It is now Monday of Holy Week, and as we walk together through Jesus’ last days on his journey to Calvary, we would do well to remember how Jesus spent this time. What was important to Him during these precious several days? What happened between Palm Sunday and Good Friday?
The first thing we know is that Jesus and his disciples spent the night before in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. The night before, remember that Jesus has scoped out the goings on in the temple. This set the stage for the showdown on Monday of Holy Week. The first of two related incidents that takes place on Monday is Jesus’ cursing of a fig tree:
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:12-14)
This story bothers some people, for it doesn’t make sense to them that Jesus would curse an “innocent fig tree.” And why would He get mad at a tree? And shouldn’t He have known that the tree had no fruit on it since He knows everything? Those might be interesting questions if it were not missing the point entirely. The fig tree was an analogy for Israel. Israel was the one who was not bearing fruit. Notice that the story of the cleansing of the temple, which we shall examine next, is nestled between the cursing of the fig tree and Jesus’ explanation/lesson for that event.
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying 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 den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. (Mark 11:15-18)
Both the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple demonstrates Jesus’ zeal for Israel’s spiritual health. They had broken the covenant. As He knew from his Sunday night visit to the temple, the very place that was meant to symbolize God’s presence was being profaned. What was meant to be a house of prayer had become a den of robbers. Yes, Jesus was picking a fight with the Jewish leaders, and He was also making a point. This WAS a hill that Jesus was willing to die on — literally. Israel’s sin & rebellion had to be addressed head-on and dealt with, and Jesus was taking it upon Himself to do just that.