Episode 118 - Passion Week: Monday
Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, welcome to Episode 118 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last two episodes, we began our journey through Passion Week by looking at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the Temple on Sunday. I talked about how the crowds welcoming Jesus on Sunday were enthusiastic but misguided, as they had not heeded Jesus’ message for repentance. On the path over the Mount of Olives to the east, Jesus had deeply mourned over the city of Jerusalem and pronounced judgment upon it, per the covenantal curses of Deuteronomy 28. And after entering the city directly into the Temple courts on Sunday evening, Jesus looked around seeking the fruits of repentance, and then withdrew back to Bethany for the evening. In this episode we’re going to examine the events of Monday of Passion Week, so let’s jump right in and read from Mark 11:
"On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it."
(Mark 11:12–14 ESV)
So here we are on a Monday morning in April of 29AD, and Jesus and His disciples were making the short couple of mile trek from Bethany to Jerusalem so that Jesus could teach in the Temple. On the road into Jerusalem, Mark said that Jesus was hungry. He saw a fig tree in the distance, which had leaves on it already. If you’re not from the Middle East, we miss out on the context here that would have been well known in the first century. Figs would be harvested from about mid-August to mid-October. The branches of fig trees would sprout these buds that would remain undeveloped throughout the winter. Then in March and April, the buds would swell and become somewhat edible, and then immediately afterwards, likely sometime in April, the fig tree would sprout leaf buds. So the little fig buds would be produced before the tree produced leaves. That means that once the fig tree had leaves, you’d expect to be able to find the fig buds on there as well in various stages of maturity. Now of course these wouldn’t be the ripened figs that you’d find in the summer time, but they certainly could be eaten. Some say this is what Jesus was looking for on the tree. Some other commentators think that there were various kinds of fig trees in Israel at the time which would produce fruit at other times throughout the year, and that the presence of leaves on the tree would typically indicate that there should be fruit on it. Whatever the case, Jesus did not find anything edible on the tree. Mark says that because of this, Jesus cursed the tree, saying “may no one ever eat fruit from you again!” The disciples overheard Jesus say it, I’d imagine from a short distance away. And with this, they all proceeded on the road to Jerusalem.
Now the cursing of the fig tree will become very important to remember when we look at Tuesday’s events. The symbols we’ve talked much about already in this series - like bearing fruit and the harvest, will be significant yet again. But we’ll talk about that in the next episode. For now, let’s keep going in Mark:
"And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city."
(Mark 11:15–19 ESV)
Upon entry into the city, Jesus goes into the Temple and does something He’s done once before. Two years ago at the Passover feast, Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers and cast out the sellers of animals. I talked about the first time Jesus did this all the way back in Episode 49. For His first overtly public act in His ministry, Jesus confronted the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem and asserted His identity as Lord and Messiah and His authority over the Temple. The Jewish authorities had perpetuated the whole sacrificial system because they were the main benefactors of its wealth and power. Jesus threw over the tables in the Temple to indict them for their failure to lead the nation in righteousness back then. And now once again, two years later, He does the exact same thing. Now without seeing the chronology of the Gospels, some will mistakenly say that this event only happened once. But it happened twice, and they serve as bookends to Jesus’ public ministry. In the two years Jesus went around Israel seeking the fruits of repentance, nothing had changed with the Temple system. His direct appeals had been refused, and the reckoning He came to bring would cause judgment to fall upon them for their rejection of Him and His message. As I mentioned in the last episode, Jesus came into the Temple on Sunday night and "looked around at all things”. His piercing gaze had seen right into the hearts of the Jewish authorities, money changers, and merchants, and they had been found unchanged.
Now Jesus was teaching the people in the Temple. Jesus quotes Isaiah 56, where Isaiah says:
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these 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 peoples.”
(Isaiah 56:6–7 ESV)
The Temple was the focal point for the Jewish people and God dwelling in their midst is one of the things that defined them as the chosen nation, as the one through whom all the rest of the nations would be blessed. According to Isaiah 2, the Temple, God’s house, was to be the place where all the nations would come up to learn the ways of the God of Israel and to worship Him. But the Temple system was being abused and exploited for selfish gain by the very ones whom He had appointed to steward it. This is why Jesus, as the God of Israel in the flesh, had a controversy with His own people. They were not fulfilling their role and walking out their end of the covenant, and thus were in prime position for the covenantal curses. Let’s look at something else the Gospels share with us for Monday of Passion Week from Matthew’s Gospel:
"And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they 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 infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there."
(Matthew 21:14–17 ESV)
I just love this scene because of how Jesus dumbfounds the chief priests and scribes. The children are crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David”, a clear affirmation of their belief that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the final king as promised in God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7. In response to the Jewish authorities and their not so subtle attempt to get Jesus to stop them from shouting, Jesus quotes Psalm 8 to them. Check this out:
"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger."
(Psalm 8:1–2 ESV)
So in this psalm, King David is ascribing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel, saying that His character, His power, and His glory is seen throughout the heavens and the earth. Then he marvels that God uses strength or praise from children to silence His enemies. The idea is that the Lord has chosen the weak things to confound the strong, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1. God has enemies, and David is saying here that God is using what is coming out of the mounts of children to defeat His enemies. So what is Jesus doing by quoting this Psalm to the sneering priests and scribes? He is the one receiving this ordained praise from the children in the temple. By quoting Psalm 8, Jesus is saying “I am not only the Jewish Messiah, but I am also the LORD, the God of Israel, and the words coming out of the mouths of the children are the means I have chosen to silence you, my enemies.” As we’ve seen many times throughout the Gospels, Jesus is not adverse to taking upon Himself what in the Old Testament was said of Yahweh, the God of Israel Himself. That’s what Jesus is doing here.
Now combined with His quote of Isaiah 56 just a few hours before, this reference to Psalm 8 gives us two instances on this day of Passion Week where Jesus affirms His identity as the God of Israel. We’ll also see another instance tomorrow where Jesus quotes Psalm 110. Psalm 8 and Psalm 110 are used consistently in the New Testament and in early Christian literature to show that Jesus is more than just the promised Messiah, but that He is the also the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We see Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2, 1 Corinthians 15, and Ephesians 1, and we see Psalm 110 in Acts 2 as well as many times in Hebrews and Paul and Peter’s epistles. In the span of six months for Jesus’ visits to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, Dedication, and now the Passover, Jesus unmistakably announces His divinity to the leadership of Israel. Back in John 7 and 8 at Tabernacles in October, the whole scene ends with the people wanting to stone Jesus, because He said “before Abraham was, I AM”. Then in December at Dedication in John 10, they want to stone Him again and they say “you, being a man, make yourself out to be God.” Then finally here in April, there are two more times on Monday when He quotes Isaiah 56 in the first person and puts Himself in the place of Yahweh in quoting Psalm 8. Jesus knew who He was, and the Jewish authorities knew who He had claimed to be. They knew that He said that He was due the same honor that God alone was due, and yet they still would condemn Him to death.
After this confrontational day in the Temple, Jesus returns to Bethany and stays the night once again. In the next episode, we’ll head back into Jerusalem for the events of Tuesday. Until then, go back and watch the episodes you’ve missed in this series from my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, see you next time.