Posted by: pmarkrobb | March 21, 2016

the tree and the temple

If you study today (Monday) in the last week of Jesus, you will find it is all about a tree and a temple.  The temple story is more dramatic and well-known (the scene where Jesus upsets the “money tables” and clears the temple of all that has corrupted it), but it is his early morning teaching (when Jesus “happens upon” a fig tree) which truly sets the table for the temple action to come.

In Mark 11:12, we find Jesus walking the mile and a half path from the town of Bethany to Jerusalem with his disciples.  Not far out of town he spots a fig tree in full leaf.  This would not have appeared odd at first glance, since fig trees in that region would be in leaf at that time of year.  The tree would also typically have small “knobs” called taqsh (pronounced tuhk-wAAsh), that would drop off before the real figs formed.  The taqsh were edible and would often be offered to or eaten by the poor.  It is additionally important to note that if a fig tree in full leaf in the spring did not have taqsh, there would be no fruit on that tree that year.  This is how Jesus finds His fig tree – in full leaf, giving the clear impression to any passer-by that there was fruit.

Jesus knows, of course, there is no taqsh on this particular tree, but he takes the opportunity to teach a critical lesson applicable to the life of any believer.

Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.
Mark 11:14 (NLT)

I wonder if the curse seemed a bit drastic to any of the disciples.  Was Jesus hungry and became angry when he discovered that his hunger would go unsatisfied?  Obviously, no.  Then why would Jesus stop and curse a fruitless tree?  I believe that particular tree symbolized something He never wants to be true in the life of anyone who chooses to follow Him.  In his curse Jesus seems to be saying, “Don’t be a believer deceiver.”  Don’t be someone who takes great care and effort to give the appearance of a follower (a tree in full leaf), but instead brings shame to God’s name by the way they live.  This tree is a poison to the kingdom Jesus was there to announce.

Without any explanation of His curse, Jesus continues onto Jerusalem with his disciples.  But before we arrive at the temple, I believe it is critically important to note it was not the first time Jesus had been there this week.  As parade day ended, Mark 11:11 records:

And He went into Jerusalem and into the temple complex. After looking around at everything, since it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Sometime in the late afternoon of that joyous day, Jesus purposed a visit to the temple.  The Bible doesn’t describe the scene, but I imagine Him finding a moment to slip away from His disciples and the crowd (He often did this to pray, so there is precedent).  Because His temple visit is not described in any great detail, one might believe Jesus simply took a stroll through, and because it was late, left and went back to Bethany.  But a closer look at the Greek suggests that this “looking around” was anything but a casual stroll.  The Greek word “periblepó” (translated as looking around ) means:

from peri – all around and blepó – look at, gaze on : properly, gaze all-around; closely observe with a sweeping (encompassing) look and with high personal involvement (self-interest).

This is far from casual.  This is intensely observational and personal.

Much time and history had transpired since Solomon was assigned the task of building a fitting house for God.  The temple had since been destroyed and then rebuilt by Herod.  And while it was an architectural marvel, it was a far cry from a house of prayer or dwelling place for the Most High.  To properly set the context, this Monday fell in the midst of the Passover festival, which over time had grown to become quite a spectacle.  Hundreds of thousands of out-of-towners made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and the temple was at the center of the celebration’s bustle.  Passover had become big business.  ”Vendors” packed the temple offering a myriad of services to the Passover pilgrim to “aid” in their celebration.  Before purchasing your Passover lamb, you first had to make a stop at the currency exchange booth, where someone was ready to take your native currency and exchange it for temple coinage (at a profit, of course).  Also, from all I’ve read, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the modern-day equivalents of a t-shirt vendor, carnival game operator and timeshare salesman, all packed within the temple walls, ready to “service” their out-of-town guests.  The once holy and sacred space had, over time, become more of a human institution.  Temple currency was created to generate a profit for those who controlled and exchanged it.  There was an entire enterprise structure built around acquiring a suitable sacrificial animal.  There were merchants, inspectors, priests, and (at every level) corruption that lined the pockets of the privileged few at the expense of those who had little.  It had become the fig tree in full leaf that Jesus “happened upon” in His morning walk to Jerusalem.

Jesus observed it all the evening before. That simple fact changed everything about what I saw as His “temple tantrum.”  Jesus’ actions on Monday were swift and sweeping but meant only to reclaim what belonged to his Father.  Jesus made a mess of the mess that had been made of his Father’s house.  And in the midst of the cleansing, scripture says that Jesus taught and reclaimed the temple as a house of prayer for all nations.

The tree and the temple – one cursed and one reclaimed.  Both are strong and conjoined lessons of God’s hatred for the outward appearance of fruit with no evidence within.  May the events of this day cause us to honestly examine our own lives and allow the Spirit to do any necessary house cleaning.  This week, as we join with our communities of faith and enter our houses of worship to remember and celebrate, may we follow Jesus’ example and “look around.”  What do we see, hear, taste, touch and smell?  Are they houses of prayer where those on the margins are welcome?  Are there some “tables” which need to be purged?

May our fig tree be in full leaf and possess the fruit of a true follower.  May God allow it to be nourishment to someone in need.  What a blessing to walk together in the footsteps of Jesus as He knowingly and willingly walks in the direction of the singular purpose of His earthly life.

2_monday_the tree and the temple


  1. Enjoying your invitation to come along. 🙂

    “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” – to Jerusalem on a donkey…… the temple to cleanse and reclaim – “Walk while you have the light…..” “Put your trust in the light…..” “……become sons of light.”

    “I have come into the world as a light…..”

    “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.”

    Hosanna 🙂

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