Mark 11 Study Notes
11:1-11 Mark 11-16 covers “Holy Week.” The material Mark devotes to these last seven days of Jesus’s life comprises one-third of Mark’s entire Gospel. Thus Jesus’s final days in Jerusalem are crucial to a proper understanding of Jesus and his mission. Jesus’s royal procession into Jerusalem took place on what is now called “Palm Sunday.” His entry into Jerusalem is recorded in all four Gospels.
11:1 This is Jesus’s first recorded visit to Jerusalem in Mark. (Lk 2:41-52 records Jesus’s visit as a boy and John’s Gospel indicates several visits.) Bethphage (lit “house of unripe figs”) was located on the slope of the Mount of Olives, a large hill east of Jerusalem. Bethany was two miles east of Jerusalem.
11:2 The village ahead of you was probably Bethphage.
11:3 Commentator R.T. France supposes that these words were a “prearranged password.”
11:4 Outside in the street indicates the colt was in plain sight.
11:6 This verse may indicate that Jesus arranged in advance to borrow the colt.
11:7 The two unnamed disciples threw their clothes on the donkey to create a makeshift saddle. Even though Mark did not quote Zch 9:9 in this account (as did Mt 21:5; Jn 12:15), the messianic symbolism of Jesus’s action is clear.
11:9 The two groups (those who went ahead . . . those who followed) may refer to fellow pilgrims traveling with Jesus (10:46) and those who came out of Jerusalem to meet them (Jn 12:9; cp. Mt 21:10-11). The crowd’s shouts were recitations from Ps 118:25-26, the last of the Hallel psalms sung at Passover. Hosanna is Hebrew for “save us.”
11:11 Herod’s temple was being reconstructed, a project that had been going on for more than forty-five years (13:1; Jn 2:20). Bethany, two miles east of Jerusalem, was where Jesus apparently lodged during Passover.
11:12-26 Matthew recorded the temple clearing (Mt 21:12-17) and the cursing of the fig tree (21:18-20) as distinct events. Mark divided the cursing of the fig tree (Mk 11:12-14) from its withering (vv. 20-21) and placed the clearing of the temple in between (vv. 15-19). Thus he meant for readers to see the connection between the barren fig tree (symbolic for Israel) and the barren temple. Jesus’s cursing of the fig tree was an acted-out parable of God’s judgment on Jerusalem and the temple.
11:12 The next day was Monday of Holy Week.
11:13 Jesus spotted a fig tree that bore nothing but leaves. Even though it was not the season for figs, the leafy tree should have been covered with edible buds (Gk paggim).
11:14 Jesus’s words express a curse (v. 21). This is the last of Jesus’s miracles recorded in Mark and the only miracle of destruction in the Gospels. In the OT, the fig tree was a symbol of Israel (Jr 24:1-10; Hs 9:10; cp. Lk 13:6-9). The episode recalls Jr 8:13; Hs 2:12; and Mc 7:1.
11:15-18 Scripture prophesied that the Messiah would purify the temple (Ezk 37:26-28; Mal 3:1-4). Jesus’s temple cleansing is clearly messianic. John recorded a cleansing at the beginning of his Gospel (Jn 2:13-17).
11:15 Having noted all that went on in the temple the day before, Jesus now returned, probably to the Court of the Gentiles, where most buying and selling occurred. People who traveled from afar needed to purchase pure, unblemished animals once they arrived for Passover. Money changers exchanged idol-engraved Greek and Roman coinage for imageless Tyrian or Jewish temple coins that could be used to buy sacrificial items or pay the temple tax (Ex 30:11-16). Doves were offered by women after childbirth (Lv 12:6-8; Lk 2:22-24), by cleansed lepers (Lv 14:22), by those healed of bodily discharges (15:14,29), and by those who could not afford more expensive sacrifices (5:7,11). Sheep and cattle were sold also (Jn 2:14). The Court of the Gentiles had become a virtual stockyard.
11:16 Only Mark adds the information in this verse, indicating further inappropriate use of the temple as a thoroughfare or shortcut.
11:17 The written text Jesus quoted was Is 56:7. Only Mark added for all nations. The den of thieves quotation is from Jr 7:11, part of Jeremiah’s sermon in which he condemned temple goers for their attitudes and behaviors and predicted the temple’s destruction (7:12-15).
11:18 Jesus’s last word in v. 17, “thieves” (Gk lÄ“stÄ“s), involved foreshadowing since within three days he would be arrested as if he were a thief (“criminal,” 14:48) and within four days would be crucified between two thieves (“criminals,” 15:27). The words a way to kill him recall the plot in 3:6 by the Pharisees and Herodians.
11:22 The proper object of faith is God, not the temple.
11:23-24 Jesus’s saying on faith and impossibilities (cp. 1Co 13:2) began with his solemn formula, Truly I tell you (cp. 3:28; 8:12; 9:1,41; 10:15,29). He gave a negative condition (does not doubt in his heart) and a positive condition (but believes) for fulfillment of this promise (cp. Jms 1:6).
11:25 A second condition to petitions being granted is to forgive others. Standing while praying was the usual Jewish posture for public prayers (cp. Lk 18:9-14). If you have anything against anyone recalls Mt 5:23-24 (cp. Mt 18:21-35).
11:27-12:44 In this section Mark recorded a series of conflict stories with the religious leaders.
11:27 The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders made up the Sanhedrin, the seventy-member governing body of the Jews. These were representatives, not the whole body. In his first death prediction, Jesus named these groups as those who would put him to death (see note at 8:31).
11:28 The questions focused on the nature (by what) of Jesus’s authority (Gk exousia) and on who gave it to him. Jesus’s authority had been at issue since the beginning (1:22,27; 2:10). These things probably refers to his temple clearing and his royal entry into the city.
11:29-30 John’s baptism encapsulates John the Baptist’s entire ministry. From heaven means “from God.” Jesus’s question turned the tables on the Pharisees. If they admitted that John was sent by God, they would have to admit the same about Jesus.
11:31-33 A genuine prophet has authority from heaven. If John was a prophet from God, Jesus was even more so. Unwilling to admit this, the authorities refused to answer Jesus.