Mark 11 Commentary

v.1 “Bethphage and Bethany were villages near Jerusalem. Very probably Bethphage means house of figs and Bethany means house of dates. They must have been very close because we know from the Jewish law that Bethphage was one of the circle of villages which marked the limit of a Sabbath day’s journey, that is, less than a mile, while Bethany was one of the recognized lodging-places for pilgrims to the Passover when Jerusalem was full.”[1]

vv.1-3 “Jesus did not leave things until the last moment. He knew what he was going to do and long ago he had made arrangements with a friend. When he sent forward his disciples, he sent them with a pass-word that had been pre-arranged—“?The Lord needs it now.?” This was not a sudden, reckless decision of Jesus. It was something to which all his life had been building up.”[2]

v.8 “But we must be careful to note just what he was doing. There was a saying of the prophet Zechariah (?Zechariah 9:9?), “?Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, and riding on a donkey and upon a colt the foal of a donkey.?”  The whole impact is that the King was coming in peace. In Palestine the donkey was not a despised beast, but a noble one. When a king went to war he rode on a horse, when he came in peace he rode on a donkey […] We must note what kind of a king Jesus was claiming to be.  He came meek and lowly.  He came in peace and for peace. They greeted him as the Son of David, but they did not understand […] They were looking for a king who would shatter and smash and break. Jesus knew it—and he came meek and lowly, riding upon a donkey.”[3]

“ ‘He who comes?’ was another name for the Messiah. When the Jews spoke about the Messiah, they talked of him as the One who is Coming.”[4]

vv.9-10 “In verses ?9? and ?10? there is the word Hosanna. The word is consistently misunderstood. It is quoted and used as if it meant Praise; but it is a simple transliteration of the Hebrew for Save now! It occurs in exactly the same form in ?2 Samuel 14:4? and ?2 Kings 6:26?, where it is used by people seeking for help and protection at the hands of the king. When the people shouted Hosanna it was not a cry of praise to Jesus, which it often sounds like when we quote it. It was a cry to God to break in and save his people now that the Messiah had come.  No incident so shows the sheer courage of Jesus as this does. In the circumstances one might have expected him to enter Jerusalem secretly and to keep hidden from the authorities who were out to destroy him. Instead he entered in such a way that the attention of every eye was focused upon him. One of the most dangerous things a man can do is to go to people and tell them that all their accepted ideas are wrong. Any man who tries to tear up by the roots a people’s nationalistic dreams is in for trouble. But that is what Jesus deliberately was doing. Here we see Jesus making the last appeal of love and making it with a courage that is heroic.”[5]

vv.15-16 “This incident took place in the Court of the Gentiles. Bit by bit the Court of the Gentiles had become almost entirely secularized. It had been meant to be a place of prayer and preparation, but there was in the time of Jesus a commercialized atmosphere of buying and selling which made prayer and meditation impossible. What made it worse was that the business which went on there was sheer exploitation of the pilgrims. Every Jew had to pay a temple tax of one half shekel a year. That was equivalent to nearly two days’ wages for a working man.  That tax had to be paid in one particular kind of coinage. For ordinary purposes Greek, Roman, Syrian, Egyptian, Phoenician, Tyrian coinages were all equally valid. But this tax had to be paid in shekels of the sanctuary. It was paid at the Passover time. Jews came from all over the world to the Passover and with all kinds of currencies. When they went to have their money changed they had to pay a fee and should their coin exceed the tax, they had to pay another fee before they got their change. Most pilgrims had to pay this extra commission before they could pay their tax. We must remember that that was half a day’s wage, which for most men was a great deal of money. As for the sellers of doves—doves entered largely into the sacrificial system (?Leviticus 12:8?, ?14:22?, ?15:14?). A sacrificial victim had to be without blemish. Doves could be bought cheaply enough outside, but the temple inspectors would be sure to find something wrong with them, and worshippers were advised to buy them at the temple stalls.  The price of a pair of doves inside could be as much as 15 times the price that might be paid outside.  Again it was sheer imposition, and what made matters worse was that this business of buying and selling belonged to the family of Annas who had been High Priest.”[6]

v.17 “The passage cited from Isaiah 56:7, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations,” means that God did not plan for the temple to become a national shrine for Israel. Isaiah 56:1 – 8 contains God’ promise of blessing for all who might think they are excluded from God’s salvation: the foreigner who has joined himself to the people (56:3), the eunuch (56:4, who was not allowed to enter the temple, according to the regulations of Deut. 23:1), and the outcasts of Israel (Isa. 56:8). Most assumed that Isaiah 56 spoke of some distant future, but Jesus expects it to be fulfilled now! […]In Jesus’ day the temple had become a nationalistic symbol that served only to divide Israel from the nations. If it were to become what God intended, “a house of prayer for all nations,” walls would have to crumble. Indeed, walls will soon collapse and barriers will be breached. When Jesus dies, the temple veil is split from top to bottom, and a Gentile confesses that he is the Son of God (15:38 – 39).”[7]

“By quoting from Jeremiah 7, Jesus reminds the people that something holy can be perverted. He claims that the same abuses that sullied the temple cult in the time of Jeremiah taint it now. The temple, God’s house, has been made into “a den of robbers.” One needs to read the context of Jeremiah 7:1 – 15 to understand the allusion […]The den is the place where robbers retreat after having committed their crimes. It is their hideout, a place of security and refuge […] Jesus indirectly attacks them for allowing the temple to degenerate into a safe hiding place where people think that they find forgiveness and fellowship with God no matter how they act on the outside. Jesus’ prophetic action and words attack a false trust in the efficacy of the temple sacrificial system. The leaders of the people think that they can rob widows’ houses (Mark 12:40) and then perform the prescribed sacrifices according to the prescribed patterns at the prescribed times in the prescribed purity in the prescribed sacred space and then be safe and secure from all alarms. They are wrong. The sacrifice of animals will not enable them to evade the doom that God purposes for those guilty of lying, stealing, violence, and adultery (7:21 – 23).  The sanctuary, supposedly sanctified by God, has become a sanctuary for bandits who think that they are protected from God’s judgment. The phrase “I have been watching” (Jer. 7:11) matches the description of Jesus’ visit to the temple on the previous day, when he “looked around at everything” (Mark 11:11), turning that visit into an inspection. Jesus shares the purview of God. He has seen what the people are doing and pronounces God’s judgment.”[8]

vv.18-20 “The fig tree incident brackets the temple action and interprets it. It reveals more clearly that Jesus does not intend to cleanse the temple. Instead, his actions visually announce its disqualification. The fig tree that has not borne fruit is cursed, not reformed or cleansed. The parable of the tenants of the vineyard (12:1 – 11) makes the same point. As Jesus seeks fruit from the fig tree, so God, the owner of the vineyard, seeks fruit from the vineyard. When no fruit is to be found or when it is withheld, destruction follows.”[9]

“Mark alone mentions that the tree did not bear anything more than leaves “because it was not the season for figs,” and it makes Jesus’ action seem even more outlandish. Why curse a fig tree for not bearing figs out of season? Jesus surely knows it is not fig season. This detail is a clue for the reader to look beyond the surface meaning and to see its symbolic meaning. This action is not about a particular unfruitful fig tree; it has to do with the temple. The word “season” (kairos) is not the botanical term for the growing season but the religious term found in 1:14 – 15 denoting the time of the kingdom of God (see 13:33). Moreover, the tenants do not produce the fruits of the vineyard “at harvest time” (12:2; lit., “in season”). The barren fig tree represents the barrenness of temple Judaism that is unprepared to accept Jesus’ messianic reign.  As the fig tree’s time is barren (cf. Luke 13:6 – 9), so is the temple’s. […] Just as the fig tree was not pruned and manured so that it might bear fruit but cursed so that it died, so the temple was not cleansed so that it could continue in more fitting service to God; rather, it would soon come to an end. The locus of salvation now shifts from the temple to Jesus and his death and resurrection. Faith in him will become the way to God, not the sacrifice of animals in the temple. Thus when Jesus dies, the curtain of the temple is torn from top to bottom.”[10]

vv.22-25 “This text does not invite one to attempt magical miracles. We are not to test our faith by going to a mountain and saying, “Be moved!” We must also guard against treating prayer as if it were a magic wand that allows us to get whatever we want. When Christians pray with confident faith that their prayers will have power, they can, like Jesus, overcome even the greatest oppression. Nothing is impossible. Prayer is not an engine by which we overcome the unwillingness of God. Jesus taught that God is ever ready to grant what is good for us. We do not need to wheedle or to beg God in prayer. […]  Prayer is to be founded on the goodness of God as a loving parent and lays hold on God’s benevolence.  When Christians pray in Jesus’ name, they may be confident of God’s response; but what they ask must be compatible with his teaching, life, and death. […] There are some things that Christians should not ask and some things that God will not give. As a parent gives to a child from his or her wisdom what the child needs, so does God. Consequently, we may receive answers we do not want, find things we are not looking for, and have doors open we do not expect.”[11]

vv.27-33 “The whole story is a vivid example of what happens to men who will not face the truth. They have to twist and wriggle and in the end get themselves into a position in which they are so helplessly involved that they have nothing to say. The man who faces the truth may have the humiliation of saying that he was wrong, or the peril of standing by it, but at least the future for him is strong and bright. The man who will not face the truth has nothing but the prospect of deeper and deeper involvement in a situation which renders him helpless and ineffective.”[12]

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1975) 306-07.

[2] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1975) 306.

[3] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1975) 307-09.

[4] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1975) 310.

[5] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1975) 311-12.

[6] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1975) 318-19.

[7] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 437-38.

[8] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 438-39.

[9] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 439.

[10] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 440.

[11] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 448-49.

[12] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1975) 325-26.

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