There has never been more information poured into our lives than now. But what is actual reality and truth and what is fiction? What do you believe? And why do you believe it? What we think shapes our decisions which ultimately affects what we do and how we do it. Jesus, in talking to his disciples after they had witnessed many miracles and listened to Jesus explain many things, asked the most important question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ The answer to that question shapes a person’s life. Yet, that question needs to be understood in light of His authority and our response to that authority. If we really believe Jesus is who He has revealed Himself to be, it will affect who we are, who we will become, and ultimately where we will spend eternity.

It is interesting to read the gospel writers explain the various moments in the life of Jesus. One of the more moving accounts is in the final days in Jesus’ life as He enters Jerusalem, which the church celebrates as Palm Sunday because of the Palm branches that were placed before Jesus as He rode into the city. Matthew described the event in this way.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’[i]

Luke also reported that the city was stirred, and the term used there is where we get our term seismic. There is a sense from both of these writers of the amazing excitement and anticipation that Jesus was about to do something significant, and He did, but it was not what the people expected.

At the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Ezekiel had a vision of the glory of the Lord departing from Jerusalem and settling on the Mount of Olives (Ezek. 11:23).[ii]

The glory of the LORD went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it. The Mount of Olives is the mountain on the east side of the city.[iii]

“According to Zechariah 14:4 the Mount of Olives would be the site of final judgment, and the rabbis and Josephus (Ant. 20.169) associated it with the coming of the Messiah.[iv]

Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle.

On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north, and half moving south.[v]    

In keeping with this Messianic promise, Jesus approaches the city from the Mount of Olives. Many of the people who had experienced Jesus’ ministry in those days believed that what was about to happen was that Jesus was going to begin His Messianic reign by getting rid of the Roman oppressors. Expectations were high. But what happened when those expectations were crushed? How do we respond when our expectations are crushed and unrealized?

As Jesus journeyed into the city, people were calling out, ‘Hosanna’, which means ‘to save, I pray.’ If you were to read carefully the chronology it would appear, according to Matthew, that Jesus then immediately went and cleansed the temple. But Mark depicts a slightly anti-climactic picture of that day. It is not that Matthew is wrong, he simply puts together the events as though they happened immediately. 

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.[vi]

One of the most moving sites when you arrive at Jerusalem is Mount of Olives. It is here that the temple mount is seen from an amazing vantage point. The Mount of Olives towers 300 feet above the temple mount area overlooking the Kidron Valley below which is breathtaking even today, but even more so in Jesus’ day. Rather than the ‘Dome of the Rock’ perched there as it is today, the temple that was expanded upon under Herod was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Under Herod, the temple area had been enlarged to be an area of thirty-five acres, which included the temple structure with double columns made out of white marble, thirty seven and a half feet tall, which was three times the size of the Dome of the Rock. What an imposing building designed to inspire. We know from Scripture that this was the effect.

As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’

‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’[vii]

Not only was this destruction a judgment that fell on Jerusalem for their sins in rejecting their Messiah, but the reality is that the temple sacrificial system was about to be replaced. God’s plan was never designed for only a single people group, nor a single location to be where His glory would dwell. Even O.T. prophets spoke of this.

Jesus is not a reformer of the temple, for neither his teachings nor his ministry institutes a program of change and improvement. He is rather its fulfillment and replacement, for his death on the cross – and not the powerful temple cult – is the perfect atonement for sin.[viii]

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is filled with Messianic and Divinely authoritative overtones.  Mark more subtly brings this out in contrast to Matthew and Luke in their gospels. So what is Mark trying to communicate to us and what does this mean for each of us today living in the twenty first century? Mark is telling us who Jesus is and the authority He has to do what He does, and what that means for us. There are three elements that demonstrate Jesus’ identity and authority which, when embraced, changes our lives.


People can do and say things but it does not mean that it can be spoken with certainty. Who we are and what we are capable of doing has huge ramifications on what we can actually accomplish. Jesus tells His disciples to secure a colt which later is seen as a prophetic fulfillment by the disciples from the prophet Zechariah’s prophecy.

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.

If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell them, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.[ix]

James Edwards relates something interesting regarding Jesus’ choice of terms speaking toward the issue of His authority.

His hearers, of course, may have understood the term in the sense of ‘master,’ but the use of Kyrios rather than ‘I’ or even ‘Son of Man’ appears to be another instance of Jesus’ exousia, that is, his presumption to divine authority.[x]

What Edwards is saying is that Jesus is calling Himself God. 

Jesus is about to do something that will change all of humanity’s destiny. Jesus is about to reverse the curse of sin. He is about to allow His creation access into the very presence of God.  That’s the core message of the Bible, right from the very beginning when humanity disobeyed God and were banished from His presence in the garden of Eden.

And the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.

So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.[xi]

This is a picture of our banishment from God’s presence. That is what sin does. It keeps us away from a holy God. So what does Jesus do when He comes to Jerusalem? He goes to the temple, but then leaves and heads with his disciples to Bethany.

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.[xii]

So what did Jesus see? 

When you step inside the Temple the first area you reach is the court of the Gentiles. It was the biggest section of the temple and you had to go through it to get to the rest. All the business operations were there.[xiii]

Coinage was exchanged as no graven image could be found on temple coinage. Therefore, all monies received from religious pilgrimage coming to make sacrifices required an exchange of funds in order to secure the necessary sacrifice. It became big business and much corruption ensued. James Edwards explains the magnitude of the business side of the Temple operation.

The enormity of the temple industry may be further appreciated by a comment from Josephus (War 6.422-27) that in A.D. 66, the year the temple was completed, 255,600 lambs were sacrificed for Passover![xiv]

Jesus’ response the next day in the temple is shocking. 

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.

And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?” But you have made it a den of robbers.’[xv] 

…it was popularly believed that when the Messiah showed up he would purge the temple of foreigners.  Instead, here is Jesus clearing the temple for the Gentiles – acting as their advocate. …But what he was doing was even more subversive. Jesus was challenging the sacrificial system altogether and saying that the Gentiles – the pagan, unwashed Gentiles -could now do directly to God in prayer. This was amazing because the people knew the history of the tabernacle and the temple. The story of the temple starts all the way back in the Garden of Eden. That primal garden was a sanctuary; it was the place where the presence of God dwelled. It was a paradise, because death, deformity, evil and imperfection cannot coexist with God’s presence. In the presence of God there is peace, absolute flourishing, fulfillment, joy and bliss. But when the first human beings decided to build their lives on other things than God, to let other things besides God give them their ultimate meaning and significance, paradise was lost. …Turning from God has had dreadful consequences. Building our lives on other things – on power, status, acclaim, family, race, nationality – has caused conflicts, wars, violence, poverty, disease, and death.[xvi] 

How can we have this breach, this barrier to God, repaired? How can we have our relationships repaired? How was Jesus going to justify His actions in in the temple? He quotes Isaiah 56.

Isaiah 56 speaks of the extension of God’s salvation to people who formerly were excluded from it: foreigners, eunuchs, exiles and Gentiles.[xvii]

What Jesus is doing is explaining the true mission of the Messiah, which is very different than what the Jewish people in the first century were expecting.

The temple is not the sole property of Israel but a witness to the nations, the place where anyone who loves the name of the LORD [may] worship him (Isa. 56:6), a place where God will gather still others.[xviii]       


So how does Jesus go about challenging the false expectations and wrong assumptions about God’s purposes, not only for the Jews but also for the entire world? How does God go about correcting not only their wrong assumptions but ours as well? How does Jesus address the issue of the pretext of spirituality while exploiting the people?

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 

Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out, if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.

Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.[xix]

What is going on here? What we need to understand is that this is the only miracle of destruction in the gospels. This story has caused problems for many modern scholars, but there are some things we need to understand, and it’s meaning will come alive to us.

The earliest commentary on the Gospel of Mark by Victor of Antioch in the fifth century already understood the event as an enacted parable, in which the cursing of the fig tree symbolized the judgment to befall Jerusalem.[xx]

We know from history that Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., about 35 years after Jesus warned about that very thing. The reason Mark places the story of the fig tree here is that it is a modern parable. The fig tree represents the state of religion in Israel, promising life, but they had so corrupted their faith that it was a sham. There was nothing left to nourish the soul.

After the fig harvest from mid-August to mid-October, the branches of fig trees sprout buds that remain undeveloped throughout the winter. These buds swell into small green knops known in Hebrew as paggim in March-April, followed shortly by the sprouting of leaf buds on the same branches usually in April. The fig tree is in leaf. One therefore expects to find branches loaded with paggim in various stages of maturation. This is implied in 11:13, where Jesus, seeing a fig tree in full foliage, turns aside in hopes of finding something edible. In the spring of the year the paggim are of course not yet ripened into mature summer figs, but they can be eaten, and often are by natives. The tree turns out to be deceptive, for it is green in foliage, but when Jesus inspects it he finds no paggim; it is a tree with the signs of fruit but with no fruit.[xxi]

It is a picture of the state of the temple and the people who are running it. Rather than people coming to God, they are actually hindering people from connecting to God. 

Timothy Keller explains the significance:

So what is the lesson about? Jesus finds the fig tree not doing its appointed job. The tree is a perfect metaphor for Israel, and beyond that, for those claiming to be God’s people but who do not bear fruit for him. Jesus was returning to a place that was religiously very busy, just like most churches are: tasks, committees, noise, people coming and going, lots of transactions. But the busyness contained no spirituality. Nobody was actually praying.[xxii]

The real issue is what is changing in our lives? Jesus wants more than outward show; he wants genuine fruit. So what does that look like? Are we becoming less anxious, more patient, more forgiving and less angry? Are we learning to become less fearful and more faithful? Are our lives becoming more about others and less about ourselves? While the disciples heard Jesus curse the fig tree, the leaders heard Jesus denounce their behavior.        

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.[xxiii]             

What was significant about Jesus’ teaching? He taught with authority.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.[xxiv] 

Meanwhile that day that Jesus came to challenge the temple authorities by cleansing the temple, Jesus and the disciples passed the fig tree.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.

Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!’[xxv]


One of the lessons we learn in life is the weakness of humanity. Cynicism can strike at any time. Though there are many wonderful things in our world, there are also many heartaches and disappointments. We find that we can even come to the end of ourselves and realize that all the positive thinking can leave us empty. The effects of sin, injustice, pain, disease can strike at any time. Judgment can come in a variety of forms, but Jesus is now showing His authority over the creation of the world simply by speaking it into being. He challenges his disciples to have faith in God. Seeing that Jesus merely had to speak to the fig tree and it withered, Peter points out the results of what Jesus had said. Jesus then challenges Peter and the disciples, including us, to have faith in God. “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered (Mark 11:22).”

The only person who can give us access into the presence of God is Jesus. So while the prophets communicated that God would bring all peoples unto Himself, the question that comes to mind is, how? The same prophet Isaiah answered the question. God, Himself, would bring salvation to us. Only God can save us from our sins and the effects of our sins.

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear to dull to hear.[xxvi]

  1. But the problem was still human sin.

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.[xxvii]

So, God Himself becomes the suffering servant on our behalf and takes our punishment upon Himself. He addresses both the justice and the mercy issue. 

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.[xxviii]

Jesus died a substitutionary death for us and that is why when Jesus died, the temple curtain was torn from the top to the bottom. It was God showing us the way into His very presence. 

B. Jesus delegates His authority to us as His followers through prayer.

‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.[xxix]

What we notice is the conditional aspects to prayer. We will not be heard if we have an unforgiving heart toward those who have sinned against us.

When we come to Christ, the result or fruit of that is a changing life. So what should that look like? How do I know that I have put my faith in Christ? Jonathan Edwards, the 17th century preacher of the Great Awakening, once preached an amazing sermon talking about the excellencies of Christ. He brought out the idea that Jesus was all God and all man, and with that described all kinds of character traits that would be mutually exclusive: things like infinite majesty and complete humility; perfect justice and boundless grace and mercy; all sufficiency in Himself and yet complete submission and dependency on the Father.

A true follower of Jesus is not about being a religious person or becoming a nicer person or a more disciplined person or a moral person. That may all happen, but the reality is when we come to Jesus, we become more like Jesus, like the One who came into Jerusalem on a donkey (in humility), then stormed into the temple (in moral indignation) speaking up on behalf of the oppressed, but ultimately giving up His life for the transgressors. This is the nature that is being reproduced in each of us as followers of Christ. We are becoming a more complete person, a person that God designed us to become, because he freed us from the devastation that sin brings into our lives. Let us trust that we do not allow our disappointments and expectations to turn us away from God’s purposes in our lives.

[i]       Matthew 21:10 The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[ii]       James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 334.

[iii]      Ezekiel 11:23.

[iv]      James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 333.

[v]       Zechariah 14:3-4.

[vi]      Mark 11:11.

[vii]     Mark 13:1-2.

[viii]     James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 333.

[ix]      Mark 11:1-3.

[x]       James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 335.

[xi]      Genesis 3:22-24.

[xii]     Mark 11:11.

[xiii]     Timothy Keller, Jesus The King, (New York, N.Y.: Riverhead Books, 2011), 170.

[xiv]     James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 341.

[xv]     Mark 11:15-17.

[xvi]     Timothy Keller, Jesus The King, 170-71.

[xvii]    James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 343.

[xviii]   Ibid.

[xix]     Mark 11:12-14.

[xx]     James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 339.

[xxi]     Ibid, 339-340.

[xxii]    Timothy Keller, Jesus The King, 175-76.

[xxiii]   Mark 11:18.

[xxiv]   Matthew 7:28-29.

[xxv]    Mark 11:20-21.

[xxvi]   Isaiah 59:1.

[xxvii]   Isaiah 59:2.

[xxviii] Isaiah 53:5-6.

[xxix]   Mark 11:23-26.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *