And He was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:17
What did Jesus mean when He said “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”? This is a most critical question. If as Jesus’ teachings and the New Testament indicate, that His “house” over which He is the head is “the church which is His body,” then the church must be sure to make it a priority to be about that which He has called it to be. (Ephesians 1:22-23 & 1Timothy 3:15)
In order to understand this mandate for the church more clearly we must look at the context in which Jesus said this and specifically what He meant by the phrase “for all nations.”
This call for the church to be a house of prayer is recorded four separate places in the Scriptures: three times in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17 & Luke 19:46) and once in the quote to which Jesus is referring, when He says “is it not written” in Isaiah 56:7.
The incident which immediately preceded and triggered this teaching was Jesus’ second cleansing of the temple, which took place during Passover week leading up to His crucifixion.
In His approach to Jerusalem that morning, when He hungered, He came upon a fig tree that, to His disappointment, He found only leaves and no fruit. His reaction, which startled His disciples, was to curse the tree saying “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” (Mark 11:14) It is commonly understood that the fig tree was representative of the nation of Israel and that Jesus’ real concern was with Israel’s estranged relationship with God His Father. His burden as He approached the temple was for the spiritual barrenness of His people who should have been bearing the fruit of repentance in turning their hearts toward God.
When He came into the temple and saw the people focused on their own interests by buying and selling, rather than the interests of God by repenting and praying, He was so deeply grieved that He drove the “robbers” out. I tremble to think what the Lord Jesus, who now ever lives to make intercession for us, thinks today as He visits His house of prayer.
It is important to note that the desire of God and His original intention are revealed in the book of Isaiah. There He prophesies that “joy [be] in My house of prayer” where “sacrifices will be accepted” and it will be a “house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7)
What then does it mean to be a “house of prayer for all nations”? The word used here for “nations” both in the Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek passages, literally means peoples, races or nations. It can refer to individual peoples or ethnic groups as well as governmental and political entities. These references as such are also typically indicating non-Israeli groups. This is significant because the heart of God is revealed here in His all-encompassing love and concern for all peoples, ethnic groups and nations of the earth in addition to Israel. Prophetically it speaks of His intention to open the door of salvation and redemption to the Gentiles, which Paul refers to as the mystery of the ages. (Ephesians 3:4-6)
Finally we must examine the words “for all”. This phase is like the treasured final puzzle piece, held in a hand which is poised for placement to complete an intricate picture. It comes from a term meaning “the whole” or “every kind of” and therefore describes the all-inclusiveness of the prayer calling.
There are two distinct applications and directives in this phrasing. The first, which seems most obvious from the text, is that God’s desire is for all nations to be participants in praying to Him. In other words the intention of His house of prayer is for it to be a place where all belong and all have access to God for the purpose of prayer – specifically that prayer be made by all nations.
The second directive of this verse is that all nations or peoples also be the focus of prayer in His house. Stated plainly, that His house be a place where prayer is not only made by all nations but that it is also a place where prayer is made for all nations. Since the nations are on God’s heart and He watches over the nations (Psalm 66:7), it is clear that prayer in His house must therefore be made for all nations.
In order to fulfill Jesus’ house-of-prayer command we must therefore fully embrace the fact that it must be a place of prayer both by and for all nations! This has so many implications for the Church of Jesus Christ both in terms of the make-up of the church and the focus of the Church’s prayer that we will leave all of that for future consideration. Suffice it to say, let’s begin to pray more diligently that His house would become a house of prayer, both by and for all nations!
Click Here for an email subscription to this blog.