Biblically, the difference between robbers and thieves is that thieves are violent and robbers normally work by stealth. Robbers are pick-pocket types. Thieves break through doors, enter homes and take what they want. One might think, but the temple was made into a den of thieves right? Yes it was. Those individuals cooperated and supported the entire temple leadership. Their guilt lies in association with a ruling class that called themselves Israel’s priests and scribes, but they lorded over the people and threatened physical harm or ostracization resulting in material losses, poverty and financial destruction. Even the Sadducees, mostly businessmen, were supposed to be men on par with Abraham, an excellent businessmen, but wholly devout to God in all his works. These actions could easily result in loss of life for a family just because the temple leadership inappropriately accuses or takes action against even one member. One reason Jesus turned Mary over to John the Apostle in John 19. Because of Jesus persecution and crucifixion, his entire family would be marked. The Apostle John was not one being targeted by the ruleing leadership. John could support Mary’s needs.
The temple thrived under the leadership of these autocratic rulers as they found every way possible to financially benefit from every transaction. They coerced cooperation and capitulation to their way of life. There was no care, no concern, no compassion. These people wanted obedience, submission and subservience. This was accomplished through threat of force, threat of ostracization as we have seen recently with the blindman in John 9.
These robbers and thieves not only took the joy out of life in Israel, they gave no promise of blessings from God in obedience. There was nothing to live for. Pay taxes, pay money changers, pay for a sacrifice, pay, pay, pay. One worked all year to attend the passover and in the end, their year’s wages were either taxed by the Roman occupiers, or looted by the sales in the temple.
When Jesus began to show these corrupt and hypocritical activities for what they were, He was a threat to the entire establishment. No devout Pharisee would ever see himself as a robber or thief (John 10:1). They gave alms, tithed their 10 percent. They were devout in giving their money to the temple.
What they did not realize is that Jesus was talking about Spiritual thievery that resulted in destruction of the soul. Spiritual robbery comes from surreptitious re-indoctrination and compulsion for obedience; this is akin to Nebuchadnezzar’s law requiring Daniel worship him over God. He is trying to get them to see that in their work they were robbers and thieves of the people’s souls. They sneak in not through God’s approved doorway where Jesus can meet with them, but over the wall so they do not have to face God. The Scribes, Pharisees and even Sadducees were supposed to seek God in all things first, looking first at the spiritual ramifications of their actions; just as Daniel, and so many others as their examples, they were to do only that which pleases God. They were not supposed to become the heathen idolators the Romans were. But they did.
Further, these Israeli leaders were there to exemplify pure joy to Israel; the joy of their being the chosen people of God in Heaven! The joy of serving Jesus is in the joy of His salvation, the joy of His heavenly Kingdom, our real true home.
If you have laid your eternal life upon and depend wholly upon Christ, the Son of God for all things in your life, you too are chosen, you are one of the elect, you are a child of God. You have been taken into the family of God and bestowed with those promises and accessibility to the throne of God. We should live out this joy as the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace! Life begins in Christ, live it through Him and let Him live through you.