The Gospel according to Mark

Chapter 11

11:1-2 "Having walked up the Jericho Road, what did Jesus do?" Bethphage is the first village before arriving in the Mount of Olives area of Jerusalem. Jesus stopped there and, rather than go in to the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus in Bethany, he sent two disciples to bring the donkey's colt that was tied there. Jesus probably knew this young donkey from previous visits. And Matthew remembered the fact that it was still with its mother (Matthew 21:2), and this was a fulfilment of prophecy (Zechariah 9:9).

11:3-6 If the disciples were asked what they were doing, all they had to say was "The Lord needs it." And Jesus knew they would gladly let the young donkey and its mother go. Sure enough the disciples found the donkey tethered outside the house. Some bystanders questioned their right to take it, but when they heard Jesus had asked for the donkey, they were satisfied.

11:7 The apostles threw some clothes on the donkey as a saddle, and though it had never been ridden before it allowed Jesus to ride on its back. As Matthew noted, Jesus thoughtfully let the mother donkey accompany the young donkey as he rode it..

11:8 "How did the crowd respond to this?" To the disciples' astonishment hundreds of people formed themselves into a triumphal procession. They used their cloaks to form a welcome carpet. This was a sign of homage to a king (e.g. 2 Kings 9:13). When a king entered a city riding a horse, people knew it was a victory in war. But riding a donkey indicated a peace mission. The crowd waved and spread branches from the fields (not trees as in the KJV), and they shouted their songs of praise. Meanwhile the young donkey walked submissively without being phased by the noise and confusion.

11:9-10 "What did the crowd sing?" They sang the refrain taken from the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) which was sung by pilgrims in their ascent to Jerusalem and in the Passover seder). The word Hosanna (Greek osanna translating the Aramaic hoshagh na is an imperative meaning "Help (save) I pray." It is taken from "Save us we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you give us success" (Psalm 118:25 where the Hebrew is hoshighah na meaning "save, deliver, give victory"). By adding the words "the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David" the crowd was clearly accepting Jesus' right to be the Messiah from the line of David (see note on 10:47, where we noted that Matthew carefully began his Gospel with Jesus' messianic genealogy,
Matthew 1:1, 16, 18, which was never questioned by the religious leaders). At this point Luke adds that when Jesus saw the city he wept over it (Luke 19:41-44)

11:11 "What did Jesus do when he arrived in Jerusalem?" He went into the temple, and looked around (like a military reconnaissance). But because it was already late he took the twelve out to stay with his friends just over the Mount of Olives in the village of Bethany (see 11:2, 19, and previous visits in Luke 10:38, John 11:1-5).

11:12-14 The next day on his way in to clear out the temple before beginning begin his final three days of teaching (see 12:1) he noticed a fig tree with all its leaves out. Fig trees bear fruit three times a year, and normally at the beginning of April the trees are bare (see 13:28). This tree was a remarkable exception, so he went up to check whether it already had fruit on it, and he found nothing but leaves. Perhaps Jesus decided to use this as a parable of the Jewish religious establishment which was outwardly impressive, but refusing to yield fruit (as in 12:2, and "the fruits of the Kingdom" in Matthew 21:34, 43).

11:15-17 When John wrote his Gospel he remembered that early in Jesus' ministry he had cleared out the temple (John 2:13-16). That should have been a warning, but it was unheeded, and buying and selling continued to crowd out the quietness needed for prayer. So here Jesus repeated the symbolic act which he had done two or three years before, but now he explained exactly what the religious leaders had done wrong. As Solomon had prayed "When a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place" (1 Kings 8:41-43) The temple was meant to be "a house of prayer for all nations" (quoting Isaiah 56:7) but it had become a cave where robbers keep their loot. "They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers" (12:40), "imagining that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Timothy 6:5).

11:18-19 The religious leaders were furious, and they wanted a way to get Jesus lynched and killed, (see Mark 3:6, John 11:57). But the crowd was "spellbound" (this NRSV translation wrongly suggests that Jesus had put a spell on them like a magician). The passive of the Greek verb ekplysso means to be amazed, astounded, so the meaning is that the crowd were astounded by the Messiah's teaching, and were in no mood to form a crowd to lynch him. And every night Jesus and his disciples went out to the peace and quiet of Bethany outside the city (11:11).

11:20-21 We suggested that Jesus used the fig tree that bore no fruit as a symbol of the failure of Jewish religious establishment to bear fruit among the nations (11:12-14, see the fig tree as a parable of the nation in Luke 13:6-7). Now a day later the fig tree had withered away, and Peter concluded that Jesus had cursed it. In his interview Mark may have objected "There seems no point in cursing an inanimate fig tree. Why would Jesus do such a thing?" We know we can use a tree for house or boat building, or any other purpose. Having decided to use the fig tree as a parable of the termination of the Jewish religious establishment in that generation, as happened in AD 70 (13:31), Jesus had every right to use the tree as an acted parable.

11:22-24 "If that was the case, how can you explain the withering of the fig tree?" If Jesus could heal the sick, cast a legion of demons into the sea, and still a storm, withering a fig tree is not more difficult than cutting it down with an axe. As Peter would later discover, by faith mountains can be moved. Jesus could be raised from the dead (16:6).

11:25 "Does that mean we can use prayer to get anything we like?" Jesus explained that in addition to faith, the one thing that makes prayer ineffective is the refusal to forgive the wrongs we have suffered. In the Lord's Prayer he had taught "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). And "if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you trespasses" (Matthew 6:15). The secret of Jesus' power in prayer was that there was no one he did not forgive, however much they wronged him. No one would ever be excluded from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

11:26 This verse (in the KJV) is not found in the best manuscripts, but it correctly reflects the teaching of the previous verse.

11:27 In Jesus's day the Sanhedrin (supreme council) consisted of the High Priest as President and seventy members including
priests, theologians, and elders drawn from the Jerusalem synagogues. They were waiting for Jesus as he came into the temple courts, and they were ready to catch him out with a question about his authority to clear the temple and teach as a rabbi. John explains Jesus' authority as from the Father (John 10:37-38).

11:28-32 "How did Jesus answer them?" He refused to state his authority till they had first answered his question about John the Baptist. Was the prophet's authority from God or was it merely human preaching? If they answered it was from God, Jesus would ask them why they rejected him. And if they answered he was an ordinary preacher, the crowd would be furious because they regarded him as a prophet.

11:33 Unwilling to make fools of themselves, they avoided Jesus' question, and he refused to state his authority.

Chapter 12