As Jesus and His disciples approached Jerusalem for their final trip to the hill city, they came to the familiar town of Bethany on the Mount of Olives. This was a regular halt point for the group as it was home to many of Jesus’ close followers. While preparing to head for Jerusalem, Jesus asked two of His disciples to go into the village ahead of them and get a colt of a donkey that had never been ridden.
If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’Mark 11:3 (NIV)
Having found the colt just as Jesus had said, the disciples returned with the young donkey and threw the cloaks on it as a makeshift saddle. Jesus climbed onto the colt and the entire procession headed for the gates of Jerusalem to make a Grand Entrance.
A Welcome Fit for a King
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was given welcome befitting a triumphant king on his return to his kingdom. Some people spread their cloaks on the road while others had cut branches out of their fields to create a carpet for the king. They sang praises to His name
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”Mark 11:9-10 (NIV)
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
The expectation that the Jews had from Jesus and His latest visit to the ancient city, was miles apart from His actual mission. Jesus had come to die for the sins of the world at the hands of the Roman government only to conquer death and break its sting on the third day. But the people believed Jesus to be their political Saviour who would use His magical powers to dethrone the Romans and take “his rightful place” at the throne of David. Their joy was not because of the realization that no more will sin have a hold on them but were glad because they no more would be paying their taxes to Caesar (Luke 20:20).
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.Mark 11:11 (NIV)
The Cursed Fig Tree
The next day as Jesus and His disciples were leaving Bethany to go back to Jerusalem, they found a fig tree by the roadside. Seeing that the tree had leaves, Jesus went up to the tree in search of some fruit as He was hungry. When He saw that the tree had no fruit as the season of figs was not upon them yet, He cursed the tree to not bear any fruit anymore.
Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”Mark 11:14 (NIV)
After reaching, Jesus entered the temple and saw the temple being reduced to a marketplace. He did not allow anyone to carry the merchandise into the temple and overturned the tables of the money changes and those who are selling doves. He quoted from the scriptures where Jeremiah had prophesied about the people who had become numb to know the heart of God. They did all kinds of evil and then stood in the house of the Lord with full confidence that their deeds were righteous.
Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.Jeremiah 7:11 (NIV)
Surely the Pharisees and the teachers of the law understood the reference and what Jesus was implying. That is when the teachers of the law and the chief priests began looking for a way to kill Him as He was directly interfering with their business and labelling them as unrighteous. However, they feared the crowds that followed him and did not want to cause an uprising, especially this close to their festival. The next day, as they were walking along, the disciples noticed that the tree which Jesus had cursed the previous day. had completely withered from its root.
Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”Mark 11:21 (NIV)
By sandwiching this incident between Jesus’ visits to the temple at Jerusalem, Mark brings out the parallel of the fruitless fig trees with the hypocritical nature of the Pharisees. The fig tree was deceptive as it had only leaves but no fruit. Similarly, the Jewish leaders were full of fluff and only followed the outside rituals while they were not producing any fruits. Even today, people want recognition for their gifts of the Spirit but on the inside, they do not have any fruit of the Spirit. While the disciples did not understand the connection between the fruitless fig tree and the attitude of the Jewish leaders, they were more fascinated with the withered fig tree.
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.Mark 11:23 (NIV)
Like the crowds that were following Jesus and that gave Him a grand reception, the disciples also did not understand His mission. They were always chasing after superficial positions of powers in hypothetical scenarios and even with the fig tree, they were more interested in the miracle of the withered tree rather than the reason for its rot. Jesus told them to ask, believing that they will receive, and as he had told them earlier they were to ask for the Holy Spirit. Ask for His Spirit that carries us through the storms of life rather than asking for the fluff of life that only serves our egos.
In Jerusalem, while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, He was approached by the chief priests and the teachers of the law who asked Him on whose authority was He doing the things like clearing the temple off the merchants the other day. This is replied to them by asking them what they thought about John’s baptism, was it from heaven or of human origin? They were baffled at the question and discussed how they might answer that would cause the least damage to their reputation. If they said that his baptism was from heaven then they risked Jesus exposing their hypocrisy in not standing up in support for John and if they said human origin, they feared that the people gathered there would stone them, as they all truly believe that John was a prophet.
So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”Mark 11:33 (NIV)
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
The Jewish leader worried about appearances and how they would be perceived if they supported mavericks such as Jesus and John the Baptist. There were some Jewish leaders who were followers of Jesus in secret but could not stand out for Him for fear of being ousted from their posts. Jesus did not give them further ammunition by responding to the baseless question regarding His authority but has given us the example of the fig tree as we will be judged by the fruit we produce and not simply by our appearances.
- Why did the people give such a welcome to Jesus?
- Why did Jesus curse the fig tree?
- Why didn’t the chief priests not want to acknowldge John the Baptist?