And on the morrow, when He was come from Bethany, He hungered. And seeing a fig tree in the distance, having leaves, He went to see if He could find anything on it.”
The Cursing of the Tree (vv12-14)
He was becoming increasingly aware of the growing antagonism in Jerusalem, and in a few days He would be rejected and crucified.
A rapid and radical change had taken place just a day after His followers had paid Him homage, and now He was hungry. It certainly proves His true humanity. What of Israel’s indebtedness to God for all the centuries of His goodness to the nation? God always looks for evidences of appreciation and fruitfulness. The tree had an abundance of foliage but, sadly, no fruit: “nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs.” He would have been looking for some residual figs from the earlier crop of figs that may have been hidden under the leaves. These fig trees had two seasons of fruit-bearing each year.
In verse 14, the Lord Jesus exercised His jurisdiction by pronouncing a judgment of permanent fruitlessness, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever. And His disciples heard” (Harold Paisley in What the Bible Teaches). This action was not an outburst of anger against the tree. The tree was used as a picture of the unproductive spiritual life of Israel, despite their boastings of the outward grandeur of their temple and its ceremonies.
Cleansing of the Temple (vv15-19)
Three engaging features of the Lord Jesus characterize this incident and reveal the truth of Hebrews 1:9, “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity or lawlessness.”
Compelled with Devotion (v15)
“And they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple.” This was not the first time that the Lord Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem to attend the Passover. Every year of His early life, He had made the journey from Nazareth, with Joseph and Mary. In Luke 2:42 we are given a lovely sight of Him as a boy of twelve, sitting with the doctors of the law. Among the many things that emerged from this incident was His complete dedication to the things of His Father: “I must be about My Father’s business.” At such an early age He had found His delight in doing His Father’s will. Despite the incongruity of conditions surrounding the temple, He looked upon it as “My Father’s house.”
In Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and to Timothy, he insisted on the need to recognize the divine and holy character of God’s dwelling place. “Know you not that you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defile the temple of God, him shall God corrupt; for the temple of God is holy, which you are” (1Cor 3:16, 17). Again, in 1 Timothy 3:14-16, “That one ought to know how to behave oneself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground (base) of the truth.”
Confronted with Desecration (v15)
Finding in the temple (outer court of the Gentiles) those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, and the changers of money, the Lord Jesus said unto them, “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
He and His disciples were confronted by a scene that was totally incongruous with the solemnity worthy of the House of God.
The worshipers, who came to change their currency into temple coins, were being short-changed. Those who bought animals for sacrifice were being forced to pay extortion prices. All the while, the sons of Annas the high priest were lining their pockets with money from the poor. As a result, the resident priesthood acquired immense profits from the sales and services of the temple. The Lord Jesus saw those men as unholy custodians of divine truth.
Consumed with Dedication (vv16-17)
It was holy jealousy which moved Him to act as He did. In John chapter 2, it is recorded that “His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of Thine house has eaten Me up” (Psa 69:9). Malachi 3:1 reminds us of a future day when “He shall suddenly come to His temple … But who may abide the day of His coming?” All the cleansing performed by Him at this time will be to ensure that “they offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” Malachi, like other Old Testament prophets, spoke together of the two advents of the Messiah. He wrote of the character and consequences of His future coming (Mal 3:2-6). The incident in the temple in Mark 11 is a picture of that future day.
Those who are in testimony for God at the present time are likewise required “… to serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear” (Heb 12:28, 29). The covetousness that corrupted the temple of God in Jerusalem has intruded into much of religious Christendom. Warnings by Paul are given to New Testament assemblies to guard against the intrusion of men of corrupt minds that “suppose gain to be the end of piety” (1Tim 6:5). He also called upon the assemblies to be warned of those attempting to feed the flock of God for “filthy lucre, or shameful gain.” (1Peter 5:2). The beloved apostle Paul urged the elders in the Ephesian assembly to “feed the church of God, which He purchased with the blood of His own (Son).” Paul had set before them a worthy example of selfless love and devotion. In Acts 20:33, 35, he wrote very challenging words: “I coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel … It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Compressing of the Truth (vv27-33)
Observe the emergence of three issues in His confrontation with the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders (vv27, 28).
Challenging His Authority
“By what authority doest Thou these things?” This was in relation to the cleansing of the temple. He did this by removing the traders from the outer court. The leaders of the temple were unwilling to acknowledge His moral and spiritual credentials. John Heading, in his book, The Servant-Son, identifies the men who were upset by what He had done. They included: (i) the chief priests who worked in the temple courts and served inside the temple, (ii) the scribes, theologians who maintained the documents of the law and their own interpretations leading to religious tradition, and (iii) the elders who were the administrators over the Jews.
A similar attitude is held by many religious circles today that ministry and service in matters of ceremony can only be done by those who derive their authority from academic and religious training.
What the Lord Jesus taught was what He received “from the Father.”
The religious rulers looked on Him and His apostles as “ignorant and unlearned men,” because they had not attended the religious schools of their day.
Conveying His Ability (vv29-32)
The Lord Jesus did this by a counter question relating to John’s baptism.
This form of questioning was common at the time and was a form of Rabbinic debating practice. In His response, the Lord displayed His wisdom and perfect understanding. They attempted to reason (man’s way of trying to resolve and understand) that if they said it was from heaven, He would have replied, “Why then did you not believe John?” (v31). Again they thought that if they had answered if it were of men, they would surely be in conflict with the people who believed that John was indeed a prophet.
Confirming His Action (v33)
His authority for doing what He did in the temple had the complete approval of heaven, just as John had enjoyed the full approval of the Lord Jesus Christ. The aim and ambition of every Christian should be to enjoy divine approval in their lives and labors and to hear the words from the lips of the Lord Jesus, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt 25:21).