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VI. THE SERVANT’S MINISTRY IN JERUSALEM CHS. 11-13
The rest of Jesus’ ministry, as Mark recorded it, took place in and around Jerusalem. Chapters 11-13 present Jesus’ ministry before His passion. It consisted of Jesus’ formal presentation to the nation (Mark 11:1-26), His teaching in the temple area (Mark 11:27 to Mark 12:44), and His eschatological discourse to the disciples (ch. 13). Mark presented these events as occurring on three successive days. Jesus entered Jerusalem each morning and then withdrew to Bethany each evening (cf. Mark 11:11-12; Mark 11:19-20). Mark may have compressed these events and they may really have occurred during a longer period of time, namely, between the feasts of Tabernacles and Passover. [Note: Lane, pp. 390-91.] However all four evangelists give the impression that they all happened during one week (cf. John 12:1; John 12:12-15), and this has been the interpretation of the church since the fourth century.
Mark described Jesus’ approach from Jericho generally. He would have come to Bethany ("place of unripe figs") and then Bethphage ("place of young figs") traveling from the east. These villages stood on the southeastern slope of Mt. Olivet, approximately two miles east of Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives stands about 2,600 feet above sea level just east of Jerusalem. The Kidron Valley separates it from the city. The heights of Mt. Olivet provide a splendid view of the temple area.
The village opposite was evidently Bethphage, the one the disciples would have encountered after leaving Bethany for Jerusalem. The colt was a young donkey. The Mosaic Law specified that an animal devoted to a sacred purpose had to be one that had not been used for ordinary purposes (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3). Jesus told the disciples to bring both the colt and its mother to Him (Matthew 21:2). The "Lord" is simply a respectful title here referring to Jesus whom the owner evidently had met previously or knew about. If the owner was a believer in Jesus, "Lord" may have had a deeper meaning for him.
The colt was unbroken, and Jesus was able to ride on it comfortably. These facts suggested that Jesus might be the sinless Man who was able to fulfill the Adamic Covenant mandate to subdue the animals (Genesis 1:28; cf. Matthew 17:27), the Second Adam.
1. The Triumphal Entry 11:1-11 (cf. Matthew 21:1-17; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19)
This is only the second incident that all four evangelists recorded, the other being the feeding of the 5,000 (cf. Mark 6:30-44). This fact reflects its importance. Mark’s account of this event gives much detail, indicating its eyewitness source. It does not stress Jesus’ messiahship greatly. Mark presented Jesus as a humble servant of God and the people.
A. Jesus’ formal presentation to Israel 11:1-26
Mark chose to record four events: the Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11), the cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14), the cleansing of the temple (Mark 11:15-19), and the lesson of the cursed fig tree (Mark 11:20-25). These events happened on three successive days (Monday through Wednesday) as the writer noted.
The people standing by may have been or at least included the owner of the animals (Luke 19:33). Perhaps the synoptic writers recorded the disciples’ obedience in such detail because the untying of the colt may have been a messianic sign (cf. Genesis 49:8-12). Pre-Christian Jewish texts interpreted Genesis 49:10 as messianic. [Note: Ibid., p. 395.]
The disciples made a saddle for Jesus from their outer garments. Jesus’ decision to enter Jerusalem this way fulfilled the messianic prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. It also indicated that He entered as a servant ruler, not as a political conqueror. When Israel’s rulers wanted to present themselves as servants of the people, they rode donkeys (e.g., Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14). When they acted as military leaders, they rode horses. Normally pilgrims to Jerusalem entered the city on foot. [Note: Ibid., p. 393.] Placing one’s garment on the ground before someone was a sign of royal homage (cf. 2 Kings 9:12-13; 1 Maccabees 13:51).
The people hoped Jesus would be their Messiah. "Hosanna" is the transliteration of a Greek word that transliterated the Hebrew hosi ah na (lit. "O save us now," Psalms 118:25 a). It was an exclamation of praise calling for deliverance.
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" is a quotation from Psalms 118:26 that was part of the liturgy the Jews used during the Passover. This was a common greeting for visitors to Jerusalem. [Note: Wessel, p. 725.] However on this occasion it took on new meaning (cf. Genesis 49:10).
The peoples’ reference to the coming Davidic kingdom shows that they hoped for its establishment soon (2 Samuel 7:16; Amos 9:11-12). Some in the crowd acknowledged Jesus as the Son of David (Matthew 21:9).
"Hosanna in the highest" meant "O, you who lives in heaven, save us now." This was a call to God to deliver His people. The chiastic structure of the peoples’ words shows that they were chanting antiphonally, as was customary at Passover.
Someone who knew nothing about Jesus might have concluded from witnessing this procession that it was just a part of the traditional Passover celebration. Often when pilgrims caught sight of the temple for the first time, coming from the east over the Mount of Olives, they burst out in jubilant praise. [Note: Lane, p. 397.] It did not provoke action from the Roman soldiers.
Having entered Jerusalem the crowd seems to have disbursed quickly, and Jesus proceeded to the temple area (Gr. hieron). He had been there many times before. He looked around and noted that the temple needed cleansing again (cf. John 2:13-22). Since the hour was late-the city gates closed at sunset-He departed for Bethany with the disciples to spend the night there.
"On the whole, it seems to be the most probable conclusion that the entry in this peculiar fashion into Jerusalem was deliberate on the part of our Lord, and was meant to suggest that, though He was indeed the Messiah and ’Son of David,’ yet the Messiahship which He claimed was to be understood in a spiritual and non-political sense, in terms of the prophecy of Zechariah, rather than in terms of the ’Son of David’ idea as interpreted by contemporary expectation (e.g., in the Psalms of Solomon). The time had in fact come for our Lord to put forward His Messianic claims, and to make His appeal to Jerusalem in a deliberately Messianic capacity. He does so, however, in a manner which is suggestive rather than explicit, and which was so calculated as to afford the minimum of pretext for a charge of quasi-political agitation." [Note: Rawlinson, p. 151.]
The next day was Tuesday, which Hoehner dated as March 31, A.D. 33. [Note: Hoehner, Chronological Aspects . . ., pp. 91, 143.] Apparently the events of "Palm Sunday" really took place on a Monday. The incident that Mark recorded next, beginning in Mark 11:12, occurred as Jesus and His disciples walked from Bethany to Jerusalem on Tuesday morning (Matthew 21:18). Normally, the fruit appeared on the fig tree before the leaves. [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:374.] The leaves on this tree suggested that it had already borne fruit, but it had not. Mark explained that it was not the season for figs, for his non-Palestinian readers. Matthew did not add this explanation. Evidently this tree was in leaf earlier in the season than normal.
The cursing of the fig tree 11:12-14 (cf. Matthew 21:18-19)
Mark gave more precise time intervals than Matthew did. Matthew related the cursing of the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-19) and Jesus’ lesson to the disciples the following day (Matthew 21:20-22) back to back.
2. Jesus’ condemnation of unbelieving Israel 11:12-26
This incident is the first part of another of Mark’s interrupted stories (cf. Mark 3:20-35; Mark 5:21-43; Mark 6:7-31). Its structure provides the key to its interpretation. First, Jesus cursed the fig tree. Then He cleansed the temple. Finally He came back to the fig tree with a lesson for the disciples. There is unity of subject matter in the whole section. The chiastic arrangement highlights the central element as being most revealing.
Jesus saw an opportunity to teach His disciples an important truth using this tree as an object lesson. As a prophet Jesus performed a symbolic act (cf. Isaiah 20:1-6; Jeremiah 13:1-11; Jeremiah 19:1-13; Ezekiel 4:1-15). He cursed the tree to teach them the lesson, not because it failed to produce fruit. The tree was a good illustration of the large unbelieving element within the nation of Israel. God had looked to that generation of Israelites for spiritual fruit, as Jesus had hoped to find physical fruit on the fig tree (cf. Jeremiah 8:13; Hosea 9:10; Micah 7:1; Nahum 3:12; Zechariah 10:2). Israel’s outward display of religious vitality was impressive, like the leaves on the tree, but it bore no spiritual fruit of righteousness. It was hypocritical (Mark 7:6; Mark 11:15-19; Mark 11:27; Mark 12:40).
"Jesus was on the eve of spiritual conflict with a nation whose prime and patent fault was hypocrisy or false pretense, and here he finds a tree guilty of the same thing. It gives him his opportunity, without hurting anybody, to sit in judgment on the fault." [Note: Gould, pp. 211-12.]
"In Mark’s story world, hypocrisy exists where there is a discrepancy between appearance and underlying truth." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 15.]
This is the only destructive miracle that the Gospel writers attributed to Jesus, and it involved a tree. The healing of the Gadaran demoniac resulted in the destruction of pigs (Mark 5:13), but that miracle itself was positive in that it healed the man.
A market atmosphere existed in the court of the Gentiles, the outermost courtyard within the temple enclosure (Gr. hieron, cf. Mark 11:17). During Passover season pilgrims could buy sacrificial animals and change their money on the Mount of Olives, so there was no need to set up facilities to do these things in the temple courtyard, which Caiaphas had done. [Note: Lane, pp. 403-4. See also V. Eppstein, "The Historicity of the Gospel Account of the Cleansing of the Temple," Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 55 (1964):42-58.] Jesus’ literal housecleaning represented His authority as Messiah to clean up the corrupt nation of Israel. Mark 11:16, unique in Mark, shows the extent to which Jesus went in purifying the temple. By doing this, Jesus was acting as a faithful servant of the Lord and demonstrating zeal for God’s honor.
"The court of the Gentiles should have been a place for praying, but it was instead a place for preying and paying." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:151.]
The cleansing of the temple 11:15-19 (cf. Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-48)
This was Jesus’ second messianic act that constituted part of His formal presentation to Israel. The first was the Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11).
The Isaiah prophecy was a prediction yet unfulfilled as well as a statement of God’s perennial intent for the temple. In Jesus’ mouth it was also a prophecy of conditions in the messianic kingdom (cf. Zechariah 14:21).
Mark added "for all the nations," which Matthew omitted from Isaiah 56:7. The phrase has special significance for Gentile readers. God permitted Gentiles to come and worship Him in the temple court of the Gentiles indicating His desire to bring them into relationship with Himself.
The Jewish leaders, however, had made this practically impossible by converting the only place Gentiles could pray in the temple complex into a market where fraud abounded. They had expelled the Gentile worshippers to make room for Jewish robbers.
Jesus was claiming that the temple belonged to Him rather than to the Jewish leaders by cleaning it up. The quotation He cited from Isaiah presented the temple as God’s house. Thus Jesus was claiming to be God.
"The third stage in the progressive disclosure of Jesus’ identity [to the reader] focuses on the secret that he is the Son of God." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 46. Cf. 8:27-30; 10:46-11:11 and 12:35-37.]
Jesus’ action and words had threatened the reputation and resources of the Sanhedrin members. They plotted to kill Him (cf. Mark 3:6). The intensity of their hatred becomes clear later (Mark 11:27 to Mark 12:37). Mark alone recorded that they feared Jesus. The reason was the impact His teaching was having on the multitudes that gathered from all over the ancient world for Passover (cf. Mark 1:22; Mark 6:2; Mark 7:37; Mark 10:26).
At evening, Jesus and the disciples again left Jerusalem and spent the night on Mt. Olivet (Luke 21:37), probably in Bethany (Mark 11:11).
"If the Lord Jesus were to show up in our house of worship, what changes would He make?" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:151.]
This event happened on Wednesday morning. "Withered from the roots" means that death was spreading through the tree beginning from its sources of nourishment. The roots of the tree correspond to the religious leaders of the nation. Death would pass from them to that whole generation of unbelieving Jews. Peter connected the judgment with Jesus’ words. Likewise Jesus’ word of judgment on that generation of Jews would have a similar effect.
The lesson of the withered fig tree 11:20-26 (cf. Matthew 21:19-22)
This is the third part of the incident centering on the cleansing of the temple (cf. Mark 11:12-14).
Rather than explaining the symbolic significance of the cursing of the fig tree, Jesus proceeded to focus on the means by which the miracle happened. This was an important discipleship lesson that Jesus had taught before (cf. Matthew 6:13-14; Matthew 7:7; Matthew 17:20; Matthew 18:19; Luke 11:9; Luke 17:6), but it appears only here in Mark. The point was that dependent trust in God can accomplish humanly impossible things through prayer (cf. James 1:6).
God is the source of the power to change. Moving a mountain is a universal symbol of doing something that appears to be impossible (cf. Zechariah 4:7). Jesus presupposed that overcoming the difficulty in view was God’s will. A true disciple of Jesus would hardly pray for anything else (Matthew 6:10). The person praying can therefore believe that what he requests will happen because it is God’s will. He will neither doubt God’s ability to do what he requests, since God can do anything, nor will he doubt that God will grant his petition, since it is God’s will. He will not have a divided heart about this matter. [Note: See David DeGraaf, "Some Doubts about Doubt: The New Testament Use of Diakrino," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48:8 (December 2005):744-49.]
Why did Mark not explain what Jesus assumed, namely, that disciples would pray for God’s will to happen? Evidently when he wrote, his original readers were committed Christians. The Roman Empire then weeded out simply professing Christians much more than is true today, at least in the West. The idea that a Christian would want anything but the will of God to happen was absurd in a world where identifying oneself as a Christian meant severe persecution and possibly death.
Asking is a particular form of praying. Disciples can believe we have what we request in prayer when we ask for God’s will to take place (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 7:7) because God will accomplish His will.
Faith in God is not the only condition for answered prayer. One must also forgive his or her fellow human beings. The Jews commonly stood when they prayed (cf. 1 Samuel 1:26; Luke 18:11; Luke 18:13). Forgiving our brothers and sisters is a precondition for obtaining family forgiveness from the Father (Matthew 6:14-15). This is the only place in Mark where Jesus referred to the disciples’ Father in heaven. This may have reminded them of His teaching in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15; Luke 11:2-4).
This verse does not appear in the most important ancient manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel. Evidently scribes inserted it later because they associated the preceding verse with Matthew 6:14.
1. The controversy over Jesus’ authority 11:27-12:12
This controversy consisted of a discussion with the religious leaders over John the Baptist’s authority (Mark 11:27-33) followed by a parable that illustrated the religious leaders’ irresponsibility (Mark 12:1-12).
The chief priests, teachers or scribes, and elders constituted the three components of the Sanhedrin. This was a very official inquiry prompted by Jesus’ presence and made necessary by His cleansing of the temple. Israel’s official leaders wanted to know about Jesus’ credentials and who gave Him the right to say and do what He did. They questioned the nature and source of His authority. Their questions were legitimate since they were responsible for supervising Israel’s religious life. Yet their question was a challenge to Jesus’ honor. [Note: See Joseph H. Hellerman, "Challenging the Authority of Jesus: Mark 11:27-33 and Mediterranean Notions of Honor and Shame," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:2 (June 2000):213-28.]
"The essence of the depiction of the opponents [of Jesus in Mark] lies in that they are self-serving; that is, they are preoccupied with preserving their power, their importance, their wealth, and their lives." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p. 121.]
The authority of John the Baptist 11:27-33 (cf. Matthew 21:23-27; Luke 20:1-8)
B. Jesus’ teaching in the temple 11:27-12:44
This entire section contains Jesus’ teaching in the temple courtyard on Wednesday. The religious leaders first questioned Jesus’ authority (Mark 11:12 to Mark 12:12) and then His teaching (Mark 12:13-37). Finally Jesus condemned their hypocrisy and commended a widow’s action that demonstrated reality (Mark 12:38-44). Jesus functioned as a faithful servant of the Lord in the role of a prophet here.
Essentially Jesus asked these leaders if they believed God was behind John’s ministry. John had taught that God was behind Jesus’ ministry. If the critics said they believed God was behind John’s ministry, they would have had to agree that God was behind Jesus’ ministry. Jesus challenged them to respond. "Answer me" (Mark 11:30) is unique in Mark and reflects Jesus superiority to these men.
"As on the earlier question of Sabbath observance (Mark 2:23 to Mark 3:6), the counterquestion [sic] implies that Jesus stands not under the Sanhedrin but over it. His counterquestion demonstrates the authority about which he is questioned." [Note: Edwards, p. 226.]
The critics’ concern for their own position rather than for the truth is obvious in their refusal to answer Jesus. Clearly they rejected both John and Jesus as God’s authorized prophets. Jesus had already answered their question in a veiled way by claiming that His authority was the same as John’s. He refused to give them a more obvious answer knowing that they were trying to discredit Him. Their failure to reply to Him released Him from His promise to reply to them (Mark 11:29). Rejection of revelation shut the door on further revelation.
"In his assault on the demonic, forgiveness of sins, supremacy over Torah and temple, speech about God as Father, and grounding pronouncements about matters in which God is sovereign in his own authority, Jesus exercises an authority that is God’s prerogative. . . . Coming from anyone else it would have signaled utter madness-as it did in the eyes of his enemies. What the devout Jew saw in Torah, or perhaps in the temple, the gospels see in Jesus, for Jesus replaces Torah and temple as the locus Dei [place of God]. When questioned about the source of his authority, Jesus points to his baptism by John, wherein the voice declaring Jesus Son of God and the Spirit empowering him as servant of God confer on him the exousia [authority] of God.
"Thus in the gospel of Mark, as in John, Jesus appears as God incarnate in his bearing, speech and activity. This astonishes, baffles, and even offends his contemporaries, from his closest circles outward. The religious leaders in particular regard his laying claim to a realm that belonged properly to God as the gravest possible trespass. Jesus gives the distinct impression, however, that he is not a trespasser but is entering into his rightful property." [Note: Ibid., pp. 232-33.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Mark 11". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany