Oh dear Jerusalem…
Jesus arrives for the last time at Jerusalem, where He is shortly to die for our sin and rise again.
Riding on a donkey
The fact that Jesus came on a donkey is significant. He is deliberately fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” He is declaring His kingship loud and clear for those with eyes to see, but He is coming in a gentle and lowly manner. He is not on a big white warhorse with sword and rod of iron. He is coming to save, not slay.
The fig tree
It looks a little off, Jesus being cross with a fig tree that has no fruit on it out of season and so cursing it. Fig trees start producing fruit as the leaves come and so the figs are hard to see from a distance until they are ripe. But there is much more to this than that. “The disciples heard it” means that this incident is a teaching moment. Fig trees were symbolic of the nation of Israel itself – Jeremiah 8:13; 29:17; Hosea 9:10, 16; Joel 1:7; Micah 7:1-6) . The destruction of the fig tree is associated with judgement (Hosea 2:12; Isaiah 3:4; cf. Luke 13:6-9). So the fig tree symbolises Israel in Jesus’ day, and what happened to the tree, the terrible fate that inevitably awaits Jerusalem. Jesus is denouncing the religiously barren nation of Israel, before moving on to the temple to denounce the religion of Israel.
The clearing of the temple
Jesus is not just arriving meek and lowly on a colt, He is passionate for God’s glory. The monetising and profiteering out of worship is trashed as Jesus overturns tables and throws the money changers out. The quote “My house shall be a called a house of prayer for all the nations” is particularly poignant. The profiteering was going on in the Court of the Gentiles, the large area where the nations were allowed to come in and learn about God. Instead it is being used by Jews, for Jews to make money and exploit other Jewish worshippers. Jesus is disgusted. The quote, from Isaiah 56:6-8, is all about the nations coming to the Lord.
Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree and angry clearing of the temple does more than just express His righteous anger at the lack of figs and profiteering. As John Calvin comments, Christ intends “to present in this tree an outward sign of the end which awaits hypocrites, and at the same time to expose the emptiness and folly of their ostentation.” Jesus curses the fig tree in the context of His teaching on hypocrisy; He casts out temple merchants who exploit others while claiming to serve God (Matthew 21:12–13).
In Mark’s gospel Jesus’ explanation doesn’t focus on hypocrisy, but on faith filled believing prayer. He teaches on prayer, informing His followers that believing prayer can accomplish great things (vv. 21–24).