STUDY FIFTEEN: MARK 11:1-33
© Rosemary Bardsley 2013
A. JESUS, THE KING OF GLORY – Mark 11:1-11
Jesus walked towards Jerusalem with the deliberate intention of bringing to fulfilment and completion the eternal, saving plan of God. From the very first indication in Genesis 3:15 to words of Caiaphas the High Priest in John 11:49-50, all the predictions surrounding his death are about to be accomplished.
With deliberate intention Jesus brings to fulfilment the words of Zechariah 9:9:
‘Rejoice greatly; O daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
Deliberately, although unaware of their real significance, the crowd cries out the words of Psalm 118:26,27:
‘Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord
we bless you...
With boughs in hand,
join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.’
Jesus rides into Jerusalem. The people recognise him as the one who fulfils these prophecies. They see that he is a king, but their thoughts are full of the tyranny of Rome and the expected Davidic king who will re-establish the nation of Israel, rescuing them from their oppressors. Beyond this they do not see. They do not perceive that this king whom they acclaim with shouts and with praises is far more than an earthly king. They do not connect this man with another prophecy from the Psalms:
‘Lift up your heads, O you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty-
he is the King of glory.’ [Psalm 24:7-10]
 Make a list of the emotions, perceptions and expectations depicted in Mark 11:1-10; Zechariah 9:9; Psalm 118:26,27; and Psalm 24:7-10.
 Which of these do you personally identify with? Why?
Jesus comes as king. Not as a national king to rescue them from Rome, but as the King of glory, the Lord Almighty. He enters through the gates of Jerusalem, the City of God. He enters through the gates of the Temple, the House of God. But even there, there in the Temple, where everything from the splendour of the High Priest to the repulsion of the blood-stained altar speaks of who he is and what he does, even there he is not recognised. There in the Temple, the very next day, he exercises his kingly authority, and there in the Temple he and his authority are rejected. (Mark 11:11-18, 27-28). The people of Jerusalem, the Pharisees, the priests, do not see that here standing among them is the King of glory, the LORD Almighty.
But let us note something that is easily overlooked. In Psalm 118 we read that when the one who comes in the name of the Lord enters Jerusalem, joined by the crowds who were singing his praise, his journey ends at the altar [Psalm 118:27], the place of sacrifice. There for generations sacrifices had been brought and offered, All of them prophetic symbols of the one final, effective sacrifice to which they all pointed and from which they all drew their significance. The one coming in the name of the Lord, the one through whom God saves, enters Jerusalem to die a sacrificial, sin-bearing, substitutionary, atoning death.
B. THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE KING – Mark 11:12-26
In Mark 11:11 we read that Jesus ‘went to the Temple and looked around at everything.’ Mark does not give us any clue what Jesus thought about what he saw, but there is a hint that all was not as it ought to be in that ‘but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany …’ Only the lateness of the hour prevented Jesus from acting on his observations.
B.1 Disappointment in the fig tree [Read Mark 11:12-15, 20-21]
A key fact about the fig tree is that it was ‘in leaf’. Although this time of year was not the season for ripe figs [either the early ones that grow on old growth that appear at the same time as the leaves, or the main crop on the new growth], the fact that it was ‘in leaf’ would indicate that one would also find some figs on it, albeit immature ones that are in fact edible, even if not ripe. The tree had the appearance of bearing fruit. But its appearance was false and misleading. This deceptive appearance generated Jesus’ disappointment.
But, like the vine, the fig tree is symbolic of Israel. What we have here is a real life parable that indicates the failure of Israel, and God’s disappointment with Israel. This was not a one-off failure, but a failure that persisted from the very beginning. While there were always individual Israelites who had true faith, the nation as a whole lacked true faith. Though there was the appearance of faith, that appearance was deceptive.
Task #2: Check out this historic failure and disappointment in these verses:
We have seen in the previous ten chapters of Mark the disappointing reception that Jesus faced in these three years of his ministry:
The people mobbed him because of his healing miracles, rather than follow him because of his teaching [1:45].
The Pharisees and teachers of the law criticised him for socializing with ‘sinners’ [2:16].
Their stubborn hearts deeply distressed him, and they repeatedly criticised him for not conforming to their legalistic expectations [3:1-5; 7:1-5].
They plotted with the Herodians to kill him [3:6].
His family thought that he had lost his mind [3:21].
The teachers of the law accused him of being empowered by Satan [3:22].
The people in his home-town were offended by him and did not believe in him [6:3,6].
Even his disciples’ hearts were hardened [5:52] and their faith and understanding minimal [7:17,18; 8:21].
The Pharisees’ unbelieving questions and demands distressed him [8:11,12].
So far were the disciples from understanding the principles of his kingdom that they vied for positions of personal greatness [9:33,34; 10:35-38].
Israel’s greatest failure is about to happen. And Jesus knows this. His disappointment with the fig tree symbolises and encapsulates the long history of the disappointment of God with Israel right up to that moment, and beyond. Here in Jesus God comes to his own, and his own do not receive him [John 1:10,11]; he came to his people and his people did not know him [John 8:19].
Let us not think of the external thing here – the destruction of a fig tree. Let us rather think to this deep and terrible reality, this ultimate disaster: God comes to Israel whom he redeemed and made his own nation and they do not want him.
Thinking deeply: God has no needs. He existed in the perfection of the Trinity before he created the universe. Perfect. Complete. Without lack. His disappointment must never be understood as a disappointment based on the failure of Israel, or our own, to meet some need in God [or in the Son of God]. It is not that kind of disappointment.
It is we, not God, who are the losers when we fail to be what God created us to be. We miss out when we fail to honour him. We miss out when we fail to recognize him or acknowledge. We miss out when we distance ourselves from him or deny him. We are spiritually dead when we are without him. He grieves for our loss. It is a disappointment arising from his love for us.
Here by this parabolic incident centred on the fig tree Jesus points to the historic failure of Israel to honour God, and predicts the fall of Jerusalem that occurred in 70 AD.
B.2 Disappointment in the temple [Mark 11:15-17]
The incident in the temple reinforces the message of the fig tree incident. The judgement that the Son of God inflicted upon those abusing the temple is predictive of that judgement of God that would soon fall on Jerusalem.
Things in the temple were not as they ought to be. Jesus said ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’
Task #3: Study these texts about what was meant to take place in the temple:
As you read these texts identify the connection these various objects or actions have with ‘prayer’. Remember that the temple was built on the same pattern as the tabernacle.
The temple, and the earlier tabernacle, was the place where God met his people, and therefore, of necessity, also the place of sacrifice and priesthood. All of the sacrifices, all of the representative mediation performed by the priests, constituted prayer – prayers of confession, prayers for forgiveness and atonement, prayers for mercy, prayers for the turning away of God’s just wrath. Prayers, indeed, for the coming of the One symbolised in all of these rituals and the objects involved in them.
Jesus quoted from Isaiah 56:7, and Jeremiah 7:11. The context of the Isaiah quote is that of non-Jews loving and worshipping the Lord and finding acceptance by him. The context of the Jeremiah quote is that of verbally honouring the temple at the same time as dishonouring God by worshipping Baal, oppressing the needy and breaking the commandments.
Task #4: Study 1Kings 8:27-53, 60.
From 27-53, list the various prayers that Solomon anticipates will be made from, or in association with, the temple.
From verse 60, identify the worldwide relevance of the temple.
When Jesus drove the traders out of the temple and accused them of making it a ‘den of robbers’ instead of the house of prayer it was meant to be, there are a number of levels at which this accusation can be understood:
That these traders and money-changers charged grossly unfair prices.
That, by occupying the outer court of the Temple, ‘the court of the Gentiles’, they were robbing Gentiles of access to the one area of the temple they were permitted to enter and worship the Lord.
That, at a deeper level, the leaders of the Jews had robbed the Gentiles, as well as many of their own people, of access to God by the impossible rules and regulations that they imposed upon them, and by the superficial, ritualistic, hypocritical religion they promoted. Instead of honouring the name of God, his glory and his grace, the leaders of the Jews, who were representatives of the temple, robbed people, both Jew and Gentile, of knowing that name, that glory and that grace.
Let us note also, that Mark 11:17 is not reporting a one-off thing which Jesus said to those he had driven out. They have already been driven out. Mark states ‘and as he taught them he said …’ In other words Jesus’ quotes from Isaiah and Jeremiah are part of teaching session that occurred right there in the temple immediately after he had disposed of the traders.
B.3 The response – Mark 11:18-19
The whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. [The word translated ‘amazed’ includes an indication of fear.] They had not heard anyone challenge temple practices. They had gone along with the common practices and with the religion promoted by their leaders. Now here is Jesus, challenging it all. In addition, the last person to so speak against the temple was Jeremiah, whose prediction of its destruction was fulfilled during his lifetime.
The amazement of the crowd was so big that it generated fear of Jesus in the leaders of the Jews. As we read the gospels we learn that these leaders feared Jesus for several reasons:
They were extremely bothered by his attitude to the law, which, to their mind was dishonouring to God.
They jealously feared that his popularity with the people would weaken the respect in which they were regarded and authority they had over the people.
They feared that any Messianic uprising would offend the Roman authorities and mean the loss of the limited freedom that was still in place.
The chief priests and teachers of the law began looking for a way to kill him because they feared him. Following on from the joyous welcome given him on his ride into Jerusalem the previous day, Jesus’ heavy-handed treatment of the temple traders, and the impact of his teaching on his hearers, really frightened these leaders.
For them, there is no other option but to kill him.
Task #5: Research Jeremiah
Jesus’ teaching following his cleansing of the temple quoted from Jeremiah 7:11. Read Jeremiah 7:1-8:3 (or just 7:1-15 if you are in a hurry), and 26:4-11. Then answer these questions:
 What accusations does Jeremiah make against the people?
 How does the temple [the house called by God’s name] figure in these accusations?
 What did Jeremiah say would happen to the temple?
 How did the leaders of Israel react to Jeremiah’s message about the temple?
 What similarities are there between Jesus and Jeremiah, their words, and the reaction of the leaders?
C. JESUS’ ANSWERS – Mark 11:20-33
We are here looking at the reactions to these two intimately connected incidents – the curse and withering of the fig tree, and the actions and related teaching of Jesus in the temple. Both drew a human reaction to the authority of Jesus, and Jesus responded to those reactions.
C.1 The disciples – Mark 11:20-26
The disciples’ reaction to the effectiveness of Jesus’ curse on the fig tree appears to be surprise. All Jesus had said was ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again’. By the very next morning the tree, previously lush with leaves, had withered from the roots. The disciples are impressed by his authority.
Jesus, in response to their amazement, assures them of the powerful synergy of faith, prayer and forgiveness.
‘If anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea” …’ is meant to be understood as a metaphor. Leon Morris points out that ‘the moving of mountains was proverbial for accomplishing something of very great difficulty’ [p449, The Gospel According to Matthew, IVP, Leicester, 1992]. Jesus used this metaphor on at least two separate occasions – the first when the disciples had failed to help the demon-possessed boy [Matthew 17:20], the second here after the fig tree incident [Matthew 21:21,22 and Mark 11:22,23].
Hendriksen points out that the disciples had already accomplished ‘mountainous’ things by faith: Peter had walked on water, the disciples has healed the sick and cast our demons in the name of Jesus [p772, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker, Grand Rapids, 1992].
‘Faith’ is defined as a ‘faith in God’. It may be small faith [Matthew 17:20] but is not a divided or mixed faith [Mark 11:23]. The NIV ‘does not doubt in his heart’ translates the word diakrithete, which means to be of a divided mind or to be at odds with oneself. Because it is ‘faith in God’ it will obviously not ask for things that are contrary to God and his glory. [This is defined in Jesus’ teaching elsewhere where prayer is to be in his name and according to God’s will.]
The third element of forgiveness is also mentioned in Matthew 6:14,15 at the end of the Lord’s prayer. It is clear from Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:21-35 that it is only the heart that has really received the forgiveness of God that in turn can truly forgive others. It is only those who know they are the recipients of his mercy who can act with mercy to others. When Jesus so clearly makes forgiving others a condition for answered prayer he is identifying the person whose prayer is answered as the person who relates to God not on the basis of his own merit, but on the basis of God’s unmerited grace. Access to God in prayer is only possible on the basis of his gracious salvation [Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 2:18; Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:19-22].
C.2 The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders – Mark 11:27-33
The chief priests, teachers of the law and the elders also questioned Jesus’ authority. But their questioning was not that of amazement but of criticism. They wanted to know by what authority he had dispersed the temple traders and taught as he did, and who it was who gave him the authority to do it [Mark 11:28]. They have had a whole twenty-four hours to discuss the issue and now they have come together to question him.
To them Jesus returned a question that they chose not to answer. He in turn refused to answer them.
From John’s gospel we know that Jesus had already taught the Jews that he had from God the Father the authority to give life to the dead and to judge [John 5:19-30], and that he performed his miracles by the Spirit [Matthew 12:28]. He had already taught in the synagogue at Nazareth that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, as prophesied by Isaiah [Luke 4:18].
They see Jesus’ actions not as God exercising his rightful authority but as an upstart Rabbi from Nazareth interfering with their authority. Little do they realize that he is the one who stands in authority over them: that it is not he who is answerable to them, but they who are answerable and accountable to him!
They are now seeking to kill the one who came seeking them so that they might have life in his name.