Episode 119 - Passion Week: Tuesday, part 1
Hey I’m Josh Hawkins, this is episode 119 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the past few episodes we started looking at the final week of Jesus’ ministry before His crucifixion, a period the church has called Passion Week or Holy Week. In Episode 118, I talked about what the Gospels record for us on Monday of that week. We saw Jesus openly and powerfully assert His divinity by putting Himself in the place of Yahweh through His quotes of Psalm 8 and Isaiah 56. He overtly confronted the leadership of Israel with His identity in the midst of the Passover feast. Yes, He is the Jewish Messiah, the one they have been waiting for. But He is also divine. He is the one true living God of Israel, the one who led them out of Egypt and gave them the Law, the one who will receive the worship of all of the nations in the age to come. In today’s episode we’re going to look at some of the events that take place on Tuesday of Passion Week. This day is full of activity and dialogue, and though I won’t cover all of it, there’s still so much to talk about.
Now if you recall, Jesus has been spending the last couple of evenings with the Twelve in Bethany, which is just a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem. On Sunday, after His entry into Jerusalem, He withdrew back to Bethany. Then on Monday, on His way back into Jerusalem in the morning, He was hungry and saw a fig tree in the distance. The Gospels say that, because there was no fruit on the tree, Jesus cursed the tree, saying “may no one ever eat fruit from you again”. We looked at that in the last episode, and as we’ll see from Mark’s Gospel, it bears enormous significance. Let’s keep reading today from Mark 11:
"As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”"
(Mark 11:20–25 ESV)
So it’s the next morning, and the fig tree that Jesus saw and cursed yesterday, the one with no fruit on it, was withered away to its roots. Think about how crazy this would have been for the disciples. In one single day, a beautiful leafy tree went from being healthy to being withered without any life at all. What’s the point of this? Well we can’t forget the larger story going on in the Gospels that we’ve talked about so much already. Jesus came seeking the fruits of repentance from Israel, and He largely hasn’t found it, and not at all from the leadership and shepherds of the people. In passages throughout the prophets, a fig tree was used as a symbol of judgment. For example, in Jeremiah 8:13, in the middle of a harsh condemnation of Judah, the prophet says "When I would gather them, declares the Lord, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.” Also, remember back to the parable Jesus spoke in Luke 13 about the man who had planted a fig tree in his vineyard, and how it had not produced fruit. We looked at that back in Episode 94. Also, remember that just two days before this event on His journey into Jerusalem, Jesus had just condemned it and prophesied its destruction. And less than 24 hours before this moment, Jesus had driven the money changers and merchants and buyers out of the Temple just as He did at the beginning of His ministry. All of these things help us understand the point of the cursing of the fig tree. The fig tree was supposed to produce fruit, and Israel was supposed to produce fruit as God’s chosen people to bless the rest of the nations. Since there was no fruit on the fig tree, Jesus cursed it. Since Israel had not borne fruit, Jesus cursed it in continuing faithfulness to the covenant made with them at Sinai. The very thing that set Israel apart from the rest of the nations - the Temple and God’s dwelling among them - was going to be destroyed along with the city. Despite all of the rituals and sacrifices and worship and prayers offered in the Temple, it was really a den of thieves, a place where wealth was to be made. The cursing of the fig tree was symbolic of God’s judgment on the Temple and the leaders and people of Israel for refusing to repent and bear fruit.
Jesus goes on to tell the disciples that they ought to have faith in God, and then encourages them to prayer and forgiveness. Now at first glance, it seems like Jesus’ answer makes no sense whatsoever. Peter sees the cursed fig tree, then Jesus responds with words about not doubting in prayer and forgiving others. What’s that all about? Well the Temple was going to be destroyed. Jesus had condemned the corporate place of prayer for the people of Israel. The Temple was the apex of their religious life and their possession of the Law and God’s dwelling among them is what set them apart as a nation. So did this condemnation from Jesus mean that God had rejected them and cast them off as His people? The answer to that question that the entire New Testament gives us is a profound “no”. Jesus is encouraging them to rely upon Him for what He had promised through the Scriptures. God’s vision for the Temple, according to Isaiah 56, was that it would be “a house of prayer for all nations”. Though the Temple would be destroyed and most of the nation would be consigned to judgment, a small, faithful remnant would remain and show forth God to be faithful to everything He has promised. One day, Jesus will reign from Jerusalem, a glorious temple will be built, and all the nations will flow to it to pray and learn God’s ways as the prophets have said.
There’s a few important things to note here about this passage when it comes to the original language: First, Jesus is speaking corporately. These verses are often interpreted individually, but Jesus is using plural pronouns. Generally speaking, the Gospels and even the Bible as a whole is much more corporate than we 21st century Gentiles like it to be. The Temple was the corporate place of prayer for Israel, and I believe one of the main things Jesus is doing here is encouraging His disciples to persevere in prayer, not doubting that God will still fulfill everything He has promised despite many of the covenantal curses being imposed upon them. Though it may seem utterly impossible for those promises to come to pass when the nation is scattered and the Temple is gone - as seemingly impossible as telling the Mount of Olives to be thrown into the sea - nothing is impossible with God. Jesus had spoken similar words to His disciples in Luke 18 in the parable of the persistent widow. Go back and watch Episode 109 if you missed it. The strength of man will be brought to nothing, and God will establish His kingdom and bring to pass His promises with power and glory by His strength alone on the Day of the Lord. Secondly, the Greek tense of the word translated here as “you have received it” is aorist. Without getting deeper into Greek, many commentators have noted that this specific expression and the tense used reflects Jewish thought of the day in which the certainty of something coming to pass in the future can be referred to in the past tense, all based on God’s trustworthiness. In other words, Jesus is saying: “Faithful Israel, as you pray, don’t doubt - have confidence and remember who it is you are entrusting yourself to. God has been faithful to you as a people, and based on that faithfulness, you can count on Him to not forget you and bring to pass everything that He’s promised.”
Now we have to be careful that we don’t miss the significance of Jesus’ words here, as they’ve been so often been distorted and removed from their historic and narrative context. He’s not speaking a general principle for all time such that if we pray for a new car or a raise or a spouse and don’t doubt that we’re going to get it, then we will have it. These verses have specific application to the Jewish Apostles and the early disciples. What did they hope for? What was the subject of their prayers? It was Israel’s deliverance, the vindication and hallowing of God’s name, and the coming of Messiah and His kingdom. I developed that back when I looked at the Lord’s prayer back in Episodes 64 and 65. Now the words of verse 25 are not part of the earliest and most important manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel, and some say it’s likely that copyists inserted them because of the similarity to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. Whatever the case, these disciples of Jesus would undergo much persecution because of their belief in who He was and their confidence in God to establish all His promises. And there would be many opportunities to not forgive them and avenge their wrongdoing. But they were to be imitators of Christ, who through forgiveness and patient continuance in doing good, will inherit the promises.
I want to close this episode today by looking at the one scene that John’s Gospel records for us between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Sunday and the Passover meal Jesus eats on Friday. Let’s read briefly from John 12:
"Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”"
(John 12:20–29 ESV)
This is a dramatic event, and it’s difficult to place it with any chronological certainty. Some place it on Monday as Jesus taught in the Temple. Others place it on Tuesday, the day we’re looking at in this episode. As we’re going to see, there are so many events that take place on Tuesday. I would tend to place it on Monday just because of how full Tuesday is, but I don’t really have any other reason besides that one. We do know from Luke’s Gospel that Jesus taught daily in the Temple after His arrival. Luke 21 says:
"And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him."
(Luke 21:37–38 ESV)
In light of those verses, I think we can safely assume that the Greeks came into the Temple to see Jesus during the day when He was teaching. If that’s the case, it makes the thundering of the voice of the Father all the more breathtaking, because it would have happened in the midst of the massive crowds who had come to the city and into the Temple for the Passover.
Well we’re out of time for today but come back next time where I’ll keep looking at the events on Tuesday of Passion Week. In the meantime, find all the past episodes in this series on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, see you next time.