Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey in an action parable. He tells a fig tree not to bear fruit ever again, in another symbolic action parable. He clears out an area of the temple in yet another symbolic action parable. The chief priests, the teachers of the law (scribes), and elders fight back and challenge him. Who authorized you to do this? See table of the events during Passion Week, at the end of this post.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The translation is mine. I don’t claim that it is better than any printed version or that the world needs it. I add yet another translation for one purpose: to learn. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
I ask Growth Application (GrowApp) questions after each section of Scripture, for discipleship.
I add some Greek word studies, in a nontechnical way. The Greek terms with brief definitions can also be looked up at biblehub.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus Enters Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11)
1 When they were getting close to Jerusalem and in the vicinity of Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and just as you are entering it, you will find a colt which has been tied and on which no one has ever ridden. Untie and bring it. 3 And if someone tells you, ‘What are you doing?’ say: ‘The Lord needs it.’ And then send him back here immediately.” 4 So they left and found a colt tied to the outside door on the street and untied it. 5 Some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 But they told him just what Jesus said, and they gave permission to the disciples. 7 They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments on it; then he sat on it. 8 And many people spread their garments on the road, while others did so after cutting leafy branches from the fields. 9 They went ahead and followed, crying out:
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest!
11 And so he entered Jerusalem and into the temple. After looking around at everything, he entered Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.
Jesus now enters Jerusalem, and he takes symbolic action and engages in debate. Mark 11:1-13:37 can be divided into three parts:
(1).. Jesus’ royal entrance into Jerusalem and challenging the religious authorities through symbolic actions of clearing out temple and cursing fig tree (11:1-25);
(2).. A series of conflicts and debates with religious authorities (11:27-12:44);
(3).. Olivet Discourse, where Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple and Second Coming (13:1-37). (Wessel and Strauss, p. 881)
Bethphage (“house of figs”) was a suburb of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives. Jerusalem came in sight at this village You can google a Bible map, nowadays, so go for it. From the east, the Roman road was seventeen miles (23.3 km) and climbs about 3000 feet (914.4m). Pilgrims often came from there for Passover.
Bethany: about 1.5 miles (3 km) east of Jerusalem. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived there (Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1).
Mount of Olives: a ridge that goes north to south about 1.8 miles long (3 km), east of Jerusalem, above the valley of Kidron, about 100 feet (30 m) high. A large number of olive trees grew on it.
“two disciples”: we don’t know who they were. Neither Luke 19:28 nor Matt. 26:17 name them. Could one of them be Judas who kept the money sack (John 12:6)? Maybe he did other practical business things, but we don’t know whether he was one of the two. Luke 22:8 says that Jesus commissioned Peter and John to prepare the Passover meal, so maybe Jesus asked them to carry out this mission. .
Let’s discuss what a disciple is in general terms.
The noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss). and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
Now Jesus gives them instructions: Go to the village opposite to or ahead of us; enter the village; a colt will be tied up there, and no one has sat on it; untie it and lead it here; if the owners ask why you are untying it, tell them the Lord needs it.
“Lord”: This is another hint at Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ deity; though subtler than John’s portrayal, it is still present. Incidentally, Matt. 21:23 says a donkey with her colt was tied up and the two disciples were to bring both of them. Again Matthew likes to speak in “twos” (4:18, 21; 8:28; 9:27; 20:30). Go to his Gospel to find out possible explanations in the triumphal entry. Mark and Luke simply omit these details. Yes, the authors of the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) were inspired by the Spirit and gave themselves permission to omit or keep whichever details suited their purposes.
Lane points out that an animal that was devoted to any sacred purpose must not be used in an ordinary sense (Num. 19:2; Deut. 21:3; 1 Sam. 6:7). The donkey had never been ridden because it was about to carry the rightful king in an extraordinary and sacred mission.
In any case, it happened just as Jesus prophesied.
How did Jesus know these bits of information? One could answer the question in two ways: (1) The first is by natural methods. Maybe he sent a team ahead to scout around for such a colt. But then how did Jesus know that no one sat on the colt? (2) Jesus received detailed knowledge through the Spirit that he could not receive it just in his humanity. God looked from heaven in his omniscience and revealed these pieces of information to his Son.
Here are two other theological questions: (1) Did his divine nature shine through his humanity, so that he got this information by his own (hidden) omniscience? (2) Or did the Spirit alone reveal this information to him by the Father’s will? Both interpretations are in view here: The Spirit revealed it, and his divine nature shone through his humanity. But if you want to conclude that the Spirit alone revealed this detailed knowledge without Jesus’s divine nature shining through his humanity, then you are in the company of other Bible interpreters.
What’s my opinion? As it happens, the dominant image throughout the four Gospels is that Jesus worked these visible miracles and gifts of knowledge by the Spirit’s anointing. But I am surely open to the conclusion that his divine nature shone through his humanity, as well. Jesus stayed in close contact with his Father. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. I am in the Father, and the Father is in me” (14:9-10). Jesus “can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also” (John 5:19). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
I cover this issue more thoroughly and Phil. 2:6-8 in this post:
It is remarkable that we too, by the anointing of the Spirit, can receive such detailed information about our lives and even about the lives of others.
Yes, this is the gift of the word of knowledge.
However, let’s not push this interpretation too far. He may have known the man by an earlier connection that we don’t know about.
In any case, the whole episode refers to Zechariah’s prophecy:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech. 9:9, ESV)
Zech. 9:10 says the Messiah comes conquering. So verse 9 is about the humble king, and verse 10 is about Jesus’ conquering Satan himself, satanic beings, disease and nature itself. He’ll conquer the world of men at his Second Coming.
See my post on Messianic prophecies:
That link has a table of OT and NT prophecies in parallel columns. But Jesus fulfilling prophecies goes more broadly than a table. He also fulfills the types and shadows and themes of Scripture, like the animal sacrifices and salvation and even Israel itself, who failed. Jesus, in contrast, is in the process of fulfilling God’s mission.
Mark says that no one had ever ridden on the colt before (11:2). Matthew knew from first-hand knowledge of the event of two animals, and he says that Jesus rode on the colt.
Mark may have in mind this royal prophecy about Judah all the way back in Genesis:
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes. (Gen. 49:10-11, ESV)
Riding a donkey signified that his entry was one of peace, not coercion. Further, he was Jerusalem’s rightful king and Messiah, which is indicated by this action parable. In Israel’s history, donkeys were the mounts of kings; in addition to Gen. 49:10-11, also see 2 Sam. 15:30; 16:1-2; 17:23; 19:26. The colt refers to the kingship of Jesus, as the son of David.
In Jesus’s ministry, he intended to keep the crowds down and stop the loud acclamations, whether those who were healed (1:44; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26) or the disciples (8:30; 9:9), or demons (1:25, 34; 3:11-12). “Now, however, he takes intentional steps that reveal his status as the Messianic King of the Jews” (Strauss, p. 483).
They draped the garments on the colt.
The crowd shouted Hosanna, which means literally means “help!” or “Save, I pray!” (Decker). It comes from Ps. 118, part of the Hallel psalms (Pss. 113-118) sung during this season. The crowds connected these psalms to Passover.
25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord. (Ps. 118:25-26, ESV)
Originally, the people celebrated the psalmist entering the Lord’s temple. He is blessed when he comes in the name of the Lord. Now this verse is applied to and fulfilled in the Messiah.
Son of David was a popular Messianic title; it reflects the future age when the eyes of the blind would be opened and the ears of the deaf would be unstopped and the lame would leap like a deer (Is. 35:5:5-6). Jesus was ushering it in right now, in part. Later in his ministry he will correct the popular view and say that if the Messiah really was David’s son, then why does David call him Lord (Mark 12:35-37)?
See my post on this title:
The crowd of his followers, following him from Galilee in the north during the pilgrimage, celebrated his arrival, while the crowd in Jerusalem may have heard of him by reputation. The whole city was “shaken” or “stirred up.” Why? To the people of Jerusalem, the Galileans seemed to be foreigners. Jesus was from the north as far as the Jerusalemites were concerned (but see vv. 10-11, next). Jerusalem had a population of 30,000 in normal days but increased to 180,000 during Passover. People were camping all over the city, along the roads and in the fields, lodging wherever they could. (France in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, p. 771).
“leafy branches”: it could be translated “consist of leaves,” “leafy branches,” “tall branches,” or “stalks of grain.” These plants could be easily cut form nearby fields. Only John says palm branches (12:13) (Wessel and Strauss on vv. 7-9).
Nothing happened, except that Jesus scoped out the city and temple and sized them up. He was not on a sight-seeing tour, as a tourist. Rather, he was examining his Father’s house, as the king and Messiah. It did not look good. His big plans would come the next day. The silence in this verse makes Mark’s readers feel that something ominous is about to happen, something decisive, a game-changer. They were right, of course, since the readers knew Jesus had already predicted his suffering, death and then resurrection. How would the suffering and death happen? Jesus is about to launch into an action parable with a fig tree, and then clear out the financial side of the temple. He will challenge the temple authorities in other ways too.
Strauss: “Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem, traditionally called the triumphal entry, is his first public declaration that he is indeed the Messiah. Though Jesus makes no explicit claim, his acquisition of the colt of a donkey to ride into Jerusalem is no doubt an intentional fulfillment of Zech. 9:9, which predicts the coming of Israel’s Messiah” (p. 477).
Garland: “Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem marks the end of his avoiding the crowds and his secrecy and the beginning of open confrontation with opponents in the temple. … Jesus does not tour the temple as a tourist, dazzled by its glittering gold, glistening white marble and gigantic stones. Nor does he visit out of pious reverence; he offers no prayers or sacrifice. Jesus had identified himself as the Lord who requires a mount (11:3)” (pp. 428-30).
Bottom line: Jesus is now king and Lord and Messiah. He and his Father own the temple, and any temple authority who puts him on trial and condemns him to death is unjust. “He comes as Lord and King inspecting his domain. On the next day he will render his judgment” (Strauss, p. 483).
Lane on v. 11: “Just as the leaves of the tree concealed the fact that there was no fruit to enjoy, so the magnificence of the Temple and its ceremonies conceals the fact that Israel has not brought forth the fruit of righteousness demanded by God. Both incidents [clearing out an area of the temple and the fig tree] have the character of a prophetic sign which warns of judgment to fall upon Israel for honoring God with their lips when the heart was far from him (cf. 7:6).” This explains his cursing the fig tree.
Lane reminds us that John 12:16 tells us that the disciples did not understand the Messianic significance at first, until after Jesus was glorified (after the resurrection and ascension). True, but they did understand when Mark and Matthew and Luke wrote, so the interpretation of the Messianic and kingly arrival is still valid.
GrowApp for Mark 11:1-11
A.. God gives us moments of victory and triumph. Tell your story of at least one.
The Cursing of the Fig Tree (Mark 11:12-14)
12 The next day, they left Bethany and got hungry. 13 Seeing from a distance a fig tree with leaves, he went to find what may be on it. When he got to the tree, he found nothing except leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he replied and said to it, “May no one ever again eat fruit from you.” And the disciples heard.
This is an action parable. Yes, it really happened, but it is designed for a higher purpose.
First let’s deal with a misunderstanding and cultural snobbery by twenty-first century Americans applied to people of two thousand years ago.
Lane says v. 13 could be translated as follows: “and the significant thing about this is that it was not even the season for figs.”
What does it mean that Jesus would react against a fig tree, though it was not the season for figs?
One possible explanation (among several proposed over the years) is as follows. As the leaves appear on the tree about Passover time, there are already small green figs forming, known at that stage as paggîm. They are not very palatable and certainly not ripe for harvest, but they can be eaten faute de mieux (I have tried!), and some have claimed (I am not sure on what evidence) that they are actually preferred to the summer fruit by ‘the natives’. It may be then that those were what Jesus was hoping for (Gundry [another commentator], 636, points out that v. 13 says only [something], not specifically ‘figs’), especially if the tree had, as Mark’s emphasis suggests, a particularly well-developed show of leaves, which might have encouraged the hope of the fruit being further advanced than normal at that time of year. But there were not even these undeveloped figs, [nothing but leafy branches]. It was an empty show.
France references some one else who insightfully calls the tree a “braggart tree.” This means that the fig tree (i.e., Israel) should have borne fruit of some kind, when it was filled with leafy branches, but it did not. All it could brag or boast of was show-off leaves.
These two verses trouble modern American city-dwellers. “What did the fig tree do wrong?” We don’t live in an agricultural society. Let me illustrate. Cattle farmers load up their livestock and take them to slaughterhouses. Do you work in one? No? Do you like hamburgers? Yes? Okay, where does the beef come from?
Now here’s story that happened in my own life. I was sitting in the large dining room of the mother of prosperous dairy farmer, who lived in her own house on the property, on Monday morning (the usual get-together time). I was working on my doctorate, and I spent my days in a cocoon, on campus, so I was a “city slicker.” The various farmers were chatting about the animals. The dairy farmer owned a horse that was unproductive and getting old. They decided to shoot it and have it hauled off to the glue factory. They even decided that the best thing was to put the rifle barrel right on its forehead and pull the trigger. The dairy farmer, gruff and tough, said to me, “Come on!” He wanted me to join them in the shooting. I recoiled and objected: “Oh, come on! It’s not hurting anybody! Let it live!” I could easily imagine the horse coming up to the men and expecting a treat or a little affection on the forehead. They walked out the door with a determined look on their faces, ignoring me. They didn’t blink or show the tiniest bit of hesitation or remorse. This is business. They were used to death on the farm. To this day, I don’t know whether they actually shot the poor thing. I didn’t ask. (I now seem to recall that he let it live a little while longer, so maybe he did have a little remorse, as he walked out there.) Maybe we are not so different from how agricultural people were two thousand years ago, after all!
When trees are unproductive, they have to be removed. That’s the way of an agricultural society. In the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9), the owner inspected a barren fig tree for three years, planted in the middle of his vineyard (an odd place for it to be) and ordered the worker to chop it down. “Why should it use up good ground?” It’s a waste of time. The worker pleaded with the owner to give it one more year, so he can work with it. If it’s unproductive after that, then he’ll chop it down. Business for grownups.
Further, sacrifices of animals happened every day at the temple. God endorsed it in the Torah (Lev. 1-7). At least the slaughter of the animals served a religious purpose, while our animal slaughter for food serves no religious purpose whatsoever. We eat them to expand our bellies. Do I have to mention that Jesus sent demons into thousands of pigs which threw themselves in the Lake of Galilee (Mark 5:11-13)? It is better that he do this to a tree and pigs than to us!
Therefore, we should not look down our long, twenty-first-century noses at those living two thousand years ago as if our urban or suburban society is better than theirs in every way. That’s cultural and chronological snobbery. If you think about it, we Americans (and Westerners) really are spoiled in many ways, unused to the daily unpleasantness of agriculture and blissfully carefree about the source of hamburgers. There is no moral problem, therefore, with Jesus cursing the fig tree any more than there is a moral problem with slaughtering animals for us today or sacrificing them at the temple for the ancient people, back then, a system once ordained of God.
France also answers the twenty-first-century snobbery, as if our way is always better than those of two thousand years ago:
This evidence suggests that Mark and his readers would have had no difficulty in recognising the symbolism of the unsuccessful search for figs. Moreover, when the fig tree occurs again later in this gospel in a parabolic use in 13:28, it will again be in connection with the fate of the temple; while the symbolism is not the same as here, it will again focus on the close connection between the fig tree’s leaves and the promise of fruit.
GrowApp for Mark 11:12-14
A.. Farmers have to destroy life to renew life. What part of your life had to die for you to have new life in other areas?
Jesus Clears Out an Area of the Temple (Mark 11:15-19)
15 Then they came into Jerusalem, and after entering the temple, he began to throw out the sellers and buyers in the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 16 He would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. 17 He taught and said to them, “Is it not written?
My house shall be called a house of prayer for the nations,
But you have made it into a hideout for robbers! [Is. 56:7; Jer. 7:11]
18 The chief priests and teachers of the law heard and were deliberating for a way to destroy him, for they feared him because the crowd was amazed at his teaching. 19 When evening came, they went outside the city.
This passage makes up another sandwich between the fig tree action parable in vv. 12-14 and vv. 20-24. Recall that this sandwiching technique is called intercalation. “By ‘sandwiching’ the clearing of the temple between the beginning and end of the fig tree episode, Mark suggests that both events have symbolic meaning, representing God’s judgment against Jerusalem and the temple because Israel has failed to bear spiritual fruit” (Strauss, p. 487)
France notes that the area to be cleared out was the Court of Gentiles and the money changers; hence the quotation from Is. 56:7, which says the temple was for prayer among the nations or Gentiles, is appropriate. Jesus is also challenging the temple, and this act, more than anything else, set in motion his arrest and trial. It is a form of blasphemy.
Lane and Strauss further clarify that the buying and selling may have encroached farther and farther in the temple forecourt, around the time Caiaphas reigned (he put Jesus on trial). The markets on temple grounds and on nearby Mount of Olives were the subject of quarrels among the merchants. Jesus apparently intended to clear out the whole thing in a symbolic action parable.
In v. 11, he had scoped out the city and temple. Now this is the day for another action parable. He made a statement which was designed to tell the temple authorities that the One who was really in charge of the temple was on the scene—God’s Messiah.
Deut. 14:24-26 says that if the distance to a designated holy place is too far for the Israelite to travel because of the animals or grain are burdensome, he is allowed to exchange the animal or grain for money near his home. Then he can carry the money to the designated holy place and there buy the grain or animal, to sacrifice and eat. In Jerusalem it is a sure thing that the money tables were set up to accommodate this lawful practice. Money changers converted the Greek and Roman currency into temple currency; the half-shekel temple tax had to be paid (Matt. 17:24-27).
However, apparently Jesus examined and inspected the temple business and found it lacking. Maybe dishonesty was the rule of the day. Maybe interest was charged, or maybe the price of the animal or grain was exorbitant. Maybe the business was conducted too closely to the temple precinct, which was the most likely occurrence; it provoked his righteous anger. Whatever the specifics, Jesus did not like what he saw.
His expelling them from the temple took some physical strength. He was no weakling. John 2:13-17 says he made of whip of cords.
When he blocked their carrying merchandise through the temple grounds refers to this verse: “On that day holy to the Lord will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the Lord’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar” (Zech. 4:20, NIV)
God’s temple was originally a house of prayer for all nations, and there was a court for Gentiles. However, Jer. 7:11 says that the temple was a den, cave, grotto, or cavern of thieves. Here Jesus says the same thing, using the same noun. One more tidbit of information that Jesus knew his Bible.
Jesus was making a revolutionary statement. Something better than the temple was here (Matt. 12:6). He had the right to cleanse the temple. In John 2:17, Jesus calls the temple “my Father’s house.” The guardians of the temple—the chief priests—no doubt heard about this protest action and were about to inquire further into this man who accepted praise from children and healed the blind and the lame in the temple area.
Jesus had several messages going on. First, this was personal. The Jerusalem religious establishment was misusing his Father’s house. Next, they allowed too much commercialism near the temple, for profit. No doubt the moneychangers took a cut, if only secretly. Did the religious leaders secretly take money from the cut? Finally, the issue was theological. It was a small act of judgment on the temple which was about to be judged more fully by God (Matt. 24:15; Luke 21:20-22). Action parable. Action protest.
“There are also indications that Jesus’ actions signify both purification and destruction. As noted above, after driving out the money changers and sellers, Jesus prevents merchandise from being carried through the temple courts (v. 16). This indicates protection or restoration of a sacred space for its proper use. The two OT passages he cited also point in this direction” (Strauss, p. 496, emphasis original).
“teachers of the law”: Some translations say “scribes.” To learn more about both groups, see this link:
These groups were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness, believe it or not, can damage one’s relationship with God and others.
“amazed”: the verb is ekplēssō (pronounced ehk-play-soh), and it means to be so astonished or stunned that one is overwhelmed. Many consider the authoritative NT Greek lexicon to be BDAG, and it says, “cause to be filled with amazement to the point of being overwhelmed, amaze, astound, overwhelm.” It would be amazing, stunning, and overwhelming to see such a powerful deliverance.
“teaching”: here it is the more formal didachē (pronounced dee-dah-khay or dih-dah-khay), so Jesus spent some time teaching formally in the synagogues. It makes me wonder whether the church in the U.S. and the world get adequate teaching. In America many of the TV guys do a lot of yelling and shouting and displays of personality and shrieking and freaking and dancing and prancing. I wonder whether Jesus did any of that. I don’t think so. Yet he amazed the people with his teaching. In Mark 1:22, the people were amazed or astonished at his reaching.
Let’s explore this Greek noun more thoroughly.
It is, as noted, the word didachē. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the noun as follows: (1) “The activity of teaching, teaching, instruction”; (2) “the content of teaching, teaching.” Yes, the word is also used of Jesus’s teaching: Matt. 7:28; 22:33; Mark 1:22, 27; 4:2; 11:18; 12:38; Luke 4:32; John 7:16, 17; 18:19. And it is used of the apostolic teaching: Acts 2:42; 5:28; 13:12; 17:19; Rom. 6:17; 16:17; 1 Cor. 14:6, 26; 2 Tim. 4:2; Ti. 1:9; Heb. 6:2; 2 John 9 (twice), 10; Rev. 2:14, 15, 24.
Renewalists need much more instruction and doctrine than they are getting. Inspirational preaching about God fulfilling their hopes and dreams is insufficient. We need to discern the signs of the times or seasons (Matt. 16:3). We live in the time or season of the worldwide web. The people are getting bombarded with strange doctrines, on youtube (and other such platforms). These youtube “teachers” know how to edit things and put in clever colors and special effects, but they have not been appointed by God. They do not know how to do even basic research. They run roughshod over basic hermeneutical (interpretational) principles. These “teachers” do not seem to realize that they will be judged more severely (Jas. 3:1) and will have to render an account of their (self-appointed) “leadership” (Heb. 13:17). If they destroy God’s temple, God will (eventually) destroy them (1 Cor. 3:17).
Further, my impression is that the main platform speakers on TV whose budgets are big enough to put them on TV every day don’t even know the basics about doctrine. Why not? They are too busy being corporate managers and even Chief Executive Officers over large churches. They are not turning over the practical side of church leadership to their elders and deacons. They do not spend hours a day—all day, every day—studying nothing but Scriptures, with good ol’ commentaries. (Maybe this one can help, a little.) They do not spend hours a day reading up on theology and doctrine. (Maybe my website can help, a little.)
An alternative and probably better translation of Eph. 4:11 reads: “Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teaching pastors” or “pastoral teachers,” not “pastors and teachers,” as if they are two different categories. Do we have teaching pastors or management or corporate pastors who specialize in organizational leadership? Or do we have psychology pastors? These areas should be turned over to a team. The teaching pastors should do nothing but study Scripture and should have the bulk of the teaching time on Sunday morning and in other services.
We need to change our ways and follow Scripture, or else much of the church will spiritually diminish and be swept away by strange teachings. Yes, good ol’ fashioned theology and even a little apologetics about difficult passages is what the global Church needs. They need the basics—even on Sunday morning, delivered by teaching pastors, not corporate, inspirational pastors.
GrowApp for Mark 11:15-19
A.. Jesus took action to clear out an area of the temple. Have you ever had to clear out a dishonest part of your soul by God’s grace? Tell our story.
Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree (Mark 11:20-24)
20 And then as they were passing by early in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which you cursed is dried up.” 22 Then in reply, Jesus said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth: whoever says to this mountain, ‘Get up and be thrown into the sea!’ and does not doubt in his heart but instead believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him. 24 Therefore, I say to you: everything for which you pray and ask, believe that you received it and it shall be done for you. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive whatever you have against someone, so that your heavenly Father would forgive you your transgressions.”
There is great parallel in Luke 17:5-6. I think they are different pericopes (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-peas) or sections of Scriptures, which Jesus spoke at different times and different context, but their meaning overlaps.
The fig tree withering is a “judgment miracle,” which has precedence in the OT: the judgment on Egypt in Exodus (Exod. 7-14) and in the Elijah-Elisha narratives (2 Kings 1:4, 10-14; 2:23-24; 5:27; cf. 1 Kings 13:1-5; 15:5; 2 Chr. 26:16-21. It also happens in the NT: Peter against Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), and Paul against the sorcerer Elymas Bar-Jesus (Acts 13:6-12). All of those episodes were against people; here it is against a fig tree. See my comments on vv. 12-14 about chronological snobbery in our modern society and how people lived back then in an agricultural society (and still do).
See also Luke’s parable of the barren fig tree for more insights (13:6-9).
Mark says it was not the season for figs (v. 13). He arranges the fig tree episode in two parts: the actual cursing; the cleansing of the temple coming in between; and finishes the fig tree episode afterwards (vv. 20-25). Clearly there is a symbolic message going on here. (See my comments at vv. 15-19.) Most scholars interpret the fig tree, therefore, as a type of Israel, rejected for not bearing fruit (cf. Is. 5:1-7, where Israel is compared to a vineyard; and Jer. 24:1-8, where figs are unripe or rotten). More specifically, here are some passages that Jesus, inspired by the Spirit and guided by the Father, was reenacting (all from the ESV):
… as leaves fall from the vine,
like leaves falling from the fig tree. (Is. 34:4)
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.” (Jer. 8:13)
A short line:
And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, (Hos. 2:12)
It has laid waste my vine
and splintered my fig tree;
it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down;
their branches are made white. (Joel 1:7)
All those passages, above, speak of God’s judgment. The fruitless vines and fig trees are withered at his judgment. Clearly Jesus is using the same imagery here.
However, many Jews converted after Pentecost (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 21:20), so the above analysis is not about them, but about the ones who rejected their Messiah. So the cursing of the tree is an action parable designed to say the temple is coming to an end, which happened in A.D. 70, when the Romans sacked the city and destroyed the temple. Ever notice how there are no more animal sacrifices going on there now? Judaism was devastated and forever changed.
The temple which had green leaves—the outer appearance of promise—was not bearing fruit. With such full leafage, the tree should have had at least some figs on it, even if unripe. Its green leaves were false advertising. To speak unusually for a moment: the tree was “confused” and had “issues.” It was boastful. Something was wrong with the tree, just as something was wrong with the temple. Mark places the temple cleansing before the fig tree pericope; therefore, the symbolism adds up to the same message. The temple was fruitless, and it was about to be destroyed, as Mark 13 will argue.
Strauss on vv. 13c-14: “Yet Jesus’ actions are neither petty nor vindictive if he is intentionally acting out a parable symbolizing the unfruitfulness of Israel and the nation’s coming judgment. This is not a fit of temple against an innocent tree, but as an object lesson for the benefit of the disciples.” Symbolic actions are found among the prophets (1 Kings 11:29-31; Is. 8:1-4; 20:1-6; Ezek. 4:1-15; Hos. 1:2) Jeremiah communicated to his audience with enacted parables (Jer. 13:1-11; 19:1-13; 27:1-22) (p. 492).
Now let’s move on to a subsection of the pericope, which flows out of the answer to prayer. Jesus lifts the object lesson to a general teaching about prayer and faith in God.
“have faith in God”: first, the clause tells us that our faith has a direction: God. The direction is not our own faith or in the power of our own words. The clause is a genitive, but the genitive is objective; that is, our faith is directed towards God who is the object of our faith (hence objective genitive). So the translation is right: “faith in God.” Or it could be translated as “have faith that rests in God” (Decker). I agree with Decker who refers to other scholars: “the suggestion that the genitive is subjective—‘have the sort of faith God has’—is surely a monstrosity of exegesis.” Our faith is always directed towards God. If we have God’s faith, then to whom do we direct it? Ourselves? No. Don’t take this sort of minute grammatical detail too far and build a federal case out of it.
Let’s look at the word faith more generally.
Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
True acronym (as I have noted many times already):
Forsaking All, I Trust Him.
Let’s discuss the noun, faith, more deeply. It is the noun pistis (pronounced peace-teace or piss-tiss). These comments apply to the verb, as well: pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh). It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
This verse is very rich with truth, so it is right that Jesus would begin it with this clause, next.
“I tell you the truth”: “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). Used thirteen times in Mark, it expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement. It means we must pay attention to it, for it is authoritative. He is about to declare an important and solemn message or statement. The clause appears only on the lips of Jesus. That is, in Paul’s epistles, for example, he never says, “I truly say to you.” That phrasing had too much authority, which only Jesus had. The clause only appears on the lips of Jesus in the NT. The word appears in a Jewish culture and means “let it be so.” So Jesus speaks it out with special, divine emphasis. “Let this happen!” “Let what I’m about to say happen!” We better take it seriously and not just walk by it or read over it with a casual air.
Next, Jesus says to speak out the order or command. Here the verb “speak” is the standard one.
The verbs “arise” and “be thrown” are in the passive commands. Often passives like these in a context like this are called the “divine passive.” That is, God is the one who acts behind the scenes. Just because God is not mentioned does not mean he is not behind those two verbs. We pray and God works it out and removes the mountain and throws it into the sea.
Commanding the mountain is a visual image of a spiritual truth—it’s a metaphor. Jesus is speaking metaphorically and hyperbolically. Hyperbole (pronounced hy-PER-boh-lee) means a deliberate and “extravagant exaggeration” (Webster’s Dictionary) to make a strong point and startle the listener. Modern example: “The ice cream seller is really generous! He piled the ice cream on my cone a mile-high!” No, a “mile high” (1.6 km) is not to be taken literally. Followers of Jesus must learn to read the Bible on its own terms, without their wearing monochrome glasses, in which every word appears the same literal color in different contexts. Yes, most of it can be taken literally, like the histories or the commands of the Torah and Epistles. But in significant sections of Scripture, the Bible is not a “flat,” one-dimensional book, on one simplistic level. It is multi-layered. And this clause about the mountain is a case in point. This verse is not to be interpreted literally and simplistically.
Objection: you’re saying the fig tree did not wither; it was merely symbolic. No, I’m not saying that. It did wither, but it was an action parable. Jesus had a higher purpose than seeing tree dry up from the roots, just for fun. What I do mean, however, is this. Don’t stand in front of a literal mountain and command it to “be gotten up” and “be thrown” into the sea. You can surely, however, command an obstacle in your personal walk with God—like a disease—to be removed and be thrown into the sea (so to speak). Remember that those verbs are in the divine passive. God is their subject. God causes “the mountain” (so to speak) to “be arisen” and “be thrown.”
Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Neo-Charismatics) love verses like v. 23 because they love to confess out loud and speak out and pray out loud. This is solid teaching. Personally, my prayer life is done with an open voice, when I take my prayer walks.
“do not doubt in your heart”: the verb “doubt” is diakrinō (pronounced dee-ah-kree-noh), and it is unusual here. It’s in the middle voice, so it means an internal, self-reflexive action. Decker is right: “The use of [diakrinō] with the meaning “to doubt, waver,” rather than the more common “to separate, distinguish, evaluate,” is first found in the NT (BDAG 231.6).” But it boils down to the same thing: don’t waver or doubt God’s ability to remove the mountain in your life.
“Believes that what he says will happen”: All these verbs are in the present tense, so the latter verb could be translated as “is happening” or “is coming about.” In that translation, it is a process. However, Decker argues for the future meaning. NET translates it as future, and so do most translations. You can decide, whether it is “will happen” or “is happening.” I’ll go with the majority.
“shall be done for him”: this clause literally reads: “shall be for him.” It is almost as if the answer exists for him, but remember, once again, that God answers the prayer; your words do not create something out of nothing. And vv. 24-25 proves that this is about praying, not decreeing, because Jesus himself pinpoints it with the actual word praying and the word therefore. Remember the divine passive; “be gotten up” (or “be arisen”) and “be thrown” are God’s actions. Don’t arrogate all authority to you and your words. Be in relationship with God. Don’t think that your faith is in itself, and don’t exclude the Father. Have faith in a living person, not faith in faith.
“Therefore”: it literally reads “because of this.” You can choose which translation is right. Either one is fine because they boil down to the same thing.
“Everything for which your pray and ask”: this is definitely an open-ended prayer. Another translation: “Everything for which you ask in prayer” (hendiadys or two words combined more closely as if they were one action).
Please see my post on prayer:
As I have written in other similar verses in this commentary, let’s never forget that faith rests on the will of God. We Renewalists must be very careful about commanding God or things in nature to happen because we want them to. Even Jesus said he does what he sees the Father doing: Jesus “can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also” (John 5:19). Word-of-Faith teachers say they read the Word and understand what the will of God is, so they can command things. Part of that is true because of what Jesus just said in v. 24, but partly certain excessive Word-of-Faith teachers often misinterpret Scriptures which seem to indicate they can boss God around, like humans calling things into existence. (They base this on Rom. 4:17, but the verse clearly says God is the one who calls things into existence.)
Faith-filled and Spirit-filled Christians must get a personal word from God. They must abide in Christ and his words abide in him so that they can hear from God about each individual and unique case. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7). They must pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14). They must not launch out on their own and believe that God shall and must heal everyone, and if he didn’t, then they must not have had enough faith or spoken the right confession out loud. Somehow it’s their fault. No.
In my own life, I have heard from God that a sickness in a relative was “not a sickness unto death.” She has been cancer free for a long time (over a decade and a half, if I recall). I also received a personal word that another relative was going to be taken home, so I should not pray for his healing (he died a few days later). No amount of commanding and pleading and rebuking would have altered the outcome. And to be honest, I have seemingly heard from God about yet a third relative and believed God would heal him, but he died. I was going through a time of deception in my life, but even in this case I relented and realized in his last hours that he would not be healed. I had been deceived, but I didn’t give up on healing because of this disappointment (even after another relative lectured me about how wrong I was). Healing is in the Word. I never give up on the clear teaching of Scripture. People need to follow what Jesus said in this passage and actively do faith, not pull back or go inside their shells like a turtle and give up. Disappointments happen down here on earth. It’s the human condition.
Yes, healing is in the atonement, but not everyone will be healed in their current bodies when God says that the ultimate healing is for them to be taken from their broken-down earth-suits and brought into his presence, where there is no more disease or brokenness—the ultimate healing, also won for us in the atonement.
Pray for healing fearlessly and with active faith!
More directly relevant to these verses is this post about decreeing:
We have to be careful about believing that our words create or cause things to come into existence. Yes, speak to already-existing obstacles, but to create something out of nothing is God’s jurisdiction, not yours.
“Believe that you will receive”: Okay, the verb “receive” is in the aorist (past) tense, so the clause could easily be translated as “believe that you received.” (“believe” is in the imperative present, so your believing should keep going on, and it is commanded). Now back to the aorist. Decker says that the meaning of the clause implies a future situation. Then he quotes a Greek grammar book: “An aorist after a future condition is, to a certain extent, futuristic.”
However, commentator France writes about v. 24 that the aorist tense should be in the past:
The aorist tense of [received] … takes still further the demand made on faith in the [“happens”] of v. 23: you must believe not only that it is happening, but that you have received it already (cf. Is. 65:24; Mt. 6:8).
This saying, together with the concept of God doing the impossible in answer to prayer in v. 23, sharply raises the problem of unanswered prayer which we have noted already at 9:24. The simplistic reading of this passage which attributes all ‘unanswered’ prayer to inadequate faith on the part of the one praying can be pastorally disastrous, and must be set against the fact that the will of God is not necessarily to be equated with the desire of the person praying.
If France is right, then faith is very active. You believe that you have received it (even though you have not?). This past-tense translation will make the Word of Faith people jump for joy, because they always say that you must believe that you have already received your answer, and now you have to wait for it to manifest or appear before your eyes or your body is actually healed. While you are waiting for your answer that you have already received by faith, you have to keep believing. I concede that there is a deep truth in this clause, if it is translated as the past tense. However, I just want to repeat that we have faith in God, not in faith. We pray according to God’s will, not our own will or our own interpretation of Scripture. So if we put faith in our faith, we cut God off and place too much weight on ourselves and our words. Instead, let’s realize that we have a relationship with a loving Father, not with our own words or our own thoughts or even with the Bible—or our interpretation of it. If you abide in Jesus, he will lead you to pray the right prayer.
Boiled down: the verse is about praying and asking, not about decreeing and declaring.
“it shall be done for you”: it literally reads, “It shall be for you.” Either translation is acceptable. You can decide. Remember: you are in a relationship with the Father. He does the answering.
“And when you stand praying”: it could be translated as “When you stand to pray.” If the latter translation is right, a synagogue service or a temple context is envisioned. Either way, the context of vv. 23-25 is prayer, not decreeing and declaring. Once again, see my post:
“when”: it does not say “if” you pray. And it does not say “pray whenever you feel like it.”
The rest of the verse is about forgiving. Uh-oh. Jesus is stating clearly that unforgiveness can hinder prayer. So let’s discuss the Greek verb for forgiving.
“forgive”: it comes from the verb aphiēmi (pronounced ah-fee-ay-mee), and BDAG defines it with the basic meaning of letting go: (1) “dismiss or release someone or something from a place or one’s presence, let go, send away”; (2) “to release from legal or moral obligations or consequence, cancel, remit, pardon”; (3) “to move away with implication of causing a separation, leave, depart”; (4) “to leave something continue or remain in its place … let someone have something” (Matt. 4:20; 5:24; 22:22; Mark 1:18; Luke 10:30; John 14:18); (5) “leave it to someone to do something, let, let go, allow, tolerate.” The Shorter Lexicon adds “forgive.” In sum, God lets go, dismisses, releases, sends away, cancels, pardons, and forgives our sins. Likewise, we should forgive those who sin against us because God forgives us every day. Please read these verses carefully and devotionally:
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:10-12, ESV)
18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea. (Mic. 7-18-19, ESV)
In this verse 25, however, Jesus is talking about one person forgiving another. Yet the principle of letting the offense go still applies here, whether from person to person or God down to the repentant human. You’re the one who has anything or something against someone else, you must forgive.
Let me quote Matt. 6:12, 14-15 from the Lord’s prayer.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we have forgiven our debtors.
14 For if you forgive people their trespasses, your Father in heaven will also forgive yours. 15 But if you do not forgive people, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt. 6:12, 14-15)
I wrote in my comments back in Matt. 6:14-15:
These verses are strong and clear. There is no other way to read them than in their plain sense. You simply have to forgive others, or else your Father won’t forgive you. Are you ready to forgive? If not, consider all the sins of which your Father in heaven has forgiven you. Many and deep sins. Your walk with God will suffer greatly if you do not forgive. Your walk with him will thrive the moment you do forgive. Pray that you can be made willing to forgive, and then do it. Sometimes an evil spirit can attack your mind and deepen the unforgiveness and bitterness you already have. You can rebuke Satan off of your mind, as part of the process.
Now let me get a little theological. Will God forgive you if you hold bitterness even at your death? How far do we take these two stark verses? The context here is not about the afterlife and final judgment, but about life in the kingdom here and now, so I am reluctant to apply them outside of their down-to-earth context. I’m not clear what God would say to you at judgment if you had not forgiven your aunt (for example) for what she did to you. I somehow doubt he would throw you in hell for it, when you had still walked with God and confessed Jesus as Lord throughout all the other areas of life. My hunch is that he would not reward you but give you “special instruction” for your refusal to forgive. However, please don’t test the Lord about this. Jesus is speaking strong words here to throw water in your face and warn and wake you up. Forgive right now!
One big motive to forgive others is that God will forgive you your transgressions or missteps.
Nearly all scholars say it was inserted later to correspond to Matt. 6:15. Mark 11:26 could not be left out! But here it is: “But if you do not forgive, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses.”
GrowApp for Mark 11:20-25
A.. Read Rom. 10:17. How do you build your faith?
B.. Read Eph. 4:32. Forgiveness is so important that the Father demands it from you, or else you’ll put yourself in the prison of unforgiveness. How do you escape it?
The Authority of Jesus Challenged (Mark 11:27-33)
27 They came back into Jerusalem. While he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and teachers of the law and the elders came up to him 28 and said to him, “By which authority do you do these things? Or who gave you this authority so that you do these things? 29 But Jesus said to them, “I’ll ask you one statement. Answer me, and I’ll tell you by which authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from people? Answer me!” 31 They discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he’ll say, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 On the other hand, “If we say, ‘From people’—they feared the crowds, for everyone truly held John to be a prophet. 33 So in reply, they said to Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what kind of authority I do these things.”
This is the first of six open conflicts with the Jerusalem establishment. Scholars call them “controversy stories,” which take place in the temple during Jesus’s last days in Jerusalem (11:27-12:44).
The temple and Jerusalem authorities fight back.
As I noted in other chapters, first-century Israel was an honor-and-shame society. Verbal and active confrontations happened often. By active is meant actions. Jesus shamed the leaders to silence. He won. It may seem strange to us that Jesus would confront human opponents, because we are not used to doing this in our own lives, and we have heard that Jesus was meek and silent.
More relevantly, for many years now there has been a teaching going around the Body of Christ that says when Christians are challenged, they are supposed to slink away or not reply. This teaching may come from the time of Jesus’s trial when it is said he was as silent as a sheep (Acts 8:32). No. He spoke up then, as well (Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:32; Luke 23:71; John 18:19-23; 32-38; 19:11). Therefore, “silence” means submission to the will of God without resisting or fighting back physically. But here he replied to the religious leaders and defeated them and their inadequate theology. Get into a discussion and debate with your challengers. Stand toe to toe with them. In short, fight like Jesus! With Spirit-filled, anointed words!
Of course, caution is needed. The original context is a life-and-death struggle between the kingdom of God and religious traditions. Get the original context, first, before you fight someone in a verbal sparring match. This was a clash of worldviews. Don’t pick fights or be rude to your spouse or baristas or clerks in the service industry. Discuss things with him or her. But here Jesus was justified in replying sharply to these oppressive religious leaders.
Jesus is now in Jerusalem, and he taught in the temple precincts. He both taught kingdom truths, no doubt the same ones that he had been teaching out in the provinces in the preceding chapters. He was speaking before a new audience, so some repetition was needed. He is also about to teach truths relevant to the Jerusalem audience.
“teaching”: It is the verb didaskō (pronounced dee-dahs-koh, and our word didactic is related to it). The verb means to instruct or tell or teach (BDAG), sometimes in a formal setting like a classroom or another confined setting, like the temple, and other times in a casual setting. Here he was in a formal setting, the temple. He spoke with authority, unlike the teachers of the law and Pharisees (Luke 4:32; Matt. 7:28-29). This is what the Spirit does through a surrendered heart and mind. He combined a teaching and healing ministry. His insight into Scripture was profound. This is what the Spirit does through a surrendered heart and mind. Some Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics and Neo-Charismatics) of the fiery variety don’t teach, but evangelize and shriek and freak and dance and prance, after they read one verse or two, and put on a show. How much time do they put in to study the Word? Jesus had a full ministry: teaching, healing, miracles, and deliverances.
“chief priests”: see v. 18 for more comments.
“teachers of the law”: some translations say “ascribes.” see v, 18 for more comments.
“elders”: To learn more about all three groups, click here:
So here he is in the temple, and this high-level group of men were listening to him. Religious leaders seemed to follow him around, just so they could challenge him, not humble themselves and believe what he taught, though Nicodemus, a Pharisee, seems to be an exception (John 3:1-15), because he eventually followed Jesus or at least defended and cared for him (John 9:51-52; 19:39). Joseph of Arimathea, a rich member of the Council, also believed (Mark 15:43; John 19:38).
The religious antagonists posed questions to Jesus. On which foundation does he stand? Where does he get his authority? He was not one of them. They thought he was a nonconformist a trouble-making revolutionary. They did not give him this authority. He was a Galilean. He was not in charge here; they were (or so they believed)! It is their question about authorization that will be brought against Jesus at his trial and crucifixion (14:58, 61; 15:29, 32) (Strauss on vv. 27-28). In other words, it’s all about the temple and blasphemy.
“authority”: it is the noun exousia (pronounced ex-oo-see-ah), and it means, depending on the context: “right to act,” “freedom of choice,” “power, capability, might, power, authority, absolute power”; “power or authority exercised by rulers by virtue of their offices; official power; domain or jurisdiction, spiritual powers.”
The difference between authority and power is parallel to a policeman’s badge and his gun. The badge symbolizes his right to exercise his power through his gun, if necessary. The gun backs up his authority with power. But the distinction should not be pressed too hard, because exousia can also mean “power.” In any case, God through Jesus can distribute authority to his followers (Matt. 10:1; Luke 10:19; John 1:12). Jesus will give us authority even over the nations, if we overcome trials and persecution (Rev. 2:26). And he is about to distribute his power in Acts 2.
Never forget that you have his authority and power to live a victorious life over your personal flaws and sins and Satan. They no longer have power and authority over you; you have power and authority over them.
Jesus answered their questions with a question. This is a good debating technique. He did this before in Mark 10:2-3. He asked them to tell him about John. Where did this prophet get his authority to baptize? Who backed up his baptism? He too was a nonconformist. He was not one of them. These religious leaders believed they got their authority from the law of Moses. What about Jesus? What about John? It is possible to get one’s authority from God and not the religious establishment, in this case, the Jerusalem establishment. However, it is important that nonconformist leaders must be a part of a fellowship somewhere. No independent operators, please.
Their reasoning shows them to work out their options. If they were to say John’s baptism came from heaven or God backed it up, then he would naturally ask why they did not trust in it and God. If they were to say it came from people, then this belief would take away his calling of prophet, and the people would rise up in his defense and pick up stones to attack. This reaction shows how volatile the atmosphere was in Jerusalem. In a little while, many people would turn against Jesus.
These high-level leaders fibbed. They truly believed John did not come from God, but they withheld their answer because they were cowards. Jesus exposed them for who they were. They did not stand up and proclaim what they believed regardless of the consequences. They too valued popularity.
And of course Jesus left them hanging and withheld his answer. In effect, he told them that their whole question and skepticism was built on the motive to trap him.
He is the true Lord and leader, not they. He doesn’t need to submit to their questions—he does not have to submit to them. All of Israel belonged to him, whether they recognized it or not, and soon all Gentiles would belong to him, once they entered his kingdom. He was the Lord. He knew who he was.
Some people believe that Jesus was a weak milquetoast who let religious leaders and other stomp on him, as he shrank back and became a doormat, so they could wipe their feet on him. Not true. He always answered back. This was an honor and shame society. They intended to shame him and win honor before the people. He would not allow this. He shamed them into silence. His ministry was a battleground. He did not surrender his place on it.
Further, he was about to die for his convictions, unlike them. They were unwilling to die for theirs. In effect his refusal to answer told them, “Don’t waste my time. I don’t recognize you as my authority, so I don’t have to fall for your trap and explain myself to you. I get my authority from God, not you!”
GrowApp for Mark 11:27-33
A.. These high-level religious leaders challenged Jesus’s authority. Has anyone ever challenged your Christian walk? How did you respond?
Summary and Conclusion
Let’s look at a table that lays out the events of Passion Week:
|Friday||Arrival in Bethany (Jn 12:1)|
|Saturday||Mary’s anointing of Jesus (Jn 12:2-8; Mt 26:6-13 // Mk 14:3-9)|
|Sunday||Triumphal Entry (Mt 21:1-11 // Mk 11:1-10 // Lk 19:28-38); surveying temple (Mk 11:11), return to Bethany (Mt 21:17 // Mk 11:11)|
|Monday||Clearing temple (Mt 21:12-17 // Mk 11:15-19 // Lk 19:45-48); cursing fig tree (Mt 21:18-22; // Mk 11:12-14); miracles and challenge temple (Mt 21:14-16); return to Bethany (Mk 11:19)|
|Tuesday||Disciples’ question about fig tree (Mk 11:20-21); debates with leaders of temple (Mt 21:23-22:46 // Mk 11:27-12:40 // Lk 20:1-44); Olivet Discourse (Mt 24-25; Mk 13; Lk 21:1-36); return to Bethany, but Lk 21:37 says he lodged on Mount of Olives|
|Wednesday||Little recorded in Gospel—Jesus and disciples apparently remain in Bethany; Judas arranges for Jesus’ betrayal (Mt. 26:14-16 // Mk 14:10-11 // Lk 22:3-6); I say he could be teaching in the temple or praying privately.|
|Thursday||Preparation for Passover (Mt 26:17-19 // Mk 14:12-16 // Lk 22:7-13); after sundown, Passover meal and Last Supper (Mt 26:20-35 // Mk 14:17-25 // Lk 22:14, 21-23, 15-20); Farewell Discourse (Jn 13-17); Gethsemane (Mt 26:30-46 // Mk 13:32-42 // Lk 22:40-46)|
|Friday||After midnight, betrayal and arrest (Mt 26:47-56 // Mk 14:43-52 // Lk 22:47-53);
Jewish trials—Annas (Jn 18:13-14); Caiaphas and partial Sanhedrin (Mt 26:52-75 // Mk 14:53-72 // Lk 22:54-71); full Sanhedrin (Mt 27:1-2);
Roman trials—Pilate (Mt 27:2-14 // Mk 15:2-5 // Lk 23:2-5); Herod Antipas (Lk 23:6-12); Pilate (Mt 27:15-26 // Mk 15:6-15 // Lk 23:17-27);
Mocked by soldiers (Mt 27:27-31 // Mk 15:16-20);
Road to Golgotha (Mt 27:32 // Mk 15:21 // Lk 23:26-32);
Crucifixion 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. / 15:00h (Mt 27:27-56 // Mk 15:22-41 // Lk 23:33-49);
Burial (Mt 27:57-61 // Mk 15:42-47 // Lk 23:5-56)
|Grant R. Osborne, Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2010), who got it from Michael J. Wilkens, Matthew: NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2004). I modified it.|
Mark opens the chapter with Jesus’s arrival in the outskirts of Jerusalem. Jesus instructed two disciples to fetch a donkey on which no one had ridden before, indicating his sacred mission, but animals designated to be holy must never have been used in an ordinary sense. The disciples may not at first have understood the Messianic significance, but later they did. The King and Messiah had arrived at his rightful place. He was not a tourist.
Jesus told a fig tree never to bear fruit again (only Peter said Jesus had cursed it). This action had nothing to do with losing his temper in frustration. He used it as a symbolic action parable, in the OT prophetic tradition, when prophets also enacted parables as signs. The tree had leaves, but not fruit. It was a “braggart tree.” In the same way, the temple had plenty of outward show, like gold and white stone, but it did not bear the fruit of righteousness that God demanded.
Then Jesus cleared out an area of the temple called the Court of Gentiles. This action was also symbolic. It revealed that the rightful King and Messiah had arrived. He did not offer a sacrifice or even say a prayer. He was instead taking authority over his Father’s house. Merchants had encroached on sacred space and probably charged dishonest fees and costs.
Finally, the authorities of Jerusalem and the temple fought back and ask him on what authority or on whose authority did he do these things? They were the ones in charge, and they never permitted him to do this. He answered their question with another question. Was John’s baptism of God or from people—whose authority did he carry out his mission? They dialogued among themselves and rightly perceived that if they were to say John’s mission came from God, then Jesus would reply that they should have obeyed John. If they were to say that John was basing his mission on mere human opinion and popularity, then the people would react violently. They would have remembered how John was mistreated by Herod and was unjustly executed. More significantly, they believed that John was sent by God. The lesson is clear for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Jesus was about to be treated as John was. But they did not have such eyes and ears. They simply feared the populace. So they did not answer Jesus, and he paid them back with the silence they deserved. They were not worth of reply.
In the next chapter, he will tell a parable that would further shame them, in an honor-and-shame society.
Let’s now turn to it, next.
As a life-long learner, I refer to a community of Bible teachers. They are excellent but also technical. I hope I have clarified matters. I also write from a Renewal perspective.
Decker, Rodney J. Mark 9-16: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor UP, 2014).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Eerdmans, 2002).
Garland, David E. Mark: The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 1996).
Lane, William L. Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Eerdmans, 1974).
Strauss, Mark L. Mark: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2014).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 1993).
Wessel, Walter W. and Mark L. Strauss. Mark: The Bible’s Expositor’s Commentary, Vol. 9, Rev. ed. (Zondervan 2010).