The Cursed Fig Tree, the Corrupted Temple, the Plotting Bible Teachers


Mark 11 

This entire section contrasts the true sense of worship from false and hypocritical assertions of worship. Jesus is intent on preparing for a radical change in the perception of worship, the constitution of the people of God, and revealing himself as Messiah who has come to ransom a people before he establishes his kingdom of redeemed people.

I. True praise from false hearts – (11:1–11)

A. Jesus himself prompted this manifestation of messianic enthusiasm both from his disciples and the multitude in Jerusalem (11:1–7).

It was a proclamation in accordance with the prophets of his true messianic status. Whereas, he had asked others to maintain their silence (e.g. 7:36), now he acts the true role and prompts from the people the cry of Psalm 118, “Save, O Lord, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” They proclaimed that the throne of David was his (10), as has been indicated by the cries of the blind man immediately preceding this (10: 47, 48). That the kingdom indeed was his, he had to affirm, even though he would tell Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world,” (John 18:36) that is at the present moment; it is not of this age but will inaugurate a new age in a new world when redemption is both accomplished and applied in its fullest.

B. The shouts, therefore, were given in an excitement of earthly hope but in ignorance of the need for a true redemption from sin.

When he did not immediately fulfill their temporal hopes, they turned on him and with all the exuberance with which they shouted, “Hosanna,” they shouted, “Crucify him” (15:13). His disciples, who did not consent to his crucifixion, nevertheless “forsook him and fled” (14:50) when he did not take action against those who had come to arrest him (14:47–49).

C. In Luke’s narrative, at some point in his approach to the city, Jesus lamented that the deep truth of his redemptive mission and Davidic reign was hidden from their eyes (Luke 19:41).

Their rejection would be so profound and so pervasive that the city itself would be overthrown in judgment and the temple he was about to visit and cleanse would be completely dismantled. It sems that their very jubilation at his entry into the city was an event that intensified their guilt and judgment.


II. Israel’s fruit was only seasonal and therefore stood under a curse (12–14, 20–26).

A. Jesus used the fig tree as a symbol of the ritualistic but spiritually unperceptive worship of the nation at large.

Even as praise had been given him when the prospects of personal advantage seemed prominent among the people, so a fig tree bears fruit only under the most advantageous conditions. Israel is like a fig tree whose fruit is only seasonal. Many had just shown great fervor about Christ as he seemed to symbolize their importance as a nation. As it becomes clear that his messiahship transcends their national interests, their fervor turned to resentment, to deceitful opposition, and to murder. As Paul admonished Timothy concerning his ministry, so Jesus will produce in his disciples the energy to bear fruit “in season, out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).

B. Unless we grasp the nature of the symbolic act, that true religion always bears fruit and always seeks God and recognizes one’s dependence on God approaching him by faith, we will be tempted to see Jesus’s act as rash and irrational.

The nature of the Christian life was described by Paul to the Colossians: “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9, 10).

C. Though some commentators say that Mark merely imported from elsewhere these sayings about prayer (23–25), if we grasp the central theme of the narrative, it is easy to understand why Jesus would say here ideas that he also had emphasized elsewhere.

Even as the Temple was to be a house of prayer, so within the newly forming temple, true believers, prayer was to be the most consistent and pure form of ongoing worship of the believing heart. We believe that God can and will do all his holy will, even if it involves moving mountains from one place to another. We believe that we always stand in need of personal forgiveness and also live with a forgiving spirit. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The new covenant community will be marked by that spirit: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).


III. Jesus revealed the utter disregard for true worship on the part of the Jews. (15–19, 27–33)

A. After his celebrated entry into Jerusalem, Jesus went into the temple to observe what was happening (11).

Matthew skips this visit and the day of delay and narrates immediately Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (Matthew 21:10–12). Seemingly, the crowd was unaware of this side trip of Jesus when he initially observed the profanation of the temple. Obviously, he formulated a plan to uncover the irreverence of what was being allowed in the temple, activities that revealed the greed and utterly unspiritual mindset of the temple’s leadership.

B. Jesus took matters into his own hands and completely disrupted the commercial interests being carried forth, using the premises of the temple as a place of profit (15, 16).

According to Matthew, some children still picked up the refrain of Hosanna, a fact which greatly disturbed the chief priests and scribes.

C. Jesus again uncovered the lack of true understanding of worship. Instead of the place of prayer designed for all nations, they had made it a place for the manifestation of greed, corruption, and cheating (See Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11).

Jesus himself is the temple of the new covenant (John 2:19–21) in whom we find the perfected worship of God and through whom we approach the Father. Our bodies have become a temple by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). The church itself, consisting of reconciled people, is being constructed into a temple, the gathered people who worship in Spirit and in truth (Ephesians 2:19–22; John 4:21–24).


IV. Jesus overwhelms his opponents.

A. On another day following soon, Jesus went back to the temple (27).

Perhaps somewhat fearful and truly perplexed, the “chief priests and the scribes and the elders” joined together to confront him and quiz him, obviously looking for a conflict that would justify their attempt to have him arrested.

B. By what authority did Jesus do such things? (11:27–33)

When the Jews challenged Jesus’ authority to take such a dominant position over the temple and its activities, Jesus suspended his answer on the condition of their response to a question of his. He knew they were unwilling to recognize the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist, so he linked the question about his authority to their perception of the authority of John the Baptist. Again, he revealed their complete lack of candor and their refusal to live according to truth. Their quest was only for unchallenged power and popular recognition as the most religious of all people.


Omniscient, He borrowed a colt without objection.
Omni-glorious, he rode to praise mid misperception.
Omniregal, He entered his palace without detection.

Disturbed in spirit, He found his people fruitless.
Angered in soul, he found his house lawless.
Fearful and small-minded, his enemies’ malice was relentless.

Omnipotent, He bids all trees and mountains by demand.
Omnisapient—all prayers of faith engage his command.
The ransom for many—all forgiveness is in his hand.

His authority was challenged in the place that he upholds.
His question was avoided, for their motives were untold.
He knew their aim was murder when their lies would make them bold.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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