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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Mark 11

Verses 1-99

Ch. 11:1 11 . The Triumphal Entry

1. And when ] The order of events at this point needs explanation. (1) The Saviour apparently reached Bethany on the evening of Friday, Nisan 8. There (2) in quiet retirement He spent His last earthly Sabbath; and (3) in the evening, sat down to a festal meal provided by the sisters of Lazarus at the house of one Simon, who had been a leper (Matthew 26:6 ; John 12:1 ). (4) At this feast He was anointed by Mary (John 12:3 ); and (5) during the night a council of the Jews was convened to consider the propriety of putting not Him only but Lazarus also to death (John 12:10 ).

they came ] Rather, when they draw near. The Evangelist, passing over for the present the peaceful scene at the festal meal (Mark 14:3-11 ), translates us at once to Palm Sunday, as to time; and, as to place, to the region between Bethany and the mount of Olives. Observe how he writes in the present tense.

unto Bethphage ] On the first day of the Holy Week the Saviour left Bethany and proceeded towards Bethphage = the house of unripe figs , a little hamlet on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. As in a journey towards Jerusalem it is always mentioned before Bethany, it seems to have been to the east of that village.

he sendeth ] Note again the present tense.

two of his disciples ] The minuteness of the description that follows suggests that St Peter may have been one of these. If so, he was not improbably accompanied by St John.

2. into the village over against you ] Either Bethphage or an adjoining hamlet.

a colt tied ] “In the East the ass is in high esteem. Statelier, livelier, swifter than with us, it vies with the horse in favour. Among the Jews it was equally valued as a beast of burden, for work in the field or at the mill, and for riding. In contrast to the horse, which had been introduced by Solomon from Egypt, and was used especially for war, it was the symbol of peace. To the Jew it was peculiarly national, for had not Moses led his wife, seated on an ass, to Egypt; had not the Judges ridden on white asses; and was not the ass of Abraham, the friend of God, noted in Scripture? Every Jew, moreover, expected, from the words of one of the prophets (Zechariah 9:9 ), that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem riding on an ass. No act could be more perfectly in keeping with the conception of a king of Israel, and no word could express more plainly that the king proclaimed Himself the Messiah.” Geikie, ii. p. 395.

whereon never man sat ] This agrees with St Matthew’s account of the she-ass (Matthew 21:2 ) and her colt with her. The colt would not have been used, so long as it was running with the mother. Unused animals were put to sacred purposes. See Numbers 19:2 ; Deuteronomy 21:3 ; 1 Samuel 6:7 .

3. the Lord hath need of him ] The words suggest that the man may have been a secret disciple. “Secret disciples, such as the five hundred who afterwards gathered to one spot in Galilee, and the hundred and twenty who met after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6 ; Acts 1:15 ), were scattered in many places.”

4. in a place where two ways met ] So Wyclif, “in þe meeting of tweye weyes,” following the Vulgate bivium . The word in the original thus rendered denotes (1) any road that leads round a place, a street, or a crooked lane; (2) a block of houses surrounded by streets; (3) the quarter of a town = Lat. vicus . Here it means the passage round the house. They went and found the ass tied at the door, and the colt with her, not in the highway, but in a back way or alley, which went round the house. Observe the minuteness of the circumstances specified. The Apostles would find the colt tied; it had never been ridden; it would be found not in the courtyard, but outside, at the door of the house; not in the highway, but in a back lane or alley skirting the house; and persons would be near it, and the words which they would speak are predicted, and the answer is suggested which the Apostles were to make. The colt, untamed, and tied at the back gate, as if ready for a rider, has been interpreted as a symbol of the Gentile world to be brought to Christ from the lanes and alleys of Heathendom (Luke 14:21 ); the she-ass as symbolizing God’s ancient people who were familiar with the yoke of the Law.

7. and cast their garments on him ] over both indeed (Matthew 21:7 ), to do Him regal honour, just as the captains “ took every man his garment, and put it under Jehu on the top of the stairs, and blew with trumpets, saying, Jehu is king ” (2 Kings 9:13 ).

he sat upon ] the unused colt, while probably some of the Apostles led it by the bridle.

8. spread their garments in the way ] i. e. their “abbas” or “hykes,” the loose blanket or cloak worn over the tunic or shirt. So myrtle-twigs and robes had been strewn by their ancestors before Mordecai, when he came forth from the palace of Ahasuerus ( Targ . Esther 8:15 ), so the Persian army had honoured Xerxes when about to cross the Hellespont (Herod. VII. 54), and so Robinson tells us the inhabitants of Bethlehem threw their garments under the feet of the horses of the English consul at Damascus, whose aid they were imploring ( Biblical Researches , II. 162).

branches ] “soþeli oþere men kittiden bowis, or branches , fro trees,” Wyclif. These were not the “ branches ” ( kladoi ) cut from the trees as they went along, mentioned in Matthew 21:8 , but “ mattings ” ( stoibades ) which they twisted out of the palm-branches as they passed. The original word denotes (1) a bed of straw, rushes , or leaves , whether strawed loose or stuffed into a mattress; (2) a mattress , especially of soldiers; (3) the nest or lair of mice or fish.

off the trees ] The reading of some MSS. here is from the gardens , and the verse would run, And many strewed their garments in the way, and others twisted branches, cutting them from the gardens. Eastern gardens are not flower gardens, nor private gardens, but the orchards, vineyards and fig-enclosures round a town. The road from Bethany to Jerusalem wound through rich plantations of palm trees, and fruit- and olive-gardens.

9. they that went before ] From St John 12:12 we gather that a second stream of people issuing from the Holy City came forth to meet the Saviour, and these joining the others coming from Bethany, turned round and swelled the long procession towards Jerusalem. See Stanley’s Sinai and Palestine , p. 191.

10. blessed be the kingdom ] The feelings of the multitudes found expression in the prophetic language of the Psalms, and they heralded the coming of the “Son of David” to establish His Messianic kingdom. See Psalms 118:26 .

11. And Jesus entered ] At a particular turn in the road the whole of the magnificent city, as if rising from an abyss, burst into view. Then it was that the procession paused, and our Lord wept over the devoted capital (Luke 19:41-44 ), and afterwards resumed His route towards Jerusalem, crossing the bridge over the Kedron, and passing through the gate now St Stephen’s into Bezetha, the new town, through narrow streets, “hung with flags and banners for the feast, and crowded on the raised sides, and on every roof, and at every window, with eager faces.”

the temple ] Jerusalem was stirred to its very centre (Matthew 21:10 ). Who is this? inquired many, and were told by His exultant northern followers and disciples that it was “ the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee .” They doubtless expected that He would, as He passed on towards the Temple, display some unmistakable “sign,” and claim the sceptre, and ascend the throne. But they were doomed to disappointment.

when he had looked round about upon all things ] “The actual procession would not proceed farther than the foot of Mount Moriah, beyond which they might not advance in travelling array, or with dusty feet.” Before they reached the Shushan gate they dispersed, and Jesus entered the courts of the Temple, surveyed the scene of disorder and desecration which they presented, with prolonged and calm and searching glance, and when.

the eventide was come ] or rather, it being now late , returned with the Twelve to the seclusion of Bethany, and the great Palm Sunday was over.

12 19. The Second Cleansing of the Temple

12. he was hungry ] Probably, after a night of fasting; “shewing His Humanity, as usual, when about to give a proof of His Deity, that we may believe Him to be both God and Man.” Bp Wordsworth.

13. seeing a fig tree ] The very name Bethany means “ the place for dates ,” while Bethphage is “ the place for the green or winter fig ,” a variety which remains on the trees through the winter, having ripened only after the leaves had fallen.

having leaves ] It stood alone, a single fig-tree, by the wayside (Matthew 21:19 ), and presented an unusual show of leaves for the season.

if haply ] Rather, if therefore , if, as was reasonable to expect under such circumstances , fruit was to be found.

for the time of figs was not yet ] that is, the ordinary fig-season had not yet arrived. The rich verdure of this tree seemed to shew that it was fruitful, and there was “every probability of finding upon it either the late violet-coloured autumn figs, which often hung upon the trees all through the winter, and even until the new spring leaves had come, or the first-ripe figs (Isaiah 28:4 ; Jeremiah 24:2 ; Hosea 9:10 ; Nahum 3:12 ), of which Orientals are particularly fond.” Farrar, Life , II. 213. But this tree had nothing but leaves. It was the very type of a fair profession without performance; a very parable of the nation, which, with all its professions, brought forth no “fruit to perfection.” Comp. Luke 19:42 .

14. answered and said unto it ] “arbori fructum neganti.” Bengel.

No man eat fruit ] “ And presently ,” i. e. immediately , writes St Matthew (21:19), “the fig tree withered away,” though the disciples did not notice it till the following morning. Thus our blessed Lord exhibited at once a Parable and a Prophecy in action .

15. and Jesus went into the temple ] The best MSS. omit the word Jesus here. The nefarious scene, which He had sternly rebuked on the occasion of His first Passover, and which is recorded only by St John (2:13 17), was still being enacted.

them that sold and bought ] For the convenience of Jews and proselytes residing at a distance from the Holy City, a kind of market had been established in the outer court, and here sacrificial victims, incense, oil, wine, and other things necessary for the service and the sacrifices, were to be obtained.

the tables of the moneychangers ] Money would be required (1) to purchase materials for offerings, (2) to present as free offerings to the Temple treasury (Mark 12:41 ; Luke 21:1 ), (3) to pay the yearly Temple-tax of half a shekel due from every Jew, however poor. All this could not be received except in a native coin called the Temple Shekel, which was not generally current. Strangers therefore had to change their Roman, Greek, or Eastern money, at the stalls of the moneychangers, to obtain the coin required. This trade gave ready means for fraud, which was only too common.

that sold doves ] Required for poor women coming for purification (Leviticus 12:6 , Leviticus 12:8 ; Luke 2:24 ) from all parts of the country, and for other offerings. The sale of doves appears to have been in a great measure in the hands of the priests themselves, and one of the high priests especially is said to have gained great profits from his dovecots on Mount Olivet.

16. any vessel ] i. e. a pail or basket. He would not allow laden porters and others to desecrate the honour due to His Father’s house by crossing the Temple courts as though they were public streets, “quasi per plateam.” Bengel. This particular is peculiar to St Mark.

17. of all nations ] Rather, for all nations. See margin. The words are cited from Isaiah 56:7 .

a den of thieves ] Literally, a cave of robbers or bandits. See Jeremiah 7:11 . The distinction is to be borne in mind between “the robber,” brigand or violent spoiler (Matthew 21:13 , Matthew 21:26 :55; Luke 22:52 ; John 18:40 ; 2 Corinthians 11:26 ), and the “thief” or secret purloiner (Matthew 6:19 ; John 12:6 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:2 ; Revelation 3:3 , Revelation 16:15 ). Trench’s Synonyms , § 44. What our Lord alludes to is one of “those foul caves which He had so often seen, where brigands wrangled over their ill-gotten gains.” Farrar, Life , II. 205.

18. chief priests ] This title was applied to (i) the high-priest properly so called; (ii) to all who had held the high-priesthood (the office under Roman sway no longer lasting for life, and becoming little more than annual); (iii) the heads of the twenty-four courses (1 Chronicles 24:0 , Luke 1:9 ).

was astonished at his doctrine ] and hung upon His lips eager to hear Him (Luke 19:48 ), and while He was thus high in favour, no one knew how far they might not be disposed to rise on His behalf, if an open effort was made to seize Him. Caution was therefore essential.

19. he went out ] or rather, they went out, of the city, crossed the ridges of Olivet, and sought once more the retirement of Bethany.

20 26. The Withered Fig-Tree

20. And in the morning ] The early morning of Tuesday in Holy Week.

as they passed by ] On their return to the Holy City.

dried up from the roots ] From St Matthew (21:19) it would appear that “some beginnings of the threatened withering began to shew themselves, almost as soon as the word of the Lord was spoken; a shuddering fear may have run through all the leaves of the tree, which was thus stricken at its heart.” Trench.

21. And Peter ] who doubtless related the incident with all its attendant circumstances to St Mark.

22. Have faith in God ] as the personal source of miraculous power. (Comp. Matthew 17:20 ; Luke 17:6 .)

23. verily I say unto you ] With great solemnity He seeks to impress upon them a truth which would be of the greatest import to them, when they went forth, as His Apostles, to establish and spread His kingdom that an unfaltering faith in God would overcome all difficulties, even the most insuperable to the eye of sense.

shall say unto this mountain ] Language like this was familiar in the schools of the Jews. They used to set out those teachers among them, that were more eminent for the profoundness of their learning, or the splendour of their virtues, by such expressions as these, “He is a rooter up or remover of mountains .” “They called Rabbah Bar Nachmani, A rooter up of mountains , because he had a piercing judgment.” Lightfoot, Hor. Heb .

shall not doubt in his heart ] The word here translated “doubt” ( a ) in the active voice means to discriminate, distinguish, discern, as Matthew 16:3 , “ye can discern the face of the heaven;” Acts 15:9 , “He put no difference between us and them;” 1 Corinthians 11:29 , “not discerning the Lord’s Body.” ( b ) In the passive and middle voice, it means (i) to get a decision, to go to law, to dispute , as Acts 11:2 , “they of the circumcision contended with him;” James 2:4 , “are ye not partial (become litigants or partisans ) in yourselves?” (ii) to dispute with oneself, to doubt, waver , as Acts 10:20 , “go with them, doubting nothing;Romans 4:20 , “ he staggered not at (i. e. with regard to ) the promise through unbelief;” James 1:6 , “but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering; for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea.”

24. What things soever ye desire, when ye pray ] Because Prayer is the very language of Faith , He passes on to speak concerning Prayer.

25. when ye stand praying ] The posture of prayer among the Jews seems to have been most often standing; comp. the instance of Hannah (1 Samuel 1:26 ), and of the Pharisee (Luke 18:11 ). When the prayer was offered with especial solemnity and humiliation, this was naturally expressed by ( a ) kneeling; comp. the instance of Solomon (1 Kings 8:54 ), and Daniel (6:10); or ( b ) prostration , as Joshua (7:6), and Elijah (1 Kings 18:42 ).

forgive ] In this place, where our Lord connects the strong assurance of the marvellous power of faith with the cursing of the fig-tree, He passes on most naturally to declare how such a faith could not be sundered from forgiving love, that it should never be used in the service of hate or fanaticism.

26. your trespasses ] The original word thus translated denotes (1) a falling beside, a falling from the right way . It is rendered in our Version (1) fault in Galatians 6:1 ; James 5:16 ; (2) offence in Romans 4:25 , Romans 4:5 :15, Romans 4:17 , Romans 4:18 , Romans 4:20 ; (3) fall in Romans 11:11 , Romans 11:12 ; (4) trespass , here, and in Matthew 6:14 , Matthew 6:15 ; 2 Corinthians 5:19 ; Ephesians 2:1 ; Colossians 2:13 ; (5) sins in Ephesians 2:5 ; Colossians 2:13 .

27 33. Question respecting John the Baptist

27. as he was walking ] This is in keeping with St Mark’s vivid style of delineation.

elders ] “eldere men,” Wyclif. The ancient senators or representatives of the people. With the chief priests and scribes they constituted on this occasion a formal deputation from the Sanhedrim. We find the earliest notice of the elders acting in concert as a political body in the time of the Exodus (Exodus 19:7 ; Deuteronomy 31:9 ). Their authority, which extended to all matters of the common weal, they exercised under ( a ) the Judges (Judges 2:7 ; 1 Samuel 4:3 ); under ( b ) the Kings (1 Samuel 30:26 ; 1 Chronicles 21:16 ; 2 Samuel 17:4 ); during ( c ) the Captivity (Jeremiah 29:1 ; Ezekiel 8:1 ); after ( d ) the Return (Ezra 5:5 , Ezra 5:6 :7, Ezra 5:14 , Ezra 5:10 :8, Ezra 5:14 ); under ( e ) the Maccabees (1 Macc. 12:6; 2 Macc. 1:10); in ( f ) the time of our Lord, when they denoted a distinct body in the Sanhedrim, amongst whom they obtained their seat by election, or nomination from the executive authority.

28. By what authority doest thou these things? ] They evidently wished to bring Him to account for His act of the day before, and for His assumption to teach as a Rabbi, without any license from the Schools, which was contrary to the established rule. The same question had been put to Him three years before and by the same persons (John 2:18 ).

29. And Jesus answered ] They doubtless hoped that He would have claimed Divine authority, and then they would have had matter for accusation against Him, but He answered their question by another.

30. The baptism of John ] John was the most recent upholder of the validity of the prophetic order in Israel, and he had distinctly testified to the Messianic authority of our Lord (John 1:29-34 , John 1:36 ); from whom did he receive his commission to baptize? Was it from heaven, or a mere human assumption of his own?

32. if we shall say, Of men ] Observe the impressive abruptness here, which is more significant than the full expression of St Matthew (21:26) and St Luke (20:6). They dared not face the alternative, and were driven to a feeble evasion.

33. Neither do I tell you ] The counter-question of Jesus was the consequence of the question of these men. “Him that inquires,” saith one of old, “we are bound to instruct; but him that tempts, we may defeat with a stroke of reasoning.”

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Mark 11". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.