In our study of Mark chapter eleven, we look at how Jesus' authority was questioned even in the last days. Jesus' authority had been demonstrated through all kinds of signs and wonders. Now we will see that even in the final days before the cross, the people were still questioning Him about His authority over the things of this earth.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethpage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 'Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, "Why are you doing this?" say, "The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly."'
The group was approaching Jerusalem and Jesus sent two of the disciples to get a donkey colt for Him to ride into Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah had said that Israel's king would come riding on the foal of a donkey (see Zechariah 9:9). This was a direct statement to the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem that He was their King. Jesus told the disciples what to say if their authority to take the donkey was questioned.
They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, 'What are you doing, untying that colt?' They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.
We notice that the disciples did not question Jesus but simply believed and went to find the colt. They had been with Him and seen the demonstrations of His authority over everything. This had strengthened them in their faith to the point where they could act without doubt or questions. They had their doubts earlier in the ministry but, once His authority was demonstrated, it was settled in their hearts and minds. This reminds us that there is a time for questions and a time for submission. We all come to Christ with some questions but, once He is our Lord, we are to do like these two disciples and simply obey. We also see that it went down just as Jesus had prepared them for. This is a good lesson for us as followers of Jesus. If we simply listen and trust in Him, we will be prepared for everything that is to come. He knows all things and so can lead us to the desired outcome.
When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.
As Jesus rode the donkey people put their coats down in front and others put down branches. This was a sign of submission to a king as most people did not ride donkeys. In times of peace, a king would ride a donkey while in war he would ride a horse.
Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, 'Hosanna!' 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' 'Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!' 'Hosanna in the highest heaven!'
Hosanna originally meant something like "save we pray" but it became a term of praise. The people were shouting this and also a quote from Psalm 118. The people acknowledge that there is praise on earth and in heaven as Jesus rides in as King.
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
We see that this first trip into Jerusalem was simply to make a declaration that the King had come. It was late when they arrived so they turned around and went back out to Bethany.
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again.' And his disciples heard him say it.
As they were heading back to Jerusalem, Jesus saw a fig tree that was full of leaves. This would have been unusual because, at this time of year, they just begin putting on leaves. As Jesus went to taker a closer look, He saw that this tree that was full of leaves did not have any fruit on it. He would not have been expecting to see ripe figs on the tree as it was not the proper season but there were not even the beginning of fruit on the tree. Jesus "cursed" the tree by proclaiming that nobody would ever eat fruit from it again.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, 'Is it not written: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations"? But you have made it "a den of robbers."'
On this second entrance to Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple courts which was the place of the Gentiles. He found that it was more of a business than a place for people to meet to pray. He drove the businessmen out and quoted from the prophet Isaiah. We notice that He did not condemn the businessmen but simply let them know that there was a time and a place for business and it was not at the temple. One might wonder what Jesus would think if He entered some of the "churches" of today where all kinds of things are sold. What would He think of the bookstores, coffee shops, etc.?
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
The religious leaders knew that they had to get rid of Jesus. They saw that the people accepted His teaching and so they feared losing their positions. This was how they survived and kept their families. There was no way they were going to let Jesus establish His kingdom at their expense. Once again, they left the city to spend the night at Bethany.
In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!'
The next morning, they began their third and final trip into Jerusalem. On the way, Peter noticed that the fig tree was dead and he excitedly pointed it out to Jesus. We notice that the disciples wondered at the fact that the words that Jesus spoke were fulfilled but they didn't even bother to ask why He had said them. Even at this late stage in Jesus' ministry on earth, they were still more focused on the physical than the spiritual things. So, why did Jesus curse the tree? Even though it was not the season for ripe figs, the tree was all decked out like it was time and this is a picture of what was going on in the temple. There were all kinds of religious leaders putting on a show of serving God but, in reality, it was only a show. This is similar to what Jesus said to the church in Laodicea about being neither hot nor cold (see Revelation 3:15 & 16).
'Have faith in God,' Jesus answered. 'Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, "Go, throw yourself into the sea," and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.'
Jesus met Peter's wonder with a simple lesson on prayer and authority. He was amazed at the tree so imagine what he must have thought when Jesus said that he could make a mountain move. The lesson gets a little harder when Jesus spoke of forgiveness. We remember that during their trip to Jerusalem there was some bad feelings between the disciples over James and John's request. Was Jesus saying that they need to let that go? For us, even as Christians, true forgiveness is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why Jesus said that it was necessary for God to forgive us of our sins. The Holy Spirit is a sort of identification card that says we are a child of God.
They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 'By what authority are you doing these things?' they asked. 'And who gave you authority to do this?'
On this third trip into the city of Jerusalem, Jesus was met by the religious leaders. They intended to stop any further display of Jesus' authority. As those who were used to being in charge, they asked Jesus who gave Him the permission to do what He had been doing.
Jesus replied, 'I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John's baptism - was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!' They discussed it among themselves and said, 'If we say, "From heaven," he will ask, "Then why didn't you believe him?" But if we say, "Of human origin" ...'(They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, 'We don't know.' Jesus said, 'Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.'
Jesus met their questions with a question that they could not answer. We see that it was not a matter of not knowing but it was a matter of politics. If they had acknowledged that John was a prophet, they would have had to accept his testimony about the identity and authority of Jesus. If they denied that John was a prophet, they feared that the people would revolt against their authority.