We sometimes forget Jesus’ role as a prophet when he walked this earth. He came to do the work of his father which included proclaiming his father’s message. Like many of the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus spoke, not only with his words but with his actions. So you see Jeremiah burying a linen belt, or Hosea marrying a woman who would be unfaithful to him. And so Jesus did things like curse a fig tree and turn tables over in the temple. There is a sense in which he orchestrates every piece of his creation to make us mature and to test or mettle. Every circumstance we are in is full of meaning, able to teach us about his character and ourselves. But in this instance he spoke very loudly with his actions. Mark picks up the significance of these events and orders them in order to bring out their meaning 1.
This is gardening 101, if a tree does not bear good fruit, you cut it down and throw it into the fire. The same thing is going on in Israel, they are bearing bad fruit. And the center of the problem is the, den, the hideout, the temple. The religious leaders are hold up in there and Jesus breaks in and cleans the place out. He cuts them down and throws them into the fire, well almost. Again he extends grace first. He dies and is raised again, then a few years later his minister Nero burns the place to the ground, because they still had not repented. He gives them a physical picture, it’s there for them if they want to understand. This man is behaving strangely, he obviously has power, but they concluded that his power came from Beelzebub. Because he was against them and surely they were doing the work of Almighty God. But they betray who they fear, “And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people:for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.” (Mark 11:31-32) They feared being wrong in the sight of the people and they feared the people. So rather than repent, they tried to make him look bad in front of the people, so they might cling to their power, their kingdom of darkness.
I think this is a good technique for us even today. You can set up situations to reveal people’s character. It’s obviously good for children, but even people in authority. I’m not talking about setting people up for failure. God does not temp us beyond what we are able. He gives us test we can pass and then he roots for us. The opposite of this is exasperating a child. But stories like Nathan speaking to David about Bathsheba as if it were another man (II Samuel 12), makes me think it is appropriate for our older brothers in Christ. You can show people what they are doing by doing it back to them and then pointing out there response. The purpose is not revenge it’s about creating a living metaphor to bring them to repentance. Of course they may just miss it all together and add your test to their list of faults against you. One of the most beautiful literary examples of this is the Count of Monte Cristo. There are two layers here, the reception of the book is doing what the book does. Our evil academic culture has taught this book as about merely revenge, since the 60s. They missed the point, they missed the metaphor, and reveal that revenge is in their hearts. The book is all about the living metaphors that God puts us in. He tells us what he is going to do, he gives us a situation, where we can fail and be cursed or remain faithful to his word and be blessed. Then he even gives second chances. This whole earth is a test for our place in the new earth. The treatment of Edmund Dantes is a test, those who failed were given a second chance by the returning Lord, the Count, and then they were judged by their own actions. It really is incredible. God will provide situations to teach. Watch for them and point them out or help facilitate them in other people. They really can penetrate a semi-dense heart.
Immediately after they find the tree withered the Pharisees ask where Jesus gets his authority and you just have to laugh. I’m inclined to believe that everything Jesus did at this point was public. People had ushered him into the city with palm branches laid out, they had planned ahead. And so I believe they had at least heard of the incident with the tree. He clearly has the authority, everyone can see it. And so by being light, he clashes with all that is not light. Some people can’t explain him, he just annoys them. He just makes me so _______________. And how you fill in the blank tells all. Do you take the situation and see your own faults and repent? Or do you conclude that this guy is pure evil and you want to kill him?
- Old Testament poetry often used chiasm in order to make a point. Poems were symmetrical and the point to be emphasized was in the middle. The arrangement of Mark 11 reminds me of this type of order and I’m sure that if I knew the overall structure of the book better it would fit into a larger chiasm. The previous day, as I have already said, Jesus made his entry into the city and then retreated to set up camp for further attacks. But the story of Jesus’ prophetic action against a fig tree is split by his cleansing of the temple.
A. Cursing the Fig Tree
B. Cleansing the Temple
A. Meaning of the Fig Tree ↩