Mount of Olives panorama

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

Monday, April 2, 2012


Matthew 21:18–22:14; Mark 11:12–19; Luke 19:47–20:18; John 12:20–36

  • Cursing of the Fig Tree and the Marcan Cleansing of the Temple (following sequence in Mark: Matthew 21:1822; Mark 11:1219)
  • Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus (John 12:2026)
  • Jesus’ Pattern of Teaching in the Temple (Luke 19:4748)
  • Teachings in the Temple: Old Israel Rejected (Matt 21:23–22:15; Mark 11:27–12:12; Luke 20:1–18)
  • Jesus and the Coming Hour (John 12:2736)
Suggested Music: "Come, O Thou King of Kings" (hymn 59)

For Further Reading: R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002), 435–450.

Cursing of the Fig Tree and the Marcan Cleansing of the Temple

After the events of Palm Sunday, Jesus retired from the Jerusalem to spend the night in Bethany, a pattern he followed throughout much of the week. On his way back to the holy city the next morning, he saw a leafy fig tree, which, understandably for the season, was not yet bearing fruit. 
And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:12-14 )

In one of the superficially strangest episodes of Jesus’ ministry, the tree, in Matthew at least, immediately died:  "And presently the fig tree withered away" (Matthew 21:19). Mark, however, exploits the incident and uses it together with the episode of the cleansing of the temple to make the meaning of the withered tree’s symbolism more clear. 

Elaine and I standing by one of the Huldah Gates back in November, which was how pilgrims entered the Temple complex from the south
Whereas Matthew and Luke recorded the cleansing of the Temple as occurring on Palm Sunday, right after the Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Mark places the temple incident the next day (Monday). For literary effect he "sandwiches" it between seeing the barren fig tree Monday morning and seeing it again the next day withered and dead. This symbolizes that Israel has been fruitless, making the cleansing of temple not only a sign of the importance of keeping it clean but also a symbol of the coming destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, and the Jewish nation of his day. 

This open area at the southern end of the Haram is over part of the Court of the Gentiles used to be.  This would have been the first part of the temple compound that Jesus would have entered as a pilgrim, coming up from the Huldah Gates


While readers are more familiar with Jesus healing and blessing rather than "cursing," the story of the Fig Tree is important for our day. Just as the Jews of Jesus’ time were held accountable for bringing forth fruit, so, too, are our lives expected to reflect that of Jesus. As he would later teach in the Book of Mormon, Jesus said, "Behold I am the light; I have set an example for you . . . Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed" (3 Nephi 18:16, 24). While Jesus came primarily as a loving, healing Savior for those who accept him, he was also called to be a just Judge:
For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.(John 5:22-24; cf John 12:48)

Teachings in the Temple

Aerial view featuring the Temple Mount
According to the Synoptic gospels, during the first part of this week Jesus established the pattern of spending the nights in Bethany and coming to the temple in Jerusalem each day to teach.

And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, And could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him. (Luke 19:4748)
Many Gospel harmonies, because of their attempts to reconcile Matthew and Luke’s sequence of events with that of Mark, assume that his temple teachings were grouped and delivered together on Tuesday.  Following the Matthean order, Jesus' teaching did not begin until after the chief priests and elders, who had assumed leadership in Israel, first challenged Jesus:

And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? (Matthew 21:23)
After silencing his opponents by challenging them to declare by what authority John the Baptist had discharged his ministry, Jesus proceeded to teach a series of four allegorical parables that illustrated the rejection of Israel's current leadership (Matt:21:2822:14).  The next block of teaching consists of attempts to trap Jesus in his words followed by a final denunciation of the leaders of "old" Israel (Matt 22:1523:36). The ordering of Matthew thus provides a logical division for the topics that he treated, as well as a convenient way to divide his discourses into two manageable sections for study, the first being treated on Monday and the second on Tuesday.  

Old Israel Rejected
In the area of the Court of the Gentiles where Jesus may have taught
Jesus' calling of twelve disciples reflected that the kingdom that he was establishing, reflected in his church, was a new, spiritual Israel that was replacing the old, ethnic Israel, much of which had been scattered and the remnant of which was now largely in the hands of a leadership that illegitimately held religious authority as well as a large measure of political power.

Of the four parables that Jesus taught in the temple to illustrate this, the one preserved by all three Synoptic gospels is the powerful Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matt 21:33–46; Mark 12:1–12; Luke 20:9–19).  In it the House of Israel is likened to a vineyard that the owner puts in the hands of a series of husbandmen who abuse their power and reject the servants that the Lord sends to gather the produce.  These servants, representing the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist, are beaten, stoned, and otherwise killed.  In a telling foreshadowing of Jesus' own coming fate, Matthew records:
But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, "They will reverence my son." But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance." And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. (Matthew 21:37-39)
Jesus prophesied the fate of Israel's leadership, and foreshadowed his coming Olivet Discourse, when he compelled the leadership whom he was addressing to admit that the Lord would "destroy those wicked men, and let out his vineyard to other husbandmen" (Matthew 21:41).


Jesus' interaction with the chief priests and elders underscores his position as rightful king.  It was his temple, which he had symbolized by cleansing it previous day, and they were usurpers whose predecessors had rejected the prophets and who were themselves about to be complicit in the death of their own king.  Objectively, of course, they did not know that Jesus was their king, and in that sense the appearance of Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple that week was one fulfillment of the prophecy of Haggai: the second temple, by this time remodeled and beautified by Herod, was greater than the first temple of Solomon not because of worldly grandeur or ornamentation but because "the desire of all nations" had come into it (see Haggai 1:6-9).  Indeed the Lord whom they sought had suddenly come to his temple (see Malachi 3:1), and they had not recognized him.

Significantly for us, these prophecies of the Lord and his messengers coming to temples have had latter-day fulfillment and will yet have further fulfillment with his glorious return, as echoed by the words of the hymn, "Come, O Thou King of Kings"

Come, O Thou King of Kings!  We've waited long for thee, with healing in thy wings to set thy people free.  Come, thou desire of nations come; let Israel now be gathered home. (Hymn 59, verse 1).
Thus the royal interpretation of the Savior's last week has significance not only historically but also in terms of our hope for the Lord's glorious second coming.

Jesus and the Coming Hour

Remains of earlier buildings on display near the Islamic Museum
The events in John 12:20-26 are not clearly placed in the week’s chronology, but in John’s narrative they come right after the triumphal entry. Immediately prior some Greeks, who had come to worship at the feast, tried to meet Jesus, thus foreshadowing how all nations would come to Jerusalem to worship and partly fulfilling the aforementioned prophecy that "the desire of all nations" had come.

In Jesus’ brief discourse of "The Coming Hour," he is troubled at the his coming suffering, foreshadowing his plea in the garden to "let the cup pass." Nevertheless, the voice of God comes, reassuring him that Jesus is glorifying the Father.

 "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name." Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." (John 12:27-28)

Jesus’ soul being troubled is the first indication that the passion, or "suffering," of Jesus began earlier in this his last week than is often thought. Already at this point he is looking forward to, and feeling the weight of, the events of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the Father quickly assures him that this is part of their work "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (see Moses 1:39).  Looking forward to Calvary, Jesus then proclaims, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (12:32–33; cf. 3 Nephi 27:14), thereby indicating what kind of death he should suffer.

A Mamluk-era portico on the west side of the Haram.
Jesus' teaching in the temple took place in the outer courts, probably in the Court of the Gentiles and likely in one of the porticos, or covered porches, that lined the outer perimeter of the Temple Mount.  One of them, Solomon's Porch, ran along the eastern side of the temple platform and was the scene of some of Jesus' teachings (see John 10:22-23).   The modern Temple Mount is has porticos on the western and southern sides that only date back to the Mamluk period (A.D. 1250-1517), but they give some idea of what these kind of porticos might have been like.

The Temple Mount Today 

While a temple has not stood here for 1942 years (Titus destroyed the Temple of Herod in A.D. 70), to me the Temple Mount still has an aura of holiness about it, and a feeling of awe always envelopes me as I ascend onto it. This is not just because of its history---that two temples stood here and Jesus taught here. I believe strongly that the faith and worship of people, regardless of their particular tradition, can make a place sacred. The devotion of countless Muslims to this special place and their regular prayers here have added to its holiness.

Inside the current eastern portico
The Romans totally destroyed the temple in A.D. 70, leaving the platform upon which it and its courts had been built vacant.  Later the Byzantines, as scholarship describes the Christian Romans of the late empire, left the Temple Mount in ruins because they thought that it served as a witness of Jesus' prophecy that there would not "be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down."  After the Arab conquest in A.D. 638, however, the Muslims honored the site, building the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest in Islam, on the south end of the temple platform and gracing the rock that tradition held had been both the site of Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac and the Holy of Holies with the beautiful shrine known as the Dome of the Rock.  The platform is now known to them as the Haram al-Sharif, or "Noble Sanctuary."

Solomon's Portico used to follow this eastern edge of the Temple Mount
This morning Elaine and I went up on the Haram, walking almost its entire perimeter, imagining where Jesus would have taught in the porticos that lined the edges of the Temple's outer courts.  We looked at the Golden Gate (known as the "Gate of Mercy" in the Jewish tradition and "Gate of Eternal Life" in Arabic), which has been sealed since the time of the Ottoman sultan Suleiman in 1541.  Gradually we worked inward, mounting the central platform where stands the Dome of the Rock.  In this central area would have been the Court of the Priests, the altar of sacrifice, and the temple proper, with is Holy Place and Holy of Holies.

View this video tour of the Haram or Temple Mount with us and some more of the pictures we took today:

The Al Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest in Islam

The Golden Gate as viewed from Gethsemane

Looking at the Golden Gate from inside the Haram


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