It was now the final days of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Five days before his arrest during the Passover (cf. Jn 12:1,12), Jesus entered Jerusalem. He had been in the city before (cf. Lk 2:43; Jn 5:1), but never with such fanfare. People welcomed Him as their king and savior. In this passage, Jesus showed us how to be put to good use for God’s work.
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1. Jerusalem (11:1): Herod the Great had restored much of the city’s former magnificence. He built a vast palace and rebuilt its fortresses, amphitheater, and temple.
2. Bethphage (11:1): Literally, “House of Unripe Figs.” It is not mentioned in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, it is mentioned only in connection with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It was located close to Bethany, on the Mount of Olives, between Jerusalem and Jericho. No trace of it remains today.
3. Bethany (11:1): Literally, “House of Dates,” referring to the palm trees that grew there. A village on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, about two miles from Jerusalem and the final station on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem.
It was the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (cf. Jn 11:1), and became the base of Jesus’ ministry in Judea (cf. Mk 11:11-12; 14:3).
4. Colt (11:2): A young donkey. Jesus rode on a colt to fulfill the prophecy recorded in Zech 9:9 (Jn 12:14-16).
5. Branches (11:8): These were palm branches (cf. Jn 12:13). A palm branch was associated with rejoicing (cf. Lev 23:40). It also symbolized the “head,” the highest of the people (cf. Isa 9:14). Later, it represented triumph and victory. In the New Testament, the apostle John witnessed a vision of all people holding palm branches, praising God (Rev 7:9-10).
6. “Hosanna!” (11:9): Hebrew expression meaning literally, “Save us now!” (cf. Ps 118:25-26). It was an exclamation of praise, much like today’s “God save the king!” or “Hail to the chief!”
7. Fig tree (11:13): Fig is a common food in the region. Its green fruit is concealed among leaves until near the time of ripening; its flowers are hidden inside the fruit.
Fig trees around Jerusalem normally begin to grow leaves in March or April but do not produce fruits until their leaves are fully grown in June. This tree was unusual in that it was already full of leaves near the time of Passover (mid-April).
8. In the temple’s outer court (the furthest into the temple the Gentiles were allowed), the chief priest Caiaphas had authorized a market for the sale of kosher (ritually clean) items necessary for temple sacrifice.
It was far easier for a pilgrim to purchase items that were guaranteed kosher than to bring them with him and have them inspected for meeting the requirements.
9. Money changers (11:15): In New Testament Palestine, there were three forms of currency: imperial (Roman), provincial (Greek), and local (Jewish). In exchange for Greek and Roman currency, money changers provided pilgrims the required Jewish coinage for the annual half-shekel temple tax. Though a small surcharge was permitted, these transactions were sources of extortion and fraud.
- Teachings from A Colt (11:1-6)
- Jesus sends two disciples to fetch a colt (11:1-3)
- The disciples do as Jesus said (11:4-6)
- Entry into Jerusalem (11:7-11)
- People praise Jesus (11:7-10)
- Jesus enters Jerusalem and rests in Bethany (11:11)
- Teachings from A Fig Tree (11:12-14)
- Jesus cannot find any fruit on the tree (11:12-13)
- Jesus curses the fig tree (11:14)
- Teachings from the Temple (11:15-18)
- Jesus drives out those who were buying and selling (11:15-16)
- The chief priests and the scribes plot to kill Jesus (11:17-18)
- Teachings on Prayer (11:19-26)
- The curse on the fig tree fulfilled (11:19-21)
- The power of faith in God (11:22-24)
- Forgive others in prayer (11:25-26)
For each of the following, what did Jesus need it for, and how was it actually used? a. Colt; b. Fig tree; c. TempleHide Answer
a. Colt—Jesus needed to ride into Jerusalem. No one has ever ridden on this colt (2), implying that it was perhaps untamed and/or had a bad temperament. So it was a miracle that Jesus could ride the colt without trouble.
b. Fig tree—Jesus was hungry and needed something to eat. It withered because it did not have any fruit.
c. Temple—A house of prayer. However, the people turned it into a market
Why did Jesus come to Jerusalem?Hide Answer
To fulfill His purpose of coming to earth, to teach about the heavenly kingdom and the last days, to reveal the hypocrisy of the religious establishment, to be persecuted, to die on the cross.
What is your God-given purpose? Why are you here, at this time?
Jesus borrowed a colt. What are other things Jesus used that He did not own? What does this tell you about getting the things we need?Hide Answer
Jesus taught in a borrowed boat (Lk 5:3), ate the Passover meal in a borrowed room (Mk 14:12-15), and was buried in someone else’s tomb (Mt 27:59-60). Jesus owned nothing (Lk 9:58), yet everything He needed was provided for Him. If we serve God and put Him first, He will always provide for our needs, even when we seem to have nothing (2Cor 6:10).
What do you have that Jesus can borrow? What does He return to you?Hide Answer
Jesus promised that whatever we give up for Him and the gospel will be returned one hundred times (Mk 10:29-30).
What are the characteristics of a colt that no one has ridden?Hide Answer
not respectable; not calm; it’s hard to look dignified, riding on a colt that is trying to throw you off.
Share an example of how God used someone who did not appear useful.
What does the disciples’ obedience tell you about their faith?Hide Answer
Unlike before, they did not question Jesus. They did not worry that people would accuse them of stealing the colt, or why Jesus wanted to ride an untamed colt. They did as He said. They showed the same faith while preparing the Passover meal (Mk 14:12-16).
List the things people did when Jesus rode into Jerusalem.Hide Answer
spread their cloaks on the road, spread branches, went ahead and behind Jesus, shouted “Hosanna!”
What was going through the mind of each of the following? a. Crowd; b. Disciples; c. JesusHide Answer
a. Crowd—He was their hero. His miracles and His words amazed them. The people thought Jesus was the king who would restore Israel (10). They had tried unsuccessfully to make Him king (Jn 6:15), but this time, they thought, He was coming to do what they wanted.
b. Disciples—They must have been quite proud of the attention they were getting. Perhaps they were basking in the glory the crowd was showering upon Jesus. Perhaps they took the people’s support as motivation to confront the leaders in Jerusalem. They might have ignored or forgotten Jesus’ prophecy that He would be persecuted and killed.
c. Jesus—He was silent when He entered the city. He knew that everyone, including His own disciples, did not understand what was about to take place. The same people who were cheering and following Him would soon condemn and betray Him. Jesus was preparing Himself to drink the bitter cup.
Why did Jesus go to the temple even though it was already late (11)?Hide Answer
Perhaps Jesus went to the temple to pray (cf. 11:17). When He was there, “He looked around at all things.” He wanted to see for Himself how the temple was being used.
Why did Jesus go to find out if the fig tree had any fruit? Didn’t He already know?Hide Answer
Jesus often used everyday activities to teach us spiritual lessons. He used His hunger as a starting point to teach the disciples how to be useful to God. Perhaps the disciples were impressed by the leaves because they assumed the tree had fruits to eat. Instead of telling them otherwise, Jesus inspected the tree so that the disciples could see for themselves. Jesus does not jump to conclusions. He does not condemn us rashly. We also should not show favoritism based on someone’s appearance (Jas 2:1-4).
What does the fig tree without fruits represent?Hide Answer
The flowers and the fruits of a fig tree are hidden, which represent a spirit of humility. In contrast, this fig tree with full leaves advertised itself ahead of time, when it had no fruit to give (Mic 7:1). This tree represents those who have the appearance of godliness, when, in fact, they do not live up to what they profess and are useless in God’s eyes (like the unbelieving Jews of Jesus’ time). It can also represent people who want to stand out among the crowd, to defy the norm, when, in fact, there is no substance in their actions and words. We must bear fruit for God by practicing God’s word and nurturing our spiritual lives instead of putting on a superficial religion or trying to impress people with external things.
Name someone in the Bible who was like a fig tree with nothing but leaves. Name someone who was the opposite.Hide Answer
King Solomon had great wisdom, riches, fame, and power (1Kgs 10:14-29), but he turned away from God (1Kgs 11:6). In the end of his life, he realized that all his accomplishments were meaningless (Eccl 1:17; 2:11).
John the Baptist lived a simple life (Mk 1:6). He called himself “a voice in the wilderness” (Jn 1:23) and turned the attention away from himself to Jesus Christ (Mk 1:7).
Jesus had no physical beauty (Isa 53:2), but He lived a perfect life to show us how to serve God and man.
How might a believer become like the fig tree without fruits?Hide Answer
Having an appearance of godliness but indulging in sin (2Tim 3:5), performing religious duties without sincerity to obey God’s will (Mk 7:6), using religion for self-interest (1Tim 6:3-5), preaching false doctrines in the name of Christ (2Cor 11:13; 2Jn 7).
Is it fair for the fig tree to die? Why or why not?Hide Answer
The fig tree without fruits was a “performed” (as opposed to spoken) parable. Jesus cursed the tree not because it did not have fruit, but that it grew leaves without having any fruits. The leaves made the tree stand out from the other fig trees. It misled people into thinking it had figs to satisfy their hunger (cf. Did You Know 7).
Nevertheless, God does not enjoy punishing the wicked (Ezek 18:23). Jesus did not say to the tree, “You will wither and die.” Rather, He said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (14). It was a statement of the consequence of the tree’s “hypocrisy.” A tree that did not serve its purpose (producing fruits) no long had a reason to live, so it withered.
Why didn’t the fig tree wither right away? Compare this to the parable of the fig tree in Lk 13:6-9.Hide Answer
Jesus waited to test the disciples’ faith. When Peter saw the withered fig tree, he pointed out the obvious to Jesus. It seems like Peter was amazed that what Jesus said came true. Because Jesus did not specifically say the tree would die, perhaps the disciples did not expect it to happen.
Also, Jesus waited a day to symbolize God’s mercy in this “parable.” In Lk 13:6-9, the master waited three years before deciding to cut down the fig tree without fruits. He even agreed to wait one more year so that the gardener could fertilize it more. We decide what to do in light of God’s mercy. Losing our soul is a gradual process. When we give in more and more to the desires of our flesh, we stray further and further away from God. If we do not repent, eventually we must face the consequences (Mt 7:19).
Contrast the colt and the fig tree. Which served its purpose?Hide Answer
The colt was an ignoble creature. No one had expected it to be ridden. However, it submitted to Jesus, and played a noble role of carrying Jesus into Jerusalem. God chooses the foolish (1Cor 1:27). Even though we are lowly jars of clay, God can shine out His glory through us (2Cor 4:7).
The fig tree could have contributed to Jesus’ ministry by supplying Him food. However, it was all show and no substance. God is not impressed by external appearance (Gal 2:6); He judges our hearts (Heb 4:12). Our worldly accomplishment is irrelevant. What is important is whether or not we practice God’s commandments. Our work for the Lord will follow us when we die (Rev 14:12-13).
What is wrong with selling items required for sacrifice? Are the merchants not providing a convenience to the pilgrims?Hide Answer
The merchants degraded the act of offering into something that can be made easy by paying money. They forgot that the items used for sacrifice were secondary. God desires what is in our hearts, not burnt offerings (Hos 6:6). Furthermore, when the money changers cheated people (cf. Did You Know 9), they sinned against God in a place of worship.
Secondly, they had robbed the Gentiles of the opportunity to worship at the “house of prayer for all nations.” With all the business activities and traffic in the court of the Gentiles, how could a Gentile worshipper even offer a prayer here without interruption?
How is convenience sometimes a danger to our faith?Hide Answer
The Israelites were persuaded to worship in their own ways because it was convenient (1Kgs 12:28). Likewise, sometimes we set our principles aside for convenience’s sake. We do not attend services because the church is too far away. We do not help others if it would take too much time. We tell “white lies” to avoid small inconveniences. Jesus cleared the temple to teach us that our faith is a matter of our heart, not of convenience.
How had the buyers and sellers made the temple “a den of thieves”? (cf. Jer 7:10-11,17-18).Hide Answer
The outer court was turned into a market, creating a noisy atmosphere. How could anyone worship God in the midst of all the commotion? Also, the court was as far as a Gentile was allowed, so this was a Gentile’s only impression of how the “chosen people” worshiped God. The buying and selling blasphemed God’s name among the Gentiles (Rom 2:24).
How was the temple at that time like the fig tree without fruits?Hide Answer
The temple looked prosperous, with many people coming and going, but it no longer served its spiritual purpose. It was supposed to be a place declaring God’s name, a place to pray for His protection and forgiveness (1Kgs 8:28-30). But the Israelites forsook God, and His glory departed from the temple (Ezek 10:18). Without God’s abidance, the temple was only a shell. In Jesus’ day, the people’s faith had become such a formality that the temple was turned into a market. It might be why the temple would be destroyed (Mk 13:2), in the same way that the fig tree was cursed and withered.
How might the church today become “a den of thieves” or like the fig tree without fruits?Hide Answer
If the church does not glorify God, it becomes “a den of thieves.” It might use its authority to take advantage of people. It might become a place to socialize or to do business, where worship is secondary and superficial.
We must look beyond the appearances. Just because a church has many members and seems active (many leaves) does not necessarily mean it has the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The church must be a solemn and spiritual body of Christ. If it does not reflect the love and peace of Christ, it causes its members and the non-believers to stumble. For example, Paul rebuked the Corinthian church for bringing their disputes outside the church (1Cor 6:4-6).
Why did the chief priests and scribes want to kill Jesus?Hide Answer
Jesus equated them to robbers, which was a severe insult. Moreover, Jesus’ fame and influence had spread from Galilee to Judea to Jerusalem, and now He was here in person, threatening their authority. They feared that Jesus would either take over their positions, or cause a revolt that would bring the wrath of the Roman government upon them. They had to act quickly to protect themselves; all they needed was a way to turn the people against Him.
Also, by quoting Isaiah 56, Jesus was implying that He was the Lord God, and the temple was “His” house. The scribes and chief priests were probably incensed by this implicit claim.
How were the chief priests and scribes like the fig tree without fruits?Hide Answer
Like the fig tree, they were full of beautiful green leaves but had no fruit. Jesus rebuked them for putting on a show of piety to gain respect, while cheating the poor when people were not looking (Lk 20:46-47). He also compared them to whitewashed tombs, “which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean” (Mt 23:27). The religious leaders were supposed to guide the people’s spiritual growth. However, not only were they blind to God’s will, they led the people down the same stray path (Mt 15:14; 23:15). Allowing a market in the temple was one such example.
Explain verse 24. Can we pray for anything as long as we believe?Hide Answer
We must first examine our motives and ask that God’s will be done (Mk 14:36; Rom 12:2; 1Jn 5:14). If our request is for the purpose of indulgence, we will not receive what we ask for (Jas 4:3-4). Paul did not receive what he prayed for, because God had a better purpose for him (2Cor 12:7-9).
How do we have a faith that can move a mountain?Hide Answer
Having faith means believing that God rewards those who seek Him (Heb 11:16; Rom 8:32). It means believing that we have already received His answer even while we pray (Mk 11:24; Heb 11:1). We must trust that God will do what is best in the right time (Rom 8:28). Also, we must show our faith by what we do (Jas 2:22). While waiting for God to act on our behalf, we must continue to obey Him (Jas 4:7-8).
How is faith (22-24) related to forgiveness (25-26)? (cf. Jas 1:5-6; 5:15-16).Hide Answer
Faith and forgiveness go hand-in-hand. The book of James parallels this teaching. First, we must believe in what we pray for (Jas 1:5-6). In the meantime, we must bear fruit to show our faith (Jas 2:17-18). Finally, the power of prayer comes from the forgiveness of sins—from God (Jas 5:15) and from each other (Jas 5:16).
Do you have anything against another person? What is your incentive to forgive him or her?Hide Answer
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). We forgive others because Jesus forgave us first. And if we show mercy, we will be shown mercy (Jas 2:13). If not, God will demand that we repay all the debts we owe Him (Mt 18:34-35).