THE PASSION OF OUR LORD:
DETAILING THE EVENTS OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH
Session #6 (Most quotes are NIV)
MONDAY APRIL 3, 30 A.D. THE WEEK STARTS ODDLY: CURSING A TREE!
The coffee shop in Bethany was closed, so Jesus heads for Jerusalem on Monday morning. As He goes up the hill to Bethphage, He spots a fig tree and thinks “I believe I will have a couple of figs for breakfast!” (Remember that Bethphage means “village of unripe figs”). Matthew mentions the incident, but Mark has greater detail. Mark 11:12-14 says “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.’”
This is known as the “cursing of the fig tree.” Later in the chapter the disciples note that this same fig tree has withered and died. This is NOT an invitation for Christ’s disciples to start their week with cursing (“Well, HE did it!”)
Since Mark tells us plainly “it was not the season for figs,” even the disciples could have guessed that figs are not available—on this tree or any other fig tree. WHY did Jesus curse a tree which could not have borne fruit in April? This has bothered the church for centuries. In his new commentary on Mark (Vol. 2, page 847), Jim Voelz points to the prophet Micah 7:1-2 which he translates thusly: “Woe is me! There is not a cluster to eat, a first ripe fig which my soul desires. The holy/godly one has perished from the land, and an upright one among man/men does not exist.” The fig tree to this Prophet is symbolic of the failure of God’s people to be faithful to Him.
This withered fig tree which Jesus cursed then becomes a symbol of the doomed nature of the Temple and the people who would take false hope that God would never let it be destroyed. Voelz points out that the tree LOOKS healthy but there is no fruit. This occurs—not accidentally—between two visits to the Temple, one on Palm Sunday and one Monday morning.
The curse which Jesus speaks over the fig tree is forever: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” To Jerusalem and the Temple, Jesus says “God doesn’t live here anymore.” Later in the week, there will be more aboutthe doom of the Temple.
ANOTHER VISIT TO THE “TEMPLE SWAP MEET”
The Temple was laid out in a variety of courtyards and areas. The Temple building itself, with the great veil, was entered only one day per year, Yom Kippur, and only by the High Priest. Outside the temple was the area where the priests offered sacrifices on the altar. Outside of that was the Court of the Men (Jewish men only), then the Court of the Women (Jewish women only) and finally the Court of the Gentiles which was available to anyone.
According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus returns to the Temple and starts tossing the tables of the buyers and sellers. It must have looked like a modern swap meet under terrorist attack! Naturally, the “business area” was set up to make money. This was likely in the Court of the Gentiles, in order to catch the greatest number of suckers—uh, I mean “clients.”
Remember that this is Passover Week, and people are arriving from all over the world for the celebration. All Jews MUST pay a Temple tax. Naturally, they are carrying various Roman coinage from around the Empire. However, you were not allowed to pay your Temple tax with this heathen coinage. The Temple tax had to be paid with the Tyrian shekel, which contained 90 to 94% silver, depending on whom you believe. That makes the coin fairly pure!
The Romans shut the Tyre mint down in the 1st century B.C., but allowed the Jews to continue to mint these coins in Jerusalem. HOWEVER, Rome required that the image on the coin be the Phoenician god Baal (the same as the Tyre-minted coins) so that it didn’t look like the Jews had their own money. (Jews called the image “Beelzebub!”)
Even today, experienced travelers know that “money changing” is not an exact science, and the exchange rate varies. Since these Jerusalem money changers had an exclusive franchise within the Temple, they could charge whatever they pleased.
Additionally, animals were needed to offer sacrifices in the Temple. You could bring your own bird or animal but it had to be perfect—no blemishes. What a surprise to find out that your animal just isn’t perfect enough! The priest could reject any animal not worthy, and of course your animal is only perfect if you bought it from one of the sellers, probably a cousin.
Now picture the scene: this is Passover week, which means about 10,000 sheep needed to be sacrificed on Thursday. You read that correctly: 10,000 PERFECT non-blemished sheep. Where do you suppose you could find a perfect sheep on short notice?
To our Lord, the Jewish leaders had lost their credibility—if not their minds. The area set aside for the worship of God, for prayer, and for pleas for forgiveness through sacrifice was now nothing more than a circus of money-making crooks! “Hey, you can have the second one for half price. Just pay an extra shipping and handling charge!” “Over here—I can get it for you wholesale!” “Very best price on shekels!” All these men shouting, bargaining, cheating people left and right.
It is no wonder Jesus spent Monday trashing the place: Mark 11:17 “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.’” It’s pretty bad when the most dishonest business in town is God’s own Temple!
AFTERNOON GREEK VISITORS–ONLY IN JOHN’S GOSPEL:
John choses not to repeat the money-changer story which was already in Matthew, Mark and Luke. He gives us additional information about Jesus’ Monday. John 12:20-21 says “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”
Did they get to see Jesus? We don’t know. John doesn’t tell us, nor does he tell us who they were. But their request stages a sermon and commentary about who believes and who does not. That Greeks are also welcome in God’s Kingdom is apparent in verse 32 “And I, when I am lifted upfrom the earth, will draw allpeople to myself.” He is not a “Jewish Messiah.”
As the balance of the chapter unfolds, we are told that Jesus’ words “sift” the crowd. We are also told that He performed miracles on the Temple grounds and the miracles angered his enemies to the point that He was forced to hide Himself from them (verse 12:36 “When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.“) Apparently, this was enough confrontation for the moment.
However, Jesus’ appearance at the Temple divided the audience into two groups—the unbelievers and the believers (unbelievers are mentioned in verses 37-38 “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”) Some believers are not wholly committed to Jesus as verses 42-43 reveal: “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;for they loved human praise more than praise from God.”
BACK TO THE “BETHANY HILTON”
Luke 21:37-38 fleshes out Jesus’ schedule for the first half of the week: “Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives,and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.”
Lazarus and his sisters seem to have housed Jesus and the Disciples for Holy Week, and each morning the crowd would arrive at the Temple to get good seats for the Savior’s appearance.