on the temple but, like a passionate and visionary leader, announced that a new initiative would take its place. The temple would be destroyed, but a new one would be raised up: the temple of his own body. Jesus embodied God as the Word become flesh and represented the very presence of God with his people -- especially those who were outside the temple establishment.
Indeed, Jesus would do what the temple could not. He came with humility. He gave himself away instead of pursuing more power, calling his disciples to lose their lives in order to find them. He engaged in the risky venture of challenging the prevailing religious worldview and risked death on a cross to see his mission through. He didn't grasp at another way of salvation, but embodied it in his own person. And, finally, he didn't capitulate to death, but demonstrated the reality of resurrection. In short, Jesus showed his disciples that the path from good to great was the path of suffering and self-denial, and not the wide road of the temple that led straight off a cliff.