Scriptures

Mark 11

Introduction

‘As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘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!’ Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.’ Mark 11:1-11

Mark now takes us into the last few days of Jesus’ ministry with the disciples. Jesus sent two disciples into Jerusalem to bring him a colt.

Why had He chosen to enter the capital on a donkey, not on some great white steed? Zechariah 9:9-10. His life reflected one of His favourite sermons, greatness in the kingdom comes to the one who humbles himself.

As He rode it into the city thousands of people lined the route, spreading their clothes and leafy branches in His path to honour Him. While the enthusiastic crowd cheered, Jesus remained calm.

The final entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was like that of a king riding triumphantly in his return home after a victorious battle. Those who have known the works and teachings of Jesus accompanied Him on this triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Jesus entered into Jerusalem and into the temple and it’s here that He for a second time drove out the money changers, Mathew 21:12.

After this event, He went to Bethany to the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus as a final retreat before entering Jerusalem, John 11:1+18 / John 21:1.

‘The cleansing of the temple’

Jesus entered the Jerusalem at the commencement of His final week of His earthly ministry. Mark says in Mark 11:11

‘Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.’

In fact, Mark tells us that every evening of that week, He withdrew from the city, when evening would cause the city gates to be closed. Jesus returned the next day and went straight to the temple and cleansed it again.

‘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, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 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.’ Mark 11:15-17

What was it that angered Him?

The abuse of the temple courts and total lack of reverence and respect for both the temple and the law. The market held in the Court of the Gentiles. This had become a recognised institute and was protected by the temple guard on behalf of their superiors, the priests.

The market was known among the Jews as

‘The shops of Annas’,

because it was under the patronage of the High Priest and his family. They took the franchise, so to speak, the monopoly and took their profit from everything that was sold. The market was not supposed to be a place for general merchandise but only for things needed for the temple ceremonies, i.e. sacrifices, wine, oil and salt used in the ceremonies.

Buyers were largely pilgrims who had travelled far, but also used by local Jews who could afford to spare themselves the inconvenience of bringing their own animals for sacrifice. Not only this, but they could avoid the uncertainty of the ‘Official Inspection’ which was compulsory.

Priests examined animals for sacrifice, for flaws or imperfections or disease and I imagine that, in order to boost flagging salves, they would refuse to accept certain animals. Probably many animals failed it’s spiritual M.O.T.

Changers of the money

The money was needed because of the duty of every male Jew who came to the temple to worship, to pay half a shekel for the upkeep of the temple. This was called

‘Temple Tax.’

A half shekel was equal to a third, or a fourth of a Denarius, a penny and could only be paid in the temple, or Jewish money.

But many coinages were in use in the Roman Empire at that time, and pilgrims from abroad usually only had Greek or Roman or Syrian money, which could not be used. Obviously Jewish money was not likely to be used in the wider Roman Empire. So, their foreign money had to be exchanged into coins that the temple treasury would accept.

Now, some people thought that what we have here, in the last week of the Lord’s ministry, is the report of the cleansing which John puts at the commencement of His ministry.

‘When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts, he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So, he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.’ John 2:13-22

One of the arguments, probably the strongest argument they are able to advance in favour of this theory, is that John does not mention the second cleansing, nor do Matthew, Mark and Luke mention the first.

I suggest to you, that, far from being an argument against the genuineness of these accounts, this is an argument in favour of their genuineness.

There is obviously no attempt on the part of these writers to make their accounts harmonise and you might have expected such an attempt if they had not been genuine.

On the contrary, if you examine the two records carefully you see that there are a number of differences, which should make it plain that we are dealing with two separate events.

John tells us that Jesus dealt with those who ‘sold’ in the temple, but Mark, for instance, tells us that, he turned out those who ‘bought’ and sold. Not just the sellers but also the ‘buyers’ who evidently had taken no notice of the first warning.

Similarly, John says that Jesus told those who sold doves to take their birds and their cages out of the temple court. But the second time, again because his warning had gone unheeded, he condemned the sellers of doves along with the rest and overturned their chairs.

John says that the Jews challenged Jesus as to His authority, his right to do this, but the second time there is no such challenge or question from the Jews. John does not report that Jesus dealt with those who carried objects through the temple, or the cries of the children and the healing of the blind and the lame and the apparently favourable reaction from the people.

Of course, the first time He cleansed the temple, he was virtually unknown and His action was resented. But after three years and particularly with the presence of the Galileans, He has more popular support.

John does not quote Isaiah 56:7 and the mention of the temple as a

‘House of Prayer for all nations’.

Nor that Jesus quoted Jeremiah 7:11,

‘Den of robbers’.

Nor the fear of the Jewish authorities for the people.

In fact, to really accept that there was only ‘one’ cleansing of the temple which the writers have put into two different ends of the Lord’s ministry, I think you have to come to the Scriptures with your mind already made up. If these two accounts were submitted to unbiased critics, with the question, do these records deal with the same event?

I am sure they would see many differences that they would say,

‘the situation in the temple had grown worse’,

this is suggested by the words,

‘you have made it into a den of robbers.’

Pilgrims in particular, of course, were at the mercy of these temple traders. What went on, was ‘not’ honest trade, which itself would have been wrong in the temple anyway. This was dishonest trade.

No! more than that, Jesus said it was downright robbery. For instance, one record tells that those who sold doves in the temple court, were at one time demanding a piece of gold for every bird they sold to the poor women who came to the temple for cleansing.

And Rabbi Simeon Ben Gamaliel urged them to be satisfied with a piece of silver. Now if the poor local women were subject to this kind of exhortation, what do you suppose happened to the wealthier Jews, coming in from Rome or from other provinces?

And in this way, because they imposed an exchange fee, a great deal of profit was made, a part of which found its way to the priests. The doves are mentioned because they were required by the law for ceremonies concerned with cleansing. Women after childbirth, lepers and others. So, they too, provided a good profit.

In Mark 11:16, Mark reports that Jesus stopped the people from using the temple as a public thoroughfare. The people often carried things through the temple court, coming in at the East Gate and going out at the West, or vice versa. In fact, the temple was used as a short cut between the city and the Mount of Olives.

Now, the Jewish authorities had condemned this practice, according to some scholars. They had said that a sign of reverence for the temple was that no one went up into the Mountain of the temple, with his staff, or shoes, or purse, or dust of the road on his feet; and that no one made it a common thoroughfare. But it seems that they had not enforced this ruling and so the people were defiling the temple and showing disrespect for it. So, Jesus took the unpleasant action which the authorities neglected to take.

Notice the quotation Jesus uses to cover His actions.

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ Isaiah 56:7

This is because the only place that the Gentiles were allowed to enter, the only part of the temple open to them and the only place where they were allowed to pray, was the

‘Court of the Gentiles.’

But how cold they pray in a place which had been turned into an open cattle market and money exchange and a public thoroughfare?

So, Jesus points out that in allowing these things, the priests were defeating the fulfilment of Scripture.

Notice the strong language He uses,

‘A den of robbers’.

Remember that Jesus had just travelled to Jerusalem from Jericho, coming, along that notorious Jericho road, where the man fell along thieves and was helped by a Samaritan. Luke 10:25-37.

Judea in those days was full of thieves and robbers, and they occupied the limestone caves in the hills. But Jesus says that what went on in the temple was every bit as bad as what went on outside. So, He quotes from Jeremiah’s temple sermon, Jeremiah 7:11

‘Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.’

Notice first the reaction of the people, they gathered for Jesus to teach them. Mark 11:17. In fact, these last words were spoken to the people during that teaching,

‘you have made it a den of robbers’.

Certainly, the priests were to blame for permitting this traffic to go on but the people were also to blame for encouraging it by ‘buying’ and they were to blame for using the temple as a short cut.

But there were also healing, the blind and lame came to Him. These poor sick people usually remained outside the temple altogether, because many of them would not be permitted to enter. But they were emboldened by the presence of Jesus and they came to Him and He healed them.

And notice the shouts of the children in the temple gates.

Hosanna!

So, the reaction to Jesus was favourable, at least from the people. But the reactions from the authorities was violent,

‘that they might kill Him’.

However, the priests had to exercise caution,

‘for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.’ Mark 11:18

Any of those who had come with Jesus to the city had also come with Him to the temple. In other words, there were many good Galileans present, not just people from the city, who would be under the thumb of the priests and with such enthusiasm being shown for Jesus, it might be dangerous for the priests themselves, if they dared to lay hands on Jesus.

Luke 20:1-6 ‘One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. ‘Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,’ they said. ‘Who gave you this authority?’ He replied, ‘I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?’ They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.’ So, they answered, ‘We don’t know where it was from.’ Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’ In any case, they would not stone Him in the temple itself, so they had to plan to put Him to death elsewhere. ‘The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 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. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it. 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, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 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.’ 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. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!’ ‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’ Mark 11:12-26

Jesus was hungry and saw a fig tree in leaf. When He approached, He observed that it had no fruit. He cursed it and by the next day, it was withered up. Jesus’ action taught the amazed disciples some lessons.

1. People who bear no fruit will be cursed by God.

This principle applied to the Jewish nation as a whole, because it was bearing no fruit for the Lord.

2. Jesus noted that God has the power to wither fig trees and move mountains; in short, to respond to prayer.

What we must do is to trust Him and turn to Him with our needs.

The incident of the fig tree was to offer a visual illustration for the disciples to have faith in God. Their faith would move them to trust in God who would work in their lives in order to confirm them to be His messengers, Mark 16:17-20.

Their faith must produce fruit in the years to come, James 2:14-26. Fruit would be produced as the disciples went forth into all the world and preached the Gospel.

When Jesus entered the temple, He saw a stockyard and money-changers’ booths. Some people were selling the special coin used to pay the temple tax, while others sold animals for sacrifices. Jesus began to cast out these merchants, overturning the money-changers’ tables and the vendors’ chairs. He said that the temple was supposed to be a place of prayer but had been turned into a robbers’ den.

Would Jesus cleanse the temple again? Why did Jesus vehemently oppose these activities?

It wasn’t because He was against selling animals or changing money; rather, He opposed the perversion of the temple’s function. God had given the temple for spiritual purposes, and it was wrong to make it a bazaar.

We must never use what God has given us for purposes He has not authorized. God gave us a pattern for the local church. Its function is to worship, teach the gospel and help needy Christians. But many churches have begun to do other things: they sponsor recreation, entertainment, secular education, etc.

If Jesus returned, would He not come to churches and begin to cast out all of the unauthorised practices that have crept into them?

‘They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?’ Jesus replied, ‘I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!’ They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So, they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’ Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’ Mark 11:27-33

Now remember that at this time it was the aggression of the religious leaders that developed the confrontation between themselves and Jesus. Jesus had violated their system of religious regulations, He didn’t conform to their system of institutional religiosity. He didn’t fit in with their idea of who the Messiah should be.

Jesus’ bold actions in the temple stirred opposition. The Jewish leaders thought that the temple belonged to them, so they questioned Jesus’ right to come into it and make such drastic revisions. Jesus replied to their challenge with a question. He asked

‘whether John’s baptism came from God or men’.

They consulted among themselves and decided that it would be politically unwise to answer. Their refusal demonstrated that they were not sincerely seeking truth. Therefore, Jesus refused to answer their question.

Jesus’ question is a model

Anyone can ask questions, but Jesus was the Master at asking THE question. Jesus asked the Jewish leaders an outstanding question,

‘did John’s baptism come from God or man?’

This is the question that we should ask about every religious practice. Anything that originates in man should be rejected, all that God commands should be carefully observed.

There is an easy way for us to determine whether a given teaching or activity comes from God or man. Everything that comes from God is in the Bible. If a particular doctrine or practice is not in the Bible, it is not from God.

We should verify everything we do by this simple test:

Does it come from God or from man?

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