Harmony of the Gospels

 -Monday-
Bethany to Jerusalem
(2) Fig Tree Cursed and Temple Cleansed
(Jer. 7:11) Matthew 21:10-19 (focal passage), Luke 19:45-48,


10 And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?”
11 So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”
12 Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.
13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”
14 Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.
15 But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant
16 and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?”
17 Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there.
18 Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry.
19 And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.


Introduction

In this Passage Jesus performed two acts of judgment: He cleansed the Temple, and He cursed a fig tree. Both acts were contrary to His usual manner of ministry, because He did not come to earth to judge, but to save (Jn. 3:17). Both of these acts revealed the hypocrisy of Israel: The Temple was a den of thieves, and the nation (symbolized by the fig tree) was without fruit. Inward corruption and outward fruitlessness were evidences of their hypocrisy.

Commentary


10 And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?”
11 So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Inside the city, there was bewilderment concerning His identity. Those who asked were told only that He was Jesus the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee. From this, it seems that few really understood He was the Messiah—*the prophet promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15.

*Deuteronomy 18:15     The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear. Moses directed the people away from magic and to the true prophets of God, who would deliver the truth from the heart of God. This prophecy was ultimately fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 6:14; Acts 3:22, 23).

There is a contrast made here between the men of the city, who were ignorant of our Lord’s identity, and the multitude that were able to answer their question. There were probably many Galileans in the multitude that had come up for the feast and who already knew our Lord through His preaching and healing ministry in the north.

In less than a week, the fickle crowd would be crying, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

12 Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.

Every Jewish man coming to Jerusalem for the Passover feast had to pay a temple tax equivalent to two days of a laborer’s wage. Many types of currencies were circulating, and, since only special temple coins were acceptable, moneychangers could charge a fee for the necessary exchange. *Moneychangers could make handsome profits at the expense of the people. This exchange became a source of extortion for the High Priest’s family who personally controlled it. In reality, it amounted to a public bazaar.

*Moneychangers     Bankers who exchanged one nation’s currency, or one size of coin, for another. These people provided a convenience, charging a fee (often exorbitant) for their services. Some moneychangers operated in the temple area (the Court of the Gentiles), where they did their business of exchanging foreign coins for the official Temple coin, because all money given to the Temple had to be in the Tyrian silver coin. According to Exodus 30:11–16, every Israelite 20 years old or older was required to pay an annual tax of a half-shekel into the treasury of the sanctuary.

A temple visit usually involved a sacrifice. If a man brought his own animal, the temple authorities would inspect it for perfection. To make sure an animal passed inspection, many people bought their animal sacrifices at booths set up in the temple. However, these animal sellers often charged outrageous prices, thus making a high profit for themselves.

At the outset of His public ministry, Jesus had driven commercialism out of the temple area for the first time (John 2:13–16). Now, three years have passed, and profiteering for an excessive fee had again sprung up in the outer court of the temple. Sacrificial animals and birds were being bought and sold at exorbitant rates. Now, as His ministry drew to a close, Jesus again drove out those who were profiteering from sacred activities as well as those who were making purchases, showing that He held both groups guilty of desecrating the Temple. However, the two incidents differed. In the first cleansing, temple officials confront Christ immediately afterward; none of the accounts of this second cleansing mentions anything about a confrontation of any kind. Instead the Gospels tell how Jesus addressed all those present and even made the incident an occasion for *public teaching.

Luke 19:46-47      saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”  And He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him,

Jesus was teaching daily in the temple area—not inside the temple, but in the courts where the public was allowed. The religious leaders longed for some excuse to destroy Him, but the common people were still captivated by the miracle-working Nazarene. His time had not yet come. Soon the hour would strike, and then the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees would close in for the kill.

Jesus made a whip of cords and drove out of the temple those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and poured out the changers’ money. All of this took place in an area called the Court of the gentiles. It is not clear why Jesus was so angry with the moneychangers. His anger was not directed at the temple tax, for He Himself paid it willingly—“Lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you” (Matt. 17:24–27).

Jesus’ anger may have been directed at the commercialism within the temple area that took advantage of the poor: “Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (John 2:16). Because Malachi 3:1 prophesied the cleansing of the Temple as something the Lord and His Messenger would do, Jesus’ act implied His deity and Messiahship. Consequently, the hard-hearted scribes and chief priests “sought how they might destroy Him” (Mark 11:18; Luke 19:47). This event, more than any other, was probably the cause of Christ’s death.

However, when He was finished expelling those who were at the Temple only for one reason; to make money, He wept over it as He reflected on its coming destruction (Mark 13:1; Luke 19:41–44).

The danger of introducing commercialism into the things of God is always present. Christendom today is leavened by this evil: Church bazaars and socials, organized financial drives, preaching for profit—and all in the Name of Christ. Christ quoted Scripture (*Isa. 56:7 and Jer. 7:11) to support His action. Every improvement of abuses in the church is to be built on God’s Word.

*Isaiah 56:7   "Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Jesus quoted from verse 7 when He cleansed the temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 21:13). How tragic that the religious leaders had turned a place of worship and witness into a den of thieves. Would any Gentile want to know the God of Israel after seeing the Court of the Gentiles made into a marketplace?

This incident has a twofold message for today. In our church life, we need His cleansing power to drive out bazaars, suppers, and a host of other moneymaking gimmicks. In our personal lives, there is constant need for the purging ministry of the Lord in our bodies, the temples of the Holy Spirit.

13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

The Jews had been given the knowledge of the true God, not so they could bask in the sunshine of the revelation, but that they might proclaim it to all nations. That historic mission had been forgotten. Quoting from Isaiah 56:7, Jesus reminded them that God intended the temple to be a house of prayer. They had made it a hangout for *thieves (Jer. 7:11). Mark, in his gospel has a more complete report “…a house of prayer for all nations." The words in italics are not in the other Gospels.

This cleansing of the temple was His first official act after entering Jerusalem. By it, He unmistakably asserted His lordship over the temple.

*Jeremiah 7:11     Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the Lord. The people of Jeremiah’s day lived in gross sin in everyday life. Then, on the Sabbath, they came before God in His house and gave lip service to Him. They had turned God’s house into a den of thieves, the same situation that Jesus faced centuries later.

Recently, Jesus was teaching daily in the temple area—not inside the temple, but in the courts where the public was allowed. The religious leaders longed for some excuse to destroy Him, but the common people were still captivated by the miracle-working Nazarene. It was not just our Lord’s popularity that angered them; the title “Son of David” which the children kept calling out implied messiah-ship. The trivial objections of the enemy were stilled by the children’s praise. His time had not yet come. Soon the hour would strike, and then the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees would close in for the kill.

What does God want in His house?  He told us what He wants! God wants prayer among His people (1 Tim 2:1), for true prayer is evidence of our dependence on God and our faith in His Word. He also wants people being helped (Matt. 21:14). The needy should feel welcome, and find the kind of help they need. There should be power in God’s house (Matt 21:15-16)

The lessons taught by this cleansing of the Temple can be summarized as follows:
1. Jesus punished degradation of religion and insisted on reverence.
2. He rebuked fraud in the worship of God, especially “religious” racketeering, and demanded honesty.
3. By declaring that the Temple must be a house of prayer for all nations, He gave His endorsement of the wonderful cause of Christian missions.
4. By means of all this, He glorified His heavenly Father.
It is now Monday. The next day, Tuesday, which was the last day of His public teaching, is described in Luke 20:1–22:6.

14 Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.

The next scene finds our Lord healing the blind and the lame in the temple yard. He attracted the needy wherever He went, and never sent them away without meeting their need.

15 But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant.
16 and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?”

Hostile eyes were watching. And when these chief priests and scribes heard *children hailing Jesus as the Son of David, they were enraged. They said, “Do You hear what these are saying?”—as if, they expected Him to forbid the children from addressing Him as the Messiah! If Jesus had not been the Messiah, this would have been an appropriate time to say so once-and-for-all. However, His answer indicated that the children were right. He quoted Psalm 8:2 to answer them: “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise.” If the supposedly knowledgeable priests and scribes would not praise Him as the Anointed, then the Lord would be worshiped by little children. Children often have spiritual insight beyond their years, and their words of faith and love bring unusual glory to the name of the Lord. The religious leaders in rejecting Jesus, did not even have the insights of children (*Matthew 18:3-4), who were receiving Him.

*Children      Here Children refers to boys. The crowd in Jerusalem for the Passover would have included a large number of twelve-year-olds, who were celebrating their first Passover in Jerusalem, just as Jesus Himself had done.

Matthew 18:3-4    and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." To become as little children means to be born again (converted) as a newborn spiritual child, characterized by faith and humility.

17 Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there.

Leaving the religious leaders to ponder this truth, Jesus returned to Bethany and spent the night there. Our Lord did not spend a night in Jerusalem until the night He was arrested.

18 Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry.
19 And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.

As He was returning to Jerusalem in the morning, He hoped to find something to satisfy His hunger. Eventually, the Lord came to a fig tree that from a distance looked like it was bearing figs, but when He got closer, He saw that there was no fruit. Finding nothing on it but leaves, He said, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.

In Mark’s account *(11:13–14, 20) the comment is made that it was not the season for figs. Therefore, His condemning the tree because it had no fruit would seem to picture the Savior as unreasonable and bad-tempered. Knowing this cannot be true, how is this difficulty explained?

*Mark 11:13-14, 20 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. Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.

Fig trees in Bible lands produced an early (usually February) edible fruit before the leaves appeared (usually late spring). This was a harbinger of the regular crop. If no early figs appeared, as in the case of this fig tree, it indicated that there would be no regular figs later on. Thus, there should normally have been some fruit on the tree. He used the incident to illustrate Israel’s desperate condition.

This is the only miracle in which Christ cursed rather than blessed—destroyed rather than restored life. The same power that killed the tree could also give it new life and fruit. This is hard for some to accept, and it has caused some to criticize the accuracy of Scripture. Such criticism betrays an ignorance of the Person of Christ. He is God, the Sovereign of the universe. Some of His dealings are mysterious to us, but we must begin with the premise that they are always right. In this case, the Lord knew that the fig tree would never bear figs and He acted as a farmer would in removing a barren tree from his orchard.

Even those who criticize our Lord for cursing the fig tree admit it was a symbolic action. In fact, Jesus’ cursing of the tree is a purposeful divine object lesson, not an impetuous act of frustration. Besides, Jesus was not angry at the tree, and certainly, He would not hold a tree morally responsible for having no fruit. This incident is the Savior’s interpretation of the turbulent welcome He had just received in Jerusalem. Like the vine and the olive tree, the fig tree represents the nation of Israel. When Jesus came to the nation, there were leaves, and that speaks of those who make a profession of faith, but they bear no fruit for God. Jesus was hungry for fruit from the nation.

Because there was no early fruit, He knew there would be no later fruit from that unbelieving people, and so He cursed the fig tree. The curse will let no fruit grow … for ever, and it resulted in the almost immediate withering of the entire tree. The disciples … marveled at how this could happen so fast. Notice that none of them questioned the morality of this incident, as have misguided modern commentators.

While trees are non-moral, they, like all of nature, are subject to the word of Christ. The time of judgment had come. The sentence was pronounced by the judge, but it would not be executed for about forty years. This was a picture the judgment that would fall on the nation in A.D. 70; then an enemy would destroy the Temple and scatter the people, but in God’s eyes, they had already destroyed it by their disobedience and self-righteousness.

We must remember that while unbelieving Israel will be fruitless forever, a remnant of the nation will return to the Messiah after the Rapture. They will bring forth fruit for Him during the Tribulation and during His Millennial Reign.

Although the primary interpretation of this passage relates to the nation of Israel, it has application to people of all ages that combine high talk with a low walk.

Just as in Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, His cursing of the tree indicated the nearness of judgment. This miracle of destruction could be understood as an illustrated parable or teaching device. The tree with its leaves had the marks of fruitfulness, but it bore no fruit. Israel was likewise practicing hypocrisy (Mark 7:6), and for that reason the nation was in line for judgment. We too must beware of the peril of fruitlessness.

Summary

Jesus cleansed the temple and cursed the fig tree, two “unusual acts” for Him who came not to judge but to save (Isa. 28:21). Like the temple, Israel was corrupt within; and like the fig tree, it was fruitless without. A church can become a “den of thieves” if that is where we go to cover up our sins (Isa. 56:7; 1:10–20; Jer. 7:11). A person whose life is “nothing but leaves” is in danger of judgment, for Christ seeks fruit (Matt. 7:15–20).

 

Contact Us with your questions and comments

Make a Free Website with Yola.