Mark Chapter 11: Cursing the Fig Tree, Jesus’ Triumphant Entry, Moneychangers

Dec 14th, 2009 | By | Category: Mark, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Mark Chapter 11: Cursing the Fig Tree, Jesus’ Triumphant Entry, Moneychangers

Mark 11:1 And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,

Jesus’ route was Jericho, Bethphage, Bethany, and then Jerusalem. Bethphage (pronounced Beth-pha’-jee) means “house of figs”; Bethany means “house of dates.”

The road to Lazarus’s tomb marks the division between Bethphage and Bethany; this old road is a spur off the main road from Jericho. When Jesus got to Bethany, he gave instructions about the colt (the foal) and the ass (the mother)—see Matthew 21:1-7.

Mark 11:2 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.

“Go your way into the village over against you.” The present road to Lazarus’s tomb curves considerably twice. After one curve, Siloam can be seen, and a little farther on in the curve, Jerusalem. Thus Jesus would have pointed to these places.

“As soon as ye be entered into it” suggests that the colt and its mother were at the entry of the village where the road divides and there is a house with a little garden. This house is the traditional home of John Mark, the Gospel writer. He lived in Siloam, and he is the one who fled naked at Jesus’ apprehension in Gethsemane. Jesus went by this house and route when he was taken to the two high priests’ homes.

Mark mentioned only one animal because he was addressing the Romans, and Jesus’ riding an unbroken colt with perfect control showed his authority. The colt was neither tiny nor real young. This incident fulfilled 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.”

Jesus’ authority over the unbroken colt showed his correspondency with Adam’s being a perfect man and having perfect control over the animals. Jesus is the Second Adam not only with regard to his death and resurrection as the ransom price but also in all correspondencies between the two.

Mark 11:3 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.

Probably the owner of the colt had prayed for a way to do something for the Lord, and the need for the colt was the answer to prayer.

The NIV and some other translations indicate the end of the verse means that Jesus promised to return the colt immediately, but that is not the thought because Jesus did not return the animals right away. When asked why they were taking the colt, the disciples were to say, “The Lord needs the colt.” Then followed Jesus’ comment: “The owner will immediately let the colt go.” The owner would consider the animals a sacrifice in answer to prayer and not expect them back, even though, no doubt, they were returned after two days.

Mark 11:4 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.

“Where two ways met” is not in the new translations, but it seems to be authentic. The two ways met in a “Y.”

Mark 11:5 And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt?

Mark 11:6 And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.

Mark 11:7 And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.

Garments were cast on two animals, for the disciples did not know which one Jesus wanted to ride. Jesus rode the colt.

Mark 11:8 And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.

Strewing Jesus’ way with garments and tree branches was a gesture of respect.

Mark 11:9 And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:

Mark 11:10 Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.

Mark 11:11 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.

Verses 11, 12, and 15 tell the following: On the first day near evening, Jesus entered the city and the Temple and just looked around. The next day he reentered the city and the Temple and chased out the money changers. Jesus probably went to the home of Lazarus when he returned to Bethany every night.

Mark 11:12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:

Mark 11:13 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.

Jesus saw a fig tree with leaves. Footnote 34 in The Keys of Revelation, chapter 6, provides some pertinent information. The fig tree begins to put forth tender leaf buds about the end of March. (1) At the same time, tiny figs begin to develop (with the leaves) to the size of a small cherry. Most fall off. Being immature and inferior, they are eaten only by the poor or a traveler. (These tiny figs are what Jesus was looking for.) (2) A few of these small figs continue to ripen on the tree and reach maturity in June as excellent figs. (3) In June, buds of the next crop appear higher up in the branches. These ripen and are the great crop of figs in August. Hence there are three stages of development. The second crop, the “time of [early] figs,” was the first nutritional harvest. The third crop was really the second, or general, harvest of figs. Thus Jesus cursed a fig tree that did not have even the first tiny figs, and this was prior to the two harvests.

Jesus was truly hungry. In other words, he did not premeditate the fig tree scene. When he saw leaves at Passover time, he assumed the tiny immature figs would be there too. Upon seeing no fruit, he realized there was a reason, a providence, for this situation. Of course he knew the fig tree pictured the Jewish nation.

Mark 11:14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

Unseemly hunger, coupled with the fruitless fig tree, made Jesus realize there was an object lesson regarding the nation of Israel. As a nation, the people did not receive Jesus, so they were cursed for an age. Only five days later Jesus was nailed to the Cross, bringing an additional condemnation in reality. “His blood be on us” the people cried (Matt. 27:25).

Comment: The fact that Jesus saw the fig tree “afar off” shows the Father directed his mind to it in connection with his hunger (verse 13).

Jesus had a right to eat figs from this tree as he walked along (Deut. 23:24,25). He could not enter the property, but he could pick from the road what he was able to eat.

Since the fig tree still had leaves, Jesus expected it to also have fruit. His curse was, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever [for an age—Greek aionian].” The cursing of the fig tree indicated, “Your house is left unto you desolate.” That was the legal rejection of the nation, but the practical reality did not occur until AD 69.

Mark 11:15 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;

What a startling scene—to see Jesus overturn the tables of the money changers! It would take great courage for an ordinary person to do this. Bartering stalls were right in the Temple precincts, and animals and Temple shekels were sold for high profits. Jesus was now at the peak of his popularity.

Mark 11:16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.

Water vessels were carried through the Temple precincts as a shortcut from the Pool of Siloam and the Virgins’ Font. Merchandise was also carried through the Temple area. The lesson is to be careful with sacred things. Jokes should not be made in a serious study, for example.

However, select humor can have its place, and sarcasm too, when they are in harmony with the lesson, but those are exceptions. The point is that we should be careful not to interrupt the flow.

Mark 11:17 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.

This quote from Isaiah 56:7 is a prophecy yet future in fulfillment: “My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer.” The whole Temple area was to be holy. The expression “den of thieves” has the thought of merchandise.

Comment: Mark is the only Gospel to include the phrase “of all nations,” which is appropriate since he was addressing the Romans, who were Gentiles.

Mark 11:18 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.

Mark 11:19 And when even was come, he went out of the city.

The scribes and Pharisees viewed the action in the opposite (wrong) light. They considered Jesus’ actions to be inappropriate and a desecration of the Temple, but the true desecration was their daily practices of commercialism.

Mark 11:20 And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.

The next day as Jesus and the apostles were returning to the Temple, they saw the cursed fig tree “dried up from the roots.” Mark’s Gospel gives the timing: the fig tree was cursed; the next morning the fig tree was dead. The fig tree being dried up from the roots corresponds to the dry bones in the valley (Ezek. 37:1,2).

Mark 11:21 And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.

Some misunderstand the cursing of the fig tree and think Jesus was being petulant, but the “curse” was simply a harsh command. Jesus was truly hungry when he went to the fig tree, which represents the nation of Israel. Seeing the lack of fruit (it had leaves but no fruit), he realized this was a providence and drew the right lesson. In other words, God purposely withheld fruit that would have satisfied the hunger of His Son in order for a lesson to be given.

(The first small, immature figs—poor quality but edible, especially by the poor—were due at that time.)

Jeremiah 24:1-9 proves that the figs represent Israel: “The LORD showed me, and, behold, two baskets of figs were set before the temple of the LORD…. One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad. Then said the LORD unto me, What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, Figs; the good figs, very good; and the evil, very evil, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil. Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up…. And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil;… So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt: And I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them.”

The “good figs” were spared, even though they were taken into Babylonian captivity. The “evil figs” were destroyed in Jerusalem, Judea, and Egypt. In the days of Jeconiah, Daniel and the three Hebrews were taken to Babylon.

Mark 11:22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.

Jesus said, “Have faith in God.” Realizing the fruitless fig tree was a providence, he exercised faith in God and showed what he could do based on faith. He knew the nation would be rejected and cursed a few days later (“Behold, your house is left unto you desolate”—Matt. 23:38).

Mark 11:23 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.

Now Jesus told what his disciples could do by faith in this age. Faith is not just a passive trust in God, as Job showed: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). Faith is strong, and it endures. It is the exercise of trust in God and relying on Him with knowledge. Faith is not credulity but is asking with knowledge. When God says something in His Word and we know what it means, no one can twist our thinking.

Verse 23 is an example of faith: “Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, ‘Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea,’ and shall not doubt … but shall believe … [what God says will happen] shall have whatsoever he saith.” We know that a “thus saith the LORD” condition will occur. There is a caution, however; namely, the Devil causes providences too. Satan can help an improper faith, prayer, or belief. Therefore, we must weigh a matter. If we become mature in Scripture, we will be able to discern between good and evil, between right and wrong. The point is that if one is correct in understanding a Scripture and exercises faith predicated on that Scripture, the “mountain” will be removed. “He shall have whatsoever he saith” if it is according to a “thus saith the LORD.”

The “mountain” was Israel, the literal Mount Moriah in the type (and Christendom in the antitype). Jesus may have actually pointed to Mount Moriah while he said, “That figurative mountain, which represents the nation of Israel (for the house of God will be built on the top of the mountains), will be destroyed.” Both the mountain and the fig tree represented Israel.

Comment: It is marvelous how the Lord uses symbolism harmoniously. Part of the second trumpet message was, “A great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea” (Rev. 8:8). Both there and here in verse 23, the “mountain” was Israel, and it was “cast into the sea.”

Reply: Yes, the interlocking symbolism helps us to understand, and it confirms that the second angel was the Apostle John, who outlived the other apostles and survived until about AD 100.

Therefore, John was alive in AD 70 and saw the destruction of Israel, the “mountain.”

Comment: The key is that verse 23 pertains to a “thus saith the LORD.” We do not have to say, “Thy will be done,” in regard to Christendom’s destruction, for we know it will be done. We can have faith to that end.

Mark 11:24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

This verse is similar to the statement “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” We should not take such statements at face value unless there are two or three witnesses. Obviously, we cannot literally have whatever we desire if it is contrary to God’s will.

The disciples would have been puzzled at these hard sayings, but as time went on, their faith grew because they saw the truth of what Jesus had said. The Holy Spirit, as a spirit of remembrance, later helped them to recall these things, and then they realized Jesus had prophesied correctly. Incidentally, we should be tactful, but not so tactful that people do not get the point.

Mark 11:25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

According to Young’s Analytical Concordance, “stand” means to stand fast, to stand firm.

Mark 11:26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

By this time, the apostles were more or less familiar with Jesus’ teaching, so when he made certain remarks, they understood, limitedly, the implications—and so should we. If not, and if we take some of these statements out of context, wrong conclusions are drawn. Verses 20-26 must be modified by other Scriptures.

We are to be in a forgiving attitude, but depending on the act, repentance must precede forgiveness. Luke 17:3 says, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” If the subject of “Love” is looked up in the Reprints, not many qualifying statements will be found. However, if “Forgiveness” is looked up, there are many qualifying articles. Here one qualifying, or modifying, factor is that the sin is against us, not against God.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive us our trespasses. By asking forgiveness, we manifest repentance. We ask forgiveness for sins we are aware of and for those we are not aware of. But notice the rest of the petition: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As God forgives us when we ask, so we are to forgive others when they ask. It is an insult to God if we are more loving than He, or if we are less forgiving than He. If one is praying about a matter and has not forgiven a brother who has asked, an answer to the prayer should not be expected.

Mark 11:27 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,

Mark 11:28 And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?

Mark 11:29 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.

Mark 11:30 The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.

Mark 11:31 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him?

Mark 11:32 But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.

Mark 11:33 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.

What wisdom Jesus had! He would have spoken strongly and sternly to get his point across.

John the Baptist likewise spoke strongly and criticized the scribes and Pharisees who came to him to be baptized because they were not in a proper heart condition. In a similar situation, we could say to an opposer, “My authority is the Word of God. What is your authority?” The people were listening to this interchange (Luke 20:1).

Q: Would a parallel example be the following? If we had a witness effort and someone responded very indignantly by mail, wouldn’t it be better to just drop the matter than to send back more literature and thus give the individual even more ammunition as the enemy? If we send more literature, aren’t we casting our pearls before swine? And the literature could get into further wrong hands.

A: Yes. Swine are evidenced by the manner in which the questioning is done. Here Jesus knew their heart condition. Along this line, it is a waste of time to witness to one who is intoxicated. Regarding the prodigal son, the father could see his son approaching in a humble posture— back bent, etc.—so he knew the son was repentant and hence ran to meet him and forgave him. The prodigal son’s attitude would have been manifest.

1993–1994 Study

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