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.
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. And when evening came they went out of the city. (Mark 11:12-19 ESV)
Jesus’ days leading up to the crucifixion were pregnant with meaning. Consider the cursing of the fig tree. Most of us have read this and been confused—why did Jesus react so strongly to the fruitless fig tree? Did He wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Was he suffering from low blood sugar? But Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree is only understood when read in light of what happens next in Mark’s gospel—His cleansing of the Temple.
What Jesus did figuratively with the fig tree, He did literally to the Temple. This was meant to be a place where the fruit of true worship could be seen. It was to be a house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7) to draw people from all the nations to see the glory and goodness of the Lord. Instead, it had been perverted into a house of commerce, one where man’s greed could be seen but God’s glory was hidden.
When Jesus came to the Temple this day, it was not as a pilgrim preparing for the Passover—it was as the sovereign King, passing judgment on the fruitless Temple and its works. Fruitless religious behaviour would end. Like the fig tree, it would wither and die (Mark 11:20). The tables were overturned. The moneychangers were run out. The religious leaders were condemned.
The Lord’s house and the Lord’s people would be purified. But rather than be purified themselves—rather than submitting to their king—the religious leaders determined to destroy the Purifier.
Father, the warning in the fig tree is clear: the outward appearance of spiritual health isn’t enough—we are to be people who bear fruit at all times. Cleanse our hearts, purify us, rid us of our sinful thoughts and motives, Lord. Allow us to show your glory to the world and bring honour to the name of Jesus. Amen.