As Jesus moved south toward Jerusalem, the cross became a more significant topic of discipleship in Mark (cf. 8.31-38; 9.30-32; 10.32-35).  In Mark 11 the author recorded Jesus’ triumphal entry—Jesus had finally arrived at the city of David!  But the triumph would not be over Roman opponents; Jesus’ success would be in showing up the selfish employment of the Judaism of the day, and the battleground would be the temple itself.  The various scenes in this chapter are knit together so as to answer the question, “Who has the final religious authority?”  Jesus’ superiority in these events reveals that, while He would yet be crucified by His opponents, He was in no way inferior to them.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem displayed the same resoluteness that had characterized His ministry in the northern regions of Galilee (Mark 11.1-11).  Mark recorded that Jesus straightway directed His disciples to bring Him the donkey that was waiting for Him, upon which He road to fulfill the prophecy of Zech 9.9.  The prophet described both the gentle character and demeanor of Israel’s Messiah, and the peace that He would bring upon Judah through military conquest (cf. Zech 9.9-17).  Mark saw in Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem a fulfillment especially of the former: in a peaceful manner Jesus was ready to lay down His life.  

But passive He was not.  After receiving the accolades of the crowd awaiting His presence at the Passover festival, “He went into Jerusalem and into the temple complex.  After looking around at everything, since it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the Twelve” (Mark 11.11).  What might have been the object of Jesus investigation?  What concerned Him in the temple complex?  Mark followed the account of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem with another of his literary “sandwiches” in Mark 11.12-26:

  1. When Jesus left Bethany the next morning, He looked with hope upon a fig tree with leaves, but when He came close He noticed that it was out of season (vv. 12-14).  While the tree would not satisfy Jesus’ hunger, it would serve as an object lesson for the disciples, thus Jesus cursed it: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” (v. 14)
  2. Jesus approached the temple complex calling it “a den of thieves” (v. 17) that needed to be cleansed.   Jesus cleared the court of the Gentiles, which—designated as their place of prayer—had become a Jewish marketplace during the Passover festival.  Jesus was not upset about the commerce of the week, but the lack of true spirituality in the place of communion with God.  Most annoyed by Jesus’ audacity were the chief priests and the scribes, who “started looking for a way to destroy Him.  For they were afraid of Him, because the whole crowd was astonished by His teaching” (v. 18)
  3. Mark then returned the reader’s attention to the fig tree—which had quickly become barren (vv. 20-26).  Peter was impressed with Jesus’ power, but the lesson of the fig tree was a spiritual one; Israel, with its apparent fruitfulness and busy temple, would wither no less than the fig tree.  Jesus went on to teach a lesson about prayer as well: prayers of faith, offered with a view to spiritual fruitfulness by those who are willing to forgive, will demonstrate the kind of power Jesus demonstrated over the fig tree

Jesus’ teaching in Mark 11:27-33 provides an exclamation point regarding the level of His spiritual authority.  Jesus, yet interested in the events of the temple, was there approached by the Jewish elite, who asked Him, “By what authority are You doing these things?  Who gave You this authority to do these things?” (v. 28).  Their concern would not be less than that of a mayor who approached one leading a successful protest against his city’s most prominent commercial festival.  Yet, Jesus called their bluff, “I will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.  Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men?  Answer Me” (vv. 29-30).  Their backs were against a wall!  They couldn’t say “from heaven,” because Jesus would then interrogate them for not believing what John had said; they couldn’t say “from men,” because they feared the crowds—most of whom believed John to be a prophet.  Jesus’ question revealed that their authority was of themselves; they were self-appointed experts in religion.  

Mark recorded Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem so as to emphasize one of the most significant motifs in the storyline of Scripture, namely, the temple.  The Old Testament quotations in Mark 11—the crowd’s cry of Ps 118.26 (v. 9), and Jesus’ use of Ias 56.7 (v. 17a) and Jer 7.11 (v. 17b)—find a point of contact there.  In Mark 11, Jesus showed His superiority in the temple, and He had unique prophetic authority to castigate the self-centered religious practices that occurred there.  Jesus Himself was the embodiment of all that the temple stood for, and since He—the very presence of God among men—had arrived, even this most significant place of Israelite life would have to be understood in light of Him.  Perhaps that is why in John’s vision in the Revelation, he saw Jesus as the actual sanctuary of the New Jerusalem and its temple; he wrote concerning it: “I did not see a sanctuary in it, because the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its sanctuary.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because God’s glory illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21.22-23).

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