Passover visitors praised Jesus as he entered Jerusalem that Sunday.
And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:810).
Jesus’ miracles had fueled Jewish hope that he was the son-of-David Messiah the Lord had promised 900 years earlier. “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom . . . I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12b,13b).
Passover kindled their expectations. Pilgrims come to commemorate rescue from Egyptian slavery 1400 years earlier packed the city. As Moses had freed the Jews from Egyptian slavery, so they expected this messianic son of David would free them from Roman oppression.
But expectations flickered when Jesus didn’t fight. “ . . . he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (Mark 11:11).
Jesus doesn’t act according to our script. We don’t like that. We don’t understand. Preachers who portray Jesus as a genie in a lamp ready to grant our every wish only deepen our disillusionment when he doesn’t. Let’s get it straight. Jesus calls us to follow his script.
The last Monday dawns. “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).
What’s with that? Jesus the spoiled brat? No breakfast from that tree! A death-curse be on it! But things will get more startling this last Monday.
“And they came to Jerusalem. 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 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).
Passover visitors didn’t cart their sacrifices with them. They bought them at the marketplaces east of the city. Business was so successful new ones had opened in the outer temple courts–“The Court of the Gentiles”, where Gentiles could approach Israel’s God and pray to him. But merchants had made the place of prayer for “the nations” a place of profit for themselves. That Monday for a few hours Jesus ground the whole business to a halt.
What’s going on here? First Jesus curses an empty fig tree. Then he violently shuts down the temple. What’s happening is a mini-judgment day. The barren fig tree symbolized Israel—a God-called nation that bore no fruit of righteousness. The temple symbolized God’s living presence among the nation—but Jews had turned the temple into a business, while smugly assuming God was on their side. When Jesus cursed the fig tree he symbolized God’s judgment on Israel. When Jesus cleansed the temple he briefly executed judgment on Israel.
Imagine Jesus in our church sanctuary during Sunday morning worship overturning chairs and bashing instruments and throwing books around the room. This is no “sweet Jesus meek and mild”! This Jesus gets angry when we dishonor his Father. This Jesus turns into a judge when we reject him.
The last Monday is a bitter appetizer of judgment to come. ” . . . because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). Safety can be found only in the one who unleashed a taste of God’s judgment that last Monday.