12The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus felt hungry. 13He noticed a fig tree a little way off that was in full leaf, so he went over to see if he could find any figs on it. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.
15When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves, 16and he stopped everyone from bringing in merchandise. 17He taught them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
18When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so enthusiastic about Jesus’ teaching. 19That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.
20The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it was withered from the roots. 21Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Teacher! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
22Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23I assure you that you can say to this mountain, ‘May God lift you up and throw you into the sea,’ and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe and do not doubt in your heart. 24Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it. 25But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. ”
(Mark 11:12-25, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
Mark 11 gives two different stories in which Jesus seems to go off for no good reason. The chapter begins with Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds praised Him. Everything seems to be going great, which makes the two stories that follow all the more difficult to comprehend.
The next morning, after the triumphal entry, Jesus is hungry. He sees a fig tree and since there’s no fruit on it, He curses it. The author makes a point of telling the reader that the tree only had leaves on it because it was too early in the season for fruit. In other words, the fig tree didn’t have fruit on it because it shouldn’t have had fruit on it. The fruit wouldn’t arrive until several months later.
Jesus had to know this, and yet He curses the fig tree anyway.
What’s going on with Jesus? I imagine one of those Snickers commercials in which the person who’s hungry takes on a completely different persona until a friend gives them a Snickers bar. After taking a bite, the person returns to their normal self. The commercial ends with the tag line, “You aren’t YOU when you’re hungry.”
The text says that Jesus was hungry. Did He just go temporarily crazy because He was hungry?
After cursing the fig tree, they returned to Jerusalem where Jesus went to the temple and began driving out the merchants. He’s knocking over tables and though the text doesn’t say this, I sort of imagine Him with a whip, driving out the money changers from the temple area in Indiana Jones fashion!
Will someone please get this man a Snickers Bar?
After Jesus’ episode at the temple, He and the disciples leave the city and the next morning, they see the fig tree. It’s withered from the roots. The disciples make mention of the tree to Jesus, who responds by telling them to have faith in God and they will be able to move mountains.
If you’re like me, you’re probably scratching your head while squinting your left eye and thinking, “what?”
We can probably dismiss the idea that Jesus was just raging because He was hungry. After all, He spent 40 days without food in the desert being tempted by Satan and He was able to withstand all of Satan’s efforts, so there’s no reason to believe that Jesus went into an uncontrollable rage due to some minor hunger pangs.
Remember that much of what Jesus did was for the sake of His disciples. He was always teaching them, often through object lessons. This is certainly the case here too as the text says, with regard to Jesus cursing the fig tree, that “the disciples heard Him say it.” The author makes a point of letting the reader know that when Jesus cursed the fig tree, the disciples heard Him. That seems like an important detail, otherwise there would be no need for the author to mention it.
Look too at the text and notice that the story of the temple is sandwiched in between the details of the fig tree – the fig tree is cursed, Jesus drives out the merchants at the temple and then the fig tree is withered. Certainly, this is not coincidental story telling by the writer, but intentionally written in order to make a point.
Yes, but what’s the point?
Let’s look at the details of the temple passage to see if we can make sense of it. After Jesus drives out the merchants, He says:
“The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
Jesus is angry because the temple is supposed to be “a place of prayer for the nations”, but it has been turned into “a den of thieves”.
The temple was a massive structure that had different sections for different purposes (Click here to read more about the different areas of the temple). Outside the temple was a courtyard that was divided into different areas, one of which was “the Court of the Gentiles”. This was the only place where non-Jews could come and worship the Lord at the temple, and yet it had been converted into a farmer’s market and mobile banking exchange center.
Imagine you are a Jew who wants to come to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice. You can take the long journey and bring your animals with you (doable but inconvenient) OR you can come without your animals and you can purchase your sacrificial animal when you arrive in the city (much more convenient). This is how business works – you figure out what people need, you provide that need for them and you make a profit off the sale.
This is what was happening here. The idea of providing animals for people was not what made Jesus angry. What was objectionable was the fact that their profits were exorbitant, hence, Jesus calls them thieves. Additionally, they were conducting business in the only place that Gentiles could access the temple for worship, thus negating the temple’s purpose as a “place of prayer for the nations.”
Jesus was not reacting to hunger pangs but to a pattern of unrighteousness and greed exhibited by the religious rulers and business leaders.
So what does this have to do with the fig tree?
Most commentators agree that the fig tree is representative of the nation of Israel. Jesus doesn’t curse the tree because He’s hungry and there is no fruit on it. He curses it as an object lesson for His disciples. The tree illustrates the nation of Israel, which was fruitless and had been for some time.
The curse illustrates that because of Israel’s fruitlessness, God’s judgment on Israel would be forthcoming. The temple was the center of religious life and what was happening at the temple was an example of the fruitlessness that existed and the fact that Israel had neglected their role in God’s greater purposes to be a light to the Gentile world.
The temple was destroyed in AD 70 and it has never been rebuilt. Thus, Jesus’ foreshadowing of impending judgment on the nation of Israel was fulfilled.
All this writing is making me hungry. I think I need a Snickers!
How have you understood these stories in the past? What was your explanation for why Jesus cursed the fig tree and drove out the temple merchants?
It is clear that Jesus was angry when He drove out the merchants. How do you reconcile Jesus’ anger with the Biblical truth that He was sinless?
In what situations do you think it’s ok to be angry? What factors cause anger to be sinful?
What do you think are some effective and appropriate ways for dealing with anger?
While we are not under a curse like the nation of Israel was, it is clear from Scripture that God desires for His followers to bear fruit? What would bearing fruit look like for you and what steps can you take to ensure that you are not a fruitless Christian?