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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lenschow

What was Jesus Doing?

Mark 11:12-21

After Palm Sunday, we consider the final week of Jesus’ life, sometimes referred to as “Holy Week.”

1. Recognize the context: Historical and literary context-

In Mark 11, Jesus sent his disciples to get a colt for him to ride into Jerusalem. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, a procession formed as people went ahead of Jesus and behind him. They laid down their cloaks and branches on the path. They cried out,


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

The crowd's actions and declarations indicated their understanding of who Jesus was. They believed him to be the coming Messiah. His entrance into Jerusalem was necessary in order to establish God’s Kingdom and to defeat the Roman Empire.

After all the excitement, verse 11 appears almost to be anticlimactic. After entering Jerusalem and going to the temple, Jesus and his disciples returned to Bethany for the night.

2. Read the Scripture: Mark 11:12-21

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 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. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. 15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts 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, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 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.’” 18 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. 19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. 20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

3. Reflect on the Scripture:

Verse 12 picks up the story the following day.

Mark is known for his “sandwich structures” (A’-B’-A’) throughout his gospel. This literary feature is used to demonstrate a relationship between two actions or events. Here he used the cursing of the fig tree to interpret Jesus’ actions in the temple.

A’ The cursing of the fig tree (11:12-14)

B’ Jesus’ actions in the temple (11:15-19)

A’ The fig tree withered (11:20-25)

The actions of Jesus may seem bizarre and perplexing to modern readers. That is until we understand these two events as being symbolic actions related to one another.

After his initial entry into Jerusalem, Jesus returned with his disciples. On the way, Jesus approached a fig tree that had leaves but no figs because it wasn't quite fig season. Mark made sure to point out it was not the season for figs. But why?

He did this to indicate the more significant symbolic meaning behind the story. The fruitlessness of this tree represented a more important issue at hand. This wasn’t simply about Jesus’ hunger or the agricultural cycle of fig trees. In fact, the word Mark used for “season” was not the standard agricultural term. Instead, he used a term for an “appointed or set time” found in other places in the Gospel with reference to God's Kingdom and the end of the age (1:15, 13:33). Jesus responded to the situation by declaring, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”

On into Jerusalem, Jesus caused a disruption in the temple. He overturned tables and hindered activity in the temple court. His reprimand included words from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. The people were amazed, while the chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him.

The next day, on the journey again, Peter remembered the previous morning

and Jesus' words to the tree. Within 24 hours, the fig tree has withered and died.

Jesus' actions and words with the fig tree and in the temple symbolized God's judgment on the nation and, more specifically, the corrupt leadership. Both the fig tree and the temple structure and activity looked good from the outside. But ultimately, there was no fruit being produced.

It is essential to note-Jesus was not simply saying the temple structure needs to be reformed. Rather it needs to be abolished. He was the new and only way to God (John 14:6). Change was necessary, and he was prepared to bring about that change. Even if it cost him his life.

4. Relate to life:

Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.

To pray:

Today, prayerfully consider the actions of Jesus and how the crowd and the religious leaders perceived them.

Today, prayerfully reflect on what these events say about the character of God and the character of Jesus.

Today, thank Jesus for the things he did in the final week before the cross because they made the way for our inclusion into God's plan of salvation.

To do: (Actions with the Holy Spirit's help)

Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.

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