Cursing a Fig Tree (Matthew 21:18-19; Mark 11:12-14)
Early in the morning Jesus left Bethany for Jerusalem. Seeing a leafy fig tree beside the road and being hungry, Jesus went to it to pluck a fig. Finding none on it, Jesus pronounced a curse, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Matthew remarks that the tree immediately showed signs of withering.
We are used to the miracles being beneficial, but here Jesus kills a tree for simply having no fruit when expected. Figs typically put on fruit before the leaves of the plant appears. So though normally it was too early for figs at this time of year, a few trees were known to produce extra early and the leaves showed that this plant was a good prospect. Yet the tree had no fruit at all, not even unripe ones.
Though nothing is directly said about this event or why Jesus did it, it is recorded for a purpose – important enough that two authors included it in their accounts. We have a tendency to see what we want to see. We tend to suppress the bad in favor of the good. People look at God’s loving favor and cannot imagine God being severe with anyone, let alone sending someone to hell for eternity. Everyone needs to remember that we are here by God’s good grace and that we are here for a purpose (Romans 11:17-22). God dealt severely with the Jews when they failed to be productive (Isaiah 5:1-7). Can we expect anything less? Jesus will return to this point when we get to John 15.
Far too many people only have an appearance of godliness (II Timothy 3:5). There are people who claim to follow God, but their actions belie their words (Titus 1:16). We must prove ourselves doers of the word (James 1:22-25), else we too will face God’s wrath.
Cleansing Temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46)
Jesus matches his earlier deed to further action. He returns to the temple and as he did several years before (John 2:13-25), throws out the dealers and money changers. He also barred people from bringing in additional goods to sell. Some commentators believe Mark’s statement means people were using the Temple area as a shortcut between two parts of Jerusalem. Thus Jesus was preventing people from treating the Temple casually and disrespectfully. Again Jesus quotes from the prophets charging these people of turning God’s house into a place of robbery (Isaiah 56:7; Jeremiah 7:11).
Like the fig tree, Israel continued to look productive, but they were not producing righteous deeds. They were treating God in His own Temple with disrespect (Romans 2:1-11).
Healings and Teaching (Matthew 21:14-16; Mark 11:18; Luke 19:47-48)
People began to gather in the temple to bring Jesus their sick and to listen to his teachings. They are amazed at what he taught. Small children cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” This in particular irritated the Jewish leaders. Though they saw the miracles Jesus was doing, they complained that Jesus wasn’t being humble enough.
Jesus responses by quoting Psalms 8:2, but as he has done before, he quotes a portion but it is the words surrounding the quote which hold the point. The reason children are praising is “that You may silence the enemy and the avenger.” God knew that these men would not make a move against children, so God used children to deliver His message. “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen-Even the beasts of the field, The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-9). Yet here were God’s enemies seeing the power of God, so consumed by envy that all they can think to do is complain.
All this attention toward Jesus irritated the chief priests and scribes. Do not forget that they had put out a warrant for information of Jesus’ were about, and here he is right in front of them. They complain to Jesus about what the children are saying, but they make no move against Jesus. These leaders are politicians. They want the favor of the people even more than they want to dispose of Jesus. But with such large crowds around Jesus, they do not dare make a move against him.
Teaching on Sacrifice (John 12:20-50)
Some Greeks who had come to the feast approached Philip asking for an opportunity to see Jesus. These were not Jews, but Gentiles who worshiped God (Acts 17:4). As such they would not be able to enter the inner courts of the Temple. They probably approached Philip recognizing him as both a disciple of Jesus and a man from the border region, an area where people were more willing to deal with the Gentiles. Philip’s own name is Greek, meaning “a lover of horses.”
Philip goes to Andrew, a man from the same town (James 1:44), with the request and they both approach Jesus. Notice the contrast between the Greeks’ desire to see Jesus and the Jewish leaders’ arrogant rejection of the one they have seen. Jesus states that the time has come for the division between the Jews and Greeks to come to an end. It is time for Jesus to be glorified.
But for this to take place a death must occur. Just as a grain of wheat remains alone until it dies to produce more grain, so must Jesus die to bring more people to God. If life in this world is placed first, life will be lost. Only by despising earthly life can eternal life be gained (Matthew 10:39; 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33). In other words, the same words Jesus taught his disciples to follow also govern his own life.
In response to the request of the Greeks, Jesus said that if anyone wishes to serve Jesus they must be willing to follow him and then they will receive honor from God. This, too, is as Jesus has taught before (Matthew 16:24). His followers knew it was required of them (Romans 8:17). By service to God they would always be with God (II Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; I Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 21:3).
Returning to the topic of his impending death, Jesus admits that he is troubled by the thought of it. The principle Jesus asked his followers to live by was difficult even for the Son of God. However, he can’t ask the Father to prevent it because he came into the world to die for mankind. Jesus’ statement is expressed in the Greek both as a question and as a prayer. He ends with the assertion “Father, glorify Your name.” These two statements foreshadow Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane later.
To this God responds directly: “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” This is the third time recorded for us that God spoke (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). The multitude around Jesus heard the voice, but some were convinced that they heard thunder. Others concluded that an angel had spoken. People were having difficulty conceiving that the Father, Himself, had spoken as the voice implied, so they sought some other way to explain what they had heard. Jesus points out that what they heard was real. The Father didn’t speak for Jesus’ sake but for the sake of the people present. He was offering proof to the people that they would remember after Jesus’ resurrection.
It was time for judgment. It was time for Satan to be cast out. It was time for Jesus to be crucified in order to bring the world to him. The word for “judgment” in Greek is krisis. Time had reached the crisis point or decision point. The pivot point in the long war with Satan has been reached. Jesus would reconcile men to God (Colossians 1:18-20; Acts 26:18).
This is the third time Jesus spoke of his death as a lifting up (John 3:14; 8:26-28). Surprisingly, it appears that the people understood that Jesus was speaking of being crucified. But they were having a hard time matching this with what they knew about the Messiah. The Messiah was supposed to endure forever (Psalms 89:28-29; 110:4; Isaiah 9:6-7; Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14; Ezekiel 37:25), so how can Jesus be talking about suffering a violent death? If Jesus is going to die, then who is the Son of Man since the Son of Man cannot be the Messiah? By their question we see the seeds of doubt and the transition from people shouting “Hosanna!” at the beginning of the week to people shouting “Crucify Him!” at the end of the week.
Jesus does not answer their question directly. They asked about abiding forever and Jesus, in contrast, speaks of having a little while longer. While they had the opportunity to learn of the light, they need to use it before they are swallowed up in darkness. Here is a continuation of a major theme in John’s gospel (John 1:4-9; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:46). They had the light of the world with them, if they did not take advantage of the opportunity while there was still time, they could easily become lost in sin (Jeremiah 13:16-17; Proverbs 4:19; I John 2:8-11; Psalm 69:22-28).
Though Jesus warned them, his audience did not understand. He left and they did not know where he had gone. Here John inserts commentary into his account. Despite all the miracles done in their presence, the people did not believe in Jesus. Thus, unknowingly, they had fulfilled prophecy. They were acting just as their forefathers had done in the days of Isaiah (Isaiah 53:1). They were unable to believe (Jeremiah 13:23). It is not that it was impossible, but because of their own love of sin was preventing them from accepting what they heard (John 3:19). Thus, they refused to be healed of what was damaging them.
Lest we misunderstand, the disbelief among the Jewish leaders was not absolute. There were some who believed, but they were afraid to speak out, for in speaking in favor of Jesus they would disfellowshiped. John later names two, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:38-39). Acceptance by their fellow man was more important to them than standing with God.
As Jesus left, cried out that belief in him was equivalent to belief in God the Father because he was God’s representative on earth. Seeing Jesus was to see God; thus, he is declaring his equality to God (Philippians 2:6). Jesus did not come to cause rejection of God but to pull men out of sin. If people insist on rejecting his words, Jesus would not judge him at this time. His purpose in this mission is to save the world (John 3:17; 8:15). But those words he rejects will judge him in the last day. Those words were spoken by the authority of the Father. Jesus knows that God’s commands are everlasting life to those who believe and obey them (I John 3:22). Thus rejecting them will bring condemnation and death. Because of the importance of God’s commands, Jesus has spoke just as the Father had commanded.
For the same reason, we as God’s people must be sure to teach just what God has taught. They bring eternal life (Romans 10:14-18). Altered they will bring death (Galatians 1:6-10).
Return to Bethany (Matthew 21:17; Mark 11:19)
After finishing at the temple, Jesus left to spend the night again in Bethany.