This morning I read these words:
Mark 1111 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 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. 14 Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.
15 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, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”[a]? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.[b]’
Mark 11:11 is immediately following Jesus entry into Jerusalem. Mark includes the detail that Jesus went straight from those events to the temple, but because it was late went back to Bethany.
This seems to indicate that the cleansing of the temple was a deliberate, premeditated action – and the account of the fig tree also supports this. I don’t think it is an accident that the temple cleansing and fig tree stories are woven together by Mark. The fig tree is supposed to represent the religion of the Jewish establishment of the day – in full leaf, an impressive show, and yet ultimately unfruitful.
The cleansing of the temple was a pretty violent event. I imagine the scene was fairly chaotic. Lots of animals, lots of noise in a crowded temple, thronging with Passover crowds. It was the sort of event the authorities had nightmares about. And yet Jesus here deliberately chooses to act in this way. If he acts in anger here it is an anger that is premeditated. An anger provoked by the fact that rather than being a place of prayer for the nations, the temple has become a place of robbery.
That tells us a few things about Jesus:
He gets angry
He acts on that anger
His anger is provoked by people being blocked from worshipping God by religious establishments.
The cleansing of the temple is a pointer to how it will be when Jesus returns. There will be a day of reckoning. A day of judgement, a day of anger against sin. A day when people will cry out for the rocks to fall on them to hide from the wrath of the Lamb.
It is only in the events of Good Friday that we can find safety on that day. Because on Good Friday the Lamb was slain. The Lamb who knew no sin became sin for us. So that we might become the righteousness of God. He pays the price of our sin, so that if we accept His work for us he sets us on a new path, a path following the crucified King.
We can refuse with the Saducees and Pharisees and Chief Priests, with the establishment of the day and reject the King – and face his just anger on our own.
But there is no need to do that. The words of this great hymn of Thomas Kelly can be ours:
The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now;
A royal diadem adorns
The mighty victor’s brow.
The highest place that Heav’n affords
Belongs to Him by right;
The King of kings and Lord of lords,
And Heaven’s eternal Light.
The joy of all who dwell above,
The joy of all below,
To whom He manifests His love,
And grants His Name to know.
To them the cross with all its shame,
With all its grace, is given;
Their name an everlasting name,
Their joy the joy of Heaven.
They suffer with their Lord below;
They reign with Him above;
Their profit and their joy to know
The mystery of His love.
The cross He bore is life and health,
Though shame and death to Him,
His people’s hope, His people’s wealth,
Their everlasting theme.