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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Mark 11

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Jesus Comes to Jerusalem

A. The triumphal entry.

1. (Mar 11:1-6) Preparation for the entry.

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, "Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord has need of it,' and immediately he will send it here." So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, "What are you doing, loosing the colt?" And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go.

a. Now when they drew near to Jerusalem: If all we had were the gospel of Mark, we might think this is Jesus' first journey to Jerusalem. But the gospel of John tells us of many previous trips. Jesus, like any devout Jewish man, went to Jerusalem for as many of the major feasts as He possibly could.

b. At the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples: As Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem, He carefully and deliberately sends His disciples to make arrangements for His coming into the city. Since the time is short before His crucifixion, Jesus leaves nothing to chance.

c. You will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat: With this, Jesus established that He would enter Jerusalem riding on a colt. He deliberately chose a young horse, not a stallion, not a donkey, not coming on foot. This is because in that day, to come riding a colt - as opposed to a mighty war-horse - was to come as a man of peace. Jesus didn't come to Jerusalem as a conquering general, but as a suffering - though triumphant - servant.

i. The Rabbis of Jesus' day had several different theories regarding how the Messiah would come to Jerusalem. Based on Daniel 7:13, some thought the Messiah would come as a majestic conqueror. Based on Zechariah 9:9, some thought that the Messiah would come in a lowly and humble way, riding on a colt.

ii. In the days of Jesus, some Rabbis reconciled these by saying that the Messiah would come humbly to an unworthy Israel, but mightily to a worthy Israel. Since Israel considered itself worthy, they only looked for a triumphant, conquering Messiah.

iii. On which no one had sat: "To Jesus it made no difference that this was an unbroken colt. He was the Creator come into this scene as a Man, and as such all the lower creatures were subject to Him." (Ironside)

d. They spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go: Apparently, Jesus had pre-arranged this with the colt owner, and the disciples were just instructed to say, "It's for Jesus" if they were questioned. They did as Jesus said, and it was fine.

2. (Mar 11:7-11) Praise for Jesus.

Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

a. We like this slice from the life of Jesus because it simply feels so right. For much of Jesus' ministry, He was despised and rejected of men. Often the adoring crowds followed Him only for what they could get from Him, and most His audience rejected any kind of personal commitment to Jesus. It was all different on this day.

i. On this day, they lavished attention and honor on Jesus, using their clothes as a saddle for Jesus, using their clothes as a red carpet for the colt He rode on. Considering the expense and value of clothing in that day, this was generous praise.

ii. If Jesus were among us, would He receive a critical evaluation, or would He receive generous praise? It's even more important to understand that Jesus is here among us.

b. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'" For most of His ministry, Jesus did everything He could to discourage people from publicly celebrating Him as the Messiah. Here, Jesus goes out of His way to invite public praise and adoration as the Messiah.

i. In fact, when the religious leaders of His day objected, He told them "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out." (Luke 19:40)

ii. These statements from the crowd come from Psalm 118:19-29. In this, their praise was Scriptural. It's important that we praise God as He wants to be praised. So if God says we are to come to Him with words (Hosea 14:2), then that is how we come. If God says we are to come to Him with song (Psalm 100:2), that is how we come. If God says we are to come to Him with hands raised up (Psalm 134:2), that is how we come. The whole point in worship is to do what pleases God, not what pleases us, but the beautiful truth is that when we please God, we find ourselves wonderfully pleased.

iii. Why did Jesus want to be praised? It was not for His sake; it isn't that Jesus has a self-esteem problem and needs our affirmation. Jesus wants to be praised because we need to praise Him. God will get His praise, and He invites us to be a part of it.

c. We call this event the "Triumphal Entry," but it was a strange kind of triumph. If you spoke of Jesus' "Triumphal Entry" to a Roman, they would have laughed you in the face. For them, a Triumphal Entry was a honor granted to a Roman general who won a complete and decisive victory, and had killed at least 5,000 enemy soldiers. When the general returned to Rome, they had an elaborate parade. First came the treasures captured from the enemy, then the prisoners. His armies marched by unit by unit, and finally the general rode in a golden chariot pulled by magnificent horses. Priests burned incense in his honor and the crowds shouted his name and praised him. The procession ended at the arena, where some of the prisoners were thrown to wild animals for the entertainment of the crowd. That was a "Triumphal Entry," not a Galilean Peasant sitting on a few coats set out on a pony.

d. When He looked around at all things: Jesus came as the Messiah to Jerusalem, not as a mighty general to conquer the Romans. He came to first to look at the standing of the people of God, and to make an "inspection." In the rest of Mark 11, we see the results of this "inspection."

i. Malachi 3:1-3 speaks prophetically of the Messiah coming to the temple in careful assessment.

ii. "The point is rather that Jesus is the Lord of the Temple, who must inspect its premises to determine whether the purpose intended by God is being fulfilled." (Lane)

iii. We see again the courage of Jesus, because He isn't hiding at all. John 11:57 makes it clear that there was a price on Jesus' head; an "all-points-bulletin" was put out for His arrest. Yet, He came into Jerusalem in the most public way possible.

B. The lesson of the fig tree.

1. (Mar 11:12-14) Jesus curses a fig tree.

Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again." And His disciples heard it.

a. Seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it: Essentially, the tree was a picture of "false advertising," having leaves, but no figs. Ordinarily, this is not the case with these fig trees, which normally do not have leaves without also having figs.

i. For it was not the season for figs: It wasn't that the fig tree didn't have figs, because it wasn't supposed to. The problem is that it had leaves but didn't have figs. The leaves said "There are figs here," but the figs weren't there.

ii. There were many trees with only leaves, and these were not cursed. There were many trees with neither leaves nor fruit, and these were not cursed. This tree was cursed because it professed to have fruit, but did not.

b. In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again": The tree is cursed for its pretense of leaves, not for its lack of fruit; like Israel, it has the outward form but no fruit. In this picture, Jesus warned Israel - and us - of God's displeasure when we have the appearance of fruit, but not the fruit itself. God isn't pleased when His people are all leaves and no fruit.

i. In all works in the ministry of Jesus, this is the only "destructive" miracle. The Old Testament is filled with miracles of destruction and judgment, but Jesus most perfectly showed us the nature of God. If this was the only miracle of its kind, we must see there is a great and important lesson in it. God doesn't approve when there is profession without reality, talk without walk.

ii. Should we criticize Jesus for a lack of environmental concern? Not at all. "There is no more warrant for criticizing our Lord for destroying a tree for the purpose of teaching, that there is for objecting to a Christmas tree for our children, or the plucking of petals from a flower in a lesson on botany." (Morgan)

3. (Mar 11:15-19) The temple cleansed.

So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a 'den of thieves.'" And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. When evening had come, He went out of the city.

a. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple: What was the problem? Profiteers, in cooperation with the priests, robbed the pilgrims by forcing them to purchase "approved" sacrificial animals and currencies at inflated prices.

i. Every Jewish male had to pay a yearly temple tax - an amount equaling about two days pay. It had to be paid in the currency of the temple, and the money exchangers would change you your money for the temple money, and they did it at outrageous rates.

b. As well, they did this in the outer courts of the temple, the only area where Gentiles could come and pray; therefore, this place of prayer was made into a swap meet, and a dishonest one at that! God intended the temple to be a house of prayer for all nations, but they had made it a den of thieves.

i. A den of thieves is a place where thieves associate and hide. It is a sorry, shameful condition when the house of God becomes a place where unrepentant, active sinners can associate and hide.

c. We do love Jesus; and we want to praise Him; yet we must also allow His cleansing presence in our lives. If He wants to turn over some tables in our hearts, so be it.

4. (Mar 11:20-24) Return to the cursed fig tree.

Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away." So Jesus answered and said to them, "Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them."

a. Have faith in God: Jesus explains that this miracle was really the result of a prayer made in faith, and He encourages His marveling disciples to have this kind of faith, trusting that God will hear them also.

b. In God: Jesus makes it clear: prayer must be offered in faith, and faith must be in God, not "just there" or "faith in faith." Faith is trust, confidence, and reliance upon someone or something.

c. Some, using Greek transliterations, have said Jesus was really saying that we must "Have God's faith." What do the Greek scholars say?

i. "Objective genitive theou [God] as in Gal. 2:6; Rom. 3:22, 26." (Robertson) God is object of faith in this sentence.

ii. "The word 'God' is in the genitive case, showing here the object of faith." (Wuest)

iii. "Faith in God, genitive objective as in Rom. iii. 22 and Heb. vi. 2." (Expositor's)

iv. The grammatical case of the word God in this passage is the objective genitive. The objective case refers to what receives the action of the verb have; it is not in a possessive case, which would indicate that we are to "have God's faith."

c. Whoever says to this mountain, "Be removed": Mountain was a popular figure of speech for any insurmountable problem; Jesus is saying, as we believe, God can overcome any obstacle.

i. "The phrase about removing mountains was a quite common Jewish phrase. It was a regular, vivid phrase for removing difficulties." (Barclay)

ii. This promise of God's answer to the prayer made in faith is made to disciples, not to the multitude. "Nor should we interpret Mark 11:24 to mean, 'If you pray hard enough and really believe, God is obligate to answer your prayer no matter what you ask.' That kind of faith is not faith in God; rather it is nothing but faith in faith, or faith in feelings." (Wiersbe)

d. If Jesus had the power to curse the tree this way, didn't He have the power to make fruit miraculously appear on the tree? Of course; but Jesus often wants to do a cooperative work.

5. (Mar 11:25-26) Prayer and forgiveness.

"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."

a. Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him: A lack of faith is not the only obstacle to effective prayer. A lack of forgiveness and bitterness can also hinder our prayer.

i. The point may also be that this is an area where we need great faith. Sometimes a hard and unforgiving heart is bigger than any mountain.

b. Therefore, we are never to place religious duty or ministry ahead of good relationship with people - if you stand praying and you have anything against anyone, set it right - then continue on in prayer.

i. We are to do what Paul commanded in Romans 12:18: If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

c. If you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses: The forgiven heart will forgive others. If we have hard, unforgiving hearts, it calls into question if we have ever received or appreciated the forgiveness God offers us.

i. "This is not an arbitrary refusal by God to forgive us. We in our own unforgiving spirit have made it impossible for ourselves to accept the forgiveness freely offered by God since we refuse to adopt the only attitude in which it can be appropriated." (Cole)

C. By what authority?

1. (Mar 11:27-28) The religious leaders question Jesus.

27Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. 28And they said to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?"

a. As He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him: Jesus wasn't looking for these great debates with the religious leaders. He wanted to teach the people and tell them about God's good news. But the questioners came to Him, and He was more than able to handle them.

b. By what authority are You doing these things? Jesus has been extremely courageous by boldly entering Jerusalem and driving out the corrupt merchants from the temple courts. Now the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders want to know what right He thinks He has to do such things.

i. This is a great question for today: "Who are you to tell us what to do?" In today's world, no one wants to be told what to do and the question the authority of anyone who tells them what to do. However, we should all recognize and submit to God's authority to tell us what to do.

2. (Mar 11:29-33) Jesus answers their question with a question.

29But Jesus answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: 30The baptism of John; was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me." 31And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' 32But if we say, 'From men'"; they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. 33So they answered and said to Jesus, "We do not know." And Jesus answered and said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

a. I will also ask you one question: When Jesus asked them to answer the question regarding John the Baptist, He was not evading their question because if John was from God, then he was right about Jesus, that He was the Messiah. If what John said was true, then Jesus had all authority.

i. "It was not a dodge, but a home thrust that cleared the air and defined their attitude both to John and Jesus. They rejected John as they now reject Jesus." (Robertson)

ii. "The Lord's question was not a trap; it was yet another opportunity for them to realize and confess their blindness, and ask for sight." (Cole)

b. We do not know: Their response to His question exposed the fact that these men were not sincere seekers of truth. They cared more about scoring rhetorical points in debate and in pleasing the crowds than in knowing the truth.

i. "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." (Barclay) It is more difficult at first to face the truth and admit wrong, but it the only path with a real future.

c. If we ask Jesus to give us answers, we must deal rightly with the truth that is already revealed. These men knew that John said Jesus was the Messiah, and were not willing to even deal with that.

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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