I. Curses the fig tree and drives sellers from temple (12-19)
II. Pray with faith (20-26)
I. Verses 12-19 Discussion Questions
Why did Jesus “curse” the fig tree? Did He just lose His temper? Was there deeper meaning or a deeper lesson? What does the Bible say about believers, trees, and fruit?
Was this the first time Jesus had driven out the businessmen in the temple?
What does this passage teach us about people?
What does this passage teach us about Jesus' character?
Why did the people do these same things again after the last time Jesus cast them out? If you had to guess, how long after Jesus cast them out the first time do you think they started again?
Why did Jesus prohibit them from doing this? What was the core problem?
How did the chief priests and scribes react? Why do you think they defended this practice instead of condemning it?
What lesson can we learn to apply to our lives today?
Luke 13:6-9 – If the fig tree doesn't bear fruit, cut it down.
John 15:5 – Abide in me and you will bear fruit.
Matthew 7:17 – A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit.
John 2:12-17 – This is the first time Jesus cleansed the temple.
Exodus 30:11-16 – Every man should pay a Jewish coin “half a shekel.”
Leviticus 14:22, Luke 2:24 – Birds were required for sacrifice.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. The fig tree – It is often asked why did Jesus “curse” this fig tree? Was it a careless act of temper? Was He destroying someone’s property? Why would He destroy the tree if it was out of season? We will look at a few of these questions.
A. A curse in the Bible is not the same as we consider a curse. In modern day cursing often involves profanity or anger. In the New Testament a curse was a pronouncement of judgment on someone or something (see also Matthew 25:41). Jesus was using His words to command a miracle which would cause this tree to die.
B. Matthew 21:19 says that this tree was by the wayside. Also, Peter did not rebuke Jesus for destroying someone’s property. It was quite common at that time for travelers to pick fruit from trees that grew beside the road. In fact, one could even pick grain or fruit from other’s fields/orchards, but there is no evidence that this was the case here. Because Jesus is the Son of God, everything belongs to Him. He is sovereign over Creation and has the right to use Creation for His own purposes. That applies to a herd of pigs as in Mark 5:13 or trees, the donkey in the first part of Mark 11 or anything else.
C. Why did Jesus curse the tree when it was “out of season” for fruit? According to scholars, in Palestine the fruit appears before the leaves. When they saw the tree from a distance the natural assumption would be that since it had leaves it also had fruit. This would not be surprising even if it was not the key season for figs because there were often more than one crop per year and sometimes a fig tree could have fruit for as much as ten months per year.
D. We know that the Bible talks a lot about trees and fruit. A fruitless tree is considered to be worthless, deserving nothing except to be cut down. (Luke 13:6-9). While this passage doesn’t specifically mention the symbolism associated with this, many scholars believe that through this event Jesus is pronouncing judgment on Israel (which is sometimes referred to as a fig tree as in Jeremiah 8:13, Hosea 9:10) because it rejected Him and was fruitless spiritually despite all of God’s blessings. One piece of evidence for this is the fact that this passage is mentioned in connection with the cleansing of the temple which is another manifestation of Israel’s “fruitless” status. While I am normally not a fan of reading into the text symbolism or meaning which is not there, in this case it does make some sense. Even if Jesus did not curse the tree to show God’s judgment on Israel for rejecting the Messiah, it still shows that trees are for making fruit and if they don’t have any they should be cut down. The same is true for us. God chose us that we may bear fruit. If we don’t bear fruit, then there is a problem and we deserve the judgment that is coming. Israel too was planted, fertilized, and tended for millennia. And it still didn’t bear fruit. So, it would be judged once again.
2. Cleansing the temple – This was the second cleansing of the temple, the first happening in John 2:12-17. It is clear that the people didn’t learn their lesson. Because of Jesus’ authority and their own guilt and shame, they had reluctantly submitted while He was around the first time. But when He left, they were free once again to fulfill their own desires. And their desire was money, lots of it. Their greed pushed them to ignore their own consciences, Jesus’ instruction, and all common sense of decency and use God’s house as a place for their money making ventures.
3. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. – He had already said the same things before. He had already cleansed the temple before. And yet here they were doing it again. We learn that people are sinful and will easily keep going back to their same bad habits unless their heart has been changed. A relationship with God is not primarily about external behavior. Behavior can be faked. When the right peer pressure or authority is present, a person may appear very contrite and teachable. Yet when that person leaves, they go right back to their sin again. This is what happened in this passage. They hated the light because their deeds were evil. Jesus’ force of authority could demand submission for a period of time, but when He wasn’t there their motivation for doing what was right was gone. Do you do what’s right in front of people and when they are gone fall back into your bad habits? Does your behavior match your heart or are you doing it to please someone? Will you do what you know what is right even if no one is around to catch you for doing wrong?
4. Extreme situations call for extreme measures. Jesus was called a Lamb in other passages. He was gentle and meek, a servant. And yet in this case, decisive action was called for. Jesus could not stand idly by and see what was supposed to be a holy place for worship corrupted with love for the world. His principles demanded action. Only decisive and visible action would have made any different. Imagine if Jesus stood next to these people conducting their business, cleared His throat and said, “Excuse me. Can you do this outside? I really think it’s not very suitable here.” How would the people have reacted? Firstly, they wouldn’t have heard Him because of their commotion. Even if someone did they probably would have ignored them, served their next customer, and kept counting their money. No, a polite “excuse me” wasn’t going to work.
5. We may face situations that call for extreme actions as well. We should remember that Jesus was the authority in the temple since it was actually His house. So we should feel free to take bold action like this IF we are the authority (such as in your home if you are the head of the household, or in church if you are the leader of the church, etc.) For example, maybe a Father needs to confiscate a book, magazine, DVD, or electronic device of his child who is being tempted by it. The point is if you are a leader act like it. Be a leader. Do not allow sinful things to go on and just turn the other way because it is uncomfortable to confront it. If God has placed you in authority somewhere, use your authority as an influence for good. Sometimes if you do, people will think you are the bad guy for spoiling your fun. It doesn’t matter. Do what’s right even if other people are unhappy about it.
6. The leaders were seeking to kill Jesus – These leaders were there everyday and saw what was going on. Why did they do nothing about it? Perhaps they were in on it. If I had to guess I would guess that they received money for turning the other way. We don’t know this, but we do know that they were happy with the status quo and willing to turn the other way and let it go on. When Jesus rocked their boat, they got made. Jesus was also angry, but His anger was a righteous anger. They were mad because they lost a lot of face (and maybe a lot of money). Jesus was making them look bad and they didn’t like it. So what is their solution? Scheme together to kill Jesus.
From my notes on John 2:14-16 “When Jesus saw the temple He found that it was turned into a place of business. People were selling the animals for sacrifice. They had money exchange. Quite simply the temple had become a center of business and profit. The people who were doing this had selfish motivations. They obviously didn’t really care about worshipping God or offering sacrifices to God. They were using God as excuse to make money. They were doing the exact opposite of what Jesus wanted them to do when He told them to render to God the things that are God and to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. They were bringing God down to a low and base level. They should have been going there out of service, worship, and altruistic motives. Instead they were going out of greed, selfishness, and evil desire. James 1:27 says that true religion is visiting orphans and widows in their distress and being unstained by the world. Again, they were doing the exact opposite.
IT IS POSSIBLE TO GO TO CHURCH OR FELLOWSHIP EVERY WEEK WITHOUT TRULY WORSHIPPING GOD! Many people have the exact same problem today. Evangelists, pastors, and missionaries get on TV, radio, or in front of the church and beg for money. They offer products like prayer cloths, holy water, and even prayer of blessings over any product you send them (many years ago the Catholics also sold papers saying that the person who bought it would have their sins forgiven!). Scandal after scandal has broken out where these have been proved to be fake. Duh! The bad reputation of these evangelist money-grabbers has tarnished the reputation of much of the church. However, this thought process has tinkled down to mass numbers of church-goers. Most of these probably wouldn’t admit to going to church for personal gain, but many do nonetheless. You can see it when people ask what they will get because they follow God. Will they be able to pass their coming exam or having a better job? One guy last week repeatedly asked me what physical benefits we could get from following God. To Him, the spiritual side didn’t count for much if anything at all. So what kinds of reasons to people go to “worship” on Sundays?
Social life – People go to church because that is where their friends are. Hey, churches have lots of nice people that go to them and it is easy to make friends there. There are lots of activities around the week to enjoy during one’s free time. This includes trips to amusement parks, bowling, pizza parties, seafood meals, sports games, park parties, etc. Our church even went on a mission trip to Alaska! This is not to say that any of these things are wrong. One can fellowship in these kinds of settings and make an impact on others for Christ. However, it is all too easy to begin going for the fun, food, or friends. Church is not meant to be a club to meet your friends! Are you going to church to worship God and grow or to be with your friends?
Safe feeling – Many others go to church for the feeling of safety that it provides. It makes them feel they are doing well spiritually. Basically they get their assurance of salvation from going to church rather than from faith in God. In this category can be included people who to church so that they won’t feel guilty. Are you going to church because it makes you feel close to God?
Warm feeling – I’ve invited lots of people to church with me for the first time. After they go to church I often ask them what they thought and what they like about it. The most common answer is that they like it because it makes them feel warm. Even many non-Christians have given this answer! They feel comfortable and peaceful when they go to church. Many continue in this state going to church for years without ever really knowing the gospel and it what it means to truly worship God. Are you going to church because it makes you feel peaceful?
Pressure – Another category go to church because their parents or friends put pressure on them to go. They are the ones who go because they “have to.” Are you going to church because you have to?
Pharisaic – Another very common reason for going to church is that it has become an ingrained ritual. We go because “we have always gone” or it’s “what we do on Sundays”. In a way this is good to set a habit. We should not choose not to go to church because we don’t feel like it on a given Sunday. However, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of letting church become and impersonal ritual. Are you g