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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 was the Gospel of Mark, we might think this was 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 prepared to enter Jerusalem, He carefully and deliberately sent His disciples to make arrangements for His arrival into the city. Since the time was short before His crucifixion, Jesus left 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, and 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. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road: 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 of His audience rejected any kind of personal commitment to Jesus. All of that was different on this day.

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

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 went 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. The statements from the crowd came from Psalm 118:19-29. In this, their praise was Scriptural. It is 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), then that is how we should 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. 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 at you. 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.

c. 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 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. We see again the courage of Jesus because He didn’t hide from the authorities. John 11:57 makes it clear that there was a price on Jesus’ head and the authorities were looking for Him. Despite that threat, Jesus 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 was cursed for its pretense of leaves, not for its lack of fruit. Like Israel in the days of Jesus, it had 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 was a great and important lesson in it. God doesn’t approve when there is profession without reality, talk without walk.

ii. “There is no more warrant for criticizing our Lord for destroying a tree for the purpose of teaching, than 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: The temple area was filled with profiteers who worked in cooperation with the priests and 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 made the exchange into temple money at outrageous rates.

b. Those who bought and sold in the temple: They did this in the outer courts of the temple, the only area where Gentiles could worship and pray. Therefore, this place of prayer was made into a marketplace, 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 and active sinners can associate and hide.

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 explained that this miracle was really the result of a prayer made in faith, and He encouraged His marveling disciples to have this kind of faith, trusting that God would hear them also.

b. In God: Jesus made it clear that prayer must be offered in faith, and faith must be in God. Faith is trust, confidence, and reliance upon someone or something.

i. Some, using Greek transliterations, have said Jesus was really saying that we must “Have God’s faith.” But Greek scholars object to this understanding of the phrase “have faith in God.”

· “Objective genitive theou [God] as in Gal. 3:26; Rom. 3:22, 26.” (Robertson) God is the object of faith in this sentence.
· “The word ‘God’ is in the genitive case, showing here the object of faith.” (Wuest)
· “Faith in God, genitive objective as in Rom. 3:22 and Heb. 6:2.” (Expositor’s)

ii. 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 said that as we believe, God could 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 was 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 obligated 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)

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. Refusing to forgive or holding on to 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. Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone: This means that we are never to place religious duty or ministry ahead of good relationships with people. We are to set things right first, and then continue on in prayer. 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.

C. By what authority?

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

Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And 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 to debate 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 was 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 wanted to know what right He had to do such things.

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

But 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: The baptism of John; was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men'”; they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. So 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. If John really was from God, then he was right about Jesus and Jesus was indeed 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)

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 is the only path with a real future.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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