Scripture: Mark 11:1-33
- Jesus and crew arrive in the small towns outside of Jerusalem
- Jesus tells his disciples, “Go into the village. There’s a colt there that’s never been ridden. Bring it back, and if anyone is like, ‘Wha?’ you tell them, ‘God needs it.'”
- The disciples go and find the colt just like Jesus had said, and the owner says, “Wha?” and they tell him that God needs it. And all is cool.
- Jesus then rides on the colt as people put their coats and palm branches down on the road before him.
- The crowd with Jesus shouts, “God, save us! May good things come to the person who is arriving in God’s name. It’s a good thing that the kingdom of the messiah is coming. God, who is above all others, save us!”
- Jesus goes into the temple, looks around and heads back to the town he was staying in.
- The next day, Jesus is hungry and sees a fig tree that looks like it should have figs on it even through it wasn’t fig season.
- When Jesus realizes there actually aren’t any figs on the tree he says, “No figs for you! Ever!”
- Once in Jerusalem, Jesus goes into the temple courts where there is a big marketplace full of people exchanging money and selling animals for sacrifice. He immediately starts overturning tables and kicking people out.
- Jesus reminds the people that the Old Testament had said God’s house is to be a place of prayer, not commerce.
- The temple officials are miffed but the rest of the people are amazed.
- Jesus and the disciples head back out of town.
- In the morning, Peter sees the fig tree that Jesus spoke unkindly to and realizes it is now withered.
- Jesus says, “If you have faith, even moving mountains will be no big deal. Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe it and it’ll be done. And don’t forget to forgive each other.”
- When they get back to the temple, the teachers of the law and elders ask Jesus, “Where did you get the authorization to do all the stuff you’re doing?”
- Jesus replies, “I’ll answer your question if you answer mine: John the Baptist, was he just an ordinary guy who baptized people to achieve his own agenda, or did he baptize people because he was a prophet announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom?”
- Jesus’ opponents thought, “If we say God was involved with what John did, then he’ll say, ‘Why didn’t you believe him’? But if we say what John did was no biggie, then the public will be mad, because they think John was a prophet.”
- So they say, “Uh…. um… Pass.”
- Jesus replies, “I’ll pass on your question, too.”
Zechariah, one of the twelve minor Hebrew prophets, wrote his visions during second year of the reign of Darius the Great (520-5-18 BC) after the Jews had returned from exile. He was a contemporary with Haggai, another prophet. The name Zechariah means, “Yahweh has remembered,” and he wrote about how the kingdoms of the world would someday become the kingdom of the Messiah; how the God would ultimately triumph in the latter days.
The end of Zechariah contains a vision in which (1) the nations gather against Jerusalem; (2) God appears on the Mount of Olives and prepares a processional highway into Jerusalem by the rending the mountain in two; (3) and then, once inside the holy city, God establishes a new order of creation and begins his universal reign; (4) then God’s enemies are destroyed and the Gentiles who survive recognize God’s universal sovereignty; (5) finally, in Jerusalem, the distinction between the sacred and the profane is overcome.
Jesus’ entry on a donkey from the direction of the Mount of Olives evokes the final vision of Zechariah (14:15) as well as Zechariah 9:9 which states that Israel’s king would come, “righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The symbolism of the donkey also refers to the Eastern tradition that it is an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war. When a king came riding upon a horse he was bent on war, yet when he rode upon a donkey he was coming in peace. Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem symbolized that he would not be a war-waging king.
Of note, 2 Kings 9:13 records a similar entry into Jerusalem when Jehu became king: “They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, ‘Jehu is king!'” Also, Solomon, when he was inaugurated as king, rode on a mule (1 Kings 1:33).
The word hosanna means, “Save now,” or, “Save, I beseech thee.” It was used frequently in the celebration of the various Jewish festivals during which the people sang the 115th, 116th, 117th, and 118th psalms. In the singing of those psalms the people responded frequently with, “hallelujah” or “hosanna.”
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people sang Psalm 118:25-26: “Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
The shouts of the multitudes hailing Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem are reported by all four gospels with various different phrases: Matthew has “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9); Mark has “Blessed is the kingdom that comes, the kingdom of our father David: Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:9,10); Luke has “Blessed is the King that comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” Luke 19:38); and John has “Hosanna: Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13).
“Hosanna in the highest” may have been part of a prayer to God translated as, “Save now, you who dwells in the highest heaven, among the highest angels.”
The use of palm branches strewn along the road during Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem resembles the celebration of Jewish liberation in 1 Maccabees (13:51) which states: “On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews entered it [Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.”
The palm branch was a common symbol of victory, peace and eternal life in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean world.
In the Assyrian religion, the palm is identified as the Sacred Tree. The crown of the tree representing heaven, and the base of the trunk, earth. In ancient Egypt it represented immortality.
The palm became so closely associated with victory in ancient Roman culture that the Latin word palma could be used as a metonym for “victory,” and was a sign of any kind of victory. A lawyer who won his case in the forum would decorate his front door with palm leaves. The palm branch or tree became a regular attribute of the Goddess Nike (victory), and when Julius Caesar secured his rise to sole power with a victory at Pharsalus, a palm tree was supposed to have sprung up miraculously at the temple of Nike.
A palm branch was also used in Greece as an award to victorious athletes.
Later, the palm leaf was adopted in Christian iconography as representative of the victory of martyrs, or the victory of the spirit over the flesh.
In many lands in the ancient Near East, it was customary to cover the path of someone thought worthy of the highest honor. In 2 Kings 9:13, after Jehu, was anointed king, his companions spread their garments on the ground before him.
Mark often used two stories together to make one point. This was often done by using a chiastic structure (or parallel structure) in which each part of a story has a contrasting part later in the story and the main point is “sandwiched” in the middle. Below is a simplified version of the story of the fig tree and cleansing of the temple:
A) As Jesus and his disciples leave Bethany, Jesus sees a fig tree in leaf, but realizes it has no fruit.
B) Jesus curses the fig tree.
C) Jesus enters Jerusalem and the temple and drives out the money changers
D) Jesus says, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?”
D) “But you have made it a den of robbers.“
C) The chief priests and teachers of the law are angered, the people are amazed. Jesus leaves the temple and Jerusalem.
B) Peter sees the cursed fig tree and points it out to Jesus.
A) Jesus says to his disciples that with faith, prayer and forgiveness they can say to “this” mountain “Go, throw yourself in the sea.”
Note: The “mountain” referenced may either be (1) the Mount of Olives, evoking the rending of the mountain described in Zechariah 14, or else (2) the temple mount as a sign of the Israel’s now worthless stature in God’s eyes.
Jesus’ search for fruit on the fig tree has symbolic value based on the use of the fig tree to represent Israel’s faithfulness (or lack thereof) in the Old Testament, including Jeremiah 8:13, 29:14, Joel 1:7, Micah 7:1, Hosea 9:10, and 9:16. For example, Jeremiah 8:13 notes: “When I would gather them, says the Lord, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.”
Commentators have pointed out that Mark makes the point of saying that it is not the tree that is out of season, but Jesus. The righteous (Israel) should be ready for the messiah whenever he comes.
Jesus did not wither the tree for fruitlessness but for falseness, exhibiting leaves (which appeared after the fruit, normally) yet having no fruit. A tree in full leaf at this time is making a promise it can’t fulfill. This serves as a type for Israel. They profess faith in God without exhibiting any of the fruit that should accompany such faith. The withered tree symbolically foretold the coming judgement on Jerusalem.
This sort of dramatic symbolism has precedence in the Hebrew prophets like when God had Ezekiel lay on his side for 390 days to demonstrate the punishment of Israel (Ez. 4:1-5:17), or when Isaiah went “stripped and barefoot” for 3 years to symbolize Egypt and Assyria’s demise (Is. 20:1-6), or when Hosea married a prostitute to symbolize God’s relationship with Israel (Hos. 1:1-3:5).
Moneychangers in the Temple
There are two potential ways to interpret Jesus’ actions: The first is that he was reacting to the “commercialization” and price gouging going on in the temple. The other is that the location of the money exchanges had so overrun the Court of the Gentiles that Gentiles could no longer worship there.
The temple was the center of the economic life of Jerusalem, driving employment for many petty producers like bakers, incense makers, and goldsmiths. Festivals were prime money making opportunities due to the large influx of visitors to the city.
Because Judea was subject to the Romans, most of their money was in Roman coinage. Yet Jewish law required that every man should pay a tribute to the service of the sanctuary of half a shekel, (Exodus 30:11-16). It became therefore a matter of convenience to have a place where the Roman coin might be exchanged for the Jewish half-shekel. This exchange, coupled with the fact that most pilgrims wouldn’t want to transport livestock all the way to Jerusalem for the feast, meant the money changers could demand a small sum for the exchange; and so it would be a very profitable employment, and one easily giving rise to much fraud and oppression.
Since the exchange booths and tables were set up in the Outer Court, this prevented the Gentiles from having a place to pray. Commerce had taken precedence over the “outsider” seeking God.
A similar incident can be found in Nehemiah 13, when Nehemiah overturned the furniture of Tobiah the Ammonite who had, with the cooperation of Eliashib the High Priest, leased the storerooms of the temple, depriving the Levites of their rations from the offerings.
As Jesus cleanses the temple he utters: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ — which combines Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. The word “robbers” used here is better translated as “insurrectionists.”
Of note, Mark is the only author to include Isaiah’s additional words, “for all nations” therefore emphasizing the exclusion of the Gentiles as reason for Jesus’ wrath.
- Bethpage means “House of Green Figs” which may be a literary allusion to Jesus’ coming miracle.
- Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem. It was the village where Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived.
- In the Old Testament mountains frequently face each other in paired opposition, for example, Horeb and Carmel in 1 Kings 18 and 1 Kings 19, and Ebal and Gerizim in the Pentateuch. Here, Mark seems to be pitting the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount against each other.
- The Jews used the word curse, not as always implying wrath, and anger, but to devote to death, or to any kind of destruction.
- Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian, accounts for almost three million people making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Like Jesus and his disciples, most of those people probably stayed in surrounding cities rather than in Jerusalem itself.
- What made Jesus so angry about the fig tree? What enraged him about the temple? What do you think about God being so angry? Do you think he acted fairly? Why/why not?
- In what ways has the church over indulged in commercialism? What would Jesus overturn or throw out of our sanctuaries?
- In what ways has the church prevented outsiders from coming in? What space do we need to leave for those not fully part of the faith to worship/find God?
- In what ways does Jesus’ entry look triumphant according to the Old Testament? In which ways does it look much more lackluster and less magnificent than what the prophets described?
- What do you think about Jesus saying, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”? Has that been your experience? Is it simply a matter of faith? Is this how prayer is supposed to work?
- Why do the teachers of the law ask Jesus about his authority? What answer do you think they expected him to give? Why didn’t Jesus simply answer them?
- Coffman’s Commentary
- Triumphal Entry – Wikipedia
- Symbolism of Palm Branches
- Cleansing the Temple – Wikipedia
- Turton’s Commentary
- Barnes’ Commentary
- Utley’s Commentary
- Free Bible Commentary
- Zechariah – Wikipedia