12 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.”
15 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. 17 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.” 18 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. – Mark 11:12-19 ESV
After His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus had done a quick tour of the temple complex then returned to Bethany with His disciples. Evidently, they were staying at the home of Lazarus in Bethany. The next morning, Jesus and His disciples returned to the city, passing through the Kidron Valley and into the eastern gate. But Mark records a somewhat strange incident that took place as they made their way back to the city. He makes special note of Jesus’ hunger. This fact could have only have been known to Mark if it had been revealed to him by one of the disciples he interviewed for his gospel account. And the only way the disciples could have been aware of Jesus’ hunger is if He had said something about it that morning.
Having made known His hunger, Jesus spied a leaf-covered fig tree in the distance and made His way to it “to see if he could find anything on it” (Mark 11:13 ESV). The context indicates that He was looking for fruit to satisfy His hunger. But when He and the disciples arrived at the tree, they found it had leaves but no fruit. This point is significant because when the leaves of a fig tree began to appear, the fruit was not far behind. But this tree, while covered in leaves, was devoid of any figs. And Mark makes sure his readers know that “it was not the season for figs” (Mark 11:13 ESV).
The tree gave off the appearance of fruitfulness. Because it was covered in leaves it left the impression that it also bore the fruit that typically appeared at the same time. This tree had bloomed out of season. And while, from a distance, it appeared to be a fruit-bearing tree, it proved to be a disappointment. It failed to have what was necessary to satisfy Jesus’ hunger. So, Jesus cursed it.
“May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” – Mark 11:14 ESV
At first glance, it might appear that Jesus had either an eating disorder or an anger problem. After all, He cursed a tree for failing to bear fruit out of season, and all because He was hungry. But this entire scene was orchestrated by Jesus to drive home a point to His disciples. In doing what He did, Jesus was subtly recalling the words of the prophet Hosea.
They have deeply corrupted themselves
as in the days of Gibeah:
he will remember their iniquity;
he will punish their sins.
Like grapes in the wilderness,
I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree
in its first season,
I saw your fathers.
But they came to Baal-peor
and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame,
and became detestable like the thing they loved. – Hosea 9:9-10 ESV
Hosea was warning the people of Israel about God’s pending judgment because of their sin and rebellion against Him. While at one time they had been faithful and fruitful, they had ended up seeking other gods and committing spiritual adultery. They had been like a fig tree that bore fruit in season and then had suddenly lost its capacity to bear fruit at all.
This entire scene was designed by Jesus to be a powerful object lesson for His disciples. But it would come in two parts. The real point of the lesson would not be revealed until sometime later. In the meantime, Jesus and His disciples continued their walk to the city, most likely entering the eastern gate which opened directly onto the temple grounds. Once inside, Jesus encountered a familiar scene that caused His blood to boil. There, in the Courtyard of the Gentiles, were the same moneychangers and other vendors He had cast out a year earlier. During the Passover season, tens of thousands of pilgrims would make their way to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple. Because many of them were forced to travel great distances, they were not able to bring their sacrificial animals. So, the priests had set up a market within the Courtyard of the Gentiles where sacrificial animals could be purchased at exorbitant rates. And since only the local currency was accepted, pilgrims were required to exchange their foreign coinage with one of the temple-approved vendors. And, of course, these official moneychangers charged high fees for their services.
Jesus was infuriated by the carnival-like atmosphere and the blatant displays of greed and graft that filled the temple grounds. And, just as He had done before, Jesus cleaned house.
Jesus entered the temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple courts. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts… – Mark 11:16 NLT
We can only imagine the chaos that Jesus caused as He ransacked the stalls of the various vendors, upsetting their tables, and letting loose the sacrificial animals. He became a one-man wrecking machine, disrupting this Sanhedrin-sanctioned display of corruption and vice. And all the disciples could do was stand back and watch in slack-jawed amazement. But had the disciples understood the motivation behind Jesus’ actions, they would have joined Him in His efforts.
It is important that we consider where all of this took place. It was in the Courtyard of the Gentiles. This was the only area on the entire temple complex where non-Jews were allowed to enter. Any Gentiles who wished to worship the God of the Jews were free to do so, but they were restricted to this one area of the temple. In a sense, they were treated as second-class citizens. And the transformation of their courtyard from a place of prayer into a place of commerce was more than Jesus could stand. His righteous indignation was motivated by His understanding of His Father’s love for all people. And Jesus quotes from Isaiah 56 to reveal the nature of His wrath.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.” – Isaiah 56:6-7 ESV
The temple priests were more than willing to profit off the Gentiles who came to offer their burnt offerings and sacrifices to Yahweh. They would gladly sell them sacrificial animals way above market value and fill the temple treasury with the tidy profits they made. But in the midst of all the chaos and confusion, the prayers of the people were drowned out and the anger of the Son of God spilled over.
He accused the religious leaders of Israel of turning His Father’s house into a “den of robbers.” Once again, Jesus borrows from the writings of the prophets. This time He quotes from the book of Jeremiah.
“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 7:8-11 NLT
God had condemned the people of Israel for their hypocrisy and condemned their tendency to treat the temple as some kind of talisman or good luck charm. They were guilty of living lives that violated every one of God’s commands and then returning to His temple as if they were innocent of any wrong-doing. In a sense, they were using the temple like a hideout, a place of sanctuary that they hoped would protect them from the punishment they deserved for their crimes against God.
And here, hundreds of years later, Jesus was echoing the words of His Heavenly Father and condemning the Jews of His day for continuing the apostasy of their ancestors. Nothing had changed. And the proof can be seen in the reaction of the religious leaders.
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. – Mark 11:18 ESV
Rather than displaying remorse, these men seek revenge. They show no signs of regret or even a hint of conviction. In their minds, Jesus was the guilty party. He was the one who deserved to die. So, with this last public outburst by Jesus fresh on their minds, they began to plot His demise. But Jesus simply walked away, leaving a path of destruction in His wake. He walked out of the temple grounds, never to return again.
The departure of Jesus from the temple recalls another instance when the prophet Ezekiel was given a vision from God. In that vision, Ezekiel was given a glimpse of the glory of God filling the temple.
…the cloud of glory filled the inner courtyard. Then the glory of the Lord rose up from above the cherubim and went over to the entrance of the Temple. The Temple was filled with this cloud of glory, and the courtyard glowed brightly with the glory of the Lord. – Ezekiel 10:3-4 NLT
But as Ezekiel continued to watch, something truly significant happened. The glory of God slowly moved toward the east gate, which opened onto the Kidron Valley. And then, the glory of God departed. God Almighty vacated the premises.
Then the glory of the Lord moved out from the entrance of the Temple and hovered above the cherubim. And as I watched, the cherubim flew with their wheels to the east gate of the Lord’s Temple. And the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them. – Ezekiel 10:18-19 NLT
And Mark records that when evening came, Jesus and His disciples “went out of the city” (Mark 11:19 ESV). Jesus walked out the same gate He had walked in. And He would never enter the temple grounds again. The glory of God had left the temple, never to return. And that same temple, which the Jewish people revered and worshiped, would soon become a pile of rubble, destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. And to this day, the Jews have no temple. The glory of God, as revealed in the Son of God, has taken up residence in all those who have become the children of God. We are His temple, His dwelling place.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.