Mark 11: Royalty, Authority and Faith
The Kingdom of God is established in the person and work of Jesus Christ: not ceremonies, not traditions, not good intentions, and not even right theology.
The Triumphal Entry
In this event Jesus is consciously fulfilling prophecy. Zech. 9 foretold of the coming King of Israel who would come riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey, who would fight the enemies of Israel and how Israel would be saved. A colt is a young male horse or donkey and a foal is just another word for a young member of the horse family. The whole context is obviously royal: Jesus sends his disciples, gives orders to the owners of the colt, and is decorated and hailed as a king. The shouts of the people are drawn from Psalm 118: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh.” Psalm 118 is a victory psalm which celebrates an event where God has delivered Israel from her enemies just as He delivered Israel from Egypt. The one who comes in the name of Yahweh is “blessed” perhaps because he brings tidings of victory, or perhaps he is the one who actually accomplished the victory. But at the very least, the name of Yahweh is reason enough, because the victory has come from God.
Cleansing the Temple
Others have noticed the similarities between Jesus’ actions toward the Temple and the instructions for priests in Leviticus regarding leprous houses. When houses were infected it was necessary for the priest to come and examine them first (Lev. 14:33-38). Then the priest would return and see if the leprosy was still there, growing or receding (Lev. 14:39ff). Upon the second examination, the priest would make a declaration of whether the house was unclean or not. In our text, Jesus begins with the initial examination (Mk. 11:11), and then he returns to reexamine the house and declares it unclean (Mk. 11:15-18). Notice also what the priests, scribes and elders ask him: By what authority are you doing these things? (11:28).
Jesus’ words are also fitting. He quotes from Isaiah (56:7) which is a prophecy which describes how God will accept the prayers and worship of outcasts because of the presumption and wickedness of His people. He also quotes from Jeremiah (7:11) which is a prophecy of the coming destruction of the temple. This again fits with the “unclean house” motif: the house is unclean and needs to be torn down. This also sheds light on Jesus’ actions. The “den of thieves” language and the overturning of tables is not a condemnation of selling things in the Temple per se. It is a condemnation of mere formalism. Israel chanted “the temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh” as though it were a good luck charm, all the while stealing, murdering, committing adultery, lying, and worshipping other gods (Jer. 7:4-10). Israel goes out like a gang of thugs and then returns to Yahweh’s house to divide the spoils. Given the Isaiah passage, Jesus may also be rejecting Israel as the family of God. Jesus is accusing Israel of “breaking and entering” (Heb: “parats”). They’ve been worshipping all the other gods of the world therefore this is not their house: they’re trespassers; they’ve “broken in”. Notice that Jesus’ actions are meant to disrupt the work of the temple: without the ability to buy animals, sacrifices cannot be offered. Jesus is the end of all sacrifice.
The Withered Fig Tree
The fig tree is Israel (1 Kg. 4:25, Joel 1:7ff, et al). Throughout the Old Testament, the picture of an Israelite man dwelling under his own fig tree is the image of Israel at rest, Israel under the blessing of God. And Israel as a whole is Yahweh’s fig tree which he dwells under and from which He seeks fruit. The fact that this fig episode sandwiches the episode concerning the temple is no accident. Israel has been examined (v. 11), found wanting (v. 13), cursed (v. 14), and disrupted (v. 15ff). But if that image is not clear enough about Jesus’ intentions, Jesus gives us another: “this mountain” (11:23). Jesus is not just randomly giving a moralistic lesson about prayer. Jesus is talking about praying for the Kingdom of God to come and for all of the other kingdoms to go (particularly Israel). “This mountain” is Israel. It may refer to the Mount of Olives in particular (11:1). But it is more likely, given the context, that he is referring to the temple mount, Mt. Moriah (cf. 13:1-3). Remember that the sea is also a picture of the gentiles throughout Scripture. Yes, believe when you pray; but pray in and with the will of God and forgive those who wrong you (v. 23-26).
Application and Conclusion
Where does Jesus get His authority? From the same place John the Baptizer got his: heaven. So where do you get your authority? Where do we get our authority? Our authority is also from heaven: God’s Word from first to last. Buildings and vestments are not authority. Nor does apostolic succession, covenantal succession or any other kind of succession automatically bestow the authority and blessing of God. The blessing of God bestows succession. The blessing of God bestows buildings and glory and beauty, but it’s never the other way around. Lively faith in the Triune God is the truest and mightiest authority in the world (11:23-24), and it enthrones us as kings and priests to our God.