Riding a donkey into a cheering crowd, clearing the temple in anger because of thieves, teaching on prayer and being confronted again by the religious establishment are the subjects of today’s chapter.
Jesus Rides into Jerusalem on a Donkey / 11:1-11
11:1-2 After passing through Jericho and healing the blind man (10:46), Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem and came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany. These two villages were about one mile apart, one and two miles respectively from the eastern wall of Jerusalem, and sat on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Bethany was the home of Jesus’ dear friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; he often stayed there with his disciples (see John 11:1). He may have returned to their home each night after his visits to Jerusalem during the days of this final week. The Mount of Olives is a ridge about two and a half miles long on the other side of the Kidron Valley east of Jerusalem. The view from the top of this twenty-nine-hundred-foot ridge is spectacular—one can see the whole city. From this site, Jesus discussed the coming destruction of the city and Temple (13:1-4).
They were probably in Bethphage when Jesus sent disciples to the other village (Bethany) to get the colt and bring it back. The specification that this be a colt that has never been ridden is significant in light of the ancient rule that only animals that had not been used for ordinary purposes were appropriate for sacred purposes (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7).
This was Sunday of the week that Jesus would be crucified, and the great Passover festival was about to begin. Jews came to Jerusalem from all over the Roman world during this week-long celebration to remember the great Exodus from Egypt (see Exodus 12:37-51). Many in the crowds had heard of or seen Jesus and were hoping he would come to the Temple (John 11:55-57).
11:3-6 Mark emphasized Jesus’ supernatural knowledge and control in this incident. He knew the disciples would be asked why they were taking the colt. Donkeys and their colts were valuable; this could be compared to borrowing someone’s car. By this time Jesus was extremely well known. Everyone coming to Jerusalem for the Passover feast had heard of him, and Jesus had been a frequent visitor in Bethany. The Lord needs it and will return it soon was all the two disciples had to say, and the colt’s owners (Luke 19:33) would gladly let them take the animal. The disciples went and found everything just exactly as Jesus had said.
11:7 The two disciples walked the colt back to Bethphage. The colt, having never been ridden (11:2), did not have a saddle, so the disciples threw their garments (coats) on its back so that Jesus could sit on it. The action of placing the garments on the donkey and Jesus riding it connotes majesty (see 2 Kings 9:13).
11:8 Crowds had already gathered on this stretch of road a mile outside of Jerusalem, going to the city for the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover. When Jesus mounted the colt and headed toward the city, they recognized that he was fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. All pilgrims walked the final ascent to Jerusalem; Jesus’ riding was a clear sign. The crowd’s spontaneous celebration honored Jesus. They spread their coats on the road for him to ride over, and cut leafy branches from the fields. These branches were used as part of the pilgrimage into Jerusalem.
11:9-10 The crowd chanted words from Psalm 118:25-26. “Long live the King” was the meaning behind their joyful shouts because they knew that Jesus was intentionally fulfilling prophecy. The expression, the coming kingdom of our ancestor David, recalls God’s words in 2 Samuel 7:12-14. This was Jesus’ announcement that he was indeed the long-awaited Messiah.
11:11 Jesus entered the great city and went to the Temple, entering its outer courts. Mark notes that Jesus looked around carefully at everything. This seems somewhat pointless until we read of Jesus’ actions in the Temple the next day (11:15-17) and understand that Jesus had already cleared the Temple of these racketeers on an earlier Passover week (John 2:12-25), only to find here that they had returned. He and the disciples returned to Bethany for the night, perhaps to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It was not safe for Jesus to stay in the city. His only night in the city was the night of his arrest. Jesus’ dear friends must have been a great comfort to him during this final week.
Jesus Clears the Temple Again / 11:12-19
Jesus once again faced the desecration of the Temple by the peddlers and parasites he had expelled during a previous visit had returned (see John 2:12-25). When a cleansed Temple isn’t filled up with goodness, it is soon restocked with evil.
Mark bracketed this account of the Temple cleansing with the cursing of a fig tree. Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple and cursing of the fig tree both demonstrate divine judgment on the apostasy of Israel.
11:12-14 This next morning was Monday. Jesus and the disciples got up and headed back into Jerusalem. They spent the nights in Bethany and went into Jerusalem during the day. Bethany was about two miles outside of Jerusalem.
Somewhere along the way, Jesus mentioned that he felt hungry. Fig trees were a popular source of inexpensive food in Israel. In March, the fig trees had small edible buds; in April came the large green leaves. Then in May the buds would fall off, replaced by the normal crop of figs. This incident occurred in April, and the green leaves should have indicated the presence of the edible buds which Jesus expected to find on the tree. However, this tree, though full of leaves, had no buds. The tree looked promising but offered no fruit.
Jesus did not curse this fig tree because he was angry at not getting any food from it. Instead, this was an acted-out parable intended to teach the disciples. They didn’t know that Jesus was on his way to once again cleanse the Temple of the people who were desecrating it. By cursing the fig tree, Jesus was showing his anger at religion without substance. Jesus’ harsh words to the fig tree could be applied to the nation of Israel and its beautiful Temple. Fruitful in appearance only, Israel was spiritually barren.
11:15-16 Jesus and the disciples arrived in Jerusalem and went straight to the Temple. He had some “cleansing” to do, and he began to drive out those who were buying and selling there.
People came to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. God had originally instructed the people to bring sacrifices from their own flocks (Deuteronomy 12:5-7). However, the religious leadership had set up markets on the Mount of Olives where such animals could be purchased. Some people did not bring their own animals and planned to buy one at the market. Others brought their own animals, but when the priests managed to find the animal unacceptable in some way (it was supposed to be an animal without defect, Leviticus 1:2-3), worshipers were forced to buy another. One such market was set up in the Court of the Gentiles, the huge outer court of the Temple. This was the only place Gentile converts to Judaism could worship, but the market filled their worship space with merchants. Because both those who bought and those who sold were going against God’s commands regarding the sacrifices, Jesus drove them all out.
The money changers did big business during Passover. Those who came from foreign countries had to have their money changed into Jewish currency because this was the only money the merchants accepted and the only money accepted for payment of the Temple tax. The inflated exchange rate often enriched the money changers, and the exorbitant prices of animals made the merchants wealthy. Jesus became angry because God’s house of worship had become a place of extortion and a barrier to Gentiles who wanted to worship.
11:17 Obviously Jesus’ actions stunned the many people crowded into the Temple area. Jesus quoted from Isaiah 56:7 and explained God’s purpose for the Temple: a place of prayer for all nations. These were important words in light of Jesus’ concern for the Gentiles who had come to worship, and considering the Gentile audience to whom Mark was writing. God welcomed the Gentiles into his Temple to worship, but they were unable to do so because of the animals bellowing and merchants haggling.
Not only that, but all these merchants were no more honest than thieves who had turned the Temple into their den. This was a horrible desecration. No wonder Jesus was so angry.
11:18-19 The leading priests were mostly Sadducees (the wealthy, upper class, priestly party among the Jewish political groups); the teachers of religious law were usually Pharisees (legal experts). These two parties had great contempt for each other. That these two groups could agree on anything was highly out of the ordinary. But Jesus was becoming a real problem: undermining their authority in the Temple, performing great miracles of healing, and teaching the people in such an exciting manner. So these religious leaders began planning how to kill him. But Jesus was so popular with the crowds that they dared not make a move immediately. In short, they were afraid of him.
With the religious leaders plotting to kill him, Jerusalem would hardly be a safe place for Jesus to spend the night. So when evening came on that Monday night, Jesus and the disciples left the city and most likely returned to Bethany as before (because they passed the same fig tree the next morning, 11:13, 20).
Jesus Says the Disciples Can Pray for Anything / 11:20-26
11:20-21 The next morning, Tuesday, Jesus and his disciples passed by the same fig tree they had passed the day before (11:13-14). Jesus had cursed the tree, saying that no one would ever eat from it. By the next day, in the morning light, they could see that the tree had withered. This parable of judgment on spiritually dead Israel revealed a severe punishment. The early church later applied this parable to the total destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70.
11:22-23 Jesus did not explain why he cursed the fig tree, and we don’t know whether the disciples understood Jesus’ meaning. Yet his words to them could mean that despite the coming judgment on spiritual laxity in Israel, they would be safe if they had faith in God. Their faith should not rest in a kingdom they hoped Jesus would set up, in obeying the Jewish laws, or in their position as Jesus’ disciples. Their faith should rest in God alone.
Jesus then taught them a lesson about answers to prayer. Jesus had cursed the fig tree; the fig tree had died; the disciples had expressed surprise. Then Jesus explained that they could ask anything of God and receive an answer. This mountain (referring to the Mount of Olives on which they stood) could be sent into the sea (the Dead Sea, that could be seen from the Mount). Jesus’ point was that in their petitions to God they must believe and not doubt (that is, without wavering in their confidence in God). The kind of prayer Jesus meant was not the arbitrary wish to move a mountain; instead, he was referring to prayers that the disciples would need to endlessly pray as they faced mountains of opposition to their gospel message in the years to come. Their prayers for the advancement of God’s Kingdom would always be answered positively—in God’s timing.
11:24 This verse was not a guarantee that the disciples could get anything they wanted simply by asking Jesus and believing. God does not grant requests that violate his own nature or will. Jesus’ statement was not a blank check. To be fulfilled, requests made to God in prayer must be in harmony with the principles of God’s Kingdom. They must be made in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14). The stronger our faith, the more likely our prayers will be in union with Christ and in line with God’s will; then God would be happy to grant them. God can accomplish anything, even if it seems humanly impossible.
11:25 Jesus gave another condition for answered prayer—this one referring to believers’ relationships with others. He told the disciples that when they stood praying, if one of them held a grudge against someone, he ought to first forgive that person before praying. Why would this matter? Because all people are sinners before God. Those who have access to him have it only because of his mercy in forgiving their sins. Believers should not come to God asking for forgiveness or making requests, all the while refusing to forgive others. To do so would reveal that they have no appreciation for the mercy they have received. God will not listen to a person with such an attitude. God wants those who are forgiven to forgive others.
Religious Leaders Challenge Jesus’ Authority / 11:27-33
At this point, Mark began an extended section (11:27–12:34) that shows Jesus under constant attack yet emerging victorious over his opponents. With the one exception of the teacher who asked Jesus about the greatest commandment (12:28), Jesus’ opponents tried desperately to catch him in a wrong answer. In each case, Jesus turned their question around with a question of his own. He showed that their motives were evil and their premises were wrong.
11:27-28 The teaching recorded in 11:22-26 transpired on Tuesday morning, as Jesus and the disciples were on their way back into Jerusalem. They returned to the Temple, where Jesus had thrown out the merchants and money changers the day before. The religious leaders were afraid to act on their plot to kill Jesus in the public surroundings of the Temple. He was safe in the Temple courts among the people with whom he was so popular.
But a delegation of religious leaders stopped Jesus to question him regarding his actions the day before. This group of leaders was already plotting to kill Jesus (11:18), but they couldn’t figure out how to do it. His popularity was far too widespread and his miracle-working powers too well known. So they continued to try to trap him. They asked for his credentials and demanded that he tell them who gave him the authority to drive out the merchants from the Temple.
If Jesus were to answer that his authority came from God, which would be tantamount to saying he was the Messiah and the Son of God, they would accuse him of blasphemy (blasphemy carried the death penalty; see Leviticus 24:10-23). If Jesus were to say that his authority was his own, they could dismiss him as a fanatic and could trust that the crowds would soon return to those with true authority (themselves). But Jesus would not let himself be caught. Turning the question on them, he exposed their motives and avoided their trap.
11:29-30 To expose the leaders’ real motives, Jesus countered their question with a question. Jesus’ question seems totally unrelated to the situation at hand, but Jesus knew that the leaders’ attitude about John the Baptist would reveal their true attitude toward him. In this question, Jesus implied that his authority came from the same source as John the Baptist’s. So Jesus asked these religious leaders what they thought: Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human authority?
11:31-33 The interchange recorded among these factions of the religious leaders revealed their true motives. They weren’t interested in the truth; they didn’t want an answer to their question so they could finally understand Jesus—they simply hoped to trap him. But they found themselves in a position of looking foolish in front of the crowd. If they answered that John’s baptism had come from heaven, then they would incriminate themselves for not listening to John and believing his words. If they rejected John as having any divine authority, then they also were rejecting Jesus’ authority and would be in danger of the crowd, since everyone thought that John was a prophet. If they accepted John’s authority, they would then have to admit that Jesus also had divine authority. The leaders couldn’t win, so they hoped to save face by refusing to take either alternative. So, Jesus was not obligated to answer their question. The religious leaders had already decided against Jesus, carrying on a long tradition of the leaders of Israel rejecting God’s prophets.
We’ll look at chapter 12 tomorrow. Praying that you will GROW more like Christ,
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