Chapter 37

Straight talk
Mark 11:12-33 (ESV)

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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. 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.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” 26 [But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses.] 27 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?” 29 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.” 31 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. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

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Mark 11:12-14
The fruitless fig tree

Travelling back to Jerusalem from Bethany the next day, Jesus is hungry. A fig tree in leaf is figless. Jesus curses it[1] by saying May no one ever eat fruit from you again. Palestinian fig trees bear early crops of immature fruit, appearing before the leaves, which provide food for the peasants. This tree is barren. The fig tree also symbolises Israel, God’s chosen people, who also are fruitless. Perhaps Jesus indicates God’s displeasure with them by cursing the tree?

Mark 11:15-18
Putting the temple right

Jesus activates His plan to purify the temple. Commercial transactions, selling pigeons for sacrifice, money changing, and dishonest dealings replace worship and prayer there. Like the fig tree and Israel, it is also fruitless. Jesus drives out the buyers and sellers, overturns the tables of the money changers, and upends the pigeon sellers’ seats. He complains, 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. He forbids the use of the temple as a shortcut for commercial traffic, knowing that purifying it will incur the Jewish religious leaders’ opposition. They want Him dead. Because His teaching astonishes the crowd they fear Him even more. Christians also must sometimes publicly stand for what is right, thereby facing unpopularity and opposition.

The Bible teaches that born again Christians’ bodies[2] are temples of the Holy Spirit, as God resides within. Every real Christian is bought by Christ’s blood and indwelt by God’s Spirit. This temple passage reminds Christians to honour God with the way they keep and use the ‘temples’ of their bodies.[3]

Mark 11:19-26
Back to the fig tree

Jesus and His disciples leave Jerusalem that evening. Returning the next morning, they see that the cursed fig tree withered already. Peter tells Jesus, who immediately teaches the disciples that God can do the impossible. They must trust Him when praying. God answers prayer and moves mountains in their lives. Jesus emphasises the need to forgive anyone who has wronged them, before starting to pray. Their prayers can only be heard because God has forgiven their sins. We also must forgive others.

Mark 11:27-33
The authority of Jesus

Back in Jerusalem’s temple the chief priests, scribes and elders ask Jesus where His authority comes from. If He says ‘from God’[4] they will say He is blaspheming or mad. If He answers differently they will claim that He has no authority. Jesus’ response turns the tables again! Was John the Baptist’s authority God-given or man-made? Knowing people regarded John as God’s prophet, they won’t reply. Jesus too refuses to comment on His authority (which obviously comes from God!)

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[1]   .  Jesus’ curse of the fig tree is not bad language or temper. It is His expression of judgement to come.
[2]   .  In fact the only Christian known to the Bible is a ‘born again Christian.’ With out being born again, like Nicodemus we can neither ‘see’ (= ‘understand’) nor ‘enter’ the ‘kingdom of God.’ Read John 3: 3 and 5.
[3]  .  1 Corinthians 6:19-20. This is in the immediate context of rejecting sexual immorality but also covers a wider principle of holy living in which the body is used to glorify God.
[4]   .   The meaning here of ‘from heaven’.

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Questions on Chapter 37
Mark 11:12-33 Straight talk.

A. From this passage what lessons can you learn from the fig tree and about Jesus?   Mark 11:12-14   Mark 11:19-26

B. Why is Jesus so strongly opposed to the misuse and abuse of the temple? As the Christian’s body is referred to as ‘the temple of the Holy Spirit’ in 1 Corinthians 6:19, how does the way Jesus regards the temple challenge Christians today?    Mark 11:15-18   1 Corinthians 6:19   Romans 12:1-2

C. What can you learn from Jesus about how to answer a tricky question intended to trap you?   Mark 11:27-33   Mark 12:13-17