By Tuesday of Holy Week, we see that Jesus is making it very clear that He is picking a fight with the Jewish authorities. He had begun that fight the day before by cleansing the temple. He begins his assault on Tuesday by explaining to His disciples that the cursing of the fig tree was purposeful. The withered tree was an illustration of the unbelief of self-righteous Jews. By contrast, true belief results in a faith that can move mountains and forgiveness in light of the forgiveness they have received from God.
As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:20-25)
After the morning lesson, Jesus made His way to the temple again to engage in confrontations with the Jewish authorities regarding whose religion was true — theirs or His. They challenged His authority; He challenged their hypocrisy.
And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” (Mark 11:27-30)
Of course, they thought they had trapped Jesus into a “catch 22” only to see Him outmaneuver them with His only divinely-wise question. The Jewish authorities were reeling, knocked on their heels and intent to throw more punches. They wanted this Jesus problem resolved — they wanted Him dead — but they were afraid to cause an uproar from the people with whom Jesus was popular. They hated Jesus because He was exposing them. Jesus had gone on the offensive Himself, with a gut punch in His Parable of the Tenants, which was clearly directed at them and their wickedness.
And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away. (Mark 12:1-12)
Jesus’ opposition desperately tried again to trick Him into sacrilege by asking Him the question about taxes, but again, Jesus was up for the challenge. He said “Render to Ceasar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17) The Jews had no response — they were dumbfounded. But they tried again! This time, they tried to stump Him with a question about the resurrection. Again, He responded with ease: “He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.” (Mark 12:27) Yet another challenge came to Jesus, this time about which commandment is the greatest. Jesus responded by quoting the Shema (Deut 6:4-5) and Lev 19:18. When Jesus responded this way, the scribe thought he had won. He was thinking “Aha, I have gotten him to admit that there is only one God, thus undermining his own authority.” And Jesus’ response to him was priceless. Jesus said “you are not far from the kingdom of God” — literally! The kingdom of God was right before this scribe’s eyes, but he was too blind to see Him.
While the blindness of the Jewish authorities remained, as did their zeal to destroy Him and His movement, they were out of challenging questions. Jesus proved too formidable a foe to argue religion with them. At this point, Jesus want on the offensive again. First, He asked them the conundrum of how David could call his son “Lord.” Then, without a parable, and in very clear teaching, Jesus denounced the false religion of the Jewish authorities, warning of their “greater condemnation” (Mark 12:40). This was an action packed day! Rather, I should say that it was a dialogue packed day. The following days will prove to be more “action packed.”
After Jesus and His disciples left the temple that evening, they departed to the Mount of Olives where Jesus taught the famous Olivet Discourse. This teaching highlighted things that would happen later in the first century (namely, the destruction of the temple in 70AD) as well as at the close of the age (namely, the second coming of Christ). Jesus described the suffering that His followers would experience during the church age — the tribulation. The disciples wanted to know when these things would happen, and Jesus subtly explained that the temple would be destroyed during their generation while the date of His return remained a mystery (Mark 13:32). Previously, Jesus had warned His disciples that He would have to go away — He was going to be killed — but He also taught that He would return again.
But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. (Mark 13:24-27)
After this, Jesus encouraged His disciples to be ready — primarily for his return. He told them to “stay awake.” Ironically, it would be “staying awake” that would be their big problem on the next day. They needed to be ready because things were about to get serious — do or die. A culminating showdown was about to take place that was going to change things dramatically. We’ll begin to cover that in the next post.