Mark 11:12–25—The clearing of the temple
12 The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus felt hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree a little way off that was in full leaf, so he went over to see if he could find any figs on it. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it. 15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from bringing in merchandise. 17 He taught them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” 18 When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so enthusiastic about Jesus’ teaching. 19 That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city. 20 The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it was withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Teacher! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” 22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I assure you that you can say to this mountain, ‘May God lift you up and throw you into the sea,’ and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe and do not doubt in your heart. 24 Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”
Points of Interest:
- ‘May no one ever eat your fruit again’—It seems a bit unfair and impetuous of Jesus to curse a fig tree simply because he was hungry and disappointed—especially since it wasn’t even fig season. It’s important to notice that the story of the fig tree brackets the story of the temple. Jesus is using the fig tree as a symbol of the temple. Jesus goes to the fig tree expecting figs, and all he finds are leaves. He goes to the temple expecting to find prayer, and he finds plenty of activity but no prayer. Just like a fig tree without figs is of no use to Jesus, a temple without prayer is of no use to him. The fig tree is a sign to the people who run the temple: they can expect the same thing to happen to the temple as happened to the tree.
- ‘you have made it into a den of thieves’—the quote about the house of prayer comes from the prophet Isaiah 56:7. The quote about the den of thieves comes from Jeremiah 7: 11. It’s not just that Jesus finds no prayer at the temple, it has been replaced with robbery. What exactly was going on? When people came to the temple, they were expected to offer unblemished animals for sacrifice. Some people traveled to Jerusalem from great distances, and found it difficult to bring animals all the way from home. For their convenience, the temple began to offer animals for purchase on the spot. However, over time—rather like hot dogs and beer at the ballpark—they began to severely over-charge. Furthermore—also like at the ballpark—they went from offering these official temple sacrifices for whomever wanted them to requiring that people buy the temple sacrifices. So, the temple officials were making a tidy profit on this business, but they were robbing the worshippers of their money and God of some of his offering. They were also robbing non-Jews of a place to pray. Jesus says that the temple is supposed to be a place of prayer for all nations; but the officials have set up all of these tables in the court of the Gentiles, the place set aside for non-Jews to worship.
- ‘you can say to this mountain’—‘This mountain’ would be Mount Zion, the site of the temple. Jesus is making another reference to the fact that he has little use for this prayerless temple.
- ‘first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too’—Jesus offers them the lavish promise that, with faith, they can ask for anything they need. Then, he suggests what their first priority should be with this great gift—the most important thing they can ask for in faith is forgiveness. Take notice of the fact that the forgiveness has a condition: the Father will forgive us if we are forgiving others. We have the choice: we can live in an economy of justice or an economy of forgiveness. If we insist on justice for those who have wronged us, we will also receive justice. If we offer forgiveness, we will also receive forgiveness.
Taking it Home:
- For you: Jesus says the greatest thing we can ask for is forgiveness. Spend a few minutes offering forgiveness to people you have something against, and receive the Father’s forgiveness. If you ask in faith, God will give it to you.
- For your 6: Jesus removed all of the merchants that were in the way of the Gentiles worshipping. Are there things that are crowding out your 6, giving them no space to pray or worship? Especially think about religious barriers. Ask Jesus to remove them. Also take any steps you can to remove those barriers.
- For our church: Ask Jesus to make us a house of prayer for all nations. Ask him to remove anything that gets in the way of people being able to seek him, and ask him to draw all kinds of people from everywhere into our midst.