In the time of Christ, the porch of the Temple in Jerusalem accommodated a market for buying sacrificial animals and changing money. Christ drove out the traders, saying, 'It is written "My house shall be called a house of prayer"; but you make it a den of thieves.' (Matthew 20). This episode is known as the Purification of the Temple.
The picture is dominated by the figure of Christ, poised to unleash his whip. On the left are the traders and on the right are the Apostles. In the 16th century the subject of the Purification of the Temple was used as a symbol of the Church's need to cleanse itself both through the condemnation of heresy and through internal reform.
The reliefs in the background allude to the themes of punishment and deliverance. On the left Adam and Eve's expulsion from Paradise prefigures the Purification of the Temple, and on the right, the Sacrifice of Isaac prefigures Christ's death as the source of redemption.
El Greco painted the subject several times throughout his career, both in Italy and in Spain. This version, with its strong colours and elongated forms, was probably painted in Toledo in about 1600.