Introduction Ch1 Ch2 Ch3 Ch4 Ch5 Ch6 Ch7
Ch8 Ch9 Ch10 Ch11 Ch12 Ch13 Ch14 Ch15 Ch16


Summary Jesus, coming from the direction of  Bethany on the east side of the Mount of Olives, prepares to enter Jerusalem; the entry is clearly staged as the accomplishment of an act and certainly the end of a journey.  The disciples are sent to bring a colt upon which Jesus will ride into the city: he is proclaimed Lord in the tradition of the "coming kingdom of David." On first entering Jerusalem, he enters the temple, looks around and leaves.  He is next reported as cursing a fig tree which has leaves but not fruit. This is followed by a return to and cleansing of the temple. After this cleansing, the narration returns to the fig tree and the reason for the curse, emphasizing the power of God over faith. In Jerusalem, Jesus is now confronted by Pharisees, scribes, and elders questioning his authority. Jesus deflects this question to one about whether John the Baptist had been authorized by heaven or by men.


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The summary here is succinct; my interpretation explores largely the entry into Jerusalem, the fig tree, and the Temple cleansing. Rather than re-invent, here I will quote from my earlier work regard these events; first, the triumphal entry:



Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!"



9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.






Next, the cursing of the fig tree, though seemingly bizarre carries important meaning contextually and symbolically:


Mark next records what seems to be a bizarre event: Jesus curses a fig tree.  Why?  The first answer is, of course, natural: the fig tree has leaves, an indication of at least green fruit.  The fig tree shows leaves in March followed by edible knobs which drop off before the true figs form. Beneath the leaves, however, nothing is found.  Symbolically, Jesus has had this sad reality demonstrated in every city he has visited, and has heard it realized all too often in the religious hierarchy.   Jesus has wanted to see the invisible written into the physical manifestations; what he has observed is outward piety (show) and little substance.  He, thus, curses this instance of hypocrisy in the natural order.  This, of course, causes one to wonder if in the natural and mortal order hypocrisy is not the thin lacquer between the absolute and real. Jesus is further saying prophetically that the Jews with their rituals have failed to produce genuine spirituality. The withering of the fruitless fig tree becomes a prophetic symbol of the doom which is coming to the Jewish nation.


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And finally, this chapter presents the symbolic cursing of the Temple; one may well remember here N.T. Wright's understanding of Messiahship in Judaism as three pronged--with the Messiah expected to win the victory over the pagans, to cleanse the Temple, and to bring justice and peace (The Resurrection of the Son of God, 557).


 Mark records Jesus as again entering into the temple and acting immediately to clean it up:


15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, "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."

18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. 19 And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.


It needs to be clear here that the temple is permitting the Jewish obligatory shekel a year (from every male adult) to be used for taxes.  The Greek and Roman money must be changed into Tyrian currency   Additionally, the last part of verse fifteen indicates people are carrying baggage from their pilgrimage into the temple's outer court. Jesus is, also, fulfilling scripture; the first scripture alluded to is Isaiah 56:

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,

to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,

and to be his servants,

all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it,

and hold fast my covenant—

7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,

and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

their burnt offerings and their sacrifices

will be accepted on my altar;

for my house shall be called a house of prayer

for all peoples.

8 Thus says the Lord God,

who gathers the outcasts of Israel,

I will gather others to them

besides those already gathered


This reference also clearly indicates that Gentiles are coming to the temple and finding it to be used for business rather than prayer.  The next reference is from Jeremiah, but to understand the implications clearly, one needs to recognize that Jeremiah is prophesying the destruction of the temple.  The Oxford annotation makes clear the connection between the apostasy of Judah and the destruction of the temple:


7.10–12: As Shiloh (Jeremiah 7.12, eighteen miles north of Jerusalem), the earlier central shrine, was destroyed (around 1050 b.c. in the days of Samuel; compare 1 Samuel 4–6Psalm 78.56–72), so also this house, desecrated by idolatry, will be destroyed (Jeremiah 7.10Jeremiah 7.11; compare Matthew 21.13). Immediately following this sermon, Jeremiah was arrested (see Jeremiah 26.8).


Now, read the entire section from Jeremiah:


7 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you † in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: "This is † the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord."

5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

8 Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, "We are safe!"—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord. 12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, says the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim.


Like Jeremiah, Jesus will be arrested shortly after this cleaning of the temple.  The reader should recall, too, that Jesus had entered the temple when he first came into Jerusalem but merely observed and left.  His look must have been profoundly sad as his eyes swept through the Court of the Gentiles.


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With these key events in mind, one may well ask what has been missed, or what remains to be said. Michael Turton has remarked  several important points, the first being a parallel or doublet (Robins, 1976):




Mark 11:1-6

Mark 14:13-16

1: he sent two of his disciples

13: he sent two of his disciples

2: and he said to them .

and he said to them will find...

and...will meet you...

3: Say "The Lord...

14: Say... "The...

4: And they went away...

16: And they went out...

and they found...

and found...

6 as Jesus had said....

as he had told them...



Interestingly, too, Turton points out the possible connection between "Bethpage" and the fig incident:


v1: Bethpage means something like "House of Green Figs" which may be a literary allusion to Jesus' coming miracle. Neither town is  found in the Old Testament or in Josephus or in any other non-Christian source prior to Mark. Their ancient location is unknown. Against this, there are other possibilities for the name. On the other hand, figs are commonly grown around Jerusalem, and place names with "fig" as a component are known.


He cites, too, the Zechariah passage regarding the Mount of Olives and Messianic entrance, noting, at the same time, the motif of two mountains: 



He cites, too, the Zechariah passage regarding the Mount of Olives and Messianic entrance, noting, at the same time, the motif of two mountains: 


v1: OT construction is evident here in the writer's decision to begin Jesus' entry into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, reflecting the widespread belief in ancient Judaism that the Messiah would begin his work on the Mount of Olives (Josephus records individuals actually attempting to carry this out). This is based on the passage in Zech 14:4:



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. (NIV)


v1: in this section of Mark, Bethany functions as a base from which Jesus mounts forays into the heart of enemy territory, the Temple and Jerusalem. Just three narrative sites occupy the Gospel from here on in, Bethany, the Mount of Olives, and Jerusalem (Myers 1988, p349-350).


v1: Just as the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount face off throughout the rest of the Gospel of Mark, so in the OT mountains frequently face each other in paired opposition, for example, Horeb and Carmel in 1 Kings 18 and 1 Kings 19, and Ebal and Gerizim in the Pentateuch.


Turton allows possibility for  there really being no crowd attending Jesus' entry into Jerusalem or at least that any crowd there may well have been responding to the Passover celebration:


Although some have objected that the Romans would probably not have permitted a man the crowd acknowledged King to enter the city to cheering crowds, Price (2003, p 292) argues that what is really going on is a bit of Markan irony. The crowd is simply giving out the Hosanna! as part of the usual Passover wish that the Davidic messiah would come and restore the Davidic monarchy. And sure enough, in front of them, is the Davidic messiah -- but the crowd doesn't know. To them, Jesus is just one of tens of thousands of entrants to the city for the Passover festival, who happens like thousands of others, to be arriving on a donkey. 


In Mark's scene, the "crowd" does not acknowledge that Jesus is the messiah, whereas in Luke, they clearly do. However, the vast distance being traversed here during Jesus entrance, as well as the presence of both straw and garments, may be signals that Mark did not frame it the way Price is arguing. 


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Turton also points out parallels (crediting Brodie 2000, 92) in this chapter of Mark with the Elijah-Elisha cycle as well as paralleling the structure in Zechariah 14 (Duff, 1992) as well as passages in 1Samul:



Mark 11:7-10

2 Kings 9:13

The people spread branches in front of Jesus

The officers spread their cloaks for Jehu

The people acknowledge Jesus as messiah

The officers acknowledge Jehu as king



The E-E Cycle also explains some of the stranger details of this passage.   



Mark 11:11

2 Kings 9:14-21

when Jesus arrives, it is too late to do anything

Jehu's triumph is delayed by peace talks



"The structure of Zechariah 14 can be outlined as follows. First, the threat against Israel is described: the nations gather against Jerusalem (vv. 1-2). Second, the conflict between YHWH and his enemies is described and YHWH's victory is implied (v. 3). This is followed by YHWH's appearance on the Mount of Olives, after which YHWH prepares a processional highway by the rending of that mountain (vv. 4-5). On this highway, he and his holy ones enter the city of Jerusalem (v. 5b). YHWH's entrance into the holy city results in a new order of creation (vv. 6-8). Next is mentioned the manifestation of YHWH's universal reign (vv. 9-11), followed by a description of how the enemies of YHWH and his people will be destroyed (vv. 12-15). The Gentiles who survive this destruction will recognize YHWH's universal sovereignty and will themselves come to Jerusalem to observe the feast of Tabernacles (vv. 16-19). Finally, the passage ends with a scene in a sanctified Jerusalem, where the distinction between the sacred and the profane has been overcome (vv. 20-21)."(p58) 


1 Sam 9 

3 Now the donkeys belonging to Saul's father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, "Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys." 4 So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them.  5 When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, "Come, let's go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us."  6 But the servant replied, "Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let's go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take." (NIV)

and 1 Sam 10:2-7:



1 Sam 10:2-7 

2 When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel's tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, 'The donkeys you set out to look for [1 Sam 9] have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them and is worried about you. He is asking, "What shall I do about my son?" 3 "Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine. 4 They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them. 5 "After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. 6 The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. 7 Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. (NIV)


The scene may also represent a common convention of Greek drama, the hyporcheme, as proposed by Bilezekian (1977):


"The hyporcheme was a well-known dramatic convention practiced especially by Sophocles. It consisted of a joyful scene that involves the chorus and sometimes other characters; takes the form of a dance, procession, or lyrics expressing confidence and happiness; and occurs just before the catastrophic climax of the play. The hyporcheme emphasizes, by way of contrast, the crushing impact of the tragic incident."(p127)

Duff (1992) also points out that the procession surrounding the entrance of the warrior-king into the city was originally modeled on Greek epiphany processions, in which the deity enters the city. Frequently the entering King is either greeted as a god, or performs sacrifices that "function as an act of appropriation" (p60). 


 This chapter concludes with a controversy about Jesus' teaching and the source of his authority; Jesus, in debate format, asks a counter-question about John's authority, whether of heaven or men. When they do not answer--fearing a crowd with whom John had been considered a prophet and sensing that divine designation would bring a retort of "Why didn't you believe him?"



Stephen H. Smith in "The Literary Structure of Mark 11:1-12:40" (Apr. 1989) demonstrates how carefully readers must look at structure in Mark. Smith says that it is possible to see the journey from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem as the final stage of the journey from Galilee, the travel narrative beginning at 9:30, the disciples continuing to play a role, and the treatment of Bartimaeus not necessarily suggest appendagre to 10:46-52. Developed is a Davidic messianism at the point that Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem (105). Smith says the passage could also be transitional. Smith further quotes V. K. Robbins to suggest this transitional episode fuses together a "suffering-rising christology" and a Son of David image, healing Bartimaeus in a "Son of David activity."


Smith next provides the following structural summary:

We have argued that Mark 11:1-12:44 consists of various sub­sections. The first of these, 11:1-12:12, contains an introduction in which Jesus is presented as the messianic king coming in triumph to his holy city and Temple. Much of the journey appears to be a re-enactment of the prophecies in Zechariah, notably Zech. 9:9; 14:4, and it is evident that this Markan presentation of Jesus as a Davidic deliverer is intended to contrast sharply with the next movement of the narrative (11:12-12:12) in which Jesus' role as judge of his people confounds the traditional Jewish notion of messiahship. The two closely related citations from Ps. 118 (Mark 11:9,10; 12:10,11) actually form a kind of inclusio, marking off these judgement pericopae from the remainder of the section.


In each of the narratives in 11:12-12:12, apart from 11:27-33, Jesus is presented as the judge who indicts his people through sym­bolism and parable. His condemnation of the fig tree is really a con­demnation of fruitless Israel, while the so-called 'cleansing' of the Temple directs this condemnation to the cultic heart of Jewish institutionalism. Unlike the performance of similar rituals in bygone days (2 Kgs. 22:3-23:25; 2 Chr. 29:12-36; 34:3-35:19; Neh. 13:4-9; I Macc. 4:36-61; 2 Macc. 10:1-8) Jesus' act was not for resanctification, but for destruction: the cultic regime of the Jewish leaders was coming to an end. A specific reason for this judgement is suggested in the parable in 12:1-9 where, although Jesus may have been rebuking the leaders for their treatment of God's prophets, Mark clearly regards their treatment of God's own Son as the prime reason for their judgement.

Within the context of the adjacent pericopae, the question on authority (11:27-33) takes on a significance beyond that which is superficially evident. The question, [And say unto him, By what

authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?]

 refers not only to Jesus' cleansing' of the Temple, nor even only to the work and words of Jesus in general, but to the role of Jesus as judge of Israel. This narrative represents the sum total of all other questions about authority because, in a sense, it transcends them all. For Jesus to act as judge of his people would be to claim the divine prerogative more openly and more boldy than ever before, and, of course, this is precisely what Mark intends to assert: for him Jesus is God, no less.


The next sub-section consists of three narratives-12:13-17,18­27,28-34. The first two distinguish sharply between the beliefs of the religious leaders and those of Jesus who is at this point presented as a sage deftly side-stepping the devious designs of his adversaries. In 12:13-17 he turns the question of the Pharisees and Herodians on its head, showing that the emphasis placed by the opponents on whether or not one should pay taxes to Caesar should be transferred to the matter of what is due to God. When one has made a response to the latter issue, the initial question answers itself.


In 12:18-27 Jesus appears to be siding with the Pharisees against the Sadducees on the resurrection issue, and in 12:28-34 the favourable response of a scribe indicates, as we have seen, that Jesus has finally triumphed in his long struggle with the legalists. In his offensive against the scribes (12:35-40) the note of judgement  returns. Having already served as judge against cultic, Israel, Jesus now condemns legal Israel for her misconceptions of messiahship (12:35-37) and abuse of the law (12:38-40). True obe­dience to the law as epitomised by a scribe in 12:28-34, and particu­larly in the double citation from Deut. 6:4; Lev. 19:18, is sharply contrasted with the legal deception of the scribes as a group; so, too, is the example of the poor widow in 12:44.


In all this, we can appreciate that the structure of Mark 11,12 reveals an image of a Jesus who assumes the role of God as both plaintiff and judge of his people—a symbolism which is ultimately deutero-Isaianic.26 Cultic stagnation and abuses of the Law—and, of course, from Mark's own perspective, the crucifixion of Jesus-

26 See, for instance, Isa. 41:1-5,21-29; 43:8-13; 44:6-8; 45:18-25.

bring condemnation, but glimpses of the true road to God, through loving obedience and devotion, are here provided, in marked contrast, by a scribe and a widow.

Stephen S. Short remarks that Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on a donkey indicates that Jesus was not entering the city as a warrior, royalty more properly expected to use a horse. The overtone, however, is clearly messianic with an expectation of a promised king and promised kingdom (1172). The cleansing of the temple (11: 15-19) was an action predicted of the messiah by Malachi (3:1-3). Jesus reacted to two abuses of the temple: the exchange of Tyrian currency for the Greek and Roman coinage of the Jewish pilgrims and the short cut with baggage being taken through the temple precincts.  Short sees the cursing of the fig tree as prophetic symbolism (2 Chr. 18:10 and Jer. 27), the absence of edible knobs (these dropping off before figs appeared  in June) would indicate the barrenness of the tree (mid-April); Short understands the  ritual observances of the Jews as a show of religion without spiritual qualities (1172). Mark, alone of the gospels, continues the quote from Isaiah 56:7 to show that in the Messianic age, the Gentiles were also to be permitted to use the Jerusalem temple. The parable of the wicked husbandmen (12:1-12), in response to question concerning the authority of Jesus,  identifies Jesus as having authority superior to that of the prophets, who were to act as servants of God, the authority of Jesus deriving from his being God's Son (1173).  Thus, clearly, the one who is to be rejected and killed will subsequently be exalted to the honored position of Son, a decisive answer to messiahship.