Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of Mark/Chapter 11
|Mark 11:1-33 (New International Version)|
|The Triumphal Entry
Jesus sent two disciples to fetch him the colt, giving them very specific instructions. Everything happens the way that Jesus instructed. This implies that Jesus had prior knowledge of what was going to take place. It also implies that he understood the significance of the details (the colt being unbroken for instance). Jesus enters Jerusalem in line with prophecy: he rides in peacefully on a unbroken colt. The crowds welcome him as a beloved prophet, but they certainly do not recognize his fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus explores the temple quietly and then settles in Bethany for the night.
The next day, Jesus was hungry. He saw a tree way out in the distance and walked all the way out there to eat the figs from it. But when he got there, and saw that there weren’t any figs (because it was not fig season) he cursed the tree. This seems like something we all do. Like last night when I reached for the box of cereal only to find dust at the bottom of the box. In my hungry grumpiness I mumbled, “stupid cereal.” In order to find theological significance in this story, the other half of it (which comes a few verses later) must be studied.
The third little story in this chapter is a very popular one: the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple courts. The religious leaders were really freaked out because not only was he destroying what had been set up, the people sided with him. Jesus scolded that the temple is meant as a house of prayer but that it had been corrupted into a den of robbers.
The fig tree that Jesus had cursed withered and died. The disciples were amazed, but Jesus again scolded them. He said that with true, unwavering faith, the disciples themselves could tell a mountain to throw itself in the sea and it would happen. Jesus uses the situation as an illustration to teach the disciples about prayer. Prayers are answered if the pray-er believes they will be, and if the pray-er forgives others.
The chapter ends with religious leaders questioning the authority of Jesus, but they are shut down! Jesus tells them that he will explain where His authority comes from if they answer one question. But because of their fear they cannot answer the question and Jesus does not give them an answer. Jesus asked them if John’s baptism was from heaven or from men. Afraid because the people all loved John, they could not say it was from man. But saying it was from heaven, that John’s message was from heaven, would be admitting Jesus is the Messiah, and they refused to do that.
Ancient Mediterranean culture is in many ways, the opposite of modern American culture.
The following chart highlights some of the most foundational differences:
The Importance of Honor
Honor was of the utmost importance in New Testament times. Self-worth and social acknowledgment were built through honor. Honor is actualized by establishing and living up to a reputation. Some honor is ascribed by birth and some is personally achieved. Honor can be gained by responding to life's challenges in impressive and heroic ways. Honor is also accumulated through honesty, loyalty, and perseverance.
For Americans, life runs on money. We work to make money. We need money to eat. Money is the pivotal value of our existence. For Ancient Mediterraneans, honor was the pivotal value. Their ability to stand out among their peers, to be successful, and to be happy, depended on the amount of honor they were able to collect.
The Role of the Priest
Priests were very powerful people among the Ancient Mediterraneans. Much of their power came from their right to perform sacrifices. Their great knowledge of the Torah also gave them power. They knew and had access to the scriptures. They taught the Torah to the people. The people had to come to the priests to learn and that gave them power over the people. Priests advised people by interpreting scripture and applying it to specific situations. Priests were very wealthy. The vast power the priests had tended to corrupt them. They often taxed the people by increasing tithes.
The Triumphal Entry
One day, Jesus and his disciples were traveling to Jerusalem. When they were almost there, Jesus stopped. He said to two of his disciples, “Go into that village up ahead. Right when you walk in you will see a tethered donkey. It will be a young donkey, so young that no one has ever ridden it before. Untie it and bring it back here to me. If anyone tries to stop you tell them, ‘The Lord needs this donkey and will return it to you in a little while.’” The two disciples went into the town and sure enough, found a young donkey in the road, tethered near a door. When they were untying it some people standing nearby asked, “Why are you untying that donkey?” The disciples told the people exactly what Jesus had told them to, that the Lord needs it and would bring it right back. The people in the streets accepted their answer and let them take the donkey. The two disciples brought the donkey to Jesus. They laid their cloaks over it for Jesus to sit on. Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem. Lots of people spread their cloaks and branches they had cut in the fields on the road in front of the donkey for it to walk on. The people in front of Jesus and behind him all shouted, “Hallelujah! Hooray! This man has come to us from God! The Kingdom is near! Yahooo! Praise God!” Jesus rode through Jerusalem straight to the temple. He looked around at everything but it was late so he went to Bethany for the night with the twelve disciples.
Jesus Clears the Temple
The next morning, as they were Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He saw a fig tree way off in the distance and walked all the way out to it to see if it had any fruit. When he finally got to it, there was no fruit (it was not fig season)! Jesus yelled at the tree, “You will never grow fruit again!” All of the disciples heard Jesus yell. Then they all went to the temple in Jerusalem. As soon as they got there Jesus started kicking out people who were buying and selling things. He flipped over the tables of the moneychangers and the chairs of those selling doves. Jesus would not let anyone carry merchandise through the temple courts. He taught the people saying, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ Buy you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The chief priests and teachers of the law who were in charge of the temple heard him and were angry at what he said. They did not like being called robbers and told that they were doing a bad job. They started to talk to each other about killing Jesus. They had to be sneaky because the big crowd of people like Jesus and thought what he said was good. When it got dark, they left Jerusalem
The Withered Fig Tree
In the morning, as the disciples were walking, they saw the fig tree that Jesus had yelled at. It had completely withered and died. Peter remembered that Jesus had yelled at it and said, “Jesus, look! The fig tree you yelled at has died!” “Believe in God,” Jesus replied. “I tell you the truth, if anyone told a mountain to throw itself into the ocean, and did not doubt in his heart but truly believed that what he said would happen, than it would happen! Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for when you pray, believe that it will happen and it will. And when you are praying, if you are angry at anyone, forgive them, so that God can forgive you.
The Authority of Jesus Questioned
The disciples and Jesus went again to Jerusalem. While Jesus was walking in the temple, the chief priests, and teachers, and elders came up to him and asked him, “Do you have the authority to kick people out of the temple? Who gave you the authority?” Jesus replied, “I will tell you if you answer my question: Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men?” The leaders all talked about it together. They knew if they said it was from heaven they would have to believe. But they couldn’t say it was from men because the people all believed it was from heaven and they were afraid of what the people might do. So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Then I am not telling you where I get the authority to kick people out of the temple.”
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Parallel Passage Study
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-All four gospels have the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem
-Location: Bethphage/Mount of Olives
-Jesus sent two disciples to the village ahead of them to get a colt
-The two disciples did exactly as Jesus instructed
-The two disciples placed their cloaks on the colt for Jesus to sit on
-Many people spread cloaks/branches on the ground for Jesus
-The crowds were shouting praises "Hosanna!"
-In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the next story is Jesus clearing the temple
-Jesus drove out those who were buying and selling
-Jesus overturned tables
-The Chief Priests wanted to kill Jesus
-Jesus was hungry
-Jesus cursed the fig tree
-A disciples asks Jesus about it
-Jesus replies with a lesson on faith
-Jesus gives the example of commanding a mountain to throw itself into the sea
-With belief, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer
-In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the next story is Jesus' authority being questioned
-A question is posed to Jesus about his authority
-Jesus says if they answer one question he will explain his authority
-Jesus asks about John's baptism
-They can't say yes because then they would have to believe
-They can't say no because the crowd would turn on them
-So they say "I don't know"
-Jesus does not explain his authority
-In John's gospel Jesus found the colt
-John mentions the crowd was there for the Feast
-All four books have different accounts of what happened after Jesus rides into Jerusalem
- In Matthew the people ask "Who is this?" and are answered that Jesus is a prophet
- In Mark Jesus goes to the temple but since it is late he leaves
- In Luke the Pharisees scold Jesus and Jesus weeps for the city
- In John the crowds that had seen Lazarus raised spread the word about Jesus and the Pharisees are disgruntled
-The synoptic gospels place the story of Jesus clearing out the temple and the authority of Jesus being questioned after he rides into Jerusalem. John, however, has these stories in chapter 2 as the second thing he does after calling his disciples, long before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
-The synoptics have Jesus saying, "'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'" But in John he only says, "How dare you turn my father's house into a market?"
-Matthew's account tells of the fig tree withering immediately after Jesus curses it while Mark's accounts that it was the next day. In fact, he splits the story up like a sandwich and stick the temple story in between the two parts.
-Mark ends the fig tree story with Jesus teaching about forgiveness but Matthew does not mention it.
-This story follows Jesus clearing the temple in John which suggests that it's the same story that follows Jesus clearing the temple in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Both versions begin with Jesus' authority being questioned. But in John, Jesus gives a completely different answer! John has Jesus getting into the 'destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days' story while the synoptics have Jesus questioning back about John's baptism.
- 1. Where is Bethphage located on the map?
- 2. What was Bethphage known for?
- 3. Where is the Mount of Olives on the map?
- 4. What was the Mount of Olives known for?
- 5. Was there any cultural significance in riding a donkey?
- 6. Was there any cultural significance in riding a colt?
- 7. Is there significance in Jesus finding the colt versus having it brought to him?
- 8. Was it a common practice to place your cloak on someone else's ride?
- 9. How many people would have come for the Feast?
- 10. Would whole families have come, or just the men?
- 11. Did laying branches in the road have any traditional significance?
- 12. Did a lot of palm trees grow in that area?
- 13. What are the connotations of the word "Hosanna"?
- 14. Do extra-biblical sources record what Jesus did after the triumphal entry?
- 15. What days and times was the temple open?
- 16. When the Chief Priests question the source of Jesus authority, what do they expect him to say?
- 17. What source(s) of authority would have been an acceptable answer?
- 18. Where is "My house will be called a house of prayer" quoted from?
- 19. Why is "den of robbers" in quotes?
- 20. When the Chief Priests cannot answer Jesus' question, why are they not convicted?
- 21. What were common beliefs on conviction in that time?
- 22. Are John's stories usually in a different order than the synoptics?
- 23. Do extra-biblical sources have these stories?
- 24. If so, in what sequence do extra-biblical sources have these stories?
- 25. What season is fig season?
- 26. What time of year is the Feast?
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- Definition: A bed of leaves, rushes, or straw; soft foliage, reeds, leaves, leafy twigs, or field grasses.
- Occurrences: Mark 11 is the only appearance of 'stibadas' in the New Testament.
- Translation: 'Stibadas' is usually translated as 'branches'.
- Definition: To speak well of, praise, extol, give thanks, bless, consecrate.
- Occurrences: 'Eulogemenos' occurs 44 times in the New Testament.
- Translation: 'Eulogemenos' is translated as 'bless' 43 times and 'praise' 1 time.
- English Definition: 'Bless' is defined in Webster's as: held in reverence, honored in worship; bringing pleasure, contentment, and good fortune.
- Definition: A vessel, implement, object, thing, utensil, jar, dish, jug, or gear of any kind.
- Occurrences: 'Skeuos' occurs 23 times in the New Testament.
- Translation: 'Skeuos' is translated as 'vessel' 19 times, 'goods' 2 times, 'stuff' 1 time, and 'sail' 1 time.
- English Definition: 'Vessel' is defined in Webster's as: a container.
- Definition: Faith, faithfulness, confidences, trust, reliance, promise, commitment.
- Occurrences: 'Pistin' occurs 244 times in the New Testament.
- Translation: 'Pistin' is translated as 'faith' 239 times, 'assurance' 1 time, 'believe' 1 time, 'belief' 1 time, 'believers' 1 time, and 'fidelity' 1 time.
- English Definition: 'Faith' is defined in Webster's as: allegiance to a duty or person; fidelity to a promise; belief, trust, loyalty to God, complete trust.
- Definition: to send away, leave alone, send off, permit, to let go, divorce, abandon, leave behind, reject, forgive, cancel.
- Occurrences: 'Aphiete' occurs 146 times in the New Testament.
- Translation: 'Aphiete' is translated as 'leave' 52 times, 'forgive' 47 times, 'suffer' 14 times, 'let' 8 times, 'forsake' 6 times, 'let alone' 6 times, and other varied translations 13 times.
- English Definition: 'Forgive' is defined in Webster's as: to give up resentment of or claim to; requital for; to grant relief from payment; to cease to feel resentment against an offender.
The Triumphal Entry
Mark records Jesus entering Jerusalem only this one time. John and Luke, however, record Jesus making multiple visits to the city. All four gospels record Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem being at the time of the Passover Festival. Some scholars are skeptical and think it is possible that it was not the Passover Feast, but another feast, perhaps the Feast of Tabernacles.
Jesus entrance on a donkey is interpreted to fulfill a messianic prophecy in Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” It is not believed, however, that the people at the time saw his entrance as Messianic. If they did, it would have been brought up at his trial. No, it is clear from the details in the story that Jesus was regarded as a popular teacher, even a prophet, but not as the Messiah. Since Mark does not reference Zechariah, and other gospels do, it is thought that Mark was written first.
To get to Jerusalem by way of Bethany means that Jesus was traveling from the east (as you can see on the map above). The location of the Mount of Olives is mentioned because it is associated with the coming of the Messiah in Zech. 14:4: “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.”
The fact that Mark does not mention the name of the town where the colt was found means that it was unimportant to Mark. Mark is writing to convey the Messiahship of Jesus and details such as names of cities are generally unnecessary. The word “colt” could refer to a young horse or a young donkey. In light of Zechariah’s prophecy, and the fact that Matthew and John using the word donkey, it is translated as the colt of a donkey.
There has been some question whether the word “Lord” refers to God or to Jesus or to the owner of the colt. It makes the most sense for “Lord” to be referring to Jesus; Mark refers to Jesus as Lord several times in his book (2:28, 5:19, 12:36-37). It is not likely that it would be translated ‘the owner’ because some versions of this story have the owner as the one asking the question. Also because there is no mention that the owner is with Jesus. Jesus referring to himself as Lord is another way of making the subtle statement that he is the messiah.
In ancient times, kings had the right to take beasts of burden from any person at any time. Jesus is acting as a king by taking such a beast. The kings’ animals were never ridden by anyone other than the king. Jesus’ procuring of an unbroken colt might be considered a way that he is claiming kingship. Unbroken beasts of burden were regarded as sacred; another clue to Jesus’ identity. But Jesus sets himself apart from commandeering kings by promising to return the colt.
The specific instruction Jesus gives, and the way it is carried out to the letter suggests that Jesus had planned his entrance into Jerusalem to purposefully make a statement about being the Messiah. Jesus knows where to find the donkey and how to obtain it. Jesus has knowledge about what the future holds in regard to his death and resurrection. He reveals his knowledge about the future continually during the last week of his life.
Riding a donkey was not a lowly thing to do. Donkeys were fine animals to ride (as mentioned above, kings rode donkeys). The spreading of cloaks is reminiscent of 2 Kings 9:13 when Jehu becomes king: They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, "Jehu is king!"
Ancient Mediterranean culture was socially based. People did not generally spend their time tucked away inside their houses. People came out into the streets to talk and conduct business. The gate to Jerusalem was always crowded with people, especially during a time of pilgrimage to the temple.
Stibatas “leafy branches” is used only this one time in the entire New Testament. John is the only gospel that makes a reference to the branches being palms. Palm branches are not native to Jerusalem. The “leafy branches” were probably cut from nearby fields and were therefore not likely to have been palm branches. At the Feast of Tabernacles, bundles of palm, myrtle and willow are shaken at the word hosanna. It is possible that the spreading of foliage and shouting Hosanna reminded John of this and he assumed the branches to be palm branches. Or, as some scholars believe, it is possible that Jesus was entering Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. If that were the case it would be more likely for people to have palm branches.
“Hosanna” is used in the psalms and is Hebrew for “Save now!” By the time of Jesus it had become an idiom of joy and celebration and did not necessarily carry any connotation of being directed toward God. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Lord” was said to every person who traveled to the temple in Jerusalem. It was most certainly not recognition of Jesus as the Messiah.
Because of the phrase ‘Hosanna in the highest’ it is clear that hosanna no longer means ‘save now’, it has become an idiom of praise. They were offering great praise with great joy, but were not naming Jesus as the Messiah.
The significance of this verse is that Jesus was not welcomed as a king in the temple. The disciples, crowds, and religious leaders absolutely did not recognize him as the coming king. They did not yet understand who he was. They were expecting a conquering king, not a peaceful king as described in Zechariah 9:9. The crowds thought of Jesus as a welcomed pilgrim. The priests were very aware of the power they held. If they thought that Jesus was coming as a king, they would have been threatened and most certainly would have made some sort of a fuss about it. They did not make any sort of fuss which means that they did not view Jesus as a threat.
Jerusalem at the time of Jesus:
Jesus did not look around as a tourist checking out a landmark. Jesus performing an inspection to make sure that his father's house was being used properly. He was obviously dissatisfied with what he found (since the next day he comes back in an uproar) but because it was late, he decided to retire for the evening.
Josephus accounts for almost three million people making a pilgrimage that year. Most of those people probably stayed in surrounding cities rather than in Jerusalem itself. Jerusalem simply did not have room for everyone. It is completely logical that Jesus spent the night in Bethany rather than in Jerusalem.
Anderson, Hugh. The New Century Bible Commentary: The Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids: WM.B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1976. 260-270.
Carter, Charles W., Ed. The Wesleyan Bible Commentary. Vol 4. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1979. 172-174.
Edwards, James R. The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark. Leicester: Apollos, 2002. 334-347.
Gaebelein, Frank E., Ed. The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Vol 8. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984. 724-730.
Hurtado, Larry W. New International Biblical Commentary: Mark. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1983. 179-188.
Keck, Leander E., Ed. The New Interpreter's Bible. Vol 8. Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1995. 656-668.
Malina, Bruce J. The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Louisville: Westminster/Knox Press, 1993.
Plummer, Alfred. The International Critical Commentary: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1951. 205-218.
Stambaugh, John E. and David L. Balch. The New Testament In Its Social Environment. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986.
Stein, Robert H. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Mark. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008. 501-529.