Parallel Texts: Matthew 21:18-19, 11-13, 20-22; Luke 19:45-48; 21:37-38
Few teachers teach this section from Mark’s account, preferring instead to use the parallel in Matthew or Luke with their more confused timelines, but Mark’s timeline is much more clear than the other two. As a teacher or commentator, you have a choice here: You can take individual events out of this narrative and discuss a great amount of detail regarding money exchange, buying and selling of sacrifices and use the fig tree to support your favorite end times theory, or you can keep them within Mark’s context and see something wonderful. My approach for today is to leave these events within Mark’s timeline and gaze at them in wonder and amazement.
Remember that after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus proceeded to the Temple court and, finding the area deserted, returned quietly to Bethany for the night. The next morning, He sets out once again for the city. On the way, He sees a fig tree and walks over to it hoping to find some figs to eat. Seeing none there, He curses the tree, saying “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (v. 14)
He continued into town and went to the Temple courts. This time, He found them full of activity, mostly of the buying and selling variety, and He drove out the money changers, the vendors and all the rest saying, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ (v. 17)
Now, catch the next verse:
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
Mark has already told us that the Pharisees were plotting to kill Jesus, along with the allies of Herod; now the chief priest join the conspiracy… but notice why: “because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”
Jesus walks into the Temple and shuts down the business operation and reminds the people that the Temple is supposed to be a house of prayer, and not a profit center… and the people are amazed! It almost sounds like prayer at the Temple was a novel concept, which it probably was.
When evening came, Jesus returned to Bethany.
The next morning, as they went past the fig tree from the previous morning, the disciples notice that it has withered, and now they are amazed. Peter calls the tree to their attention, and Jesus sums up the point of this entire section: prayer, faith and forgiveness.
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Jesus responds to Peter by speaking of faith and prayer, you can almost say that He is really referring to our relationship with God here: Faith in Him, interaction with Him in prayer. He also mentions that when we interact with God, we need to forgive our brothers and sisters if they have wronged us in any way; sounds like love your neighbor, don’t you think? Hmm… love God, love your neighbor: see the parallel?
Back to the beginning again: Jesus wishes for the fig tree to bear no more fruit, goes to town and chases the worldly business out of the Temple, which is God’s dwelling place on earth and the center of the Jewish relationship with God, stating that it is a place of prayer (interaction/relationship) and the chief priests want Him killed for interrupting their business. The next day, the fig tree is dead, and Jesus teaches an object lesson on putting your relationship with God first and foremost in your life, which is the same thing He was teaching at the Temple.
What comes first in our lives, work, money, profit; the things of this world? That seems to be the view of the chief priests who had a great little business going in God’s house. What are our churches all about, are our priorities the same as those of the chief priests? Could it be that this is the cause of a weak prayer life for us individually, and why many of our churches are not very effective for the cause of Christ?
Maybe, maybe not, but that was the lesson Jesus was teaching on that Monday and early Tuesday morning, and I hope we will reflect and pray on it.