Jesus comes to Jerusalem one last time
Jesus enters Jerusalem like a king1 Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem and the outlying villages of Bethphage and Bethany on the slopes of a ridge called the Mount of Olives. He sent two disciples ahead. 2 Jesus told them, “Go into the next village. You’ll find a young donkey that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it to me. 3 If anyone asks, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just tell them, ‘The Lord needs it. We’ll bring it back as soon as he is done with it.’” 4 So the disciples went on ahead and found the young donkey tied near a front door along the street. They untied it. 5 Some people standing nearby asked them, “What do you think you’re doing? Why are you untying that colt?” 6 The disciples said what Jesus told them to say. That was enough. The people gave them permission to take the donkey. 7 The disciples took the donkey to Jesus and saddled it with some of their cloaks. Jesus sat on the donkey. 8 As Jesus rode along, many people paved his path with their cloaks and with tall grass they cut from the nearby fields. 9 People who walked in front of him and behind him started chanting,
10 God bless the nation of our ancestor David.
Save us! Please save us!” 11 When Jesus reached Jerusalem, he went to the Temple. He took a good look around, but it was already late in the day, so he went back to Bethany with his 12 disciples.
That cursed fig tree12 The next day, they left Bethany. Along the way to Jerusalem, Jesus got hungry. 13 He saw a fig tree off in the distance. There were leaves on the tree, so he went over to see if he could find any figs to eat. But when he got there, he didn’t find anything but a bunch of leaves. With good reason: figs weren’t in season yet. 14 Jesus told the tree, “I don’t want anyone to take a bite of your fruit again.” The disciples heard him say this.
Jesus gets physical at the Temple15 The group went into Jerusalem. When they got to the Temple, Jesus chased off the vendors who were selling their products in the Temple courtyards. Jesus flipped over the tables of the currency changers. And he knocked over the chairs of the people selling pigeons. 16 He ran off anyone trying to carry merchandise on to the Temple property. 17 Jesus started teaching the people by saying, “Doesn’t our Bible say, ‘My house is a place where people from all over the world can pray’? But you’ve turned it into a convention center for crooks.” 18 When the Temple priests and the scholars known as scribes got word of what Jesus was doing, they started working on a plan to kill him. They were afraid of him because they could see he had impressed the people with his teaching. 19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples left Jerusalem.
That cursed fig tree again20 The next morning, Jesus and the disciples took a walk. They saw the fig tree Jesus had talked to the day before. It was now dead—all the way down to the roots. 21 Peter said to Jesus, “Teacher, look at that! The fig tree you condemned is dead.” 22 Jesus told the disciples, “Have some faith in God. 23 Listen, I’m telling you the truth. If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Rise and drop yourself into the sea’ it will happen. But you can’t have any doubt. You’ve got to believe that what you say is going to happen. If you can do that, it will happen. 24 I want you to know that, and here’s why. Whatever you pray for, whatever you ask for, believe that you’ve already got it. If you can do that, you’ll get it. 25 Whenever you pray, forgive anyone who has done you wrong. You’ve got to do that so your Father in heaven will forgive you of the sins you’ve committed. 26 If you don’t forgive others, your Father in heaven isn’t going to forgive you either."
Jewish leaders grill Jesus27 Jesus and the disciples went back to Jerusalem. While they were walking around in the Temple courtyards, the top priests came over to him. Scribes came, too, along with a group of older Jewish men. 28 They asked Jesus, “Who gave you the right to do what you’ve been doing here? Where do you get the authority to do this?” 29 Jesus said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll ask you one question. If you’re willing to answer that for me, I’ll tell you where I get the authority to do what I’ve been doing. 30 Here’s the question. It’s about the baptisms that John did. Who gave him the right to do that? Was baptism God’s idea, or did some human think it up? Go ahead, give me an answer to that one.” 31 The Jewish leaders talked about this among themselves. They said, “If we say the idea came from heaven, he’ll ask us the tough follow-up question, ‘Well why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 On the other hand, if we say some human invented the idea, that’s not going to go over well with the people. Everyone thought John was a genuine prophet.” 33 So they told Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Fine with me. If you’re not going to answer my question, I’m not going to tell you where I get my authority.”
It’s uncertain where Bethphage was located, other than that it was near Bethany, as one of Jerusalem’s suburbs.
The Greek word is “hosanna.”
A more traditional translation would be: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (New American Standard Bible). The crowd seems to be quoting Psalm 118:26. Many Bible experts say the people seemed to be expecting Jesus to come as a warrior king like David. They seemed to be hoping he would restore the sovereignty and independence of Israel by somehow getting rid of the Romans, who had occupied their homeland for about a century.
Jesus never seems to have given the people any indication that he would be another warrior king and political figure like King David. These words come from people with a mistaken preconceived notion about what the Messiah would be like. They expected someone to free them from the Romans and restore the nation of Israel to its ancient glory days. Instead, Jesus came as a pacifist rabbi to restore the spiritual glory of people and to offer them eternal life. He was going to answer their plea, “Save us!” But instead of saving them politically, he was going to save them spiritually.
These words may have been inspired by Psalm 118:25-26.
Bethany was a small village less than two miles east of Jerusalem. It was on the opposite side of the slopes of the Mount of Olives, out of a line of sight.
Fig season was almost half a year away. Jesus came to Jerusalem sometime in the early spring, possibly in March or early April. Summer figs were harvested in August and September. Jesus was either a one-time carpenter who didn’t know a fig from an almond, which were harvested in February and March, or he was using this fig tree to teach a lesson.
The Temple accepted only selected currency, which did not have engraved images of people or animals. “Money changers,” as they are sometimes called, performed much the same service as banks when people from one nation visit another and need to use a different type of currency. Some Jews may have considered it a convenience to have the currency exchange service right there on the Temple property.
Pigeons were used in sacrifices. Vendors may have rented space to sell their products in the Temple courtyards. Temple priests may have profited from this by accepting part of the rent money or perhaps a percentage of the sales.
This verse is not in the oldest copies of the Gospel of Mark. Bible experts say it seems to have been added later.
Jesus rode a colt—a young donkey—into Jerusalem to fulfill prophecies, according to Matthew’s version of this story (Matthew 21:4-5). In one prophecy, Isaiah talks about a king coming into Jerusalem (Isaiah 62: 11). In another, Zachariah describes the king as humble and riding on a young donkey (Zechariah 9:9). Some Jews apparently associated these prophecies with the Messiah they hoped would come and free them from the Roman Empire. It seems as though Jesus wanted to send the message that he was the Messiah. Do you think he cheated a little in the way he manipulated this event, by riding into Jerusalem in a way that fit the script?
It seems pretty clear that the people expected Jesus to become the next King of the independent nation of Israel. They cheered him on, likely knowing that he was an ancestor of King David. They cheered, “Here comes the king God approved” (11:9). Why do you think Jesus didn’t step off the donkey, quiet the crowd, and say, “People, I’m not that kind of king. Get with the program. I’ll be dead in five days and alive again on Sunday”?
What’s up with Jesus killing a fig tree? Jesus told the tree, “I don’t want anyone to take a bite of your fruit again” (11:14). For heaven’s sake, he seemed to kill it because it didn’t produce figs in the springtime—probably March or early April—when fig trees don’t produce fruit until August or September. Scholars debate this story. Here are a few theories. What do you think about them?
- Symbol of the Temple. The barren fig tree represents the Jewish faith that is based out of the Temple. Its season is over because Jesus has come.
- It’s a story. Winter fig trees left over from the fall harvest are sometimes available in the spring. There’s no symbolism in the story. Mark is simply reporting what happened.
- Symbol of the power of faith. Jesus uses the apparent miracle of the dead fig tree to teach his disciples that if they have enough faith they can tell a mountain to “Rise and drop yourself into the sea” and it will do so (11:23).
Jesus didn’t seem eager to tell the Jewish leaders that he got his authority from God Almighty. He got out of answering that question by asking them a question they refused to answer: Where did John the Baptist get his authority? They didn’t want to admit that John the Baptist got his authority from God, probably because most of them didn’t believe it. But they didn’t want to call John a fraud because everyone outside their bubble seemed to think he was an authentic prophet (11:31-32). The Jewish leaders didn’t answer Jesus’s question. So he didn’t answer theirs. Why do you think Jesus was reluctant to answer that question?
LIFE APPLICATION. When Christians want to justify an angry outburst, they often talk about Jesus getting angry in the Temple and chasing away the merchants who were selling their products in the Temple courtyard (11:15-17). What do you think about that? Is it a fair comparison?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus told his disciples they could get whatever they prayed for if they believed. “But you can’t have any doubt. You’ve got to believe that what you say is going to happen. If you can do that, it will happen” (11:23). With that in mind, should we all start praying for universal healthcare, world peace, and the survival of the planet?