Mark 11
Pulpit Commentary
And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,
Verse 1. - And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives. St. Matthew (Matthew 21:1) says, "When they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and came unto Bethphage." St. Mark mentions the three places together, because Bethphage and Bethany, being near together, were also both of them close to Jerusalem. The distance from Jericho to Jerusalem (about seventeen miles) would involve a journey of about seven hours. The country between Jerusalem and Jericho is hilly, rugged, and desolate. It is from the height overhanging Bethany that the finest view of Jerusalem is gained. It appears from St. John (John 12:1) that our Lord on the preceding sabbath had supped, and probably passed the night, at Bethany; and that on the following day (answering to our Palm Sunday) he had come still nearer to Jerusalem, namely, to Bethphage; and from thence he sent two of his disciples for the ass and the colt. So his way to Jerusalem was from Bethany by Bethphage, the Mount of Olives, and the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The Valley of Jehoshaphat, through which flows the brook Kedron, lies close to Jerusalem. Bethphage literally means "the house of green figs," as Bethany, lying a short distance west of it, means "the house of dates." The date palm growing in the neighbeurhood would furnish the branches with which the multitude strewed the way on the occasion of our Lord's triumphal entry. He sendeth two of his disciples. Who were they? Bede thinks that they were Peter and Philip. Jansonius, with greater probability, thinks that they were Peter and John, because a little after this Christ sent these two to prepare for the Passover. But we know nothing certain on this point.
And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him.
Verse 2. - Go your way into the village that is over against you. The village over against them would most likely be Beth-phage, towards which they were then approaching. Straightway as ye enter into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon no man ever yet sat. St. Mark mentions only the colt. St. Matthew mentions the ass and the colt. But St. Mark singles out the colt as that which our Lord specially needed; the mother of the animal accompanying it as a sumpter. Animals which had never before been used were alone admissible for sacred purposes. We read in Numbers (Numbers 19:2) of "the heifer on which never came yoke." Our Lord here beholds things absent and out of sight, as though they were present. So that he revealed this to his disciples by the gift of prophecy which his divinity added to his humanity. Here, therefore, is a manifest proof of his divinity. It was by the same Divine power that he revealed to Nathanael what had taken place under the fig tree.
And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.
Verse 3. - And if any one say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye, The Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him back hither. The Greek, according to the best authorities here, is εὐθέως αὐτὸν ἀποστελλει πάλιν ῶδε: literally, straightway he sendeth it back hither again, The verb here in the present may represent the verb in the future, "he will send it back." But the word "again" (πάλιν) is not quite so easily explained. There is strong authority for the insertion of this word, which necessarily changes the meaning of the sentence. Without the πάλιν, the sentence would actually mean that our Lord, by his Divine prescience, here tells his disciples that when the colt was demanded by them the owner would at once permit them to take it. But if the word πάλιν be inserted, it can only mean that this was a part of the message which our Lord directed his disciples to deliver as from himself, "The Lord hath need of him; and he, the Lord, will forthwith send him back again." The passage is so interpreted by Origen, who twice introduces the adverb in his commentary on St. Matthew. The evidence of the oldest uncials is strongly in favor of this insertion. Our Lord was unwilling that the disciples should take away the colt if the owner objected, lie might have taken the animals away in his own supreme right, but he chose to accomplish his will by his providence, powerfully and yet gently; and, if the reading here be allowed, he further influenced them by the promise that their property should be returned to them. It was the will and purpose of Christ, who for these three years had gone about on foot, and traveled over the whole of Palestine in this way, to show himself at length the King of Judah, that is, the Messiah and Heir of David; and so he resolves to enter Jerusalem, the metropolis, the city of the great King, with royal dignity. But he will not be surrounded with the" pomp and circumstance" of an earthly monarch. He rides on an ass's colt, that he might show his kingdom to be of another kind, that is, spiritual and heavenly. And so he assumes a humble equipage, riding upon a colt, his only housings being the clothes of his disciples. And yet there was dignity as well as humility in his equipage. The ass of the East was, and is, a superior animal to that known amongst us. The judges and princes of Israel rode on "white asses," and their sons on asses' colts. So our Lord rode upon an ass's colt; and there were no gleaming swords in his procession, or other signs of strife and bloodshed. But there were palm branches and garments spread all along his path - the evidences of devotion to him. So he came in gentleness, not that he might be feared on account of his power, but that he might be loved on account of his goodness.
And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him.
Verse 4. - By the door without, in a place where two ways met (ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀμφόδου) literally, in the open street.
And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt?
And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.
And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.
And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.
Verse 8. - Others cut down branches off the trees, etc. According to the best authorities, the words should be rendered, and others branches (or, leaves, for strewing), which thy had cut from the fields (ἄλλοι δὲ στοιβάδας κόψαντες ἐκ τῶν ἀγρῶν). The branches were cut in the fields; and the smaller, leafy portions of them, suitable for their purpose, were carried out.
And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
Verse 9. - The word Hosanna literally means "Oh, save!" It may have been originally the cry of captives or rebels for mercy; and thus have passed into a general acclamation, expressive of joy and deliverance.
Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.
Verse 10. - This verse should be read thus: Blessed be the kingdom that cometh, the kingdom of our father David - that is, the kingdom of Messiah, now coming, and about to be established - Hosanna in the highest; - that is, Hosanna in the highest realms of glory and blessedness, where salvation is perfected.
And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.
Verse 11. - This visit to the temple is not mentioned by St. Matthew. It is an important addition to his narrative. The moment of our Lord's triumphant entry into Jerusalem was not the moment for the display of his indignation against the profaners of the temple. He was then surrounded by an enthusiastic and admiring multitude; so he contented himself on this occasion with looking round about upon all things (περιβλεψάμενος πάντα). His keen and searching eye saw at a glance all that was going on, and penetrated everything. But without any comment or action at that time, he went out unto Bethany (it was now eventide) with the twelve. No doubt the disciples, and especially Peter, saw what was involved in this visit of inspection, which prepared them for what took place on the morrow.
And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:
Verse 12. - And on the morrow, when they were come out from Bethany, he hungered. This was, therefore, the day after Palm Sunday (as we call it) - on the Monday, the 11th day of the month Nisan, which, according to our computation, would be March 21. He hungered. This showed his humanity, which he was ever wont to do when he was about to display his Divine power. The fact that he hungered would lead us to the conclusion that he had not been spending the night in the house of Martha and Mary. It is far more likely that he had been in the open air during the previous night, fasting and praying.
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.
Verse 13. - And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon. St. Matthew (Matthew 21:19) says he saw "one fig tree" (μὶαν συκῆν), and therefore more conspicuous. Fig trees were no doubt plentiful in the neighborhood of Bethphage, "the house of figs." Dean Stanley ('Sinai and Palestine,' p. 418) says that "Mount Olivet is still sprinkled with fig trees." This fig tree had leaves, but no fruit; for it was not the season of figs (ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς οὐκ ῆν σύκων). Other trees would all be bare at this early season, but the fig trees would be putting forth their broad green leaves. It is possible that this tree, standing by itself as it would seem, was more forward than the other fig trees around. It was seen "from afar," and therefore it must have had the full benefit of the sun. Our Lord says (St. Luke 21:29), "Behold the fig tree, and all the trees: when they now shoot forth, ye see it, and know of your own selves that the summer is now nigh." He puts the fig tree first, as being of its own nature the most forward to put forth its buds. But then it is peculiar to the fig tree that its fruit begins to appear before its leaves. It was, therefore, a natural supposition that on this tree, with its leaves fully developed, there might be found at least some ripened fruit. Our Lord, therefore, approaches the tree in his hunger, with the expectation of finding fruit. But as he draws near to it, and realizes the fact that the tree, though full of leaf, is absolutely fruitless, he forgets his natural hunger in the thought of the spiritual figure which this tree began to present to his mind. The accident of his hunger as a man, brought him into contact with a great parable of spiritual things, presented to him as God; and as he approached this fig tree full of leaf, but destitute of fruit, there stood before him the striking but awful image of the Jewish nation, having indeed the leaves of a great profession, but yielding no fruit. The leaves of this fig tree deceived the passer-by, who, from seeing them, would naturally expect the fruit. And so the fig tree was cursed, not for being barren, but for being false. When our Lord, being hungry, sought figs on the fig tree, he signified that he hungered after something which he did not find. The Jews were this unprofitable fig tree, full of the leaves of profession, but fruitless. Our Lord never did anything without reason; and, therefore, when he seemed to do anything without reason, he was setting forth in a figure some great reality. Nothing but his Divine yearning after the Jewish people, his spiritual hunger for their salvation, can explain this typical action with regard to the fig tree, and indeed he whole mystery of his life and death.
And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
Verse 14. - No man eat fruit from thee henceforward for ever (εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα). These words, in their application to the Jewish nation, have a merciful limitation - a limitation which lies in the original words rendered "for ever," which literally mean for the age. "No man eat fruit of thee henceforward, for the age;" until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. A day will doubtless come when Israel, which now says, "I am a dry tree," shall accept the words of its true Lord, "From me is thy fruit found," and shall be clothed with the richest fruits of all trees. (See Trench on the Miracles). St. Matthew (Matthew 21:19) tells us that "immediately the fig tree withered away." "Straightway a shivering fear and trembling passed through its leaves, as though it was at once struck to the heart by the malediction of its Creator." Our Lord's disciples heard his words; but they appear not to have noticed the immediate effect of them upon the tree. It was not until the next day that they observed what had happened. This miracle would show his disciples how soon he could have withered his enemies, who were about to crucify him; but he waited with long-suffering for their salvation, by repentance and faith in him.
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;
Verse 15. - And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple. Not the holy place, nor the holy of holies (into which the high priest might alone enter), but into the temple court; for into that the people went to pray, and to witness the sacrifices which were being offered before the holy place; for this court was, so to speak, the temple of the people. Our Lord was not a Levitical priest, because he was not sprung of Levi and Aaron. Therefore he could not enter the holy place, but only the outer court of the temple. And began to cast out (ἐκβάλλειν) - it was a forcible expulsion - them that sold and them that bought in the temple. There were two occasions on which our Lord thus purged the temple - one at the beginning of his public ministry, and the other at the end of it, four days before his death. There was a regular market in the outer court,' the court of the Gentiles, belonging to the family of the high priest. The booths of this market are mentioned in the rabbinical writings as the booths of the son of Hanan, or Annas. But this market is never mentioned in the Old Testament. It seems to have sprung up after the Captivity. Our Lord adopted these strong measures

(1) because the temple courts were not the proper places for merchandise, and

(2) because these transactions were often dishonest, on account of the avarice and covetousness of the priests. The priests, either themselves or by their families, sold oxen and sheep and doves to those who had need to offer them in the temple. These animals were, of course, needed for sacrifices; and there was good reason why they should be ready at hand for those who came up to worship. But the sin of the priests lay in permitting this buying and selling to go on within the sacred precincts, and in trading dishonestly. There were other things needed for the sacrifices, such as wine, and salt, and oil. Then there were also the money-changers (κολλυβιστής, from κόλλυβος, a small coin) - those who exchanged large coins for smaller, or foreign money for the half-shekel. Every Israelite, whether rich or poor, was required to give the half-shekel, neither less nor more. So when money had to be exchanged, an allowance or premium was required by the money-changer. Doves or pigeons were required on various occasions for offerings, chiefly by the poor, who could not afford more costly offerings. From these also the priests had their gain. The seats of them that sold the doves. These birds were often sold by women, who were provided with seats.
And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
Verse 16. - And he would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple. It was a great temptation to make the temple, at least the great court of the Gentiles, a thoroughfare. It was so extensive that a long and tedious circuit would be avoided, in going from one part of the city to another, by passing through it. To those, for example, who were passing from the sheep market, Bethesda, into the upper part of the city, the shortest cut was through this court and by Solomon's Porch. The distance would be greatly increased if they went round it. So the priests permitted servants and laborers, laden with anything, to take this shorter way through the great court of the temple. But our Lord hindered them, forbidding them with the voice of one that had authority, and restraining them with his hand, and compelling them to go back. He would have the whole of his Father's House regarded as sacred.
And he taught, saying unto them, 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.
Verse 17. - My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations (πᾶσι τοῖς ἔθνεσιν). St. Mark, writing for Gentiles, assures them that the God of the Jews is the God of all the nations; and that the court of the Gentiles, which was then so profaned, was a constituent part of his house of prayer. St. Jerome notes Christ's action in driving out the profaners of the temple as a great proof of his Divine power, that he alone should have been able to cast out so great a multitude. He says, "A fiery splendor flashed from his eyes, and the majesty of Deity shone in his countenance." The words, "My house shall be called the house of prayer," are a quotation from Isaiah 56:7; and it is a remarkable coincidence that in Ver. 11 of that chapter the rulers of the people are described as looking "every one for his gain from his quarter." A den of thieves (σπήλαιον ληστῶν); this should be rendered, a den of robbers. The Greek word for "thief" is κλέπτης, not ληστής. The two terms are carefully distinguished in St. John (John 10:1), "the same is a thief (κλέπτης) and a robber (λῃστής)." These priests, wholly intent upon gain, by various fraudulent acts plundered strangers and the poor, who came purchase offerings for the worship of God. Observe that the temple is called the house of God, not because he dwells in it in any corporeal sense, for "he dwelleth not in temples made with hands," but because the temple is the place set apart for the worship of God, in which he specially gives ear to the prayers of his people, and in which he specially promises his spiritual presence. Hence we learn what reverence is due to the houses of God; so that, as the master of a house resents any insult offered to his house as an insult to himself, so Christ reckons any wilful dishonor done to his house as a wrong and insult to him.
And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.
Verse 18. - And the chief priests and the scribes - this is the right order of the words - heard it (ἤκουσαν), and sought (ἐζήτουν) - began to seek, or were seeking (imperfect) - how they might destroy him (ἀπολέσουσιν). They were seeking how they might, not only put him to death, but "utterly destroy him," stamp out his name and influence as a great spiritual energy in the world. This action of his raised them to the highest pitch of fury and indignation. Their authority and their interests were attacked. But the people still acknowledged his power; and the scribes and Pharisees feared the people.
And when even was come, he went out of the city.
Verse 19. - And when even was come; literally, and whenever (ὅταν) evening came; that is, every evening. During these last days before his crucifixion, he remained in Jerusalem during the day, and went back to Bethany at night. St. Matthew says (Matthew 21:17), speaking of one of these days, "And he left them, and went forth out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there." So true it was that "he came unto his own, and his own received him not." No one in that city, which he loved so well, offered to receive him. The end was drawing near. But the intercourse with Martha and Mary must have been soothing to him; and Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem.
And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.
Verses 20, 21. - And as they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away from the roots. They had returned the evening before, probably after sunset, to Bethany; and so, in the twilight, had not noticed the withered tree. St. Matthew gathers the whole account of the fig tree into one notice. St. Mark disposes of the facts in their chronological order. It was on the Monday morning, the day after the triumphant entry, and when they were on their way to Jerusalem, that our Lord cursed the fig tree. Thence he passed on at once into Jerusalem, and drove out the profaners of the temple, and taught the people. In the evening he returned to Bethany; and then on the next morning, as they were on their way into the city, they saw what had happened to the fig tree. And then Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him; Rabbi, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away (ἐξήρανται), the same Greek word as in the preceding verse. Some have thought that the fig tree was the tree forbidden to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. (See Cornelius a Lapide on Genesis 2:9).
And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.
And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
Verses 22, 23. - Have faith in God; literally, have the faith of God - full, perfect, effectual faith in him; faith like a grain of mustard seed. You may be staggered and perplexed at what you will see shortly; but "have faith in God." The Jews may seem for a time to flourish like that green fig tree; but they will "soon be cut down as the grass, and be withered as the green herb." What seems difficult to you is easy with God. Trust in the Divine omnipotence. The things which are impossible with men are possible with him. Our Lord then uses a metaphor frequently employed to indicate the accomplishment of things so difficult as to be apparently impossible. He employs a bold and vivid hyperbole; and, pointing probably to the Mount of Olives overhanging them, and on the shoulders of which they were then standing, he says, "With this faith you might say to this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea, and it shall come to pass."
For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
Verse 24. - All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them; and ye shall have them. But you must "ask in faith, nothing wavering."
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
Verse 25. - And wheresoever ye stand praying (στήκητε προσευχόμενοι). The ordinary attitude of Eastern nations in prayer is here indicated, namely, "standing," with the head, doubtless, bowed in reverence. The promise of this text is that requests offered in prayer by a faithful heart will be granted - granted as God knows best. The connection of these verses with the former is close. One great hindrance to the faith without which there can be no spiritual power, is the presence of angry and uncharitable feelings. These must all be put away if we would hope for a favorable answer from God.
But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
Verse 26. - There appears to be sufficient evidence to justify the Revisers in their omission of this verse; although its omission or retention does not affect the general exegesis of the passage.
And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders,
Verses 27, 28. - By what authority doest then these things? We learn from ver. 18 float the chief priests and scribes had already been seeking how they might destroy him, and they wanted to establish some definite charge, whether of blasphemy or of sedition, against him. They now approach him as he walked in the temple, and demand by what authority he was doing these things, such as casting out the profaners of the temple, teaching and instructing the people, accepting their Hosannas, etc. And who gave thee this authority to do these things? According to the best reading, this sentence should run, or (η} instead of καὶ) who gave thee, etc., instead of "and who gave thee," etc. So that the questions are directed to two things - was his authority inherent? or, was it derived?
And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.
Verse 29. - I will ask of you one question (ἐπερωτήσω ὑμᾶς ἕνα λόγον). The verb justifies the translation, one question, for "one word." The question which our Lord put to them was one on which hung the solution of that proposed by the scribes. It is as though he said, "You do not believe me when I say that I have received power from God. Believe then John the Baptist, who bare witness of me that I was sent from God to do these things."
The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.
Verse 30. - The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men? By the "baptism of John" our Lord means his testimony concerning himself, his doctrine, and nil his preaching. It is a synecdoche - the part put for the whole. The argument is incontrovertible. It is this: "You ask from whence I derive my authority - from God or from men? I in my turn ask you from whom did John the Baptist derive his authority to baptize and to teach? from heaven or from men? If he had it from God, as all will confess, then I too have the same from God; for John testified of me, saying that he was but a servant, the friend of the Bridegroom; but that I was the Messiah, the Son of God: and this too when you sent messengers to him for his special purpose, that you might know from him whether he was the Messias." (See John 1:20; John 10:41.) Answer me. This is characteristic of St. Mark's style, and of our Lord's dignified earnestness.
And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him?
Verses 31, 32. - They reasoned with themselves, like men anxious and perplexed. If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? For he told you I was the promised Messias, and bade you prepare yourselves by repentance to receive my grace and salvation. But should we say, From men - they feared the people: for all verily held John to be a prophet. This is a broken sentence, but very expressive. The evangelist leaves his reader to supply what they meant. They deemed it prudent not to finish the sentence; and probably cut it short with some significant gesture. They did not like to confess that they feared the people; although this was the true reason why they hesitated to say that John's baptism was of men. They knew that all the people held John to be a prophet. They were thus thrown on one or other horn of a dilemma.
But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.
And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.
Verse 33. - We know not. They had seen the life of John. They had heard his holy and Divine teaching. They were witnesses to his death for the truth; and yet they lie. They might have said," We think it imprudent or inexpedient to say;" but for this they had not sufficient moral courage. Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. You will not answer my question; neither will I therefore answer yours; because your answer to mine is the answer to your own. "He thus shows," says St. Jerome, "that they knew, but would not answer; and that he knew, but did not speak, because they were silent as to what they knew." Our Lord did thus but mete out to them the measure which they meted to him.

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