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Bible Commentaries

International Critical Commentary NT

Mark 11

Verses 1-99


11:1-11. Jesus comes to Bethany, where he procures a colt, on which he rides into Jerusalem. The multitude strew their garments and layers of leaves in the road, and shout Hosanna, invoking blessings on the coming kingdom. Jesus goes immediately to the temple, and satisfying himself for the present with a look at things, goes out to Bethany for the night.

Jesus has told his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem only to meet his fate, and be put to death by the authorities, and yet he enters it amidst the acclaims of the multitude, who hail him as the coming King. This acknowledgment, repelled before, he now accepts. But, the claim once made, he proceeds as before, with his merely spiritual work. The key to these apparent inconsistencies is to be found in the splendid self-consistency of Jesus’ procedure, and in its absolute inconsistency with worldly ideas and policies. Jesus knew that the Messianic claim in Jerusalem meant death, and that death meant the ultimate establishment of the claim, not defeat. Every part of his life, but especially its end, means that he aimed to establish the ideal as the law of human life, and that he would use only absolutely spiritual means in the accomplishment of his end.

Meantime, everything points to the fact that Jesus deliberately used the enthusiasm of the multitude for the purposes of his entry into Jerusalem, intending to make it the means of a public proclamation of his Messianic claim. That proclamation was necessary, because men must understand definitely the issue that he made. The acceptance of him as King, and not merely as Prophet, was what he demanded. And in the events which followed, it immediately became apparent that the question thus raised was not only a question of his personal claim, but of the nature of his kingdom. The multitude who followed him thought that, with the announcement of the claim, the programme would change. But the unchanged programme meant that Jesus, just as he was, claimed kingship, and would be king only by spiritual enforcements.

1. Καὶ ὅτε ἐγγίζουσιν εἰς Ἱερουσόλυμα, καὶ εἰς Βηθανίαν—And when they draw near to Jerusalem, and to Bethany.

καὶ εἰς Βηθανίαν, instead of εἰς Βηθφαγὴ καὶ Βηθανίαν, Tisch. Treg. marg. WH. marg. D Latt. The shorter reading seems probable, the longer reading having crept into the text from Lk.

καὶ εἰς Βηθανίαν—We have here a case of abbreviated expression, which obstructs clearness. The exact statement is, that they approached Jerusalem, and had come on the way as far as Bethany on the other side of the Mount of Olives. Bethany is mentioned here for the first time in Mk. In fact, according to this account, Jesus is now approaching Jerusalem for the first time. And hence places enter into the account which have not appeared before. Bethany was a small village on the other side of the Mount of Olives, about fifteen furlongs from Jerusalem. In approaching it, therefore, they would be on the way towards the Mount, πρὸς τὸ ὄρος.

2. τὴν κώμην τὴν κατέναντι1 ὑμῶν—the village that is over against you. Bethany is the village meant here, as Bethphage is the one designated in Matthew 21:1. In both cases, the village named is the only one mentioned. The implication evidently is that the road did not pass through the village, but was off one side. πῶλον—a colt. Mt. specifies a she-ass and its colt, and as the ass was the more common beast used for domestic purposes, there is no doubt that the colt here was an ass’s colt.2 ἐφʼ ὅν οὐδεὶς οὔπω Numbers 19:2, Deuteronomy 21:3, 2 Samuel 6:3. It is evidently the intention of the writers of the Gospels here to imply a supernatural knowledge on the part of Jesus.

Insert οὔπω before

Ὡσαννά—Hosanna.3 This cry is not an acclamation, but a prayer, meaning, save now, and it means either that Jehovah shall be propitious to some one else, conspicuous in the scene, or in connection with him, to the people uttering the cry. In the Psalms 118:25, Psalms 118:26 from which this invocation is taken, it is probably a prayer that Jehovah will be propitious to his people. While in Matthew 21:9, where it reads, Ὡσαννὰ τ. υἱῷ Δαυείδ—be propitious now to the Son of David, the prayer is for the one whom the multitude recognize as the coming Messiah. Probably, here it is the prayer of the people that the expected salvation may be accomplished now. εὐλογημένοςἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόμ. Κυρ.—Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. It is a question of feeling, whether ἐστί or ἔστω is to be supplied here; whether it invokes a blessing on the coming king and his kingdom, or pronounces him blessed. Either is grammatically allowable. On the whole, I incline to the latter view. See RV. Κυρίου is a translation of יהוה, Yahweh, in Psalms 118:26, from which all this acclaim is taken. ἐν ὀνόμ. Κυρίου, in the name of the Lord, means that the kingdom of the Messiah is to be a vicegerency, in which the Messiah represents and takes the place of Jehovah.

10. εὐλογημένηἐρχομένη βασιλεία τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν Δαυείδ—Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David. The coming kingdom represents it as already on the way, and drawing near. It is no longer in a postponed and indefinite future, but in sight. It is represented as the kingdom of David, because the promise of it was made to him as a man after God’s own heart, and the king was to be in his line and to succeed to his spirit. The kingdom was to be a reproduction, after a long collapse, of the splendors of the Davidic kingdom.1

Omit ἐν ὀνόματι Κυρίου, in the name of the Lord, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. אBCDLU Δ 1, 13, 69, 115, 124, 209, 238, 346, Latt. Egyptt. Pesh.

Ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις—Hosanna in the highest (places). τὰ ὕψιστα is a translation of a Heb. word for heaven.2 This addition indicates that Hosanna is not here a mere acclaim, a sort of Hurrah! It is a prayer for God to save them in the highest places, where he dwells.

This entry into Jerusalem, with its accompaniments of shouting multitudes and spontaneous homage, can have only one meaning in our Lord’s life. It is his public announcement of himself as the Messiah, or rather his public acceptance of the title that his disciples had been so long anxious to thrust upon him. And yet, after it, his life lapses again into its quiet ways, and he becomes once more the teacher and benefactor. And so, the distinct claim to be a king is followed immediately by the revolutionizing of the whole idea of kingship. But then, this is only in accordance with what he has already said to his disciples who wished to occupy the places in the kingdom next to the king. “He who desires to be first, let him be least and servant of all.” His teaching and life needed the distinct announcement of his Messianic claim in order that men might understand that this is what is meant by the claim to be king of men.

11. Καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, εἰς τὸ ἱερόν—And he entered into Jerusalem, into the temple.

Omit ὁ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ before εἰς τὸ ἱερόν Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. אBCL Δ Lat. Vet. Memph.

Jesus makes his way immediately, not only into the Holy City, but into the Holy Place, where his claim to lordship over the place can be put to the test.

Καὶ περιβλεψάμενος πάντα, ὀψὲ ἤδη τῆς ὥρας—And having looked round upon all things, the hour being already late.

ὀψὲ, instead of ὀψίας, Tisch. Treg. marg. WH. א CL Δ.

This look took in those things which were to receive the next morning so sharp attention from him, but as the hour was already so late, he went out to Bethany. This differs distinctly from Mt., who places the cleansing of the temple immediately after the entrance into the city, and mentions the cursing of the fig tree as on the morning after the cleansing. This is the first time that Bethany appears in the Synoptical narrative, but the appearance is of such a kind as to imply a previous history, or rather a previous appearance of the place in the life of our Lord. John gives us the clue to Jesus’ freedom of the place in the story of the raising of Lazarus, but at the same time, he places the intimacy further back by calling Lazarus the one whom Jesus loved.


12-14. Jesus leaves Bethany the next morning, and on his way to Jerusalem, he sees a fig tree, whose leaves give promise of fruit. But when he comes to it, he finds only leaves. He dooms the tree to perpetual fruitlessness.

12. Καὶ τῇ ἐπαύριον1 … ἐπείνασε2—And on the morrow … he became hungry.

Jesus’ leaving Bethany in the morning and coming to Jerusalem indicates his habit during this last week. His place of action during the day was Jerusalem, his place of rest at night was Bethany.

13. καὶ ἰδὼν συκῆν

Μηκέτι εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα ἐκ σοῦ μηδεὶς καρπὸν φάγοι—The position of the words and the double negative make this curse weighty. The reason of it is to be found in the false pretence of leaves without fruit on a tree in which leaves are a sign of fruit. The apparent unreason is in cursing a fig tree for anything. The principle that you must not only judge a person by his acts, but sometimes judge his acts by the person, applies here. The act appears wanton and petulant, but what we know of Jesus warrants us in setting aside this appearance. Jesus was on the eve of spiritual conflict with a nation whose prime and patent fault was hypocrisy or false pretence, 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. He does not complete the parable by pointing out the application, but leaves this, as he does his spoken parables, to suggest its own meaning, and so to force men to think. Such acted parables were not without precedent among the Jews. See Hosea 1:1-3, John 4:6-11, Matthew 13:10-15. And in Jesus’ own teaching, the recourse to enigmatical methods that should force men to think, was not uncommon.


15-18. On arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the temple again, and finds the customary traffic in animals for the Passover sacrifices, and in small change for the purposes of this traffic, going on. Jesus drives out the traffickers, and overturns their tables and chairs.

15. καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν ἤρξατο ἐκβάλλειν τοὺς πωλοῦντας καὶ τοὺς

οἶκος προσευχῆς1 πᾶσι τοῖς ἔθνεσιν—a house of prayer for all nations. The quotation is from Isaiah 56:7, a passage which predicts the admission of strangers who worship God, as well as Jews, to the privileges of the Temple. The rebuke is specific therefore, denouncing not only the misuse of the Temple, but of that part which made it the seat of a universal worship. It was the Court of the Gentiles which they had thought just good enough for these debased uses. σπήλαιον ληστῶν—a cave of robbers, not thieves. These words are quoted from Jeremiah 7:11. The context in Jer. shows that the name is given there not because of the desecrating uses to which the Temple was put, but because of the character of those who used it. Their use of the Temple was legitimate, but they themselves defiled it by their character and conduct outside. Here, on the contrary, it is their illegitimate use of the Temple which is condemned. The use of this term robbers by our Lord adds an unexpected element to the denunciation of their practice. Evidently trade as such desecrates the Temple, making its precincts and sacrifices the place and occasion of personal gain. It is the incongruous and unhallowed mixture of God and mammon that Jesus elsewhere condemns. But when he calls it robbery, it is evident he means more than the condemnation of trade in itself in the Temple precincts. And yet, we have no reason to suppose that there was anything extraordinary in this traffic. Jesus would need only to see the opposition of all actual trade in principle to the Golden Rule, to condemn it in this strong language, when it invaded the courts of the Temple. It is the principle of trade to pursue personal advantage alone, and leave the other man to pursue his interests, in other words, competition, which makes trade robbery.

πεποιήκατε, instead of ἐποιήσατε, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. BL Δ.

This was an exercise of Messianic authority on the part of Jesus; but it did not transcend his rule of purely spiritual kingship, since the power that he used was simply that of his personal ascendency. It was an impressive example of the authority of truth and goodness. Men are easily overawed by the indignations of righteousness. We should expect such an access of authority in the action and speech of Jesus after the announcement of his Messianic claim, but the element of force, which is the idea of government, is left out.

18. οἱ

This injunction to forgive can be joined logically with the injunction about faith in prayer, since the Divine forgiveness of sins, of which it is the condition, is itself the condition of the Divine favor, without which answer to prayer becomes impossible. But it is, notwithstanding, inapposite and diverting here, where the subject is not prayer, but faith in God, prayer being adduced as an instance of the places in which faith is needed. It is found in its proper place in the discourse on prayer, Matthew 6:14 sq. Moreover, it is still further limited here, being placed in connection with the special prayer for forgiveness, and not with prayer in general, which removes it still further from the general subject. This limitation of the Divine forgiveness is not as if God limited himself by the imperfections of our human conduct. But forgiveness is a reciprocal act. In its very nature, it cannot act freely, but is conditioned on the state of mind of the offender. And the unforgiving spirit is specially alien to that state of mind. It shows the offender to be lacking in the proper feeling about sin and forgiveness, which can alone warrant his asking forgiveness. This is an important text in the discussion of justification by faith.


27-33. On Jesus’ return to the city, he comes again to the temple, where the representatives of the Sanhedrim question him as to his authority to cleanse the temple. Jesus answers them with a counter-question, whether John’s baptism was human or divine in its origin, which will test their authority to decide such questions. This puts them in a dilemma, as they had discredited John, making it necessary for them either to sacrifice consistency or to put themselves out of favor with the people, who believed in John. They are unable to answer, and so Jesus refuses to recognize their authority to sit in judgment on him, and remains silent.

27. πρεσβύτεροι—elders. The word denotes the other members of the Sanhedrim, outside of the chief priests and scribes. It is the general word for a member of that council. The whole expression means the chief priests and scribes and other members of the Sanhedrim.1

καὶ ἔλεγον αὐτῶ—and said to him.

ἔλεγον, instead of λέγουσιν, say, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. אBCL Δ 1, 209, mss. Lat. Vet. Memph.

28. Ἐν ποίᾳ ἐξουσίᾳ.—By what kind of authority.2 It is more specific than simply what authority. They knew that Jesus claimed a certain kind of authority, but it seemed to them just the vague and uncertain thing that personal, as distinguished from official authority, always seems to the members of a hierarchy. ταῦτα ποιεῖς;—do you do these things? things, such as the cleansing of the temple, which took place only the day before. ἢ τίς σοι τ. ἐξοὐσίαν ταύτην ἔδωκεν, ἵνα ταῦτα ποιῇς;3—or who gave you this authority, to do these things?

ἢ, instead of καὶ, and, before τίς, Tisch. Treg. marg. WH. RV. אBL Δ 124, Memph. Harcl. marg.

The second question, who gave thee this authority? is different in form, but substantially the same. The idea of a divine authority, communicated directly to the man by inward suggestion, and showing its warrant simply in his personal quality, was outside the narrow range of men who recognized only external authority.

29. Ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἐπερωτήσω ὑμᾶς ἕνα λόγον—And Jesus said to them, I will ask you one question (word, literally).


Διατί οὖν οὐκ ἐπιστεύσατε αὐτῷ ;—Why then did you not believe him? On this rejection of John by the rulers, see Matthew 3:7 sq. 11:18, J. 5:35.


2 Matthew 21:2.

RV. Revised Version.

A Codex Alexandrinus.

B Codex Vaticanus.

L Codex Regius.

Δ̠Codex Sangallensis

Lat. Vet. Vetus Latina.

Vulg. Vulgate.

אԠCodex Sinaiticus.

C Codex Bezae.

13 Codex Regius.

69 Codex Leicestrensis.

Egyptt. Egyptian Versions.

Pesh. Peshito.

Syrr. Syriac Versions.

X Codex Wolfi A.

Γ̠Codex Tischendorfianus

Π̠Codex Petropolitianus

Memph. Memphitic.

AV. Authorised Version.

1 Vulg. bivium.

1 .Codex Basiliensis

28 Codex Regius.

209 An unnamed, valuable manuscript.

2 στιβάδας is the proper form. στοιβάδας is a case of mis-spelling.

E Codex Basiliensis.

H Codex Wolfi B.

K Codex Cyprius.

M Codex Campianus.

U Codex Nanianus.

Theb. Thebaic.

3 The full form of the original is הוֹשִׁיעָה־נָא, the Hiph. of יָשַׁע, with the suffixed particle נַא = now.

1 Messianic prophecy proper starts with the promise of the perpetuity of the kingdom in the Davidic line. 2 Samuel 7:8-16, Zechariah 12:10, Zechariah 12:13. One of the Rabbinical titles of the Messiah was David.

346 Codex Ambrosianus.

2 The Heb. word is &מָרוֹם מְרוֹמִים. Job 16:19, Isaiah 57:15, LXX.

1 τῇ ἐπαύριον—this use of ἐπαύριον as a single word is Biblical. Properly, it is ἐπʼ αὔριον, which means on the morrow by itself. The art. is out of place therefore, much as if we should say, on the to-morrow. If anywhere, it belongs between ἐπ and αὔριον. See Luke 10:35, Acts 4:5.

2 The aor. denotes the entrance upon the state denoted by the vb. Burton, 41.

3 μακρόθεν is itself late, and the prep. redundant, as the adv. itself means from a distance. Win. 65, 2.

4 On the mood of indirect questions, see Burton, 341 (b), 343.

5 See Win. 53, 8 a.

33 Codex Regius.

1 There is no sufficient reason for emphasizing the beginning of the act in this case. It belongs to the Heb. idiom of the writer.

N Codex Purpureus.

2 Leviticus 5:7, Leviticus 5:12:Leviticus 5:6-8, Leviticus 5:15:14, 29, Numbers 6:10.

3 See on 1:34, for form ἤφιεν.

4 On this use of ἵνα with subj., see Win. 44, 8. Burton, 210.

1 προσευχῆς—It is significant of the changes in the language, that this word is not found in the classics, and that the good Greek word εὐχή is found in the N.T. but once.

1 See on 8:31.

2 See Win. 33 b, for this use of ἐπί.

3 See on 1:22.

Win. Winer’s Grammar of N. T. Greek.

Harcl. Harclean.

1 In earlier Greek, καταράομαι takes the dat. Win. 32, 1 b, β. Win., however, fails to note the irregularity.

2 Θεοῦ is obj. gen. Win. 30, 1.

3 διακριθῇ ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ—Doubt is a Biblical sense of διακρίνομαι, but comes naturally from the proper meaning, to be divided. This is a good example of the use of καρδία to denote the seat of the intellect rather than the affections. On the evil of doubt, see James 1:6.

4 The aor. διακριθῇ and pres. πιστεύῃ are to be discriminated something in this way—does not entertain a doubt, but holds fast to his faith.

5 See Thay.-Grm. Lex. είμί IV. e.

1 On the use of ὅταν with the ind. see Win. 42, 5; Burton, 309 (c). On the attitude in prayer, see Matthew 6:5, Luke 18:11.

V Codex Mosquensis.

S Codex Vaticanus.

1 Schürer N. Zg. II. I. § 23, III.

2 On the instrumental use of ἐν, see Win. 48, 3 d.

3 On the use of ἴνα with subj., for the inf., see Win. 44, 8. Burton, 216 (a).

1 The structure here is very rugged, and without the excuse, or the capacity for hiding defects that belongs to a long sentence. Having started with a question, the only way to state the conclusion is to include it in the question, e.g. Shall we say, from men, and so bring upon us the dislike of the people? Instead of which the writer proceeds with a statement in his own words. Win. 63, 11. 2. 60, 9.

1 Luke 20:6.

2 Matthew 14:5.

3 On the attraction of Ἰωάννην from the subordinate to the principle clause, see Win. 66, 5 a.

4 On the use of οὐδέ without a preceding negative, see Win. 55, 6, 2.

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Bibliographical Information
Driver, S.A., Plummer, A.A., Briggs, C.A. "Commentary on Mark 11". International Critical Commentary NT. 1896-1924.