*/Jesus Clears the Temple/*
/12 //The next day as they were leaving Bethany, /
/Jesus was hungry.
/13 //Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, /
/he went to find out if it had any fruit.
/When he reached it, /
/he found nothing but leaves, /
/because it was not the season for figs.
/14 //Then he said to the tree, /
/“May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
/And his disciples heard him say it.
/15 //On reaching Jerusalem, /
/Jesus entered the temple area /
/and began driving out /
/those who were buying and selling there.
/He overturned the tables of the money changers /
/and the benches of those selling doves, /
/16 //and would not allow anyone /
/to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
/17 //And as he taught them, he said, /
/“Is it not written: /
/“ ‘My house will be called /
/a house of prayer for all nations’a?
/But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’b”
/18 //The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this /
/and began looking for a way to kill him, /
/for they feared him, /
/because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
/19 //When evening came, theyc went out of the city.
/The Withered Fig Tree/
/20 //In the morning, /
/as they went along, /
/they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.
/21 //Peter remembered and said to Jesus, /
The fig tree you cursed has withered!”/
/22 //“Havea faith in God,” Jesus answered.
/23 //“I tell you the truth, /
/if anyone says to this mountain, /
/‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ /
/and does not doubt in his heart /
/but believes that what he says will happen, /
/it will be done for him.
/24 //Therefore I tell you, /
/whatever you ask for in prayer, /
/believe that you have received it, /
/and it will be yours.
/25 //And when you stand praying, /
/if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, /
/so that your Father in heaven /
/may forgive you your sins.b”**
*Jesus Curses an Unfruitful Tree 11:12–14*
The next three short units (the material in 11:12–25) are structurally and thematically tied together and may well be given the title “Jesus and the Unfruitful Temple.”
They will be discussed separately, but the connections between them will clearly emerge in the discussion.
After spending the night in Bethany, Jesus and the Twelve return to Jerusalem.
On the way, Jesus does something that must puzzle his disciples, as it has puzzled commentators ever since.
He sees a fig tree with leaves but no visible fruit.
Approaching the tree, he verifies that it has /nothing but leaves/ (11:13).
He promptly “curses” it (at least Peter interprets Jesus’ words as a curse; v. 21).
Mark adds (in defense of the tree?), /It was not the season for figs/.
It was two months too early to realistically expect ripe figs, though it would have been possible for early spring green fruit to be on the tree that early.
What are we to make of this?
Is Jesus getting edgy?
Is he nervous over what he is about to do in Jerusalem?
Is he starting to use his powers to destroy rather than save life (cf.
Many theories have been proposed, but the views worth serious consideration maintain that the tree stands as a symbol, and that Jesus performs an acted parable.
Jesus has spoken and enacted many parables of salvation (4:11, notes).
Now he enacts a parable of judgment.
Mark drops hints that this is a parabolic action.
Parables call for “hearing ears” (cf.
The last line of the present incident reads, /And his disciples heard him say it/ (11:14b).
We wonder, “Do they have hearing ears, ears that understand the meaning of this parable?”
This last line says more than that the episode is “To Be Continued.”
It suggests that here is a need for discernment and interpretation.
When the story resumes the next morning (11:20), the first words are /they saw/ (v. 20) and /Peter remembered/ (v. 21).
These three key words, “hear,” “see,” and “remember,” are used 8:14–21 to teach the disciples about discernment.
They recur here in a text that calls on the disciples and the readers to discern what is really being said.
If the fig tree symbolizes the judgment of God, on whom does the judgment fall?
Readers commonly suggest “Israel” or “the temple.”
I propose that it is Israel’s unfaithful religious leaders who are being symbolized.
They are the ones whom Mark pictures as all-leaves, no-fruit (11:17, 20–21, notes; TBC, below; T. Geddert, 1989:125–9, n. 39 on 289) /[Israel and Israel’s Leaders]./
Beyond a doubt, this incident is directly connected to what happens next in the temple.
Mark has made another of his famous intercalations, framing one narrative with another /[Chiasm and Intercalation], /with a structure as diagrammed here:
A • Jesus Curses an Unfruitful Tree.
B • Jesus “Cleanses the Temple.”
A’ • The Cursed Tree Is Discovered Withered.
Jesus is not punishing the tree itself; he is making it stand for something else.
Similarly, Jesus does not punish the temple itself.
The temple itself is doing nothing wrong, nor are the ordinary pilgrims.
The temple authorities and other religious leaders are the wrongdoers.
According to Mark, they are misusing the temple even when their wrongdoing is elsewhere (11:17, notes).
Later Jesus predicts the physical destruction of the temple (13:2), and its doom is directly linked to the misdeeds of the religious leaders (12:40).
Interpreters have great difficulty coming to terms with the seemingly inconceivable and unjust act of Jesus depicted in the fig tree cursing.
As a result, they have scoured the text for subtle clues that something is being overlooked.
I pass on some of the suggestions that seem worth pondering”
1. W. Cotter (see Bibliography) suggests that the explanatory clause, /for it was not the season for figs,/ is not intended to explain why there were no figs, but rather why Jesus did not expect to find any.
It “explains” an aspect of the text, but not what immediately precedes it.
This is common in Mark.
An obvious example is 16:3–4, where the clause /for it was very large/ appears to explain the comment immediately preceding it (in Greek): /It was already rolled away./
In fact, however, it explains an earlier comment, on why the women were concerned about the stone.