Mark 11. Jesus Presents Himself to the Jewish Leaders.
Key Note: Palm Sunday explained. The fig tree and spiritual power. Authority and authorization.
This chapter is full of excitement. It describes Jesus’ strongly political action—entering Jerusalem as King. It also contains a bold and powerful religious action—Jesus entering the Temple as its master and clearing out the marketers. Two less dramatic events are the destruction of a fig tree, and a tense exchange with the hierarchy. Jesus’ life is moving to its climax.
11:1–11 Jesus and the crowd that followed Him from Galilee (10:1, 46) came to Jerusalem and formed a parade. Jesus had his disciples commandeer an unbroken colt as His vehicle. The easy time the disciples had getting the animal, everything just as Jesus said it would be, is part of a careful plan, including Jesus’ word that they would bring it right back. They put their shirts as saddle cloths on the donkey, and spread the ground under His feet with their clothes and tree-branches. He was riding in the center of excited crowds going before and following in His train. It was a high moment, a triumph, fit for a king. He is fulfilling the prophecy of Zech. 9:9–10 also cited in Matt. 21:5 and Jn.12:15.
”Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is He,
Humble and riding on an ass,
On a colt, the foal of an ass….”
The disciples will remember this passage later, after His ascension.
The paraders sang from the Passover Psalm 118:25–26.
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!
Blessed is the Kingdom of our father David that is coming!
Hosanna in the Highest!
The word “hosanna” means “Lord, save us now”. Later, it was used like “Hallelujah”, an expression of praise. The nations will one day stand before the throne with their palm branches singing a similar song.
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev.7:9)
“The Kingdom of our father David”, is the Messianic Kingdom. The marchers have picked up Bartimaeus’ “Son of David” name for Jesus and worked it into part of Psalm 118 and sung it in the parade. Psalms 113–118 were sung at Passover.
“Save us, we beseech Thee, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech Thee, give us success!
Blessed is He who enters in the name of the Lord!
We bless You from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God and He has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
Up to the horns of the altar!' (Psa.118:25–27).
When they got to the Temple, the crowd dispersed. He looked around the temple carefully and left for Bethany for the night with His disciples. It was a strange thing for Jesus to do, and a strange ending to the day.
11;12–14 The next day, Monday, He stopped at a fig tree, looking for the early figs that come when the tree leafs out. He found none and declared the tree fruitless, dead. The fruit he was seeking is an early fig that comes with the new leaves in March. It is a small fig, the size of a cherry, later replaced by the larger, more moist and desirable fruit. If the early figs do not appear, the later mature fruit will not be produced either. (See the article on "Figs" in Int. Stand. Bibl. Encyclo.)
11:15–19 Now Jesus carried out His plan of the previous day. He went into the Court of the Gentiles and drove out the commercial people from the Temple and refused passage to those who wanted to use it as a short-cut. He was furious at the systematic thievery of the money-changers, and the commercialization of animal sacrifice. He had the advantage of surprise, and they did not resist him. Then He taught them from OT quotations. It is stunning that the same problem was described six hundred years before by the prophets.
“My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isa.56:7)
”Has this house, which is called by My Name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?” (Jer.7:11)
The last word of Zechariah is “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of Hosts on that day.” (Zech. 14:21)
The chief priests and scribes were not present, but heard what He had done and were furious. But the crowds were magnetized by His message and so their fury was restrained by fear of disorder from these ruffians of Galilee. (Lk.13:1; Acts 5:37). There was fear on both sides.
11:20–25 The next day the disciples saw that the fig tree was dead and were shocked. It normally takes weeks for an injured tree to die back completely. Peter exclaimed to Jesus: “Look! The fig tree….” We understand the curse of the fig tree as an acted out parable of Israel’s worthlessness to God and her soon coming destruction.
But Jesus did not pursue the obvious application to Israel. Instead, He talked about invoking God’s power, as He had obviously done. (4:40; 9:29). It is intimidating to think that anyone could have His great spiritual strength, His hold on God’s power, but He provoked them to think in even more impossible terms. We are incredulous that He would invite them to move a mountain, even that He would grant whatever they asked in prayer. Their faith was so small that they worried about their bread supply. They feared drowning in a storm. They could not heal a demonized boy.
When Jesus said “this mountain” was He referring to the mountain as a metaphor for a spiritual obstacle to be removed? (…every mountain and hill be made low.” Isa.40:4). Do we have any examples of such mountains moved? Pentecost was such a mountain moved—the resistance of three thousand Jews was overcome and they were swept into the Kingdom; soon followed by two thousand more. Was Saul’s conversion the product of the believers’ prayers? But the mountain need not move in a moment. In 200 years Christ’s little band broke down the religion and the idols of the Roman Empire. Some think of the movement to Christ in China after 150 years of prayer as that kind of a miracle. Or the release of South Africa from apartheid without a blood-bath. Dare we pray for a massive spiritual movement in North Korea or Iran or Turkey or USA? We dare.
11:27–33 Again they came to Jerusalem and He was walking and talking in the temple. The chief priests, and scribes and elders came on. They asked Him two questions on authority:
By what authority do you do these things or
Who gave you the authority to do them?
In other words, is Your authority from Yourself or from God? We are fairly certain that they did not ask the same question twice because Jesus separated the questions in his counter-question.
He countered the question using John the Baptist as a case in point.
Was John’s authority human or
Was John’s authority divine?
They thought John was working on his own initiative but they knew the people disagreed and would react strongly. They could not say divine because they were not willing to accept him. Since John and Jesus were strongly linked, whatever they would say about John also applied to Jesus. They had rejected them both. They refused to answer and were left looking foolish.
When the hierarchy rejected John, they in effect rejected Malachi, the last great OT prophet who proclaimed John's coming. After 400 years of silence, when there was no spiritual vision, Jesus came, and Malachi’s prophecy (Mal.3:1) was recited (Mk.1:2) and then refused. The place where the Christ was to be born was known (Mic.5:2) but the signs of angels, shepherds, and wise men were ignored (Matt.2:6) although the events took place less than ten miles from Jerusalem.
The source of Jesus’ authority is on the surface of a problem which is still troublesome today. There are at least six sources of Jesus' authority, all of them discoverable in the Gospel of John.
*the testimony of John the Baptist. Jn.5:33–35
*His miracles Jn.5:36
*the voice of the Father. Jn.5:37–38
*the Old Testament Scriptures. Jn.5:38–47
*His resurrection. Jn.2:18–22
*The Holy Spirit. Jn.16:7–15
Jesus’ authority comes down to us by delegation through the apostles and their writings, and then through the Church which has changed dramatically over the centuries through the Dark Ages and the Medieval Period, through the Reformation and the modern Evangelical movement. The Church in 2000 is hardly recognizable from the Church of 1000AD that was largely illiterate and steeped in superstition. As it did then, the Church delegates its authority to its trusted servants. But then the question of authorization comes up again, as John struggled with it. (Mk.9:38-). Two groups claim authority today: the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and the charismatics. Neither authority sits squarely on Scripture, one resting partly on tradition, the other on special enlightenment. We search the Scriptures for our authority, for in them alone we believe we have eternal life. Jn5:39.
The cleansing of the temple was a stunning action of power. There was no question of Who was in charge. It is a warning to us not to commercialize our churches, and to be careful in our stewardship of other people’s money that is intended for spiritual work. Commercial sin is committed by some TV evangelists and dubious charities that milk Christians of tithe money which is then spent on personal luxuries—blatant enough that the U.S. Senate has thought of investigating it.
The Triumphal Entry was a strange thing for Jesus to do. It is true, on one hand, that He was consciously fulfilling Zech. 9:9. But His style was usually quiet and non-disruptive. He taught the disciples to receive Him as a child.Here He presented Himself as King—a role He previously refused when they tried to make Him king by force. (Jn.6:15).
“But the Pharisees went out and took counsel against Him, how to destroy Him. Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed Him, and He healed them all and ordered them not to make Him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “…He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will any one hear His voice in the streets” (Matt.12:14–21)
It is also clear that He had no intention of immediately carrying out His proclamation of leadership in the political world. The parade ended without follow-up. In effect He said “I am the King” and again “I am not a king.” The way He presented it to Pilate was “My kingdom is not of this world. “ (Jn.18:36)
The only Christian scholar whom I know has taken the puzzle of the Triumphal Entry seriously is V.R.Edman. ("Eternity" magazine. April,’58; p.12–15).
“The [triumphal] entry of the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is one of the most enigmatic portions of Scripture. It certainly was no real triumph.” “The Entry was more tragedy than triumph; for when the Savior came within sight of the city He wept over it.” (Lk.19:41)
“The Lord Jesus was dead set against publicity or self-promotion of any kind.”
“Is the entry merely an incident in the Passion of the Saviour, therefore merely incidental; or is it an integral and important part of the Story? If incidental merely, why should it be written large in all four Gospels?”
“The Passover was the greatest of Jewish feasts. Like all other feasts, offerings, and the like, given to us in the Law of Moses, it was typical of the death of Christ.”
“What part, if any, do the references to the Passover lamb related to the Passover lamb relate to the entry into Jerusalem?”
“The first reference to the Passover lamb is Exodus 12:3 KJV.“Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house; “ ”…and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.”
"Declared the Apostle Paul by inspiration of the Holy Spirit: ‘Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.’” (I Cor.5:7)
“No longer is it a hollow ‘triumph’; rather it is the setting apart for slaughter the Passover Lamb, my Savior and yours, who takes away by His death our sin.”
Thus, the Triumphal Entry is a vital part of the Passover fulfillment. On the day the sacrificial lambs were set aside for Passover, Jesus showed Himself in Jerusalem dramatically in front of His people in preparation for being offered in sacrifice.
Why is the Evangelical Church not celebrating Palm Sunday? It is part of the liturgical calendar which we no longer observe. But the more important reason is that we have lost the connection between Passover and Easter. The class was shocked when they heard "Easter is Passover."
It was His triumph to die for our sins as the Passover Lamb. It is our joy when we embrace Him and crown Him King of our lives.