VI. Ministry in Jerusalem (Mark 11:1–13:37)
VI. Ministry in Jerusalem (11:1–13:37)
11:1-6 As they drew near to Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of his disciples to enter a village on the way and untie the colt they found there (11:1-2). All they would need to do is say, The Lord needs it (11:3). The disciples obeyed him, and everything happened just as he said (11:4-6). The colt would be one on which no one had ever sat (11:2). That it was unused would make it naturally unwilling to receive a rider, but its submission demonstrated Jesus’s authority over creation.
11:7-11 While Jesus rode on the colt, people honored him by spreading clothes and leafy branches before him on the road. Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’s actions in this scene were a fulfillment of messianic prophecy (see Zech 9:9). Welcoming Jesus as the Messiah, the coming King, they cried out, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! (11:7-10). “Hosanna” is the Greek transliteration of a Hebrew phrase that means, “Please save!” (see Ps 118:25). Passover week was beginning. Thousands of Jewish pilgrims were arriving in Jerusalem, and already things were becoming chaotic because of how people were responding to Jesus. When Jesus entered the temple, he observed some matters he would need to address the following day (11:11).
11:12-14 Jesus’s group didn’t spend the night in Jerusalem but in Bethany (11:12), a village less than two miles to the east (see John 11:18). Near there Jesus attempted to get some figs for breakfast, but there were none on the fig tree even though it had leaves. Though it was not the season for figs yet, the presence of early leaves was an indication that fruit should’ve been appearing (11:13). Jesus cursed the tree so it might never bear fruit again (11:14).
Ultimately, Jesus’s actions in this instance were symbolic. Though the tree showed signs of life and productivity, in reality it was barren. The same was true of Israel—especially in the case of its religious leaders. They looked righteous and godly on the outside, but on the inside they were corrupt. Their lack of faith meant that they were also barren—producing no fruit for God. Many people today are like that too. They attend church regularly, carry fancy Bibles, and shout “Amen!” But there’s a lack of spiritual vitality inside them; thus, there’s no kingdom fruit in their lives.
11:15-16 Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus immediately returned to the temple (see 11:11) and went into action. He threw out those who were buying and selling, turned over the money-changer tables, and forbade people from carrying goods through the temple (11:15-16). The business activities themselves were not necessarily a problem since pilgrims coming to worship needed to buy animals to make sacrifices. The problem was that these activities were taking place in the temple, hindering worship. Moreover, the businessmen themselves engaged in corrupt practices, cheating their customers.
11:17 In Old Testament times, wicked kings and priests in Jerusalem allowed God’s temple to fall into disrepair and to be used for unrighteous purposes, but Jesus was zealous for his Father’s temple. He couldn’t let a materialistic use of God’s house go unaddressed. He quoted from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 to condemn misuse of the temple, which was to be a house of prayer for all nations. Commerce had trumped communion with God.
11:18-19 The chief priests and scribes hated Jesus. They were looking for opportunities to use against him. Their problem was the whole crowd. They were astonished by Jesus, so naturally the religious leaders were afraid (11:18) because they didn’t want Jesus leading an uprising of the people against them. At evening, Jesus and his followers stayed outside of the city (11:19).
11:20-23 The next day they passed by the fig tree that Jesus had cursed (see 11:12-14). In twenty-four hours, it had dried up from root to branch (11:20)! Peter was stunned (11:21). How could this have happened—and so quickly? The answer, according to Jesus, boiled down to faith in God (11:22). Then he took the lesson a step further. He said, If anyone has faith and tells this mountain (the Mount of Olives) to jump into the sea . . . it will be done for him (11:23). Since Peter thought the withered fig tree was impressive, this concept must’ve really blown his mind! Faith’s authority allows the believer to speak directly to the obstacles of life (i.e., “mountains”) and get them to move.
It’s important to note that Jesus is not commending an extraordinary faith. After all, on one occasion he told his disciples something similar and said faith needed to be no larger than a tiny “mustard seed” (Matt 17:20). The most important aspect of faith, then, is the worthiness of its object. You must be trusting in the right thing. You can place tremendous faith in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, but you’ll be disappointed. If, however, you have true, vibrant faith in the God of the Bible, you have spiritual authority to access divine power. God has already blessed you “with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ” (Eph 1:3). Through faith in Jesus, you have access to divine power. It’s like having a contract with the electric company. Since you have a legal relationship with them, they provide you with electricity. Nevertheless, you must access that power yourself by flipping the light switch.
11:24-25 Exercising your spiritual authority comes by taking responsibility to do what God has told you to do. This comes through prayer and through repenting of sin—such as the sin of unforgiveness. Prayer enables us to access God’s power in our lives, but unrepentant sin blocks God’s power.
11:27-30 The religious leaders were furious with Jesus about the temple-cleansing incident (see 11:15-19). They wanted to know who authorized him to do such things (11:27-28). So Jesus answered their question with a question. If they would answer his inquiry, he’d answer theirs (11:29): Was John’s baptism from heaven or of human origin? (11:30). In other words, he said, “You want to know if I’m legitimate, if I’m operating on God’s authority? Tell me: Was John the Baptist legitimate? Did he minister on God’s authority?”
11:31-32 Even before they answered, it was obvious the leaders weren’t interested in the truth. They had to huddle together to discuss their response options. If they admitted that John’s authority was from heaven, then Jesus would ask them, why didn’t you believe him? (11:31). After all, John himself testified that Jesus was the Messiah. But they were also reluctant to reject John and his ministry because they were afraid of all the people who thought John was truly a prophet (11:32). If they denigrated John, the crowd might stone them!
11:33 Given their dilemma, the religious leaders chose to avoid the question by throwing in the towel: We don’t know. They were self-serving hypocrites. They demanded that Jesus answer their questions truthfully, but they had no interest in the truth—only in advancing their own agenda. Therefore, Jesus refused to answer them.
12:1 Jesus often used parables to teach about the kingdom of God. On this occasion (12:1-12), he used one to expose the evil intentions of the religious leaders. A man planted a vineyard, a very elaborate one with a fence, a winepress, and a watchtower. Then the man leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and went away. As becomes clear, the vineyard owner represents God, the vineyard is Israel, and the tenant farmers are Israel’s leaders. God was the source, provider, and protector of his people. He entrusted his vineyard to leaders who were to care for it on his behalf.
Those listening to Jesus would’ve been familiar with these details. Isaiah the prophet told a similar story about a vineyard that represented Israel (Isa 5:1-7, esp. 5:7). Instead of producing good grapes, it yielded worthless ones, so the Lord threatened to destroy it (Isa 5:2, 5-6). In Jesus’s parable, he added an important character: the vineyard owner’s son.
12:2-5 At harvest time, the owner sent servants to collect some of the fruit of the vineyard (12:2). But on each occasion when the servants were sent, the farmers treated them shamefully, brutally beating and even killing them. This is a vivid description of how the leaders of Israel had abused God’s prophets in the past. Though he sent them to warn his people to keep his covenant with them by pursuing righteousness, they refused. They owed God “fruit”—their obedience. But they scornfully mistreated and killed God’s prophets, demonstrating their scorn for God himself.
12:6-8 Finally the owner sent his son to the farmers (12:6). Surely, they would honor their master’s own son (12:6)! But instead, the wicked farmers saw killing the owner’s heir as their opportunity to win the inheritance (12:7-8). Thus, Jesus revealed the intentions of the Jewish leaders to rule Israel without the Messiah.
12:9-12 The farmers, though, were foolish to think the owner would sit idly by and do nothing. He would justly execute them and give the vineyard to others (12:9). This speaks of God’s coming judgment on the leaders and the temporary shifting of his kingdom program from Israel to the church. Jesus then quoted Psalm 118:22-23, identifying himself with the rejected stone that will ultimately be the preeminent stone in God’s kingdom work—the cornerstone (12:10-11). Their rejection of God’s agenda couldn’t prevent him from accomplishing his plan. The leaders knew Jesus was talking about them, but because they feared the crowd—who held Jesus in such high esteem—the leaders left him alone and continued their plotting (12:12).
12:13 Since the crowds were amazed at Jesus, the leaders wanted to find a way to put him at odds with them. They wanted to force Jesus to say something that would turn the people against him, so they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to him. The Pharisees were conservative religious Jews. The Herodians were political supporters of King Herod. They had little in common except a shared desire to take down Jesus. Mark tells us their intentions were wicked; they wanted to trap Jesus.
12:14 The Pharisees and Herodians began with flattery. They praised Jesus for his truthfulness and for the fact that he would give an unbiased answer. They weren’t going to catch the Son of God off guard by sweet-talking him, but they tried. Then they posed their question: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? They were no doubt gleeful, assuming they had placed Jesus in a no-win situation. If he answered, “Yes,” the crowd would be furious: They hated their Roman overlords. But if he said, “No,” the Pharisees and Herodians could announce that Jesus was promoting sedition, since the Jews were required to pay taxes to Rome.
12:15-17 Jesus saw right through them. Though they feigned interest in hearing his answer, he knew it was all hypocrisy. They were merely testing him for their own gain. So he told them to show him a denarius (12:15), the Roman coin used for paying the tax. The image on the coin was that of Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor (12:16). So Jesus answered them, Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (12:17).
It’s appropriate to give to Caesar—that is, to the government—what belongs to him. As Paul told the Romans, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities” (Rom 13:1). When government is functioning legitimately, it provides beneficial services to those living under its rule. So citizens rightly pay taxes to fund government services like police protection and adequate roads. Jesus makes it clear, though, that our commitment to the state is not our only commitment. We also have a commitment to God, since we bear his image. And our commitment to God is greater because, though the state’s authority is limited, God’s authority is comprehensive. So the key question is not, “Should we pay taxes?” Rather, the key question is, “Am I submitting to God’s comprehensive rule over every area of my life?”
By attempting to entrap Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians demonstrated that they were not pursuing God’s agenda but their own. They were utterly amazed that he had outsmarted them again (12:17).
12:18 The Sadducees were a powerful Jewish group, but they had some faulty beliefs. For one, they said there was no resurrection, no physical life after death. Moreover, they only held the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) as sacred Scripture.
12:19-23 On this occasion, the Sadducees wanted to confound Jesus and show how ridiculous the idea of resurrection from the dead was. The law of Moses required that if a man died and had no children, his brother was to marry his widow and raise up offspring for his brother (12:19; see Deut 25:5-6). With this in mind, they proposed a scenario. Each of seven brothers successively married a woman, had no children, and then died. Then the woman died (12:20-22). Their question was this: In the resurrection . . . whose wife will she be? After all, seven men had married her (12:23). The Sadducees assumed that their hypothetical situation proved the resurrection concept absurd. If it were true, they reasoned, it would result in mass confusion.
12:24-27 But their question didn’t panic Jesus. The Sadducees were mistaken because of their faulty belief system. He pinpointed their problem: you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God (12:24). First, in the resurrection, people will be like angels in that there will be no marriage or procreation (12:25). All believers will be one big extended family. Second, the Lord is not the God of the dead but of the living (12:27). Jesus demonstrated this by pointing to Exodus 3:6, which the Sadducees accepted as God’s Word (see commentary on 12:18). God told Moses that he was (still) the God of Abraham . . . Isaac . . . Jacob (12:26) even though they had physically died. The point was that they were spiritually alive.
12:28-30 Apparently impressed when he heard Jesus debating, a scribe asked him, Which command is the most important? (12:28). Jesus answered him from Deuteronomy 6:5, which affirms that the Lord is one (12:29). He is the only God and the one to whom we owe our undying loyalty and affection. The passage goes on to call God’s people to love him with all their heart . . . soul . . . mind . . . strength (12:30). In other words, we are to love God with the totality of our being. It’s one thing to claim that you love God. It’s another thing to demonstrate it through everything you think, say, and do.
12:31 Jesus answered the man’s question, but he didn’t stop there. He had quoted the greatest command in Scripture. Then he added the second greatest: Love your neighbor as yourself. Thus, Jesus connected the vertical (love of God) with the horizontal (love of others). To claim to love God while not loving people (or vice versa) is a contradiction. The two necessarily go together. To love God is to passionately pursue his glory with your total being. To love your neighbor is to decide to compassionately and righteously seek his or her well-being.
12:32-33 Recognizing that Jesus had answered well, the scribe commended him (12:32). To love God and love one’s neighbor is far more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices (12:33). Mere religious observance is worthless. Conforming to external religious regulations and practices—without love—will not get you close to God.
12:34 Jesus affirmed this particular scribe. His understanding of God and the true purpose of the law had brought him near to the Messiah and salvation—not far from the kingdom of God. At that point, the religious leaders stopped asking him questions.
12:35-37 Since Jesus had silenced all of their questions, he now had a question of his own. The Jews believed and rightly taught that the Messiah would be descended from King David. So Jesus asked them how the Messiah could be the son of David when David himself (in Ps 110:1) called the Messiah Lord (12:35-36). A son, after all, would give honor to his father—not the other way around. So if David called his descendant “my Lord,” clearly he was more than merely David’s “son.” Jesus was using the Scriptures to show that the Messiah would indeed be a human descendant of David, but he would also be far more. He would be divine. The Son of David is also the Lord of David. Jesus is fully man and fully God.
12:38-40 As he taught the crowds, Jesus warned them to be wary of the scribes, who were thought to be experts in and teachers of the law. They should’ve been examples of godliness and humility; instead, they frequently sought public honor and recognition (12:38-39). As if shamelessly seeking notoriety were not bad enough, they also defrauded vulnerable widows. Such leaders were not to serve as models for the people. Those who misuse others and display false piety will receive harsher judgment (12:40).
12:41-44 Jesus had just commented on how the scribes took advantage of and plundered poor widows (12:40). Then he took the opportunity to praise a widow for her sacrificial giving. While watching people put offerings in the temple treasury, Jesus noticed as the rich gave large sums of money (12:41). But then a poor widow, probably unnoticed by anyone else, dropped in two tiny coins worth very little (12:42). Jesus couldn’t let such a teaching moment pass, so he called his disciples over (12:43).
When compared to the wealthy, the widow had contributed next to nothing. But when compared to what she had available, she had given more . . . than all the others (12:43). The reason is because the rich had given out of their surplus, out of their leftovers. After they had paid all of their expenses, they gave an offering—and still had money left. The widow, however, gave out of her poverty (12:44).
Stewardship is a matter of the heart. In your car, a light comes on to indicate when you are running low on fuel. Similarly, the way you relate to money is an indicator of your heart’s state. The widow gave sacrificially from what little she had, because she loved God. Her giving provides a window into her heart. When God considers our Christian stewardship, he looks not merely at the amount of our gifts but at our motives.
13:1-2 As they left the temple, the disciples marveled at its impressive buildings (13:1). It was truly magnificent. But Jesus revealed to them what would happen to its stones in the future: all [would] be thrown down. The destruction would be so great that not one would be left upon another (13:2). Jesus’s prediction became a reality in AD 70 when the Romans invaded Jerusalem under Titus, decimating the city.
13:3-4 Later, as Jesus and his disciples sat on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the temple, they asked him when these events would happen and about the sign of their accomplishment. They connected the events with the end of the age and the beginning of the messianic kingdom (see Matt 24:3), but they didn’t understand that there would be an interval of time between the temple’s destruction and Christ’s millennial reign. In answering the disciples’ questions, Jesus directed their attention beyond the coming destruction to the future events in God’s prophetic timetable that would proceed Christ’s second coming to set up his millennial kingdom.
13:5-8 Jesus warned them that many false Messiahs would come to deceive. Moreover, there would be various wars . . . earthquakes . . . famines (13:7-8). The disciples had asked what “sign” would precede his coming (13:4). Jesus warned them not to be alarmed about various conflicts and catastrophes that many might perceive to be signs of the end (13:7), for these were just the beginning of birth pains (13:8). The prophets spoke of labor or birth pains as a symbol of God’s outpouring of judgment (see Jer 30:5-7), so Jesus uses this symbol to refer to the beginning of the tribulation period prophesied by Daniel (see commentary on Dan 9:24-27). This will be a time of sorrow and pain like a woman in labor. But it will eventually lead to the end of the age, the return of Christ, and the “birth” of the messianic kingdom.
13:9-13 Though this will be a time of judgment on the earth, the gospel will still be preached and a multitude of Jews and Gentiles will be saved (see Rev 7:4-17). Those who come to faith in Christ during this period of the tribulation will experience intense persecution, but they should have confidence. Jesus reminded the disciples that when they stood before governors and kings, it would be as his witnesses, preaching the gospel to the nations (Mark 13:9-10). They would not need to worry about what to say, for the Holy Spirit would speak through them (13:11). They would be opposed even by family members (13:12). These believers will be hated because of their witness for Christ, but the one who endures to the end—a reference to the end of the great tribulation period—will be saved (13:13). In this instance, “saved” does not refer to spiritual salvation but to preservation from physical death. In other words, believers who endure to the end of the tribulation will be spared physical death and enter the millennium.
13:14-20 The second half of the great tribulation period will begin with the abomination of desolation (13:14), prophesied by Daniel (see commentary on Dan 2:24-27). The Antichrist will arise during the seven-year tribulation period as a world ruler. At the midpoint of those seven years, he will break a covenant of peace made with Israel and set up an “abomination” in a rebuilt Jewish temple (see Dan 9:27). This will be an image in which he sets himself up as a god, revealing himself to be “the beast” who demands to be worshiped by all the people of earth (Rev 13:5-8).
This abomination will coincide with an intense persecution of anyone who refuses to worship the beast. Those who will not bow down will have to flee to the mountains, leaving their property and possessions behind if they are to escape death (Mark 13:14-16). Travel for pregnant women will be especially hard, and winter weather will make escape difficult (13:17-18). It will be the worst time of trouble and suffering in human history (13:19). If not for the Lord’s divine intervention to shorten the days of tribulation, none of his people would survive (13:20).
13:21-23 The tribulation period will see more Messiah pretenders than any other time. God’s people are not to believe them—even though they perform signs and wonders (13:21-22). Believers must be vigilant and discerning. Our theology has life-and-death consequences.
13:24-27 God will not abandon his people. Though the great tribulation will be a time of great distress, the Lord Jesus will come and set all things right. Amazing signs will appear in the heavens (13:24-25; see Isa 13:10; 34:4; Joel 2:31). When they witness these celestial abnormalities, people will know that the Lord is coming soon. Then the Son of Man will appear in clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:26), in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy (Dan 7:13-14). It will be an event visible to all. He will send out the angels who will gather all of the Jewish believers and those martyred during the tribulation so that they may enter into his millennial kingdom (13:27).
13:28-32 Jesus told a parable to illustrate these truths. When a fig tree . . . sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near (13:28). Similarly, when believers during the tribulation see the things that Jesus predicted (13:24-25), they can be assured that his return is near (13:29). Christ’s disciples can depend on his prophecies because his authoritative words are more reliable than heaven and earth, which will pass away (13:31). This generation—those believers living during the great tribulation—will not pass away until all of these prophecies come true (13:30). Only the Father knew the exact day and hour. In his humanity, the Son did not know because of his submission to the will of his Father (13:32).
13:33-37 Since no one will know the timing of these events, believers must be on the alert in light of Jesus’s prophecies (13:33). He likened himself to a man who went away on a journey, leaving his servants with authority to watch over things while he was gone (13:34). After his resurrection, Jesus would ascend into heaven and give his church authority to minister in the world on his behalf. Christ’s disciples, then, must not become spiritually lethargic but remain watchful and prepared for him to return at any time (13:35). The rapture of the church (see commentary on Matt 24:42-44; 1 Thess 4:13-18) will occur before the tribulation period begins. It has no preconditions and, therefore, could happen at any time. So believers must live constantly in light of Jesus’s immanent return. Be alert, church! (13:37).