JESUS CURSES A FIG TREE AND CLEANSES THE TEMPLE
TO IMPART LIFE TO MANY, JESUS MUST DIE
Jesus and his disciples have spent three nights in Bethany since they arrived from Jericho. Now, early in the morning on Monday, Nisan 10, they are heading to Jerusalem. Jesus is hungry. So when he sees a fig tree, he walks toward it. Does it have figs?
It is now late March, but the season for figs is not until June. Still, the leaves are out, having sprouted early. Thus, Jesus feels that there might be early figs. He finds, though, that there are none. The leaves have given the tree a deceptive appearance. Jesus then says: “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” (Mark 11:14) Immediately the tree starts to wither, the meaning of which is to be learned the next morning.
Before long, Jesus and his disciples reach Jerusalem. He goes to the temple, which he inspected the previous afternoon. Today he does more than make an inspection; he takes action similar to what he did three years earlier at the Passover of 30 C.E. (John 2:14-16) This time Jesus throws out “those selling and buying in the temple.” He also overturns “the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.” (Mark 11:15) He does not even let anyone carrying things to another part of the city take a shortcut through the temple courtyard.
Why is Jesus taking decisive action against those changing money and selling animals in the temple? He says: “Is it not written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a cave of robbers.” (Mark 11:17) His reason for calling these men robbers is that they demand exorbitant prices from those who have to buy animals needed for sacrifice. Jesus views their dealings as extortion, or robbery.
Of course, the chief priests, scribes, and principal ones of the people hear what Jesus has done, and they respond with renewed efforts to have him killed. However, they face a problem. They do not know how to do away with Jesus, because the people are flocking to hear him.
Not only natural Jews but also proselytes, converts to the Jews’ religion, have come for the Passover. Among them are Greeks who have come to worship at the festival. These approach Philip, perhaps attracted by his Greek name, and ask to see Jesus. Philip may be unsure whether such a meeting is appropriate, so he confers with Andrew. The two take the matter to Jesus, who is apparently still at the temple.
Jesus knows that he is to die in a few days, so this is not the time to satisfy people’s curiosity or to seek popularity. He responds to the two apostles with an illustration, saying: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Most truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just one grain; but if it dies, it then bears much fruit.”
One grain of wheat might seem of little value. Yet, if it is put into the soil and “dies” as a seed, it can germinate and in time grow into a productive stalk with many grains. Similarly, Jesus is one perfect man. Still, by his being faithful to God till his death, he will become the means of imparting everlasting life to many who have a similar spirit of self-sacrifice. Thus, Jesus says: “Whoever is fond of his life destroys it, but whoever hates his life in this world will safeguard it for everlasting life.”
Jesus is not thinking of himself only, for he says: “If anyone would minister to me, let him follow me, and where I am, there my minister will be also. If anyone would minister to me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:26) What a reward! Those honored by the Father will become Christ’s associates in the Kingdom.
Bearing in mind the great suffering and agonizing death that awaits him, Jesus says: “Now I am troubled, and what should I say? Father, save me out of this hour.” But Jesus does not want to avoid accomplishing God’s will. He adds: “Nevertheless, this is why I have come to this hour.” (John 12:27) Jesus is in agreement with all that God has purposed, including his own sacrificial death.