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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Mark 11



Christ rideth with triumph into Jerusalem: curseth the fruitless fig-tree; purgeth the temple: exhorteth his disciples to steadfastness of faith, and to forgive their enemies: and defendeth the lawfulness of his actions, by the witness of John, at a man sent from God.

Anno Domini 33.

Verse 2

Mark 11:2. Go your way, &c.— Go to the village there before you. Heylin. To yonder village that faces you. Version of 1729. Our Saviour probably pointed with his finger to the village.

Verse 11

Mark 11:11. Even-tide Or, evening.

Verse 13

Mark 11:13. And seeing a fig-tree, &c.— The time of the year when this event happened, was undoubtedly three or four days before the passover at which our Saviour was crucified; and the passover that year fell in the beginning of April. Upon this it is inquired, "How would Christ expect to find figs on the tree at that season of the year? And what is the meaning of the Evangelist's saying, the time of figs was not yet?" I. In the first place it is asked, "How could Christ expect to find ripe figs on the tree in the latter end of March?" The plain answer is, because figs are ripe so soon in Judea; all the difficulty here has arisen from men's not considering the difference of the climate. Judea is a country vastly hotter than England, and there the fruits are brought forth and ripened much sooner than they are in our colder climate. The barley in Judea was ripe in March, and the wheat in April; we cannot therefore wonder if there were ripe figs in the beginning of April too. But this is not all; it can be directly proved, concerning fig-trees in particular, that in Judea they brought forth good figs, which were ripe as early as the passover, in the beginning of April. The proof, in short, is this: figs were ripe before summer,—summer is harvest-time,—harvest-time began at the passover,—therefore figs were ripe before the passover. Each of these propositions shall be briefly proved. I. Figs were ripe before summer. That there are two seasons of the year for figs is plain from hence, that the Scripture mentions the first time of figs, Hosea 9:10. Micah 7:1. These first ripe figs were fully ripe, for they would fall from the tree, if it was shaken by the wind, as it is written Nahum 3:12. That these first ripe figs were very good, we are informed by the prophet Jeremiah 24:2. These fig-trees had leaves before the summer in that country, as it is expressly said, Matthew 21:19. But concerning the fig-tree it should be noted, that it puts forth its fruit first, and its leaves afterwards; consequently, if its leaves, much more does its fruit come forth before summer; and that the fig-tree in Judea brought forth fruit before, is expressly said, Song of Solomon 2:11-13. Isaiah is more express, Isa 28:4 where what our translators call the hasty fruit, is the first ripe fruit, as they have well translated the same word in the places before quoted. Thus it appears, that the first ripe figs were very good, were fit to be eaten, and were ripe before summer. 2. The word summer, in Scripture, signifies the time of harvest. Compare Jer 8:20 and Daniel 2:35. Those who have travelled into Egypt, the next country to Judea, inform us, that the summer in Egypt begins in March; whence we may conclude, that the summer in Judea began about the same time of the year. They then in Egypt cut down their corn, and immediately thrashed it; and that they immediately thrashed it also in Judea, is plain from their having loaves made of new corn for an offering at Pentecost. 3. That the harvest in Judea began at the passover is plain, because the Jews were required, on the second day after the passover, to bring a sheaf of the first fruits of their barley harvest, for an offering to God, Leviticus 23:10-11. Seven weeks after the passover was Pentecost, in the beginning of which seven weeks, it is expressly said, the corn began to be reaped, Deuteronomy 16:9. See also Lev 23:15-17 and Ruth 2:23. Ruth 2:4. From all this it follows, that figs in Judea were ripe before the passover; for figs were ripe and good before the summer or harvest began at the passover; therefore figs were ripe and good before the passover;—as was to be proved. Hence it appears, that the disciples might reasonably expect to find good ripe figs on a fig-tree three days before the passover; and our Lord appeared to expect them, that he might have the opportunity of strengthening his disciples' faith by the present miracle, and of affording them, and the church in after-ages, all the useful lessons resulting therefrom. It was the usual time for the first ripe figs, and therefore it was natural to expect that there should be figs upon this tree; and this was the more natural, because, as the Evangelist observes, there were leaves upon the tree, before which leaves the fruit always came forth, if the tree bore any fruit at all. The leaves then were naturally a token that fruit was to be found on the tree also, and thus it was natural to expect it. II. We now easily see how to account for the expression of St. Mark before us, which has been thought so extremely difficult; for the time of figs was not yet. While it was supposed that this expression signified "the time for trees to bring forth fruit was not yetcome," it looked very unaccountable that Christ should reckon a tree barren, though it had leaves, and curse it as such, when he knew that the time of bearing figswas not yet come: it seemed unaccountable that Christ should come to seek figs on this tree, when he knew that figs were not used to be ripe so soon in the year. But since the true sense of the phrase, "The time of figs," has been discovered to the world by the learned Bishop Kidder, the matter is easy. The expression does not signify the time of the coming forth of figs, but the time of gathering in ripe figs, as is plain from the parallel expressions. Thus the time of the fruit, Mat 21:34 most plainly signifies the time of gathering in ripe fruits, since the servants were sent to receive those fruits for their master's use. St. Mark and St. Luke express this same matter only by the word time, or season;—At the season he sent a servant, &c. that is, at the season or time of gathering in ripe fruit, Ch. Mark 12:2.Luke 20:10; Luke 20:10. In like manner, if any one should say in our language the season of fruit—the season of apples,—the season of figs,—every one would understand him to speak of the season or time of gathering in these fruits when ripe. When therefore St. Mark says, that the time or season of figs was not yet, he evidently means, that the time of gathering ripe figs was not yet come; and if the gathering time was not come, it was natural to expect figs upon all those trees which were not barren; whereas after the time of gathering figs, no one would expect tofind figs on a fig-tree, and its having none then would be no sign of barrenness. St. Mark, by saying, for the time of figs was not yet, does not design to give a reason for what he said in the immediately following clause,—he found nothing but leaves; but he gives a reason for what he said in the clause before that, He came, if haply he might find any thing thereon; and it was a good reason for our Saviour's coming and seeking figs on the tree, because the time of gathering them in was not come. We have other like instances in the Gospels, and indeed in the writings of all mankind, of another clause coming in between the assertion and the proof. Thus, in this very Evangelist,—Ch. Mark 16:3-4 they said among themselves, who shall roll away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? and when they looked, they saw the stone was rolled away, for it was very great; where, its being very great is not assigned as a reason of its being rolled away, but of the women's wishing for some one to roll it away for them. See Hallet's notes on Scripture, vol. 2: p. 114 and Witsius's Meletemata.

Verse 14

Mark 11:14. And Jesus answered and said unto it, And Jesus said to it upon this occasion. Doddridge. See the note on Matthew 11:25.

Verse 16

Mark 11:16. Any vessel Or utensil; that is, any kind of burden. See John 2:14; John 2:25.

Verse 21

Mark 11:21. Behold the fig-tree, &c.— Our Lord had said, Mark 11:14. No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. This St. Peter, according to the Jewish manner of speaking concerning things that are barren, calls cursing the fig-tree; (see Hebrews 6:8.) and some ill-disposed readers, not apprehending the proper force of the words, are apt to form a very unbecoming notion of our adorable Lord from this action; but they do so without the least cause, since every thing that he said on this occasion was consistent with the most perfect decency, even in their sense of the word. Moreover, the transaction itself was emblematical and prophetic, prefiguring the speedy ruin of the Jewish nation, on account of its unfruitfulness, under greater advantages than any other people enjoyed at that day; and, like all the rest of his miracles, it was done with a gracious intention, namely, to alarm his countrymen, and induce them to repent. It is observable, that the destruction of the swine, and thisblasting of the fig-tree, are the only instances of punitive miracles in the whole course of our Saviour's ministry, notwithstanding they do not appear to have been injurious. The case of the swine we have already considered; and with respect to the fig-tree, St. Matthew informs us, Mat 21:19 that it was in the way, that is, in the common road, and therefore, probably, no particular person's property; but if it was, being barren, the timber might be as serviceable to the owner as before. So that here was no real injury; but Jesus was pleased to make use of this innocent miracle for the valuable purposes above suggested, as well as to teach his disciples the efficacy of a strong and lively f

Verse 22

Mark 11:22. Have faith in God. Or, a divine faith; literally, the faith of God. And who could find fault, if the Creator and Proprietor of all things were to destroy, by a single word of his mouth, a thousand of his inanimate creatures, were it only to imprint this important lesson more deeply on one immortal spirit? See on Matthew 17:0.

Inferences drawn from our Lord's cursing the fruitless fig-tree. When our Saviour had rode through the streets of Jerusalem, that evening he lodged not in the city; whether it was that he would not, lest, after the public acclamations of the people, suspicions of plotting, or of a desire of popularity, might be raised against him; or whether he could not for want of an invitation. Hosannahs were more cheap than an entertainment; and accordingly he goes that evening, without eating, from Jerusalem. O unthankful citizens, do you thus part with your no less meek than glorious King; whose title was not more proclaimed in your streets, than was your own ingratitude! There is no wonder in men's unworthiness; but there is more than wonder in thy mercy, O Saviour of men, who wouldst yet return thither on the morrow; and if thou mayest not spend the night with them, wilt yet spend with them the day.

Thou, that givest food to all things living, art thyself hungry, (Mark 11:12.): Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, kept not so poor a house, but that thou mightst have eaten something at Bethany: whether thy haste outran thine appetite, or whether on purpose thou forbarest any repast, to afford opportunity for thy ensuing miracle, I neither presume to resolve nor conjecture. This was not the first time that thou wast hungry; as thou wouldst be a man, so thou wouldst suffer those infirmities which belong to humanity. Hence thou knowest to pity what thou hast felt. Are we pinched with want? we endure but what thou didst, and have reason to be patient: thou enduredst what we do; we have reason to be thankful.

But what shall we say to this thine early hunger? The morning, as it is privileged from excess, so likewise from need; the stomach is not used to rise with the body; surely, as thine occasions were, no season was exempted from thy want. Thou hadst spent the day before in the holy labour of thy reformation; after a supperless departure, thou spendest the night in prayer; no meal refreshed thy toil. Why do we think much to forbear a morsel, or to break a sleep for thee, who didst thus neglect thyself for us?

As if meat were no part of thy care, as if any thing would serve to stop the mouth of hunger, thy breakfast is expected from the next tree, Mark 11:13. A fig-tree grew by the way-side, full-grown, well-spread, thick-leaved, and such as might promise enough to a remote eye; thither thou camest to seek that which thou didst not find; and not finding what thou soughtest, as displeased with thy disappointment, didst curse that plant which deluded thy hopes; thy breath instantly blasted that deceitful tree; what then could it do,—otherwise than the whole world must needs do under thy malediction,—but wither and die away.

O Saviour, I would rather wonder at thine actions, than discuss them. If I should say that, as man, thou either didst not know, or didst not consider this fruitlessness, it could no way prejudice thy divine Omniscience. It were no greater disparagement to thee to grow in knowledge, than in stature; nor was it any more disgrace to thy perfect humanity, that thou, as man, knewest not all things at once, than that thou wert not in thy childhood at thy full growth. But herein I doubt not to say, it is more likely thou camest purposely to this tree, and fore-resolving the event; thus to found the occasion of so instructive a miracle: like as thou knewest Lazarus was dying, was dead, yet wouldst not seem to take notice of his dissolution, that so thou mightst more gloriously display thy power in his resurrection.
Besides, I have learned that thou, O Saviour, wert accustomed not to speak only, but to work parables; and what was this but a real parable of thine? All the while thou hadst been in the world, thou hadst given many proofs of thy mercy; the earth was full of thy goodness: but now, immediately before thy passion, thou thoughtst fit to give a double demonstration of thy just austerity; how else should the world have seen that thou canst be severe, as well as meek and merciful? And why mightst not thou, who didst make all things, freely destroy a plant for thy own glory! Wherefore were thy best creatures created, but for the praise of thy mercy and justice! What great matter was it, if thou, who once saidst, Let the earth bring forth the herb yielding seed, and the tree yielding the fruit of its own kind, shalt now say, Let this fruitless tree wither?

Yet was all this done in figure: in this act of thine, I see both an emblem and a prophesy. How didst thou therein mean to teach thy disciples how much thou hatest an unfruitful profession, and what judgment thou meanedst to bring upon that barren generation? Once before hadst thou compared the Jewish nation to a fig-tree in the midst of thy vineyard, which, after three years' expectation and culture yielding no fruit, was by thee, the owner, doomed to a speedy destruction. Now thou actest, what then thou saidst. Scarce any tree abounds more with leaves and shade; no nation abounded more with ceremonial observances, and semblances of piety. Outward profession, where there is want of inward truth and real practice, does but help to draw down and to aggravate judgment: had this tree been utterly bare and leafless, it had perhaps escaped the curse. Hear this, ye vain hypocrites, who, only solicitous for a fair outside show, never care for the sincerity of a conscientious obedience; and thus with your own hands, draw and help forward the curse upon you!
That which was the fault of this tree, was also the punishment of it,—fruitlessness, Mark 11:30. Had the boughs been appointed to be torn down, and the body split in pieces, the doom had been more easy; the juicy plant might yet have recovered, and have lived to recompence this deficiency. Now it shall be, what it was, fruitless. Horrible state of that church, or that soul, which is punished with her own sin! Outward plagues are but favour, in comparison of spiritual judgments.

Our Lord's malediction might have been perfectly consistent with a long continuance; the tree might have lived long, though fruitless; but behold! no sooner is the word passed, than the leaves droop and turn yellow,—the branches wrinkle and shrink,—the bark changes colour,—the root dies,—the plant withers.

O God! what creature is able to abide the blasting of the breath of thy displeasure? Even the most great and glorious angels of heaven could not stand one moment before thine anger, but perished under thy wrath everlastingly. How irresistible thy power! how dreadful thy judgments! Lord, chasten my fruitlessness, but punish it not: at least, if thou punishest, oh curse it not; lest I wither, and be consumed!

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The last week of the life of Jesus is now come, and we see him entering Jerusalem in triumph, not terrified with the fears of his enemies, or cast down by the sufferings that he was about to undergo.

1. He enters Jerusalem amid the hosannas of the people. He ordered his disciples, when he drew near the city, to bring an ass's colt from the opposite village, directing them to the spot, and delivering a message from him, if any questioned them for what they did. Accordingly they went as Jesus had commanded them; and when the owners of the colt demanded why they loosed him, they told them the Lord hath need of him; and they contentedly let him go. Seated on this mean animal did Jesus enter the city, while, to express their gladness, his poor followers spread their garments in the way, and cut down branches from the trees as at the feast of tabernacles, surrounding him with hosannas, wishing prosperity to the long-expected Messiah, now bringing salvation to his people; praying that his reign may be long and happy who comes to sit on his father David's throne, invested with divine authority; calling on the angels to join their praises, and begging God to pour down the best of blessings on the Messiah and his people.

2. He went directly to the temple: that was his palace: he aimed not at a temporal but spiritual dominion. And looking round to observe what was done there, and to take notice of the abuses which called for his correction, and, as appears from Mat 21:12-13 casting out those who trafficked there, he retired in the evening to Bethany with the twelve, the place that he chose for his abode. Note; The eye of Jesus is upon his temple, to see what the priests do there: it is upon the living temple of his people's heart, observing every rising thought of evil. How watchful then need we be!

2nd, We have,
1. The cursing of the barren fig-tree, the type of the destruction of the Jewish nation. Our Lord, on his return from Bethany to the temple in the morning, being hungry, seeing a very flourishing fig-tree, came, expecting to find some figs thereon; for the time of figs was not yet, or the time of figs, when they should be gathered in, was not yet, and therefore he might expect fruit on the tree; but, finding none, he cursed the tree in the hearing of his disciples, who took particular notice of it. For the curses of the Lord are fearful, and never fall in vain.

2. He purges the temple of the buyers and sellers, who had made that sacred place a house of merchandize. It appears from Mat 21:12 that he had done the same the preceding day; but, probably supported and encouraged by the priests, the traders had returned to their former traffic the next day, and were thus again expelled. And, to vindicate his procedure, he quoted the words of the prophet, Isa 56:6-7 where God, speaking of the sons of the stranger, the proselytes, undertakes to welcome them to his house, which should be a house of prayer to all nations. But the court, which was appropriated to the service of the Gentiles, they had profaned by turning it into a market; and made it by their knavery and extortion a den of thieves.

3. The priests and scribes, incensed at what they saw and heard, especially at those severe rebukes which reflected so deeply on their characters, were bitterly exasperated; and, being determined to murder him, sought only how they might do it without exposing themselves to the fury of the populace; for they were afraid openly to use violence, the people in general expressing such a veneration for Christ's person, and such respect and reverence for his doctrine. Note; Envy and malice naturally lead to murder; and it is only the fear of men that in a multitude of instances deters the wicked from the very act.

4. In the evening they returned to Bethany; and the next morning, in their way to the city, the disciples took notice with surprise of the withering of the fig-tree; and Peter, pointing to the tree, observed to his Master how it was withered away in consequence of the curse that he had pronounced upon it. Thence Christ took occasion to encourage them confidently to exercise faith in God at all times: and, especially in the exertion of the miraculous powers with which he had furnished them, they should find nothing impossible, not even to remove the mountain on which they stood, and cast it into the sea, if they had an unshaken trust in the divine power and promises, and looked up to God, nothing doubting: for whatever they should ask in prayer, which should be for his glory to give, and they were warranted from his word to expect, should certainly be given them. And on this occasion, as what would be essential to their obtaining an answer to their prayers, he inculcates fervent love and mutual forgiveness: when they stood praying for forgiveness, they must be ready to grant that pardon to others which they themselves sought at God's hand. But if, under the spirit of uncharitableness, they refuse to forgive their brother his trespasses, their prayers would be in vain, and they must never hope for the pardon which themselves sought at the hands of their heavenly Father. Note; (1.) Faith is the conquering grace that overcomes the world, and bears down all obstacles before it. If at any time we are terrified by guilt, or enslaved by corruption, it is through our want of faith in God. (2.) Nothing can be a more powerful argument to engage our charity and forgiveness towards others, than what arises from our own prayers.

3rdly, Vexed at the heart to behold the respect paid to Jesus, and impatient to revenge his rebukes, which they construed into reproaches, we have,
1. The demand of the chief-priests and elders, challenging Christ to produce his authority for what he had said and done the preceding days, as if he had been lord and master of the temple.
2. He answers their question by another. By what authority did John preach and baptize? give me a direct reply. The answer was easy; but the difficulties in which on either side it involved them were great. They saw that to confess his mission divine, was to own all that Jesus claimed, John having borne testimony to him; on the other hand, to deny that the Baptist was sent of God, and to brand him as a pretender and impostor, would instantly enrage the people to rise up, perhaps, and stone them, all men in general being persuaded of John's prophetic character; therefore, after reasoning on the matter, they are forced to conceal under a lie a truth which they dared not own, and to pretend ignorance of what they knew, as the only way to evade the answer that Christ demanded of them. He therefore was fully justified in refusing them farther information, when it evidently appeared that they sought not conviction of the truth, but merely his destruction. Note; (1.) It is a mercy to be able to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, and at last to confound those who refuse to be convinced. (2.) They who wilfully choose to be ignorant, are justly abandoned to judicial blindness.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Mark 11". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.