Final Confrontations

As the time for Jesus' death grows near Mark recounts several confrontations with various Jewish leaders and groups that will seal their rejection of Him as their Messiah.
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In chapters nine and ten of his book, Mark describes Jesus' private ministry to His disciples, teaching them on a variety of subjects, warning them of the things to come, and revealing more perfectly His true nature and mission. In chapters eleven and twelve, Jesus will once again face the leaders in what will prove to be His final confrontation with them before His arrest and suffering.

The Entry into Jerusalem — 11:1-11

Until now Jesus has not announced publicly that He was the Messiah. He would use the cryptic term "Son of Man" or would instruct His Apostles to tell no one of their acknowledgement that He was the Son of God. Now, however, He is ready to reveal His true identity to both the masses and the religious leaders, and He does it in a dynamic way.

In Zechariah 9:9 there was a prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah and how He would bring peace and salvation. The prophet said that this savior would come riding on a colt (a young donkey) that had never been ridden. Jesus will fulfill this prophecy and lay claim to it before all the people. In their eyes the reason and message of this action would be quite clear.

1As they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, 2and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. 3If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' you say, 'The Lord has need of it'; and immediately he will send it back here." 4They went away and found a colt tied at the door, outside in the street; and they untied it. 5Some of the bystanders were saying to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" 6They spoke to them just as Jesus had told them, and they gave them permission.
- Mark 11:1-6

Jesus has either prepared for the use of this animal or uses His divine power to determine where and how the animal will be found.

7They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it; and He sat on it. 8And many spread their coats in the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields.
- Mark 11:7-8

The use of their cloaks as a saddle and the laying down of the leaves for the animal to walk on are done as a way to honor Jesus.

9Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting: "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!"
- Mark 11:9-10

Hosanna means "save now" (Psalms 118:25). The people have rightly discerned that the kingdom that they anticipated would be ushered in by a king and so Jesus was addressed in this way. Whether or not they understood His true nature and mission, they were correct in addressing Him as the "anointed one," the one who was to come. Jesus showed His humble nature by riding in on a donkey and not a horse as worldly kings would have normally done.

Also, Matthew mentions (Matthew 21:1-11) that there were two donkeys. Probably the mother was along to steady this young colt who had never had anyone ride it, and never walked in a parade before. (For a children's book based on this event see "Arion: the Little Donkey" - BibleTalk.tv)

Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.
- Mark 11:11

Mark notes that His triumphal entry is not met by any delegation of priests or leaders. They are conspicuously absent from these events. The people acknowledge and praise the Lord but the leaders purposefully ignore and reject Him.

Once inside the city, Jesus simply examines the situation and returns to Bethany where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived since it was too late to do anything on that day. However, this scene carefully sets up what is about to happen in the next few passages.

The Fig Tree

12On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. 13Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" And His disciples were listening...
- Mark 11:12-14
19When evening came, they would go out of the city. 20As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. 21Being reminded, Peter said to Him, "Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered." 22And Jesus answered saying to them, "Have faith in God. 23Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. 24Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. 25Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. 26[But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions."]
- Mark 11:19-26

Jesus and the disciples spend the night at Bethany and leave early the next day for their return to Jerusalem. Jesus sees a fig tree (Matthew records that this tree was situated by the road, Matthew 21:18-22). It is important to note that this tree belonged to no one, it was on public property. Mark says that Jesus sees that the tree has leaves which means it should also have figs. Once near the tree Jesus finds that it is not bearing any figs so He pronounces a curse on the tree. The next day they return to this same spot and notice that the tree has withered and died. Based on this episode Jesus will teach His Apostles a significant lesson on the subject of faith. Some who read this story are disturbed and question why Jesus would destroy a little tree. This is a valid point and an explanation is required.

What Jesus saw was a fig tree in full foliage. Fig trees normally produce three crops: one in June, August and December. They also produce the fruit first and then the leaves come out to announce that the fruit is ready. This event took place in March which was a long time before the first crop usually appears suggesting that there might still be fruit left from the December crop. The other trees did not have foliage at this time because it was too early for the first crop, and the final December harvest may have all disappeared. The point here is that this tree advertised something that it did not have. The accusation that in cursing the tree Jesus destroyed someone else's property is not true since the tree was on public (by the road) property and belonged to no one. Also, because this particular tree produced a full foliage without bearing fruit meant that it would continue to be fruitless in the future and thus worthless as a fig tree.

Later on when Mark describes Jesus' cleansing of the temple we will see that the figless fig tree will serve as a good illustration of the nation of Israel and its reaction to the coming of its Messiah. The nation had a full foliage in the sense that it had great religious history, ceremonies, an ornate temple, etc. but no spiritual fruit (faith, obedience, good works and the recognition of Christ). When the Messiah came to the nation in order to seek its fruit, He found none there. It was only a pretense and a promise, and for this reason God destroyed it just as Jesus destroyed the figless tree with a curse.

However, when the Apostles ask about the fig tree and its destruction, Jesus teaches them a lesson about the necessity of faith. Peter asks Jesus, "How is it possible that the tree was completely destroyed so quickly?" Jesus uses Peter's lack of faith (he doubted that at Jesus' word the tree would wither so quickly) to teach him and the others that unlike the lack of faith represented by the figless tree, they must continue to bear the fruit of faith.

The Apostles would need great faith because the obstacles that they would face in carrying out their mission would seem like an impossible mountain to climb. However, if they asked in faith and continued in love (demonstrated by forgiving their brothers) then God would grant their prayers according to His will. Their task would be to preach the gospel to the whole world and establish the church in one generation. This mission would seem, at times, as impossible as moving a mountain. In order to accomplish this, considering the obstacles and adversaries they would face, they would require great faith. The miracle of the fig tree was done to demonstrate that with faith in Him, they could achieve what seemed impossible.

The Cleansing of the Temple

15Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; 16and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. 17And He began to teach and say 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 robbers' den." 18The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.
- Mark 11:15-18

The Old Testament prophets described the Messiah as one who would cleanse the temple (Malachi 3:1-3). Jesus fulfills this prophecy in this passage. The Jews were defiling the temple in various ways. The temple was where the sacrificing of animals was done and the temple tax was paid. In order to do this there were many merchants who sold sacrificial animals and changed currency for those pilgrims who came from other countries and did not bring animals or Jewish money with them. Usually these merchant booths were located outside the temple walls as worshipers entered in.

The temple had several courtyards surrounding it and one of these was the courtyard of the Gentiles. This area was reserved for those who had been converted to the Jewish faith from other nations. They worshipped the God of the Jews but were not themselves descended from Abraham. These Gentile converts could not enter the courtyard reserved for the Jews, nor could they enter the inner courtyard where only the priests could go, or the Holy of Holies where only the high priest could enter, once per year, to offer sacrifice on the Day of Atonement.

Unfortunately, with time the Jewish leaders allowed the merchants and money changers into the Gentile courtyard to do their business thus defiling this part of the temple and restricting the Gentiles' opportunity to worship. Jesus said that the temple was, "The house of prayer for all nations." Jesus charges the leaders with not only impeding the Gentiles' worship, but also defiling the temple by permitting dishonest business practices there.

This direct rebuke of the priests' management of the temple was the last straw for the leaders. He was now a marked man. For the people, however, this arrival and zealous act was powerful and courageous, especially in defense of the Gentile courtyard. Mark mentions that after this scene Jesus and His Apostles leave and return the next day.

The Challenge of the Priests

27They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him, 28and began saying to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?" 29And Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me." 31They began reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Then why did you not believe him?' 32But shall we say, 'From men'?"—they were afraid of the people, for everyone considered John to have been a real prophet. 33Answering Jesus, they said, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
- Mark 11:27-33
1And He began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard and put a wall around it, and dug a vat under the wine press and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. 2At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. 3They took him, and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4Again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. 5And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some and killing others. 6He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' 7But those vine-growers said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!' 8They took him, and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. 10Have you not even read this Scripture: 'The stone which the builders rejected,This became the chief corner stone;11This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes'?"
- Mark 12:1-11

The next day the priests confront Jesus with righteous indignation, "How dare you? Who gives you the right? Who gave you this authority?" they say. Jesus could have performed a miracle at this point in order to demonstrate His authority (He chose not to since the Jewish leaders were predisposed not to believe no matter what He did), instead He forces them to choose which side they are on. He asks if John's baptism (meaning his preaching, his call, his pointing to Jesus) derived its authority from God or man? They plead ignorance which neutralizes their moral authority and defeats their attack on Jesus who does not dignify their questions with an answer.

Having silenced them, Jesus then proceeds to teach a parable that describes their attitude and eventual punishment. The parable is about a vineyard left in the care of managers by an owner who sends a number of slaves to verify the progress and profit of his business. These messengers are chased away by the managers. Finally the owner sends his son to sort things out but he is killed by the vine dressers in a bid to take over the vineyard for themselves. Jesus concludes the parable by saying that the owner returns to execute the managers and installs new people who will do his bidding. Of course the parallel between the story and the priests is obvious. They are incensed and want to seize Him immediately but could not, fearing the retaliation of the crowd.

The Pharisees Challenge

12And they were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the people, for they understood that He spoke the parable against them. And so they left Him and went away. 13Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement. 14They came and said to Him, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? 15Shall we pay or shall we not pay?" But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at." 16They brought one. And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" And they said to Him, "Caesar's." 17And Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at Him.
- Mark 12:12-17

The objective of the Pharisees in this dialogue with Jesus is to trap Him by building a case that accuses Him of undermining Roman power or discredits Him with the people. Herodians were a political group that zealously supported King Herod's rule. They were afraid that Jesus' actions would cause trouble and jeopardize the king's position with the Roman government.

This question seemed impossible to answer. If He said yes, they would denounce Him as being sympathetic to a cruel pagan ruler. If He said no, they would accuse Him to the Romans as a rebel and tax evader. Jesus puts the question into the right perspective. In the hierarchy of responsibility, taxes were within man's responsibility since God gave to government the right to rule and collect taxes. In this divine arrangement man (government) received taxes, and God received worship.

Mark says that even the Pharisees were amazed, not able to trap Him and receiving a teaching that they had not considered before (this teaching even lifted their burden of guilt for paying taxes to a pagan king).

The Sadducees Challenge

18Some Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection) came to Jesus, and began questioning Him, saying, 19"Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves behind a wife and leaves no child, his brother should marry the wife and raise up children to his brother. 20There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, and died leaving no children. 21The second one married her, and died leaving behind no children; and the third likewise; 22and so all seven left no children. Last of all the woman died also. 23In the resurrection, when they rise again, which one's wife will she be? For all seven had married her." 24Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? 25For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? 27He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken."
- Mark 12:18-27

The Pharisees believed that heaven was much like earth, just better. The Sadducees, on the other hand, scorned this idea and wanted to pit Jesus against the Pharisees. They used the story of a woman married successively to seven brothers (the Law said that a surviving brother had to produce an heir for his dead sibling if no heir existed). Their question, meant to humiliate the Pharisees was, "In heaven which of the brothers will be her legitimate husband?" With this question the Sadducees also hoped that Jesus would either agree with them (deny the resurrection of man) or try to explain the foolish ideas of the Pharisees.

Jesus replies that both they and the Pharisees are wrong because of their ignorance of the Scriptures. He shows that the Scriptures say that God is (present tense) the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The point is that if He is their God now, this means that they are alive at this moment. If this is so then the logical conclusion is that according to the Scriptures that they believed and studied, there is life after death. Jesus also demonstrates His divine knowledge by telling them that people who are in heaven are like angels and have no need to marry.

He highlights their ignorance and then demonstrates His own divinity by revealing only what a person who comes from heaven could reveal, what beings in heaven are really like!

The Greatest Commandment

28One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" 29Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." 32The scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; 33and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.
- Mark 12:28-34

So far Jesus has had confrontations with the politicians (Pharisees and Herodians) and the aristocrats (Sadducees). Now He deals with the lawyers, the scribes. There were 248 positive and 365 negative commands concerning matters of the Jewish law. Their writings, teachings and debates were based on the relative merits of these. They ask Jesus which of these is the greatest.

Jesus quotes the "Shammai" (a combination of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18) to synthesize the composite teaching of the Old Testament law. With this answer Jesus summarized all of the commands without diminishing any. The scribe was so impressed that he repeated it so as to fix it securely in his own mind. This scribe was sincere and probably tried to obey these rules. He was close to, but not yet in the kingdom. In order to be in the kingdom he had to realize that he could not be righteous by keeping God's laws perfectly but rather needed to seek salvation by faith in the One God had sent, Jesus Christ.

Warning Against the Scribes

35And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36David himself said in the Holy Spirit, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet."'
37David himself calls Him 'Lord'; so in what sense is He his son?" And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him. 38In His teaching He was saying: "Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 40who devour widows' houses, and for appearance's sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation."
- Mark 12:35-40

Jesus has dealt with one learned and sincere scribe who was at least respectful if not yet believing. He rebukes the scribes who used God's Word as a way to control people and exalt themselves (what religious leaders have done throughout history):

  • First He shows that they, like the Priests and Pharisees, were mistaken about their understanding of the Word. The Scribes taught that the Messiah would simply be a human descendant of David. Jesus shows that David himself wrote that the Messiah would be divine, referring to Him as "Lord," "The Lord (God) said to my Lord (Messiah)" (Psalms 110:1).
  • Secondly, He reveals their hypocrisy in acting pious and desiring honor for their spirituality but in reality cheating the elderly out of their money and homes under the pretext of ministering to them.

Jesus tells the people that the condemnation and punishment of these religious leaders would be severe because they covered their pride and greed under the guise of sincere religion.

What They Have Learned

41And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on."
- Mark 12:41-44

The Apostles witnessed Jesus' confrontation and condemnation of each segment of Jewish leadership, this final episode tries to summarize what they should have learned from all of this.

The court of the women had 13 trumpet shaped offering receptacles built into its walls. Jesus observed the rich who paraded in and with much fanfare deposited their money (the ones with the largest gifts were permitted to be first in the giving line). The widow, who was last, gave two leptons (one eighth of a cent) which was the smallest coin in circulation at that time. What Jesus saw, however, was the heart. The rich gave a portion to demonstrate their piety, but in reality the amount that they gave did not affect their lifestyle. In contrast to this the widow, by faith, gave all that she had, and in doing so increased her personal financial hardship. Jesus explains that it was her attitude (sacrificial giving based on faith) that was acceptable before God not the amount she gave while the others, because of their attitude (giving to impress others), were rejected.

The Apostles were to face these very same people in the future. They would be judged and harassed by them so Jesus reveals their hypocrisy in advance and demonstrates, through the widow, that He searches for sincere and faithful followers.

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