Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Matt 21:23–25:46; Mark 11:20–13:37; Luke 20:1–21:38; John 12:37–50
  • Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree (Mark 11:20–21)
  • More Teachings in the Temple: Attempts to Trap Jesus in His Words (Matthew 22:15–23:39; Mark 12:13–12:44; Luke 20:1–21:4)
  • The Olivet Discourse or "Little Apocalypse" Concerning Jesus’ Prophecies Regarding the Last Days Before His Second Coming (Matthew 24:1–25:46; Mark 13:1–37; Luke 21:5–36; because few events are recorded for Wednesday, parts of the Olivet Discourse can be read on the next day).
  • Summary of Jesus’ Teaching (Luke 21:37–38; John 12:37–50)
Suggested Music: "Jehovah, Lord of Heaven and Earth" (hymn 269)

For Further Reading: Jo Ann Seely, "From Bethany to Gethsemane," in From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ 3, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), n.b. 51–56.

Kent P. Jackson, "The Olivet Discourse," in From the Transfiguration to the Triumphal Entry, The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ 2, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 318–343.

Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree: Exhortations to Faith and Forgiveness

On Tuesday Jesus returned to Jerusalem after having again spent the night in Bethany, presumably with Lazarus and his sisters. Crossing the Mount of Olives, according to the Marcan sequence, he saw the fig tree he had cursed for fruitlessness the day before and found that it was withered.  As already noted, the literary result of "sandwiching" the cleansing of the temple between the cursing of the fig tree on Monday and the finding of the tree dead on Tuesday graphically illustrates that contemporary Israel was fruitless and warned that their similarly fruitless temple would be overthrown. The Matthean order, which can be taken to place the parables illustrating the rejection of Old Israel also on Monday, further underscores this fact, showing that the fault for the destruction of the temple would lie primarily at the feet of those who had usurped its control and had misused it.

Nonetheless, the cursing of fig tree had also vividly revealed the power of Jesus over the natural world.  When Peter then noted the demise of the tree, Jesus used his action as an opportunity to issue an exhortation for his disciples to have faith: "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye shall receive them, and ye shall have them." Nevertheless, faith and prayer do not come without a cost: the Lord expects us to be Christlike in the exercise of our faith, forgiving all, even as he would do so notably later in the week.

More Teachings in the Temple

After drawing lessons from the withered tree, he spent the morning in the temple.  The second block of these teachings in Matthew, which also cover most of the material preserved in Mark and Luke, focus on attempts by the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees to trap Jesus in his words (22:15–40).  These are the Tuesday Temple Teachings as related by Matthew:
Attempts to Trap Jesus in His Words (22:15–46)
  • Question about Paying Taxes (22:15–22, Pharisees and Herodians)
  • Question about the Resurrection (22:23–33, Sadducees)
  • Question about the Greatest Commandment (22:34–40, Pharisees)
  • Question about David’s Son (22:41–46, Christ to the Pharisees)
Denunciation of the Leaders of Old Israel (23:1–36)
  • Hypocrisy of Scribes and Pharisees (23:1–12)
  • Seven Prophetic "Woes" (23:13–36)
Looking at the Temple Mount from the south
Whether the question was about the paying of taxes to Rome, about the reality of the resurrection (particularly in the hypothetical case of a woman who had married seven successive men!), or concerning what was the greatest commandment of the law, Jesus gave responses that silenced his opponents.  Finally, he posed a question to them that proved impossible for them to answer:
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46)
Their inability, or refusal, to answer this question about himself was followed by a scathing denunciation of the these leaders of Old Israel (23:1–36).


This verbal sparring about authority points back to the reality symbolized by Jesus’ earlier triumphal entry: he was the rightful leader in Israel, while the chief priests and elders opposed to him were, in fact, usurpers who set themselves up in Jerusalem and in the temple as leaders of Israel. Now, in the midst of the preparations leading to Passover, the questioning of Jesus in the temple presents another layer of symbolism: he was questioned by the chief priests even while the Passover lambs for the year were being checked for faults.

Looking at the Mount of Olives from the Temple Mount
The Olivet Discourse

Leaving the temple, Jesus took his disciples to Mount of Olives, where he gave them a prophetic discourse that dealt with both the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and also focused on the destruction of "the world" at his second coming. The oldest and shortest version of this seems to be in Mark, where it is sometimes referred to as "The Little Apocalypse." Longer versions of this eschatological sermon are preserved by Matthew and Luke. The JST revision of Matthew 23:39-24:51 is an inspired expansion of part of the Olivet Discourse; it continues through 25:1-46 with parables about the last days.

Rachel and I at Pater Noster, the traditional site of the Olivet Discourse on the Mount of Olives


The view of Jerusalem from Pater Noster
Some students who joined us in reading Mark 13 and singing at Pater Noster
The Lord’s private teaching to his closest disciples about his Second Coming was once again a natural result of the events of Palm Sunday. He had entered Jerusalem, seemingly as a recognized Messiah, and many of them may have expected him to take the throne as king. Peter and others of the Twelve had earlier obtained powerful witnesses that he was the Messiah, the true Son of God, but while they understood correctly who Jesus was, they still did not correctly understand what he had come to do. Three times on the road to Jerusalem he had prophesied in the so-called "Passion Predictions" that he would go to Jerusalem to suffer and die (see, for instance, Matthew 16:21–23, 17:22–23, and 20:17–19), and each time they had failed to understand.

Now, perhaps understanding how confused, terrified, and heart-broken they would be at the end of the week when their Master was taken, tortured, and cruelly slain, he sought to reassure them by pointing their minds forward to that future time when he would, in fact, come in glory as king of all the earth.

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:30-31)

The occasion of their reassurance has, in turn, provided us with a helpful road map to prepare us in the Last Days, which also fills us with hope and anticipation as we look forward to his return.  As we look for the return of our King and the establishment of his millennial reign, the words of hymn 269 reflect our united wish:
Jehovah, Lord of heav'n and earth, thy word of truth proclaim!
Oh may it spread from pole to pole, till all shall know thy name . . .
Roll on thy work in all its power, the distant nations bring!
In thy new kingdom may they stand, and own thee God and King.

Summary of Jesus' Teaching

Luke summarizes Jesus’ teaching in the early part of the week by writing simply:

And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives. And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, for to hear him. (Luke 21:37–38)

As usual, the material from John is not easily placed in a particular chronological position during the week. These passages are placed here on Tuesday for convenience, but they likewise summarize the reaction of both the people and the leaders to Jesus:
But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him . . . Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:37–43)
John, however, closes Jesus’ temple ministry with a powerful testimony of who the Savior is, however, and he further stresses the responsibility of each person to accept or reject him . . . something for us to think about as we review our discipleship this week and consider how strong our faith in Jesus is.
Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.  And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.  I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.  And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.  He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. (John 12:44–48)

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