Mark 11-13 records for us the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. We know that Jesus going to Jerusalem is going to result in his death. Jesus has announced this three times in this gospel. But this gospel does not merely run to the death of Jesus. Rather, Mark 11-13 records the reasons why the people rejected Jesus. Before we can understand this rejection, this gospel is going to plainly assert who Jesus for all Jerusalem and for all the world to see and understand.
The King’s Arrival (11:1-11)
The first ten verses of chapter 11 record what we commonly call the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It can be our tendency to quickly skip over this section because of our familiarity with this reading. But we have noted in our study of this gospel that we should pay attention to the focus of this gospel and how it is different from the other gospel accounts. The unique aspects of this account give us a deeper understanding about who Jesus is and what he has come to do.
First, it cannot be missed that this gospel does not quote Zechariah 9:9 to prove that what Jesus is doing riding in on a colt is the fulfillment of prophecy. There is a different focus in this gospel account since Matthew and Luke both quote Zechariah. We clearly see that Jesus is fully in control of the circumstances. Jesus is able to instruct his disciples on where to find a colt and how to answer any questions that would arise from borrowing the colt. Jesus is making a declaration about who he is. Jesus is the king who has come to Jerusalem. Remember how this gospel opened: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (1:3). Listen to what the prophet Malachi declared:
Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. (Malachi 3:1–2 ESV)
The Lord is going to suddenly come to his temple. This is why the nation needed to repent and prepare for the coming of the Lord. The focus is not on Jesus fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy but the prophecies of Malachi, Isaiah, and the Psalms. Jesus is the king who has come to judge and save. The people who have followed Jesus are proclaiming the words of Psalm 118:25-27: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9–10 ESV) Praise the Lord because the king has come! Blessings for the arrival of the king and the kingdom! Here is your king. Now look at what Mark records that the other gospels do not record. Look at verse 11.
And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:11 ESV)
Jesus enters the temple as Malachi prophesied and what was the response? What does Jesus find when he suddenly comes to his temple? No one is there. No one is ready. No one is ready to receive him. There is no welcome. There is no response. There is nothing. So Jesus returns to Bethany with the twelve. There is an emptiness. It is anticlimactic. But this response is what informs the rest of what we are going to read.
The King’s Prophetic Response (11:12-14)
Jesus returns to Jerusalem on the following day and he sees a fig tree in leaf in the distance. But as he comes to the tree he finds that there is no fruit, just leaves. Now it is important to understand that figs and fig trees are often used by the prophets as a figure to represent the nation of Israel, just like vines and grapes (cf. Jeremiah 24; Hosea 2:12; Joel 1:12; Haggai 2:19). Further, the prophets would describe Israel as a fruit tree or vine (like a fig tree or grape vine) that lacked fruit, picturing its spiritual condition and condemnation (cf. Hosea 9:16-17; Jeremiah 8:13; Micah 7:1; Isaiah 5). What Jesus does is doing something that a prophet sent from God would do. Jesus declares that no one will eat from this tree again, signaling God’s judgment on the nation. No fruit will come from Israel again. This is an illustration of what just happened the day before. Jerusalem looks like it is going to bear fruit but it is fruitless. Jesus has come to Jerusalem and come to his temple to see if there is fruit and there is none.
Please notice what Mark emphasizes in verse 13. It was not the season for figs. Some read this and think that this shows a selfishly wrathful and irrational Jesus demanding fruit when it was not the season. Some have even tried to justify Jesus’ actions by suggesting there should have been small spring figs beginning to bud so that Jesus’ actions do not look bad. But this explanation goes against what Mark is trying to highlight. Jerusalem should have been ready at any time for the king’s arrival. Whether in season or out of season, the king should have been received and exalted once he came. The lamps should have been lit and enough oil ready to receive the king. But when King Jesus came to find fruit in Jerusalem, he found none. Therefore the nation will not bear fruit for the Lord going forward. Notice how this fits what Mark records next.
The King’s Royal Response (11:15-19)
Jesus comes to the temple and stops the trading that is going on. Look at verse 16 because this is also unique to Mark’s gospel account. Jesus would not even allow people to carry anything through the temple courts. Jesus comes to his temple and he closes the temple. Jesus shuts the temple down. Jerusalem and the temple are closed, just as the fig tree declaration pictures. Now consider that this is a kingly response. We see in Israel’s history that kings would come to the temple to cleanse it and restore it. Joash and Josiah purified and restored the temple during their reigns. Jesus is stopping perverse worship. Please hear this: false worship, unauthorized worship, or perverse worship is not accepted by the Lord. Jesus shuts all of it down, fulfilling the final words of the prophet Zechariah:
And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day. (Zechariah 14:21 ESV)
The tree will no longer bear fruit and the temple will no longer be open for business. Now listen to what Jesus was teaching the people in verse 17. “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.” (Mark 11:17 ESV) This is also a quote from Isaiah 56:7. God’s house was to be a house of prayer, and Mark fills in more than the other accounts, for ALL THE NATIONS. This was always to be the picture of God’s temple. When the temple was dedicated by Solomon we see that the people were to always pray toward the temple and by doing so they would receive forgiveness (1 Kings 8:30-53). The temple was the house of prayer that leads to forgiveness. Solomon says that even when foreigners come and pray toward the temple, then God hear their prayer and answer what they ask for God to do. The temple was to be the house of prayer and offer the hope of forgiveness to the world.
But what had happened? Jesus says that the house of prayer for the nations had been turned into a den of robbers. This is a quotation from Jeremiah 7:11. This is a significant term because when Jeremiah called the temple a den of robbers it was in the context that the temple would be destroyed and the nation would fall for its wickedness. Jeremiah stood in the temple gates and said those words. Now Jesus is standing in the temple saying the same words. The temple is closed because of your evil ways. The temple is going to be destroyed, cast out of God’s sight (cf. Jeremiah 7:13-15).
This explains the response of the leaders in verse 18. They do not want to destroy Jesus for closing the temple for one day. They understand exactly what Jesus is teaching. Jesus is teaching that this temple is going to be destroyed so that it can be purified just like in the days of Jeremiah. The new, good shepherd has come and he is challenging these false shepherds. The hope of the temple as the place where God meets and forgives his people is over because of Israel’s fruitlessness and failure to be ready for the king’s return.
The King’s New Path (11:20-25)
In verse 20 Jesus and his disciples walk past that fig tree and it is already withered away to its roots. Remember, this is a picture of the spiritual condition of Israel. It will no longer bear fruit and the temple will no longer be the place of forgiveness. The temple is closed, it is left desolate, and God is going to destroy it. The king came to his temple and found it lacking. I believe the disciples understand the significance of what Jesus is teaching and doing, just like the crowds and the leaders understood it. This is why they are amazed in verse 21. The fig tree so quickly has withered to its roots. This is exactly what Jeremiah 8:13-14 said.
When I would gather them, declares the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them. Why do we sit still? Gather together; let us go into the fortified cities and perish there, for the LORD our God has doomed us to perish and has given us poisoned water to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:13–14 ESV)
Now the big message is made in verses 22-25. First, have faith in God (11:22). God’s promises are not dead and all hope is not lost. Have faith in God and in what he is going to do. Second, believe in what God is able to do (11:23). Notice that Jesus says, “Whoever says to this mountain.” What mountain would be the context of “this mountain?” This mountain is the temple mount on which Jerusalem resides. What is the message to be proclaimed? Whoever says to this mountain to be taken up and thrown into the sea, it will be done if they do not doubt but believe it will come to pass. This is not a general exhortation to prayer. Rather, this is the prayer of faith for God’s kingdom to overthrow God’s enemies, particularly Jerusalem, in the most amazing way. Stephen would die for proclaiming these very truths. The disciples preached the destruction of this mountain all throughout the book of Acts and had faith that it would happen. Now look at verses 24-25.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:24–25 ESV)
How does this fit the withered fig tree and having faith in God to accomplish his purposes? Please remember what the meaning of the temple was. Jesus said that God’s house was to be a house of prayer for all the nations. People were to pray toward the temple and God in heaven would hear their prayer and forgive their sins. Forgiveness of sins is not going to come through this physical temple. The temple is not needed for forgiveness. Now they will pray and it will be done for them. Forgiveness will come without the physical temple mount.
But Jesus gives a key to this in verse 25. You must forgive others if you are going to forgiven. Forgiveness was the primary function of the temple. But though the temple will be destroyed, the disciples of Jesus were to still have faith in God. In other scriptures Jesus describe himself as the new temple and it is through Jesus that we are able to have access to God and the forgiveness of our sins.
Now here is the big deal. Why did Israel lose their physical temple in which they were able to have access to God and receive forgiveness? They lost this because of their wickedness. Jesus proclaims woes upon the nation for neglecting justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus proclaims woes on the people for not keeping their word, being greedy, self-indulgent, and being full of darkness in their hearts. These woes are all listed in Matthew 23. We certainly lose access to God and to forgiveness when we willfully choose to reject God’s teaching.
But I want us to think about the single message of Mark in verse 25. When do we lose forgiveness? We lose access to the temple of Jesus to receive the forgiveness of sins when we refuse to forgive others. When we get ready to pray to God, Jesus says we better forgive people who we have anything against. Whatever you have against someone, you better forgive so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, trespasses, and errors.
The apostle Paul would ask us if we understand that we are the temple of the living God. We are to be a house of prayer for all the nations. Are we offering forgiveness to the world? Are we bringing people to the loving, merciful, and forgiving God? Or are we full of wickedness because we expect God to forgive us while we stubbornly and selfishly refuse to forgive others for what they have done? Do our lives reflect that we are a house of prayer or a den of robbers?
Who do you have something against? Who are you holding anger against? Who do you hate? Who do you not want to forgive? Who has hurt you that you refuse to let go of the pain and the bitterness? Who is it that you will not forgive? Is it a spouse, parent, friend, another Christian, another co-worker, or a neighbor? Every time we pray we are to check our heart. Be a house of prayer to the nations, forgiving others as Jesus has forgiven you. Do not be a den of robbers to the nations, full of wickedness and selfishness that does not show Jesus to the world.