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This chapter includes the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (1-11); the cursing of the fig tree (12-14 and 20-25), the cleansing of the Temple (15-19), and questions concerning Christ’s authority (27-33).
Mark now brings us to the last stage of the journey. The next five chapters narrate the week of the Passion. Because Mark devotes so much space and detail to the last week of Jesus’ life, some refer to his account of the gospel as "the Passion Story with a lengthy introduction." Jesus has spent considerable time in Caesarea Philippi, Galilee, the hill country of Judea, and the regions east of the Jordan River. Now He has taken the road through Jericho enroute to Jerusalem.
We get the impression from reading Mark’s account (and the other synoptic gospels--Matthew and Luke) that this is Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem. We must remember, however, that the gospels are very brief and that it would be impossible to write a volume large enough to chronicle everything Jesus did in His life; and the synoptic accounts are primarily concerned with the Lord’s work in Galilee. When we read John’s gospel, we find Jesus visits Jerusalem several times (John 2:13; John 5:1; John 7:10). John points out Jesus regularly goes to Jerusalem for the great feasts.
There should be no concern about a contradiction here. As mentioned, the synoptics are concerned about Jesus’ Galilean ministry while John is concerned about the Judean ministry. There are, however, several indications in the first three gospels that Jesus was in Jerusalem frequently. He has a close friendship with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, who live at Bethany, only two miles east of Jerusalem. Joseph of Arimathaea, a member of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin Council, is a secret admirer of Jesus. The strongest evidence, however, that Jesus has often been to Jerusalem is His impassioned words:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matthew 23:37).
The words "how often" in Jesus’ impassioned appeal indicate He has made previous appeals to Jerusalem that have been rejected.
Throughout Mark’s account of the gospel, Jesus implies He is aware of the dark and difficult days that lie ahead of Him and His disciples in Jerusalem. He has been able to avoid the issue until now "for His time had not yet come." He has much teaching to do to prepare for the coming of His kingdom, especially the specific training of the Twelve who would be His ambassadors to the world after His ascension to heaven.
Now the hour has come. With grim determination, Jesus steadfastly makes His way toward Jerusalem. It is the season of the Passover, and the city will be filled with pilgrims from regions far and near. Passover is one of three annual festivals that draws thousands of devout Jews from all over the world to Jerusalem, their hearts filled with excitement and nationalistic fervor. Some historians estimate the population of the city more than triples during these feasts. The Roman Prefect (governor) usually brings a cohort of Roman soldiers from Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judea, to reinforce the occupational forces already in Jerusalem. These soldiers live with the very real possibility that some enthusiastic Jewish zealot might try to kill a Roman official or incite a riot, and there is always potential for disputes among the various Jewish religious groups. This is the situation in Jerusalem as Jesus makes His way toward the holy city with less than a week remaining before He will be crucified outside the city walls.
Jesus’ earthly ministry is drawing to a close. He will no longer evade the "head on" meeting with His antagonizers, and He will allow His followers to do something He has never done before, something He had repeatedly cautioned others not to do for Him: He is going to allow them to give a public demonstration in His honor.
And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,
And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives: Jerusalem is about 18 miles southwest of Jericho, up a rugged ravine at an altitude of some 2600 feet. Jesus and the Twelve are near Jerusalem as they are approaching the villages of Bethphage and Bethany. The exact location of Bethphage is unknown, but Bethany is located on the eastern slope of Mt. Olivet, just east of Jerusalem. Barclay says:
They must have been very close because we know from the Jewish law that Bethphage was one of the circle of villages which marked the limit of a Sabbath day’s journey, that is, less than a mile, while Bethany was one of the recognized lodging-places for pilgrims to the Passover when Jerusalem was full (263-264).
The name (Bethphage) signified "the house of unripe figs," as Bethany did "the house of dates," and Gethsemane "the oil press," the three obviously indicating local features giving distinctness to the three sites. All three were on the Mount of Olives. Bethany is identified with the modern El-’Azariyeh, or Lazarieh (the name attaching to its connection with the history of Lazarus), which lies about a mile below the summit on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, in a woody hollow planted with olives, almonds, pomegranates, and figs. The palms implied in the name of Bethany and in the history of the entry into Jerusalem (John 12:13) have disappeared (168).
he sendeth forth two of his disciples: The phrase "sendeth forth" is from apostello and means "to send on a commission to do something" (Wuest 216). Jesus sticks to His pattern of sending out the apostles in pairs (14:13). Mark does not identify the messengers, but it is probable it is two who have already worked together. Peter and John have been sent on a similar mission (Luke 22:8), and it could be they are the ones selected here.
And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him.
And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: There is no way of knowing whether the village Jesus mentions here is Bethany or Bethphage or perhaps another village. It is probably Bethphage if the assumption is correct that it is closer to Jerusalem.
and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied: The word "colt" is polon and:
...may be the young of any animal; the Greek naturally used it for the most part of the horse, the Greek-speaking Jew of the ass; cf. Genesis 32:15; Genesis 49:11; Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14; Zechariah 9:9 (Swete 247).
Matthew 21:5 shows that the colt is an ass (donkey) because it fulfills the messianic prophecy in Zechariah 9:9:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
The thrust of these words is that the King is coming in peace. Most people today think of the ass as an humble beast of burden. But at that time in Palestine, it was not a despised beast but a noble one. When a king went to war, he rode on a horse; when he came in peace, he rode on an ass (1 Kings 1:33). Even though Jesus’ humiliation and poverty continue as He has to borrow an animal to make His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the ass is not part of the humiliation.
whereon never man sat: The colt has never been ridden, which is appropriate for an animal that is intended for sacred use (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7). This circumstance is consistent with other facts about the Christ. His mother is a virgin when Jesus is conceived in her womb (Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:34). The tomb into which Jesus’ dead body is to be laid has never been used (Luke 23:53). Obviously, there is nothing haphazard about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem; everything perfectly fulfills the prophecies about this significant event.
loose him and bring him: Mark, Luke, and John mention only the "colt" while Matthew 21:2 mentions the mother, also. The mother would not leave the colt if the colt is tied, so it is unnecessary to tie both animals. Conversely, if the mother is tied, that would not necessarily prevent the colt from wandering off. In this case, both are tied. The two disciples are told to untie the colt and bring it to Jesus.
Some expositors believe that Jesus knows the disciples will find everything just as He describes them because He previously made these arrangements with the owners of the colt. Based on similar predictions in Mark (14:13) and John (1:48; 4:50; 11:11), it seems clear, however, that this information is the result of Christ’s supernatural knowledge.
And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.
Jesus anticipates the possibility of difficulty from the owners when the disciples arrive and arbitrarily take the colt, so He tells them what to say.
Commentators have struggled a great deal with this verse. Simple as the words are, they present two difficulties: What is the meaning of "and straightway he will send him hither?"; and who is "the Lord" mentioned here? Some contend Matthew’s account (21:3) shows the meaning of the former phrase is to be that when the disciples tell the owners "the Lord has need of him," the owners will "at once send the ass and the foal" to Jesus. The meaning is more likely that Jesus will keep the colt no longer than is absolutely necessary and will return it to the owners as soon as He reaches Jerusalem.
The second difficulty lies in the actual meaning of the word "Lord" (kurios). The word has various meanings in the New Testament--"Sir, owner, master, Lord (the reference being to God Jehovah), Lord (the reference being to Jesus)" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 244). Some commentators contend the word here should be spelled with a small letter "l" (lord) and that it refers to the owner of the colt. They base their argument on the idea that:
Faith in Jesus as "Lord," and addressing him as such, was not current in the primitive Jerusalem church. Jesus, during the state of his humiliation, did not regard himself as Lord, nor was he called "Lord." That was a later development. It arose after the belief in his resurrection had become firmly established (Hendriksen 434).
However, passages such as Matthew 7:21-23; Mark 12:35-37; 1 Corinthians 16:22 ("Maranatha" meaning "O Lord, come!"), and Galatians 1:18-19 prove the title "Lord" as applied to Jesus can be traced back to the earliest Aramaic speaking church.
It makes no sense to think the title "Lord" could be applied to anyone other than Jesus in this verse. According to the context, the two disciples are pictured as untying the colt. They are presumably interrupted by the shocked owners (Luke 19:33), but their explanation must amount to: "We are doing this because the Lord Jesus needs it. However, He will not keep the colt any longer than needed but will see to it that it is speedily returned." According to Matthew 21:3, the owners, having received this assurance, will then allow the colt to be taken away. Hendriksen concludes:
In the heat of the discussion regarding the meaning of kurios (Lord) in Mark 11:3 the practical lesson is apt to be overlooked. That lesson is this: If even the Lord Jesus, who was and is God as well as man, and has a right to claim for himself anything and everything on earth, returned the colt he had "borrowed," should not his followers return what was lent or entrusted to them? The reference is not only to the obligation of returning borrowed books, money, clothes, etc., but also to that of yielding hearts and lives to the One who gave them. Must "stewardship" become an empty term? See 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 15:50 to 1 Corinthians 16:1; 2 Corinthians 8:8-9; 1 Peter 4:10 (435).
And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him.
And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without: The two disciples go as Jesus directs; and upon entering the village, they find the colt exactly as Jesus describes. The colt is tied near a "door without." In other words, it is the door at the end of the corridor leading from the outer court (of the house) to the outside. Gould says:
The better class of houses were built about an open court, from which a passageway under the house led to the street outside. It was at this outside opening to the street, that the colt was tied (207).
in a place where two ways met: This phrase is translated from the word amphodou and literally means "in the open street" (Marshall 188).
and they loose him: They begin untying the colt as Jesus has directed.
And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt?
Luke 19:33 says that it is the owners who question the disciples. They ask, "What are you doing, untying that colt?"
And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.
And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: They answer exactly as Jesus has directed them: "The Lord needs this colt, and will send it back here shortly."
and they let them go: The owners let the two disciples take the colt. Apparently, they know the Lord, or at least know of Him and are confident His word is good. Swete says, "...they might well be proud that it should be used by the Prophet" (249). It becomes clear that in addition to the Twelve, the Lord has many supporters who stand ready to assist Him in any way. Throughout Galilee, Perea, Judea, and any other region, Jesus is assisted by men and women who need only to hear the expression, "the Lord needs it."
And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.
And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him: Because the colt is unbroken, it has no saddle. As a substitute, spare clothing--probably their long, thin outer robes--are thrown upon it hastily by the disciples. This is a form of royal homage as Plummer points out, "The officers of Joram took off their garments to make a throne for Jehu, when they proclaimed him king (2 Kings 9:13)" (258).
And he sat upon him: Jesus cooperates in the procedure by taking His seat on the colt.
And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.
And many spread their garments in the way: Part of the crowd is with the caravan that has accompanied Jesus and the Twelve from Galilee, and part of the crowd is from Bethany where Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:12-18). The excitement caused from witnessing that miracle and the anticipation that Jesus is now beginning to present Himself as the Messiah spreads throughout the multitude. The people, however, expect the Lord to set up His rule in opposition to that of Rome and deliver the Jews from the yoke of their oppressors. Some of the crowd go before Jesus, and some follow Him. As they near the city, they are met by a fresh crowd pouring forth out of Jerusalem. This group probably consists of some of the caravan who go on into Jerusalem, excitedly report the resurrection of Lazarus, and tell of Jesus’ approach to the city. Now, joined by many others, they pour out of the eastern gate of Jerusalem to meet Jesus.
Not to be outdone by the disciples who made a saddle on the colt for Jesus with their outer garments, the crowd begins to carpet the road with their outer garments.
and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way: The word "branches" is from stibadas and means leafy "wisps of twigs" (Marshall 188) rather than larger woody branches. When these leafy twigs are thrown down on the road, they form a bed of green leaves and carpet the way.
John 12:1-18 says those from Jerusalem come out with palm branches in their hands as if to salute a king with the symbols of his triumph.
And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
And they that went before, and they that followed: This group probably includes the crowd that pours out of the eastern gate of Jerusalem to meet Jesus. When they meet Him, they turn around and lead the procession down the western slope of the Mount of Olives and into the city. The caravan that is behind Him continues to follow.
cried, saying, Hosanna: The cry "Hosanna" is not an acclamation, but a prayer. It means "save now!" and comes from Psalms 118:25-26. Jesus knows the people are quoting a Messianic psalm (Psalms 118:22-23; Matthew 21:42-44; and Acts 4:11), but He allows them to go right ahead and shout. He is openly affirming His kingship as the Son of David.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: This clause is a quotation from Psalms 118:26 and implies that "He who cometh" has a mission from God. Combined with "the Son of David," as in Matthew 21:9, it must refer to Jesus as the Messiah. Hendriksen observes:
It was deplorable, however, that by far the most of these people did not go one step farther: they should have combined Psalms 118 with Isaiah 53 and Zechariah 9:9; Zechariah 13:1. Then they would have recognized in Jesus the Messiah who saves his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) (438).
Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Jesus has often referred to the "kingdom of heaven" or the "kingdom of God." He has mentioned it is near (9:1) and has taught His disciples to pray "thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10). This cry shows that some in the crowd remember Jesus’ teaching and have some vague idea that this is the beginning of the kingdom. They do not understand at this point, however, the true nature of the kingdom; but they are hopeful the glories of David and Solomon will be restored. These people are "pilgrims" who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the festival that reminds them of the great deliverer, Moses, and the deliverance of their forefathers from Egyptian bondage. Now they see another deliverer whom they hope will deliver them from Roman oppression.
Hosanna in the highest: Swete says, "This means ’Let the prayer for our deliverance be ratified in high heaven.’ God answers in heaven, and the result appears on earth" (252).
We must try to understand the spirit of this occasion. The combination of the approaching Passover Festival and the return of the prophet of Galilee, who has just raised Lazarus from the dead and who holds the potential for delivering Israel from her enemies, creates an atmosphere of unrestrained exuberance and excitement. Tumultuous shouting and spontaneous singing break out! The people are confident that another strategic moment has come in the life of the nation. Perhaps the hour for freedom is about to strike again.
Consider, however, that the attitude of Jesus is in sharp contrast to the attitude of the multitude. Where the uphill road crests at the summit of the Mount of Olives and the holy city bursts into view, He weeps over it, breaking out into open lamentation (Luke 19:41). This feeling apparently does not dampen the spirits of the accompanying throng, though it must have puzzled those who are close at hand. Jesus is lost in His own thought. Before Him is spread the city where He must yield up His life; yet He does not weep on this account. He weeps out of sorrow and sympathy for the doomed metropolis. He cannot force it to accept Him and His message, but He loves it to the end. He is mindful of its tragedy even more than of His own impending agony (Harrison 168).
Luke says the Pharisees are enraged by this public recognition of Jesus as the Messiah; and they protest, demanding that Jesus put a stop to it (19:39-44). After all, as far as the Jewish authorities are concerned:
He was under the ban of the hierarchy. The Sanhedrin had tried to arrest Him. They had excommunicated the man born blind for saying that He had Divine power. They had made Him an outlaw by calling on all Jews to help in arresting Him (Jno. 11:57). And yet, not only pilgrims from Galilee and countryfolk from the neighborhood of Jericho, but numbers who came from Jerusalem join in proclaiming Him as the Messiah (Plummer 259).
The Pharisees are so inflamed they will now carry out their plot to kill Jesus.
And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.
And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: The word "temple" is heiron and refers to the temple as a whole, with all of its courts, porches, and outbuildings. When the word "temple" is translated from naos, it refers to the "inner part of the structure consisting of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies" (Wuest 219). Jesus does not enter every part of the temple. Swete suggests that our Lord did not go beyond the Court of the Gentiles this first day (252). Of course, He would have been excluded from the inner sanctuary mentioned above, for He is not a priest after the order of Aaron but after the order of Melchizedek.
and when he had looked round about upon all things: Jesus makes a comprehensive inspection. Bruce says:
He enters Jerusalem, and especially the temple, and surveys all with keenly observant eye, on the outlook, like St. Paul at Athens, not for the picturesque, but for the moral and religious element. He noted the traffic going on within the sacred precincts, though He postponed action till the morrow (Expositor’s Greek New Testament 417).
and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve: After making a sweeping survey of the temple, Jesus leaves the city in the company of the Twelve to spend the night in Bethany. Luke 21:37 says He passes the night on the quiet slopes of the Mount of Olives. His time to die has not yet come, so He takes precaution against being arrested too soon. Swete says, "The bivouac among the hills offered comparative security against the danger of sudden arrest; and the conditions were favorable to meditation and prayer" (253).
And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:
It is Monday, the fourth day before the Passover. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is on the first day of the week. Matthew says it is early, the fourth watch before 6:00 a.m. (Wuest 219-220). The humanity of Jesus is clearly illustrated here. He is hungry. And the fact that He is hungry is further evidence that He did not stay under the roof of friends in Bethany. Friends, such as Lazarus, would have provided Jesus with food to eat.
And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: This incident gives some insight into the Lord’s humanity. At times He uses supernatural knowledge; but on other occasions, He seems to gather information in human ways similar to ours. Matthew says the fig tree is a single tree by the roadside. The tree is conspicuous because it has leaves before the season. "In the fig-tree the fruit precedes the leaves, and therefore abundance of foliage was a profession that fruit was there, although it was not the time for either" (Plummer 261).
and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet: Passover (about April) is at hand. Accordingly, the time when either the earlier or the later figs are ripe has not yet arrived. It is, therefore, "not the season for figs."
And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever: It is a mistake to think Jesus is angry at not finding any figs on the tree and pronounces a curse on it to punish it. The real meaning lies a little deeper. The pretentious but barren tree is the perfect symbol of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has just shown an unrestrained enthusiasm for Jesus as the Messiah and is about to show how barren and deceptive that enthusiasm is by having Him crucified for not being the kind of Messiah they want. The lesson Jesus is teaching is not obvious to the disciples, so He explains the symbolism and its application to Israel the next day (Tuesday).
And his disciples heard it: Literally, "The disciples were listening." The disciples are near enough that they can hear these unusual words. They are probably unaware they have just seen an acted parable, similar to some of those acted out by Old Testament prophets (see Jeremiah 13:1-11; Jeremiah 19:1-2; Jeremiah 19:10; Ezekiel 3:1-11; Hosea 1:1-9). Mark points out that the disciples are listening to prepare us for the sequel that begins in verse 20.
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;
Hester gives the following history of the temple:
From the time of Solomon (1000 B.C.) the temple in Jerusalem was the glory of the nation. This was true in Jesus’ time. The Jews had three temples. The first one, erected by Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple which was dedicated in 516 B.C. Herod the Great, hoping to win favor of the Jews, erected the third temple, which was not finally completed until A.D 65. Only five years later Titus destroyed this one. All three temples occupied the same site on Mt. Moriah in the city, and were substantially of the same pattern. Each of these buildings faced the east. On the lower floor was the court of the Gentiles where the public could assemble and where animals for sacrifice were sometimes sold. Above this level was the real center of Jewish worship. It consisted of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The annual feasts brought great crowds of people to the city at stated intervals. The priests served in turns. The hours of prayer were nine, twelve and three. Indeed, this glorious temple was the heart and center of Jewish religious and national life (61-62).
Josephus and Edersheim offer some valuable details about the temple’s size, beauty, and purpose.
The size of the temple inspired awe in those who viewed it (13:1). From the Court of the Gentiles (the lowest or outer enclosure of the sanctuary) to the Court of Women, the temple increased in height fourteen steps. From the Court of Women to the Court of Israel, there was an increase of fifteen more steps. The Priest’s Court was a few more steps upward, and then twelve more steps were required to reach the entrance of the sanctuary. Thus, the sanctuary appropriately soared high above the lowest point--the Court of the Gentiles. Josephus says, "Of its stones, some of them were forty-five cubits (approximately 67 feet) in length, five (7 1/2 feet) in height, and six (9 feet) in breadth" (555). The upper chamber, covering the entire sanctuary, rose to a height of one hundred twenty feet. The whole temple, with the exception of the porch, was covered with a gabled roof of cedar wood. Josephus adds, "On its top it had spikes with sharp points, to prevent any pollution of it by birds sitting upon it" (555). In addition to its towering height, Edersheim says the temple rested upon a plateau that "was not merely about 1,000 feet in length, but a square of nearly 1,000 feet!" (The Temple 14).
The temple was also breathtakingly beautiful. Again, Josephus reports:
Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men’s minds or their eyes: for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt (plates of gold), they were exceeding white (555).
The Bible clearly teaches that the temple is to be a house of worship (1 Kings 8:13; 1 Kings 8:31-61; 1 Kings 9:3; Isaiah 56:7). Even though these passages refer primarily to the temple of Solomon, they also apply to the temple as it existed in the days of Jesus. When Jesus is still a child, He calls the temple "my Father’s house" (Luke 2:49). Later, during His earthly ministry, Jesus declares the temple to be the house of worship: "Is it not written: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nation..." (11:17).
When we consider the size, beauty, and purpose of the temple, we can see easily why it was the crown jewel of Jewish religious and national pride.
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple: From the Mount of Olives, Jesus has gone to Jerusalem, has spent the night in Bethany, and is back in Jerusalem now. Here He enters the temple. The summit of nearby Mount Olivet is about 250 feet higher than the hill on which the temple stands. Between Olivet, to the east, and the city lies the Kidron Valley. Jesus enters into the Court of the Gentiles. The Court of the Gentiles receives its name because, though both Jews and Gentiles are welcome, Gentiles are not allowed to proceed any farther toward the interior. The Court of the Gentiles is meant to be a place of prayer and preparation, but little by little it has become almost entirely commercialized. The marketplace atmosphere of buying and selling makes prayer and meditation impossible. The market is not made up of general merchandise, but it is for the sale of those things needed for sacrifices and the ritual of the temple.
Every Jew has to pay a temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27), and that tax has to be paid with one particular kind of coinage. The same rule applies to the treasury offerings (12:41). Jews come from all over the world to the Passover and with all kinds of currencies; hence, the opening for the moneychangers. Barclay says:
When they went to have their money changed they had to pay a fee of 1 pence, and should their coin exceed the tax, they had to pay another 1 pence, before they got their change. Most pilgrims had to pay this extra 2 pence before they could pay their tax. We must remember that was half a day’s wage, which for most men was a great deal of money (273).
Mark especially mentions the people who sell doves. The dove is one of the few sacrifices the poor people could afford (Leviticus 14:22). It is the sacrifice Joseph and Mary have when they bring Jesus to the temple (Luke 2:24). A sacrificial animal has to be without blemish. Doves can be bought cheaply enough outside, but the temple inspectors will be sure to find something wrong with them, and worshipers are advised to buy them at the temple stalls. "Outside doves cost as little as 3 1/2p. a pair, inside they cost as much as 75p" (Barclay 274). Even the poor people are victimized by the merchants in the temple. Hendriksen adds:
The Temple merchants had paid generously for their concession, which they had bought from the priests. Some of this money finally reached the coffers of sly, wealthy Annas and of clever Caiaphas. It is therefore understandable that the tradesmen and the priestly caste were partners in this business (452).
As Jesus enters the Court of the Gentiles, He notices the hustle and bustle of all those buyers and sellers. He finds Himself in the midst of a noisy uproar where the one aim of the sellers is to exact as high a price as possible and where the buyers argue and defend themselves with equal fierceness. The filth and stench produced by all the animals is also shocking to the sensibilities.
and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple: The work of cleansing the temple would take some time, and Jesus begins at once. He regards the buyers as offensive as the sellers. The buyers should not have tolerated such extortion, but they accept the conditions as they are. It becomes a convenience to buy an animal at the court rather than having to bring it and run the risk of failing the official inspection.
and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves: Mark carefully notes that Jesus turns over the tables of the moneychangers, spilling coins, but He does not turn over the tables of the dove sellers, which may have injured the birds. Instead, He overturns the dove sellers’ seats and commands them to remove the cages.
It is not hard to visualize the anger of Jesus as He drives out all who are engaged in this evil business. John 2:15 points out that Jesus has cleansed the temple once before, early in His ministry. On that occasion, He uses a whip to drive out the thieves. Whether He uses a whip, or scourge, this time is unknown.
And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
The temple is supposed to be a sacred place, but it has become a convenient "shortcut" for people to pass through from one part of the city to the other. Thus, people are using the temple, not exclusively for sacred purposes, but as a convenient thoroughfare for transporting all kinds of "vessels" --objects used for secular purposes--through the temple area. Jesus sees the temple is being degraded for convenience sake, and He puts a stop to it.
And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
And he taught: Jesus’ action attracts much attention and affords Him an opportunity to teach. There are still a few days in which some souls might be reached and in which teaching might be given that would hold good for all time. He shows that even though He has been proclaimed as the Messiah, His mission is not to be served but to serve. Therefore, He resumes His mission to teach and heal (Matthew 21:14).
saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer: Jesus, as is His custom, bases His teaching on scripture. This quote is from Isaiah 56:7. The Jews could not argue with Jesus’ appeal to the scriptures because even though they habitually ignore them, they profess such reverence for them. This quotation shows that Jesus sees the temple as a place of quiet meditation, prayer, and spiritual devotion, in connection with sacrifice. These words are especially appropriate because the part of the temple that Jesus has just reclaimed is the Court of the Gentiles, and this is the only part of the temple where Gentiles are allowed to pray. But who could pray in a place that is a cattle market and a money exchange? Who could pray where the lowing of oxen mingles with the clinking of silver and the shouting and haggling of the dealers and those who come to purchase?
but ye have made it a den of thieves: This statement is a quote from Jeremiah 7:11. The present condition of the temple reminds Jesus of a similar condition in the days of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah’s time, the Jews were guilty of stealing, lying, murder, adultery, and idolatry. But they would go to the temple and continue to offer sacrifices in hopes the presence of the temple would protect them from God’s wrath. Then God asks, "Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD." The situation is now repeating itself in Jesus’ day. Swete says, "No bandits’ cave along the Jericho road (Luke 10:30), by which the Lord had lately come, was the scene of such wholesale robbery as the Mountain of the House" (257). Jesus addresses His words to the entire crowd, for they all share in the blame, from the High Priest to the pilgrims who encourage the traffic by buying, to the local citizens who use the temple as a shortcut thoroughfare.
And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.
And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: For the first time in the synoptic gospels, the chief priests join the scribes in active hostility against Jesus. Jesus’ attack on the temple market and exchange has a direct effect on the chief priests’ financial gains. If the temple market is stopped, their hope for gain is gone. Thus, they take the lead in the conspiracy to destroy Jesus, and the scribes are content to follow.
for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine: The word "because" is from gar and explains why the chief priests and scribes fear Jesus. They do not fear Jesus because of His miraculous power. They have never heard of His using His miraculous powers in a destructive way. But they fear Him because this multitude is amazed at His teaching. So different is His teaching from the scribes that they hang on every word, listening. Hence, it is not going to be easy for the scribes and chief priests to figure a way to kill Jesus (cf. Acts 21:31). The majority of the multitude that crowd into the Court is not from Jerusalem where the priestly class is reverenced as most important. But the majority of the crowd is composed of pilgrims from Galilee and Gentile countries. At this point, Jesus is extremely popular with this crowd. They are fascinated with His teaching and His decisive cleansing of the temple, and they are still excited over His triumphal entry into the city. Any attempt by the chief priests and scribes to arrest Jesus at the present time might cause a dangerous mob reaction within the crowd. The multitude might very well stone the religious leaders to death even within the temple (cf. John 10:31).
And when even was come, he went out of the city.
The first few days in Jerusalem, when evening comes, Jesus makes it His habit to leave the city. Sunday evening Jesus and the Twelve go to Bethany (11:11). Monday evening, after Jesus cleanses the temple, He goes to Bethany again to spend the night (Matthew 21:17).
And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.
This is the following morning (Tuesday). More information is given about the events that take place on this day than any other except Friday. In Mark, the record of the events that take place on Tuesday cover 11:20-14:2.
The fig tree, so conspicuous by its abundance of fresh leaves the day before, is now even more conspicuous because it has completely withered away, even to its roots, and is utterly dead.
And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.
It is probable that none of the disciples think much more about the fig tree from the day before until they see it in its radically changed condition. Then, the unusual words that Jesus had spoken the day before flashes through Peter’s mind. What startles Peter and the other disciples is the rapidity of the change in the tree.
And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
And Jesus answering: Jesus does not address Peter only but all the disciples. Ostensibly, He does not give Peter a direct answer to his remark. Peter is curious about how the tree could have withered and died so quickly. But, rather than satisfy Peter’s curiosity, He teaches them a lesson that is not easy to see, but is of greater importance.
saith unto them, Have faith in God: The verb is in the present tense; hence, it means "to continually have faith in God." Jesus is talking about the "faith" that relies on God. He is saying, "Have faith in God, in the effectiveness of prayer." This is the faith with which the disciples have had so much difficulty. It is their lack of faith that caused them to fail to heal the demon-possessed boy (9:29). But it is because Jesus possesses this kind of faith that His prayer about the fig tree is answered.
For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea: "This mountain" refers to the Mount of Olives while "the sea" refers to the Dead Sea. The Lord and His disciples are crossing the Mount of Olives; and below them, between the mountains of Judea and the mountains of Moab, lies the Dead Sea. Jesus uses the strong, picturesque language of hurling the mass of limestone some three thousand feet down into the basin of the Dead Sea.
and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass: This language is typical of the hyperbole that Jesus uses to emphasize a point. It is similar to His example of the camel and the eye of the needle (10:25). Plummer says, "’Removing mountains’ was a Jewish figure of speech for a very great difficulty, and it would be familiar to the disciples" (265). Jesus is not giving His disciples license to perform monstrous and unreasonable miracles. There would be no sense in dumping the Mount of Olives into the Dead Sea. The meaning must be that no task that is in accordance with God’s will is impossible if it is performed by those who believe and do not doubt. Gould adds:
"Moving a mountain" is not to be taken literally, but stands for any incredible thing, as stupendous as such moving, but not so out of line with the miracles to which Jesus confined himself. It is enough to say that neither Jesus nor his disciples ever removed mountains, except metaphorically (215).
he shall have whatsoever he saith: Jesus is not impulsively saying, "You just name it, and it’s yours!" But praying and asking must be consistent with the pattern of true prayer Jesus gives elsewhere. In fact, it must be consistent with all scriptural teaching.
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray: Here again there is the implied condition (as in Matthew 7:7) that what is asked is in harmony with the laws and will of God. If it were not so, it would not be asked in faith; and every true prayer involves the submission of what it asks to the judgment of the Father (Ellicott 178).
believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them: The word "receive" is actually in the past tense and is more properly translated, "Believe that ye received them." We are to believe, not that we shall one day have what we pray for in the future more or less distant, but that we actually receive it as we pray.
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
And when ye stand praying: Jesus is not commanding a standing posture here when praying. He uses the word "stand" because that is the usual posture among the Jews (1 Samuel 1:26; 1 Kings 8:14; 1 Kings 8:22; Nehemiah 9:4; Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:11; Luke 18:13). But standing is by no means the only posture mentioned in the Bible. Kneeling is also mentioned (1 Kings 8:54; Ezra 9:5; Daniel 6:10). Jesus kneeled (Luke 22:41), and kneeling has become common among Christians (Acts 7:60; Acts 9:40; Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5; Ephesians 3:14). Obviously, the posture of the body during prayer is not as important as the attitude of mind, as Jesus continues to show.
forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses: These words are almost identical to the words Jesus earlier speaks in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:14-15). Our prayers will not be effective, even though we believe intensely, if they are asked with the improper motive. This stipulation would exclude from the disciples prayers that are vindictive and destructive in nature. Peter’s offhand remark about the Lord’s "cursing" the fig tree may very well have motivated Jesus’ words. Peter may have been thinking, "Our curses on other men will be executed by God, just as the curse on the fig tree." Effective prayer, though, must be of a loving heart. The person who prays must be willing and anxious to forgive. Jesus is not saying that when we forgive others our sins are automatically forgiven; but rather, if we refuse to forgive others, that refusal becomes a barrier to our being forgiven. This concept is explained in the next verse.
But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
The word "trespasses" is from paraptoma, which means "a fall alongside," thus "a fall from the right course," thus, "a false step" (Wuest 225).
And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders,
And they come again to Jerusalem: Mark now narrates a third visit to the temple, probably on Tuesday, the day tradition refers to as "The Day Of Questions" (Plummer 267).
and as he was walking in the temple: Jesus is probably walking in the Court of the Gentiles, either in the Stoa Basilica, which is on the south side of the court, or in Solomon’s Porch (John 10:23), which is on the east side. As He walks along, Jesus seizes upon opportunities to teach the crowd.
there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders: Representatives of all three elements of the Sanhedrin descend on Jesus as He ministers in the temple. This is obviously a formal delegation. The chief priests consist of a group that includes the current ruling high priest, former high priests, and other dignitaries from whom the high priest is generally selected. They are composed mostly of Sadducees, and they have custody of the temple. The scribes, mostly Pharisees, are the men who study and apply the law. The elders are the respective heads of the tribes or tribal divisions. "With the establishment of the Sanhedrin the more prominent local elders became members of this august body" (Hendriksen 465). It is probable the chief priests take the lead at this encounter because the questions concern the custodians of the temple, not an interpretation of the law.
And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?
These men ask Jesus four questions. Here, the first two questions specifically refer to Jesus’ interference with the temple market. On the surface the questions sound reasonable, and the men who ask them feel they have the right to be answered. After all, they are the ones who have been given custody of the temple; and when Jesus forcibly ejects the moneychangers and vendors whom they have allowed, He indicates He has superior jurisdiction. They want Jesus to state publicly His credentials. They want to know what kind of authority Jesus has and the name of the person who has given it to Him. Plummer adds:
It was not merely in order to protect the public from an impostor that they pressed this question. They sought to entangle Him fatally. If He claimed Divine authority as the Son of David, He might be handed over to the Procurator. If He disclaimed all authority, He might be denounced to the people as a convicted impostor. The second question is not a repetition of the first; it at once arises as soon as a claim to any kind of authority is made. Authority must be received from a power that is competent to confer it. Who conferred it on Jesus? (268).
And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.
Jesus knows these men have wicked motives for their questions--they are trying to destroy Him. He counters their questions by asking another question that places them immediately in a dilemma. He is not evading their questions, because if they answer Jesus, the way would be clear for the answer to their own questions.
The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.
The expression "The baptism of John" refers to John’s work and teaching as a whole, symbolized in his "baptism of repentance." The people have declared John to be a prophet of God, and John has declared Jesus to be the Messiah (John 1:26; John 1:29; John 1:36). The Sanhedrin never challenges the popular opinion of John, which would seem to imply they admit John was a prophet with a commission from Heaven to preach repentance and baptism. Would they admit this fact? If they would, then the authority of Jesus is established because they would be admitting that an inspired prophet had declared Jesus to be the Messiah.
And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him?
It is doubtful they discuss among themselves what answer they should give, but rather this same thought flashes into the minds of each of them. To admit to the Divine authority of John, they would charge themselves with unbelief in having, as a class, rejected his baptism (Luke 7:30). They would also have to accept the testimony of John concerning the work and office of Jesus.
But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.
The people are thoroughly convinced John was a prophet. Thousands of people had been baptized by John, and their reverence for him was deepened when he was martyred. They thrilled at the thought he had fulfilled a long cherished hope (1:5). Now, if the representatives of the Jewish hierarchy are to suggest that John was an impostor and that the multitudes had all been duped by him, there would surely be a dangerous backlash among the people. Luke 20:6 says the delegation is afraid the people will stone them.
And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.
And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell: The Jewish leaders are caught in a dilemma of their own making. They are not asking "What is true?" or "What is right?" but "What is safe?" This is always the approach of the hypocrite and the crowd pleaser (Wiersbe 115). They attempt to save themselves from the dilemma by a disgraceful profession of ignorance. Plummer quotes Bede as saying:
They feared stoning, but they feared the truth still more. These teachers of Israel (Jno. 3:10), who pronounced the multitude to be accursed for its ignorance (Jno. 7:49), declared that they themselves were ignorant whether one whom the multitude had accepted as God’s messenger had any commission from Heaven (269).
And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things: Jesus’ position is unassailable. If they will not keep their end of the agreement, the agreement falls through; and Jesus is not obliged to answer. What good would it have done anyway? If they would not accept John’s testimony that He is the Messiah, then they certainly are not going to accept Jesus’ own testimony. Their humiliating profession of ignorance invalidates their position as the official teachers of the nation, and now they have no right to question Jesus on His authority.
The expression "Neither do I tell you..." is from oude ego lego, and it suggests they do know but refuse to tell. Jesus knows they are not really ignorant concerning John but that they just refuse to tell. By the same token, He is not ignorant of the source of His own authority; but He refuses to tell.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Mark 11". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany