The Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11)
It is interesting and profitable to observe how the various outstanding events in our Lord’s life were exactly predicted by prophets—divinely inspired men of God (2 Peter 1:21)—who lived hundreds of years before their words began to be fulfilled. Zechariah was one of the postexilic prophets who spoke of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow (1 Peter 1:11; 5:1). In Zechariah 9:9 we see a graphic portrayal of Israel’s rightful King entering His earthly capital: “Lowly, and riding upon an ass.” But between the events described in this verse and those described in the verse immediately following, Jesus was to suffer a long period of rejection by His chosen people. Centuries were to roll by before the words of Zechariah 9:10 were to be fulfilled: “He shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.” Yet all will come to fruition in God’s appointed time.
The Holy Spirit alone could have foreseen the crucifixion of our Lord following so soon after what is often called the triumphal entry. Actually the nation of Israel did not officially acclaim Him as the promised King on that historic Palm Sunday. The leaders fiercely resented the homage paid Him and voiced their opposition in no uncertain terms. But to Jesus the welcome by the multitudes and the children (Matthew 21:15) was as a cup of cold water to His spirit after the bitter hatred He had experienced. He had given thanks before to the Father that “these things”—the mysteries of the kingdom—were hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed to babes (Matthew 11:25). This was confirmed in the reception accorded Him as He rode into the city of Jerusalem.
Mark 11 begins with an account of preparations for the triumphal entry. The last journey through Perea had been concluded, and Jesus and His disciples ascended the winding road from Jericho to Bethany on the slope of the mount of Olives. From there He prepared to enter the city where Jehovah had set His name. Jesus knew that the cross was just before Him, but for this purpose He had come into the world. It was nearing Passover in the spring of a.d. 30. He was about thirty-three years and six months of age—a comparatively young man, destined to be cut off in the middle of His life (Psalm 102:24).
The holy city is plainly visible from Olivet as one comes around the bend between Bethany and Bethphage. At this point Jesus waited until two disciples obtained the donkey on which He was to ride into Jerusalem in accordance with the prophetic word.
It made no difference to Jesus that the donkey brought to Him was an unbroken colt. He was the Creator come into this world as man, and as such all the lower creatures were subject to Him (Psalm 8:6-8). Only man, made in the image of God, rebelled against Him. All other creatures knew Him as their rightful owner (Isaiah 1:3).
If anyone questioned the disciples’ right to loose the colt, they were to answer, “The Lord hath need of him.” Evidently the owner of the beast knew Jesus and recognized His claims as pre-eminent.
The messengers had no difficulty finding the colt. All was as Jesus had said. The King James version says they found the colt “where two ways met.” Many of the older commentators saw in this a picture of man himself, standing at the place of decision.
As Jesus had foreseen, some people questioned the right of the disciples to take the colt away. It is clear that these bystanders were not the owners, but simply observers who feared something wrong was being done. When explanation was given as the Lord had commanded, there was no further objection. Improvising a saddle with their flowing robes, the disciples prepared the colt to carry Jesus to the city.
“Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” In their holy enthusiasm the humble folk sought to give to the King a royal welcome. Divinely taught, they chanted the words of Psalm 118:26. They recognized the application of these words to the promised Messiah of Israel. Hosanna means “Save now” or “Deliver, we pray.” It is the equivalent of “God save the king!” a customary cry in recognition of regal authority (2 Chronicles 23:11).
“The kingdom of our father David.” For one brief moment Jesus was acknowledged as the rightful heir to the throne of David (Luke 1:32). But the time had not yet come for Him to ascend that throne. Not until He returns in glory will He build again the tabernacle of David that is thrown down (Acts 15:16; Amos 9:11-12).
Jesus entered the temple, as predicted in Malachi 3:1. Apparently He simply looked around the temple on this first day of His last week, although it is not easy to be certain as to this. The events recorded in Matthew 21:12-13 probably took place on His second visit to the city, as indicated in Mark 11:12, 15.
As evening approached He went to Bethany with the disciples. In self-imposed banishment, He did not spend a night in the holy city during passion week. He recognized already that He was to suffer outside the gate (Hebrews 13:12-13). There was no place for Him in “the city of the great King” (Matthew 5:35). He found a refuge among the poor and the lowly and with those who waited for the consolation of Israel.
The Cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:12-19)
On the day following the triumphal entry as Jesus and His disciples were going from Bethany to Jerusalem, Jesus was hungry. Having become man in all perfection He was subject to all the conditions under which sinful men live. A fig tree in full leaf by the wayside seemed to offer prospects of a feast of figs, but when Jesus went over to see it He found nothing but leaves, for the time of figs was not yet.
Jesus said, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever”—or, for the age. This fig tree was a type or symbol of Israel nationally, and its fruitless condition pictured the state of the nation—much religion but no fruit for God. So Israel remains barren and fruitless all through these centuries since Christ’s rejection.
In Mark 11:15-17 we read of the second time Jesus cleansed the temple of those who were commercializing the holy things of the Lord. In John 2:13-16 we read of the first occasion, just shortly after He began His public ministry. But the merchants then reprimanded soon took advantage of His absence to reinstate their trade. No doubt in the beginning the sale of birds and beasts in the temple courts was intended simply as an accommodation for visitors who had come from distant lands to attend the annual feasts in Jerusalem. The same was true of the exchange of currency. Originally the money-changers were there to make it easy for these strangers to obtain the money that was used in Palestine in place of the coins of other lands. But what may have begun innocently enough had degenerated into a system of extortionate gains for those involved. Those of the dispersion who came to worship the God of their fathers were being systematically robbed of their savings—and all in the name of Jehovah!
Jesus dealt drastically with these covetous and dishonest merchants, overthrowing the tables of the money-changers, and driving out the sellers of doves and sacrificial lambs and other cattle. One can visualize Him as He stood before the amazed and frightened mob. His holy eyes were flashing with righteous indignation as He exclaimed, “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
Naturally this aroused an unholy counter-indignation on the part of those who had upheld and profited by this commercializing of sacred things. These scribes and chief priests formed a cabal with the express purpose of seeking to lay hold of Jesus and to destroy Him. But they did not dare act openly as yet, because the people generally were stirred by the teaching and works of Jesus and inclined to think of Him as the promised Messiah. Therefore He was allowed to continue teaching that day in the temple courts. No one dared to interfere.
As evening came on He and His disciples left the city again, returning to the mount of Olives, possibly to Bethany.
A Lesson in Faith (Mark 11:20-26)
The next morning as they returned to Jerusalem they observed the barren fig tree now dried up from the roots. When Peter called attention to this, Jesus used the incident to emphasize the power of faith. Faith is trust or confidence. Such confidence should be in God, not in any human expedient. We can have faith in Him only as we rest upon His Word. In replying to his Sunday school teacher’s inquiry, “What is faith?” the little boy was right in saying, “I think it is believing God and asking no questions.”
When God speaks, we are to take Him at His Word. If therefore He made it clear that it was His will to remove a mountain from its established place and cast it into the sea, real faith could count on Him to act, and so would dare to command the mountain to disappear. Doubtless, behind the natural figure our Lord had in mind mountains of difficulty, such as Zerubbabel faced in Palestine when the returned remnant encountered such fierce opposition in the days of rebuilding the temple (Zechariah 4:7). Nothing is impossible with God, and he who is in fellowship with God can act in faith assured his request will be honored.
“Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Faith counts the things that are not as though they are. But we need to remember that these words apply only when we delight ourselves in the Lord, and so the desires of our hearts are according to His holy will (Psalm 37:4).
The state of the soul has much to do with the prayer of faith—hence the teaching on forgiveness given in Mark 11:25-26. God has never promised to answer the prayer of an unforgiving heart. An attitude of unforgiveness effectively blocks the channel of prayer so that no answer is possible. God forgives us as we forgive our brothers in Christ. This is not the forgiveness offered to a sinner, but to a failing saint. Unless we forgive others, our Father in Heaven will not forgive us when we come to Him acknowledging our sins from day to day.
This teaching as to prayer was given as the little company walked toward Jerusalem.
The Authority of Jesus (Mark 11:27-33)
When they entered Jerusalem, almost immediately Jesus was challenged by the irate scribes and chief priests concerning the cleansing of the temple. But He put them to silence by His answers.
The religious leaders questioned Him as to the source of His authority for cleansing the temple in the way He had done it. He refused to answer, but asked them instead, “The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?” The right answer to His question would be the answer to their question. If they admitted that John was sent by God, then the claims of Jesus were established, for John had declared Him to be the promised One who was to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire—something that none but Messiah could do.
These cunning legalists debated among themselves as to how they should reply. If they admitted John was God’s messenger to Israel they faced the inevitable question, “Why then did ye not believe him?” If they denied his divine commission they feared the people who firmly believed that John was a prophet. So they evaded the real question by answering, “We cannot tell.” Jesus replied, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
He was always ready to help honest inquirers. But these men were hypocritical objectors to His testimony. They were determined not to believe Him when His very works attested to His Messianic title and proclaimed Him to be that servant of Jehovah of whom Isaiah wrote, and for whom Israel had waited so long.