Our reading today brings us to Jerusalem and centers on Jesus’ relationship to the temple. From now until the end of Mark’s gospel everything is associated with Jerusalem. Chapter 13 is Jesus’ second extended teaching discourse, focusing on the destruction of the temple and the coming of the Son of Man. It is the climax for numerous statements concerning the divine judgement about to fall on Jerusalem and the temple. Jerusalem was Jesus’ goal. It appears that the week before His entry into the city Jesus stayed in Bethany with His disciples. The Mount of Olives is frequently associated with the site of the final judgement and the place where the Messiah will manifest Himself. Jesus sent two disciples to bring a donkey back for Him to ride and the fact that the people were OK with them just saying the Lord has need of it suggests this could have been Pre arranged, or the donkey belonged to a supporter of Jesus. It is clear that Jesus had every intention of fulfilling Zechariah 9:9, entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. The disciples found everything just as He had told them. No doubt some who knew the prophecies understood they were witnessing the arrival of the Messiah. His entry into the city was fit for a king. People spread their garments on the ground and others cut down Palm branches.
The people were shouting Hosanna! In Hebrew this means save us. Others use the word to mean praise the Lord. This was the exuberant welcome of a famous pilgrim, the prophet from Galilee. For those who believed, this was a triumphal entry, but even the disciples didn’t fully understand what was happening. For Jesus this was the fulfillment of prophecy. He was prepared for the occasion and offered Himself to the people of Israel as God’s Anointed, the Messiah. This account ends somewhat surprisingly in Mark’s gospel. The exuberant crowd seems to disappear and Jesus’ actual entry into the temple is anticlimactic in comparison to his entry into the city. It seems as though in the minds of the people nothing important had really taken place. Jesus entered into the temple and looked around in preparation for God’s judgement on the temple. In the first three gospels Jesus’ messianic entry into Jerusalem is intimately associated with the cleansing of the temple. In John’s gospel it is placed much earlier in Jesus’ ministry. It is possible this happened more than once. Mark places the temple cleansing in the middle of the account of the cursing of the fig tree.
The cursing of the fig tree is always problematic. It was too early in the season for fruit on the trees but Jesus didn’t curse it because it lacked fruit. Jesus was looking for edible buds which would show that the tree would be fruitful that year. There were none, showing the tree would be fruitless. The tree is symbolic of the fruitlessness of the worship in the temple, especially by the religious leaders of the day. Instead, He was performing a prophetic sign act like earlier prophets. See Isaiah 20, Jeremiah 13:1-11, 19:1-13, or Ezekiel 4. Just as Jesus judged the fruit tree, so too He judged the temple and the worship of Israel, in which He found no fruit. This judgement was fulfilled in 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans. Jesus’ miraculous power to judge the fig tree testified to His authority to bring about the judgement of Jerusalem that He had foretold. If Mark’s original readers were hearing this read to them in the late 60’s A.D., they knew that Roman legions were already enacting this prophetic judgement against Jerusalem.
The largest part of the temple was the court of the Gentiles. It was surrounded by porticos, and anyone could enter into the court of the Gentiles. This is most likely where the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals were set up. When He entered the temple Jesus was very disturbed by all the buying and selling. And, the high priest and his family profited greatly by all these businesses. This was a definite case of the already rich robbing the poor. The animal sales were supervised by the priests because they were the only ones who could certify that an animal was acceptable for offering and sacrifice. Understand that Jesus was not opposed to the temple nor was He attacking the sacrificial system. It was the profiteering that He saw as theft and as desecrating the holy place. It is possible that Jesus’ actions didn’t affect as large a number of people as we might think. His actions probably took place in one part of the large court and may not have been observed by most of the people in other parts of the temple. And the Romans who might have been observing didn’t seem to see this as a threat or cause for an uprising or riot. This is never mentioned at Jesus’ trial, suggesting the religious authorities never saw or knew it had had happened. This was not a massive attempt to stop all such activity, but more of a symbolic act foretelling the judgement soon to befall the temple and the city. It is also interesting that some people were using the temple as a shortcut to get from one part of the city to another, carrying goods to sell from one place to another. This too caused defilement. Jesus quoted both Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 in defense of His actions. The first quote emphasizes the importance of the temple for Gentiles. God’s house was intended by its very architecture, (the court of the Gentiles) to assist them in becoming children of Abraham. Jesus’ act of judgement fell on the leaders of Israel for hindering the Gentiles access to the temple. They were taking a part of the temple specifically designated as a house of prayer for all nations and turning it into a den of thieves through the profiteering that was taking place.
The importance of Jesus’ words were emphasized by his saying “I tell you the truth” . First of all He addressed faith; that all things are possible with faith, even moving mountains. The next two things deal with prayer. First we will receive what we ask for if we pray with the faith of the preceding verse. The second condition for answered prayer is forgiveness. Only when we forgive others can our most important prayer, that God forgive us, be answered. And again we see the presence of Jesus’ opponents asking him about His authority to do things. Mark is constantly reminding us that Jesus is going to, or leaving Jerusalem. In the temple Jesus encountered the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders. These three groups made up the 71 member high council, the ruling body of the nation. They challenged Jesus , demanding to know where His authority came from. We know that His authority includes divine authority to cast out demons, heal, forgive sins, and now, cleanse the temple. Jesus’ authority is from God the Father, but the religious leaders were unwilling to accept that. Jesus clearly put His opponents in a bind. No matter how they answered Jesus’ question, their reputation and credibility would be damaged. So they chose to say they didn’t know. The religious leaders of the nation admitted that they could not answer a simple question that the people had no difficulty answering. John the Baptist was sent from God. The leaders hardness of heart, their unwillingness to see, and their deliberate refusal to accept the truth made further discussion fruitless…just like the fig tree. Their blindness and hostility toward God’s servants John the Baptist and Jesus, their desecration of the temple, and their plot to kill Jesus all revealed why God’s judgement would come within that very generation.
All the events in chapter 12 take place in the temple. Jesus is teaching the crowds that have gathered and continue to grow each and every day. The first parable, of the evil tenant farmers, is an extended reply by Jesus to the religious leaders. No doubt the people listening figured that out…as did the leaders who were not pleased to have been put in a bad light. The tenants represented the leaders of Israel, the owner represents God, the servants are the Old Testament prophets, the beloved son is Jesus, the Son of God. The murder of the Son is the crucifixion and the giving of the vineyard to others represents the judgement coming upon Israel. There have been many warnings for Israel, all of which they ignored or didn’t understand. However, the religious leaders understood perfectly what Jesus was saying and to whom, and they were angry. It is clear that the owner of the vineyard went to great lengths, carefully preparing the nation of Israel, and leaving them in the care of others, namely the religious leaders. The owners share of the crop would have been a quantity of grapes or wine. In the Old Testament prophets were often referred to as servants. They were repeatedly mistreated or killed by Israelite leaders. The reasoning of the tenants is unclear although it was apparently clear to the original hearers, requiring no further explanation. Perhaps with the son coming they assumed that meant that the father had died and with the son or heir out of the way that would leave the vineyard without a living claimant. Then ownership would fall on those who had been working the vineyard for years. The tenants disgraceful treatment of the son is heightened by their not even burying his body. The parable ends with two rhetorical questions. In the second question Jesus quoted from Psalm 118:22-23. The rejected stone…Jesus…had become the cornerstone of God’s kingdom. This could be either the first stone laid in the foundation or the cap stone that finishes off the building, marking its completion. Either way, this stone is the most important of all. Still, all of this is part of God’s plan. Those who put Jesus to death were God’s instruments in His plan for the Son of Man to give His life as a ransom for many. Now for the second time, the crowds had thwarted the religious leaders evil intentions.
The leaders had failed to trap Jesus so they tried another tactic. It is amazing that they hadn’t learned that Jesus would not be fooled. Instead it was the leaders who came off looking like they had egg on their faces. Now they are concerned about paying taxes. The flattery of the Pharisees and supporters of Herod was insincere. They wanted only to trap Jesus into saying something He could be arrested for. The tax question had been carefully thought out by Jesus’ opponents. Jesus could say yes and alienate the people because they hated the Romans and they hated paying them taxes. Saying no would make Jesus a revolutionary and force an immediate confrontation with the Roman authorities that would result in his arrest. The taxes in question here were the poll tax, or head tax. Based on Jesus’ answer this tax had to be paid in Roman coinage, which meant a money change free had to be paid. The picture and title on the coin in question would have had Tiberius Caesar on it, son of divine Augustus on one side and high priest on the other. Jesus’ answer is neither pro Roman or pro zealot. And , like the evil farmers in the previous parable, the leaders had not given God what belonged to Him.
They third controversy story begins in verse 18. It is a discussion about resurrection, which the Sadducees did not believe in. Their question was also carefully crafted and was based off a commandment of Moses. What could go wrong with this…right?! Since all seven men couldn’t have the same wife in the resurrection, and since none of them had a special claim, the Sadducees thought they had proven the absurdity of the doctrine of the resurrection and refuted both the Pharisees and Jesus. They addressed Jesus as teacher, and they were known for their fondness of debating with religious teachers. Jesus’ response had two answers. First He rebuked them for their lack of knowledge of scripture, which must have infuriated them, and second Jesus challenged the Sadducees ignorance of God’s power. They believed that life in the resurrection was an extension of mortal life. Instead, it is life raised to an entirely new level. In this new life there is no need for sexual reproduction because there is no more death. And the intimacy of marriage is superseded by fellowship with a multitude of fellow believers and with God. This is how we will be like the angels in heaven.
After three hostile challenges one might think that the next question might be hostile as well but this is not hostile. This teacher seemed to be inclined to Jesus and praised Him. Jesus described the man’s answer to His question as having understanding and He said that the man was not far from the kingdom of God. The Torah contains 613 separate commandments and Jewish teachers frequently debated which one was the most important. None were considered unimportant but some carried more weight than others. Jesus’ reply combined two widely separated commands from the Torah. The first is from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. This was probably the best known passage in the Old Testament because it was repeated twice daily by observant Jews. It is called the Shema because that is the first word of the passage. It means listen! Or hear! This deals with a persons relationship to God. The command is to love
God with all ones heart, soul, mind, and strength. In other words, our thinking and affection, our desire and feeling, our understanding, and our energy and power. The second command is from Leviticus 19:18. It corresponds to the second part of the Ten Commandments. This concerns our response to other people. These two commands are not independent, but intimately associated as one commandment. The scribes affirmation adds emphasis to the importance of these two commands for authentic devotion. After this exchange, with Jesus commending the teacher of religious law, the opposition didn’t ask any more questions.
Now it was Jesus’ turn to ask a question. The Messiah was considered the Son of David and Jesus’ question didn’t deny that. But Jesus did demonstrate that the Messiah was much more. Psalm 110:1 is the most quoted in the New Testament and since David authored this psalm, the statement “the Lord said to my Lord” indicated that the Messiah is David’s Lord. So, the Messiah could not be his son. The Messiah is the Son of God who sits at God’s right hand and will come to judge the world. The warning for the teachers of religious laws is similar to the warning against the Pharisees and Herod. The scribes broke the two greatest commands. They broke the first one by failing to love God and failing to reserve for Him alone the reverence and adoration they sought for themselves. The flowing robes were most likely the garments worn by religious men, garments that set them apart and made them think they were important. Respectful greetings were the acknowledgements from the people, typically their being called Rabbi. And they liked the seats of honor, the ones in the front facing the congregation, and the ones at the head table of any function they went to where food was served. These men broke the second command by failing to love their neighbors, as was seen in their cheating widows out of their property. They preyed on the most vulnerable in society along with the needy, this despite the fact that God had instructed the Jews to take care of the poor, widows, and orphans as well as the aliens living in the land. The scribes wore a hypocritical cloak of false piety and will be more severely punished in the final judgement. Jesus told the parable of the widows mite to show what true giving and faith looks like over and against that of the falsely pious rich. No one would ever name a building after this widow because of a what she gave, but God looks not at the size of the gift but at a persons heart while giving. This widow was doing exactly what Jesus told the rich young ruler to do.
Chapter 13 looks at Israel’s failure to produce fruit. It’s leaders hostility towards God’s anointed, the Messiah would result in judgement and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The sight of the temple would have been awe inspiring. It was the largest temple complex in the world, built with huge stones. One stroke that. Has been uncovered in the Western wall is estimated to weigh 600 tons. Yes you read that right. While the disciples were admiring the temple Jesus brought them back to reality. This grand and glorious temple complex, a symbol of strength and permanence and God’s favor on the Jews would be totally, irrevocably destroyed, not one stone left on another. To say that Jesus’ prophecy was not fulfilled because some stones still stand means we have misunderstood the prophecy. Jesus’ inner circle of Peter, James, and John asked Jesus privately when all this destruction would happen. They wanted to know the signs and they wanted to be forewarned and be prepared for all things. The words Jesus spoke to the disciples are just as appropriate today as they were then. Most believe that verses 5-13 speak to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple while verses 14-23 speak to the coming of the Son of Man in the future. However, all of the verses could also point to the destruction in 70 A.D. since virtually all of these things happened around that time. Jesus warned His followers not to be misled by the many false Messiahs who would come claiming to be the one. Many will fall prey to them. The list of things that will happen won’t bring the end immediately. These are simply birth pains and the rest will come later.
The second watch out! warns of the coming persecution that would come upon Christians. Jewish Christians would be brought before the local authorities and others would be beaten in the synagogues. Followers would be susceptible to trial before governors and kings. All of these things would bring an opportunity to share the Good News. And the Holy Spirit would give each of them the words to speak when the time came. Jesus warned that there would be no single group, not even families to whom persecuted Christians could automatically flee. They would be hated because of their allegiance to Jesus. The sign that the disciples had asked for is given in verse 14. There would be a sacrilegious object that caused desecration. Mark doesn’t say what it’s is but Antiochus placed a statue of Zeus in the temple. This sign would be similar, and there would be many options here including atrocities committed by the Zealots, and the Roman soldiers setting up their standards in the temple and offering sacrifices to them. It could also refer to a future event involving the antichrist. The sign is for people to flee Judaea, while there is still time to flee. This would be before the Roman army would occupy Jerusalem and besiege it. No one was to stop to get anything or go back to retrieve anything. They were to flee. The Roman army did not use blitzkrieg tactics. They were slow and methodical, cautious and relentless. Jesus warned against playing a waiting game to see how things might develop. They were to flee. The intensity of the coming disaster is illustrated by the suffering of the most vulnerable. The joy of motherhood would be accompanied by terrible trouble. The wadis or washes would be flooded making travel difficult and survival harder. Mark uses great hyperbole. It heightened the terror of that time. This warning was not to be taken lightly. God will show mercy at this time by shortening the length of their suffering. In fact, the whole population of Judaea might have been destroyed if the days of suffering weren’t shortened. Again Jesus warned about false prophets and messiahs who would come to wrench the people away from the Lord.
The coming of the Son of Man happens after Jerusalem is destroyed. This could happen at any time. There will be cosmic signs first and then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. He will gather His chosen people…those who believe in Him and follow Him…from all over the world and heaven. Jesus compares that day to the fig tree. People know by the signs when it’s is nearly time to pick fruit. When the cosmic signs appear people will know that Jesus’ return is near. This generation, the one Mark was writing to, was to witness these events and most of them did see the destruction of Jerusalem. The rest of us are waiting for the day Jesus will return triumphantly. No one knows when except the Father. Our job is to be ready when He does come. The whole point here is not that the return of the Lord is unexpected or uncertain. It is to say that there will be no sign or warning of His coming. Verse 37 is addressed to all of us. Watch for Him!!!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W