So should this idea apply to God? Sure, Paul wrote in Philippians 2.12 that we are to work out our salvation. How? With fear and trembling! Why? Because one every tongue will bow and every knee will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (the words immediately before the “Therefore.”)
But we can only fear what we believe to either be most important or, at the least, to have authority. Jesus came to teach that He had authority. From our study thus far in Mark, we can see that Jesus showed His authority over demons, over sickness, and over nature. And many marveled at this. But the religious leaders remained skeptical. As I have said before, they should have had some skepticism because they were to lead the people, and if we all followed every newcomer we would be in a mess. But Jesus continually proved Himself and met every challenge they threw at Him (we will see much more about these challenges beginning the week of Jan 1), yet they did not respond favorably.
They feared losing their power, their prestige, and their prosperity. In other words, to return to the original thought, the scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests worshipped what they had become, rather than worshipping God. And because of that, they had turned the holy place where people were to worship God into a profit center for them to capitalize. The temple was – to the Jew – the very symbol of God’s presence, yet corruption would lead to its destruction within a matter of decades.
So, today, we look at the authority of Jesus as revealed through His curse against a fig tree, His critique of the temple, and the mention of the casting of a mountain.
The Curse of a Tree (Mark 11.12-14; 20-21)
We begin with the story of the fig tree. This is a story that makes many Christians uncomfortable primarily because although it is a miracle, it is a destructive miracle. But this story is not just a miracle, it is an action parable. That is, Jesus did not tell a parable here, He performed one. But before we can understand the parable, we must understand the nature of a fig tree, and the importance of these trees to the Jews of Jesus day. Rick has researched this information and will share it now.
See Rick’s research about figs and fig trees here.
|A large fig tree|
So, you likely now know far more about a fig tree than you probably wanted to know. (And this picture here – did you know fig trees could be so big? I sure didn’t!) But the fact is the Bible says a lot about figs, and often in the context of Israel being destroyed. I have included a few references for you to review on your own, should you choose to do so (Jeremiah 8:13; 29:17; Hosea 9:10, 16–17; Joel 1:6–7; Micah 7:1. The fig tree is an object of judgment in Isaiah 34:4 and Hosea 2:12.)
So, why did Jesus destroy this tree? As Mark said, it wasn’t even the time for figs. Did Jesus know that? Certainly He did, which make this story seem completely unfair. But we need to look at two words – one now, and another below. The one now is “heard” in verse 14. Jesus made sure the disciples heard what He said to the tree. If this was about Jesus destroying a tree, He could have done it quietly. But Jesus wanted to make sure the disciples heard what He said, which means He has a lesson for them to learn. We will come back to this shortly.
The Critique of the Temple (Mark 11.15-19)
“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple…” This is the second time in five verses that this sequence has occurred. In verse 11, Jesus went to the temple after entering Jerusalem the first time. It was likely rather late as He and the parading group had come from Jericho (most likely). So Jesus surveyed the activity and then went back to Bethany for the night where He certainly would have prayed about the situation. The Bible is not explicit that He prayed at this point, but it definitely was His pattern, and especially before big decisions. Furthermore, in another passage about the authority of Jesus, John 5.19 says He only did what He saw His Father do, which means that Jesus “saw” these next actions to be from the Father.
What were the actions? To disrupt the situation in the temple. Once again, before we can understand Jesus actions, we must consider the temple and what it represented to the Jews. Reggie will provide this information for us now.
Reggie provides some details of the temple here.
So, here we have Jesus causing a stir in the temple. But not just anywhere – this was in the Court of the Gentiles (which happens to be where everything takes place until Mark 12.41). The temple was to be a place of worship – through prayer and sacrifice – and yet the ability to sacrifice was challenged by the marketplace which had been established in the temple. Evidence shows that the market had been on the Mount of Olives previously, and some suggest that this may have actually been the first year that the marketplace had moved to the temple complex. Regardless of the timing, the reasoning was simple. If the money changed hands within the temple, the Sanhedrin (consisting of the scribes, Pharisees, and chief priest) could get a cut of the money. Again, we worship what we fear, and THESE PEOPLE DID NOT FEAR GOD EVEN IN THE VERY PLACE HE WAS TO BE WORSHIPPED!
So, Jesus quotes from Jeremiah 7 and Isaiah 56. And like we saw in verse 14 about the fig tree, Mark mentions that the religious leaders “heard” what Jesus said. And thus they intensified their plot to destroy Him.
Again, this was the area for the Gentiles, but they were unable to pray because it was their space that had been occupied by the merchants. Jesus came to ensure a place for all nations – that is, all people – to worship God. The Jews thought Messiah would come to purge the Gentiles from the temple, but Jesus made sure they had a place in the temple!
So, to this point, we have Jesus seemingly cursing an innocent fig tree and going a little crazy in the temple complex. So we must ask why? Before I answer that question, let me ask you one.
Have you ever driven by a building and seen a lot of cars in the parking lot and wondered what was happening? Perhaps you have driven by a school and seen cars and wondered what event was taking place? Or consider a church. And, in particular, consider a church at a time other than Sunday morning. If the parking lot was filled, what would you think? Maybe a wedding, or a funeral was taking place. Or maybe some special event. But whatever you think, it is hard to know just passing by. You have to get up close to know for sure.
So, why did Jesus curse the tree?
Because of the second word I promised. Rather than a word, it is truly a phrase found in verse 13 – “from a distance.” It was “from a distance” that Jesus saw leaves on the tree. To the Jew that meant that something – even the pre-fig – should be there. But upon inspection what appeared to be the truth was not true at all.
And such was the case with the temple. From a distance, what appeared to be a bevy of activity centering around the worship of God was instead a way for people to make a profit at the expense of God’s people. And the people leading the charge were the religious leaders! Thus, Jesus curse upon the tree was an action to show what would soon happen to the temple. In fact, in Mark 13, Jesus details this destruction which would happen 40 years later in 70 AD.
The Casting of a Mountain (Mark 11.22-26)
The last verses of this section represent a teaching of Jesus that may be congruent to the passage we have reviewed, or may be added, at least partially, from elsewhere. I have mentioned before that Mark does not record a great deal of Jesus’ teachings. And thus, Mark may place part of Jesus words where they fit theologically rather than chronologically. This may be part of the verses here, and most likely is true of verse 26 (which immediately follow the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6).
But the verses do seem to fit chronologically as well, especially in consideration of what He is revealing about the temple. We cannot fathom the importance of the temple. We can talk about it, study it, and try to comprehend, but we equate the temple with the church (consider the word “altar” for instance).
But to the Jew, the temple represented the very presence of God. So to see the temple in the distance, or to be there in the moment, one might, at least, consider being in the presence of God. This is why it was so devastating to the Jews to know Solomon’s temple (which had stood nearly 400 years) was destroyed by the Babylonians. It is why Jeremiah 29.11-13 was so important to the devout Jew. It is why constructing a new temple was so important when the exiles returned even if they got sidetracked. But again the temple was desecrated in the 2nd Century BC, and now Jesus was saying the great temple would be destroyed. If that is true, what was a Jew to do?
Verse 22 gives us the answer: “Have faith in God.” The faith of the Jew was not to be in the temple, or in the sacrificial system. It never was to be. And when those aspects of life were removed, the faithful person could know that God was still present. In fact, that is what Jesus purpose was: not to cleanse the temple – as if, to make it good again. Rather, Jesus came to show that the temple must be destroyed so that God’s presence was available to man everywhere, not just in Jerusalem, and certainly not just to the Jews.
Thus, I believe the mountain Jesus to which Jesus is referring is the Temple Mount. Some suggest it is the Mount of Olives, and Zechariah 14.4 could be an indication of that. Some suggest Jesus referred to the palace of Herod which was built upon a mountain that had been moved! But while those may have partial truths, the mountain Jesus was referring was likely the very mountain on which He was standing (“this” mountain). Not only was the mountain a physical mountain (although not extraordinarily tall as we might consider some mountains), but it represented the misguided faith of the Jew which was the very thing Jesus was challenging throughout this passage.
With the proper faith, a faith in God, the prayers would be answered. Please note that these prayers are a collective prayer. That is, the word “you” here is not singular, it is plural. Thus, a united prayer, for the purposes of God (remember prayer is an act of faith and Jesus prefaces this entire teaching that our faith is in God), will be effective, though effective is measured against God’s will, not ours (as with the example of Jesus in the Garden).
What we must remember about this passage is that Jesus did not act in some random way – cursing a tree and cleansing the temple. In order to understand both acts, we must realize that each act is dependent upon the other. From afar, both the tree and the temple look to be healthy, but fig tree is not bearing fruit, and neither is the temple. Thus, the action parable of the fig tree is an example of what will happen to the temple – it is not fruitful and will, thus, be destroyed to its very roots – all in due time.
And both of these stories and the teaching which follows reveals that Jesus has authority. He is acting on the authority given by His Father, but this authority is not recognized by the leaders, and as we will see in two weeks, they ask where Jesus gets His authority (because it is certainly not from them!).
The JOURNEY letter for today is: J – Jesus.
The letter is J this week because we must accept His authority. Even if Jesus killed the fig tree for no reason, He created the tree in the first place right? Now, as I have said a few times during this message, He did not destroy the tree without a reason, nor without purpose, but still, He is God. Yet, because He is God, even His act of overturning tables and causing a stir in the temple was not an act of someone who didn’t care. In fact, it was because Jesus did care – not about the temple, but about the people. The people who were being harmed and the people who were doing the harm. Jesus got their attention – even if briefly – and some could have chosen to repent. But the question is, did they?
OPPORTUNITY: We have an opportunity to choose as well.
- Do we need to repent because although we have looked good, we are not following Jesus and submitting to His authority? Would Jesus find fruit if He inspected our trees or would He overturn our tables because we do not worship as we should?
- Is our faith in God or in the symbols of God? Do we worship the cross, the manger, or the idea of “going to heaven” like the people did the temple? Or do we worship God?
- Learn what you worship. Remember we worship what we fear? What is your biggest concern? That just may be what you worship.
- Live with a faith in God, not in stuff – even if it is stuff He has given you.
- Love others enough to confront them with the truth of God’s love before God destroys them.
- Lead others by being vulnerable enough to share where you have been unfaithful and unfruitful.