In the Gospel According to Mark, chapter 11, we find some of the best known stories of the life of Jesus Christ. We read about his so-called Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. This even took place the Sunday before his crucifixion and is celebrated by the church every year on what we call Palm Sunday.
This story of the Triumphal Entry is followed the next day by the cursing of the fig tree and the condemnation of the temple when Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple and declared, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mk. 11:17 ESV)
In the meantime, the chief priests and scribes were seeking a way to destroy him (Mark 11:17), so this chapter concludes with a confrontation between Jesus and the religious authorities. They demand to know what right Jesus had to condemn the temple.
So this eleventh chapter of Mark starts with the Triumphal Entry of the King to the shouts of “Hosanna!” And it finishes with the hostility of the Jewish authorities who are determined to do away with him.
Already in Mark 8, we arrive at the turning point of this gospel. On three occasions, Jesus has told his disciples what to expect. He has told them in detail exactly what is going to happen to him. He has told them that he will suffer many things and be rejected and be killed and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33).
First Announcement of His Death
Jesus first announced his death in the far north of Israel in Gentile territory. When Peter made his famous confession that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus then responded by telling his disciples that his mission as the Christ was to die, Peter rebuked him and told him that he was wrong to think such thoughts. Jesus in turn rebuked Peter that he was setting his mind on the things of man, rather than the things of God.
The Bible teaches us that we must abandon our ways of thinking and embrace God’s thoughts:
Isaiah 55:6-9 (ESV) “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Second Announcement of His Death
After Jesus and his disciples returned to Jewish territory in Galilee, he taught them a second time,
Mark 9:31-32 (ESV) … “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
Third Announcement of His Death
Jesus announced his death to his disciples a third time when they were in Judea on the road to Jerusalem.
Mark 10:32-34 (ESV) And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
No one wants to be crucified! Anyone else would have avoided it. Anyone else would have gone into hiding. People hide when their lives are in danger:
- Baby Moses was hidden from Pharaoh.
- The 12 spies hid from their pursuers in Jericho.
- David hid from King Saul.
- Elijah hid from King Ahab.
But Jesus, knowing everything that would happen to him, set his face like a flint toward Jerusalem. On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem. By Friday, he would be crucified, dead, and buried. And on Sunday, he would rise from the dead.
1. Palm Sunday, the Triumphal Entry
Mark 11:1-10 (ESV) Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Jesus and Muhammad
Steve Lambert is a Christian brother who lives in Washington, D.C., and is a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He reflects on the differences between Christianity and Islam:
In no other manner are the differences between Muslims and Christians more sharply contrasted than in the difference between the characters and legacies of their prophets. Perhaps the contrast is best symbolized by the way Mohammad entered Mecca and Jesus entered Jerusalem. Mohammad rode into Mecca on a warhorse, surrounded by 400 mounted men and 10,000 foot soldiers. Those who greeted him were absorbed into his movement; those who resisted him were vanquished, killed, or enslaved. Mohammad conquered Mecca, and took control as its new religious, political, and military leader. Today, in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, Mohammad’s purported sword is proudly on display. . . . Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, accompanied by his 12 disciples. He was welcomed and greeted by people waving palm fronds— a traditional sign of peace. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the Jews mistook him for an earthly, secular king who was to free them from the yoke of Rome, whereas, Jesus came to establish a much different, heavenly kingdom. Jesus came by invitation and not by force (Dever, It Is Well, 65)
Fit for a King
Jesus normally walked wherever he went, but he does not walk into Jerusalem. Nor does he ride in a horse. Jesus sent two of his disciples to the village to get a colt “on which no one has ever sat” (Mark 11:2). Jesus demonstrates through the use of this symbol that he is claiming to be the king of Israel. Matthew specifies that this colt is a donkey (Matthew 21:2, 5, 7) and says that “this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” Zechariah (Matthew 21:4):
Zechariah 9:9 (ESV) Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
They brought the colt to Jesus. No one had ever sat on it. According to the Jewish Mishnah (m. Sanh. 2:5), no one may ride a king’s horse. The disciples spread their robes on the colt and Jesus sat on it. The King of Israel comes riding into Jerusalem, “humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
People spread their garments on the road leading into Jerusalem, just as the Jews had done when Jehu was anointed king (2 Kings 9:12-13). They spread palm branches on the road and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10).
Mark wants us to know that these acclamations are addressed to Jesus, the Son of David. He is the Lord who had need of the colt (Mark 11:3). “He, the Son of David, has come and has brought the messianic kingdom of David, as he has proclaimed from the beginning (1:15).”
Passover would take place that week. It was a time of celebration, a time of remembering that God had delivered his people from Egypt. It was a time to pray that God would once again deliver his people and establish the kingdom for Israel. But Jesus was a different kind of a king, and his kingdom was not of this world.
Unlike Muhammad, Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom, but the rule and reign of God in the hearts of men. He did not come to conquer and kill, but to be killed on a cross to bear the sins of all men everywhere.
Yet, “[O]ur King has come, and our King is coming again. And what a difference there will be in His first and second advents.”
|The First Coming of Jesus||The Second Coming of Jesus|
|He came to die.||He will come to reign.|
|He came on a little donkey.||He will come on a warrior horse.|
|He came as a humble servant.||He will come as an exalted King.|
|He came in weakness.||He will come in power.|
|He came to save.||He will come to judge.|
|He came in love.||He will come in wrath.|
|He came as deity veiled.||He will come as deity revealed.|
|He came with 12 disciples.||He will come with an army of angels.|
|He came to bring peace.||He will come and make war.|
|He was given a crown of thorns.||He will receive a crown of royalty.|
|He came as the Suffering Servant.||He will come as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.|
2. The Lord of the Temple
As Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, we might have expected something spectacular to happen. But the Lord’s arrival in Jerusalem seems anticlimactic:
Mark 11:11 (ESV) And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Jesus enters Jerusalem. He goes to the temple. He looks around. It’s late. He goes to Bethany.
But there is more here than meets the eye. Jesus is focusing on the temple. He does not simply look around. He is looking at everything that is going on in the temple. The same word is used in Mark 3:5 when Jesus looked around at the synagogue leaders with “anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” It is used several times to indicate that Jesus was inspecting the temple (Mark 3:34; 5:32; 10:23). Jesus has come to the temple. He has weighed it in the scales of God’s divine justice and found it wanting.
“It was already late.” Not only was it late in the evening, on God’s timetable, it was already too late for the temple.
The Cursing of the Fig Tree
Mark 11:12-14 (ESV) On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
This is the last miracle in the ministry of Jesus, and it is a miracle that brings death, not life. Jesus and his disciples spent the night in Bethany where we can imagine that they enjoyed hospitality in the village of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. It is Monday morning, and they are returning to the temple. Jesus was hungry. He saw a fig tree in full leaf. It was not the season for mature figs, but with the full leaf, there should have been early or unripe figs. But when Jesus came to it, he found nothing but leaves. It had the appearance of fruitfulness, but that appearance was deceptive. Jesus cursed the tree, saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
The Condemnation of the Temple
This story is not about a fig tree; it is about the temple. “The barren fig tree represents the temple that is unprepared for the coming of its Lord.”
Jesus is acting out a parable. The fig tree often represents the nation of Israel. For example, in reference to Judah, we read in Jeremiah,
Jeremiah 8:13 (ESV) When I would gather them, declares the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.”
The temple is like a fig tree without fruit. Jesus has inspected the temple and is on his way to pronounce his judgment upon it.
Mark 11:15-16 (ESV) And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.
Jesus comes to the temple. The outer court of the temple was the court of the Gentiles. The Court of the Gentiles was the only place in the temple area where Gentiles could gather and worship God. The Jews had transformed it into a noisy, smelly public market where people changed money and purchased cattle for their sacrifices. How could the Gentiles pray in such a place?
Mark 11:17 (ESV) And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
The Jews expected the Messiah to purge Jerusalem and the temple of Gentiles. Jesus came to do the opposite. “He does not clear the temple of Gentiles…” He clears the temple for Gentiles. God’s house must not be a house of commerce; it is a house of prayer, and not for Jews only, but for all nations.
Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Malachi 3:1
Malachi 3:1 (ESV) “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. [That’s John the Baptist.] And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
Jesus comes suddenly to the temple. Yet the next verse of Malachi continues,
Malachi 3:2 (ESV) But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? …
It is “already late.” It is too late now. Judgment is being passed.
Jesus does not intend to reform the temple. He is not cleansing the temple. Jesus is bringing God’s judgment of rejection upon the temple. Time’s up. It’s all over.
Before the week is finished, Jesus will teach about “the coming judgment upon the temple, Jerusalem, and the nation.” Before the week is over, at the crucifixion of Jesus, “the curtain of the temple is torn in two from top to bottom (15:38).” Israel’s privileged position will be taken away and given to others (Mark 12:1-12). Jerusalem itself will be destroyed.
Singlehandedly, Jesus drives out the merchants and money-changers. He does not merely predict the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem; it is something that he will do.
Mark 11:18-21 (ESV) And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. 20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
The fig tree was withered to its roots. There was no hope of renewal. The cursed tree was a symbol of God’s judgment upon the temple. It was already too late.
Too often we miss life’s greatest opportunities. We think that there is always more time, always one more chance. There’s always tomorrow. But that it not true. There is not always tomorrow. You only have this moment. You have no guarantee for tomorrow.
The Israelites were brought to the border of the Promised Land, but in spite of God’s miraculous signs and provision, they did not believe that they could take the land. They refused to enter the Land of Promise. That generation was condemned to perish in the wilderness. The next day they had a change of heart and decided to go up against the Amorites. But it was too late. God was not with them. They were defeated and condemned to perish in the wilderness during the next 40 years (Deuteronomy 1). They had missed their opportunity.
So God continually appeals to you on the basis of today.
Hebrews 3:7-8 (ESV) Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,
Hebrews 3:13 (ESV) But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Hebrews 3:15 (ESV) As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Hebrews 9:27 (NLT) And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,
You may not have tomorrow:
2 Corinthians 6:2 (NLT) … Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
3. A Challenge to Jesus’ Authority (11:27-33)
Jesus had prophesied that the chief priests and scribes would reject him (8:31) and condemn him to death (10:33). They are now looking for a way to destroy him because, above all else, they wanted to preserve their own religious and political power (11:18).
Mark 11:27-28 (ESV) And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”
These are the chief priests and elders. They oversee the operation of the temple. None of them gave him the authority to drive out the money-changers. None of them gave him a license to preach or teach. This is their territory and they intend to keep it that way. So they demand to know what right he has to do these things. They assume that “no one possesses authority on his own to carry out such an outrageous sign of judgment on God’s temple.”
Jesus boldly presumes to have divine authority to But Jesus seizes control of the situation.
Mark 11:29-30 (ESV) Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”
The question is easy enough. Everyone knew about John the Baptist. And the question was multiple choice: heaven or man? Was the baptism of John from God or from man? Was it of divine origin or human origin? Did God send John the Baptist, or did he come of his own accord?
The question would have been easy for men of integrity. But these men are calculating, conniving men, who do everything and who answer every question in terms of its impact on their own power and position.
Mark 11:31-32 (ESV) And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet.
It is a horrible thing when religious leaders become politicians, when they are more concerned with protecting their position than with proclaiming the truth. These men were corrupt through and through.
Mark 11:33 (ESV) So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”
Jesus has them. If they say that John’s ministry was from heaven, Jesus will ask them why they did not believe him. If they say that it was from man, the people will see them as spiritually unfit to lead. So they say that they do not know. But that only shows that these spiritual leaders “cannot tell the difference between what is from God and what is from men.”
Mark 11:33 (ESV) … And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
But Jesus is not simply avoiding the question. He has revealed the spiritual bankruptcy of the Jewish authorities. At the same time, he points to the baptism of John. Jesus himself was baptized by John. And when he was baptized by John,
Mark 1:10-11 (ESV) And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
“By what authority do you do these things?” As the Son of God, Jesus is Lord of the Temple and has every right to condemn it.
Because of Jesus, we Gentiles are no longer kept in the outer court. Because he went to the cross, we Gentiles can enter the Most Holy Place that only the high priest could enter, and that only once a year. Because of Jesus, you and I can freely enter today and every day.
Hebrews 10:19-22 (NLT) And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean…
 Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 242). B&H Publishing Group.
 Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 148.
 Garland, loc. cit.
 Stein, Robert H. Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). 2008.
 Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 248). B&H Publishing Group.
 Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 149.
 Walter W. Wessel, Mark in EBC, v. 8, p. 727-728.
 Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark. Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009. 23.31.
 Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Kindle Locations 13467-13468).
 Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Kindle Location 13472).
 Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Kindle Locations 13476-13478).
 Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 306.
 Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 150.
See also “Gospel of Mark”: