These small group studies of the gospel of Mark contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Mark 11:12-26 Inductive Bible Study
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.
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 going to church because that is what you do on Sundays?
Psalms 24:3-4. So what is the solution for us to avoid these church-traps? There is no magic trick. We need to have the right attitude and motivation. If you have been going for the wrong reasons confess and ask God to give you right motivation. When you go to church focus on worshipping. Focus on listening to the sermon and growing spiritually. You can try some new things to make church more fresh and personal. Pray on your own during the prayer times. Think deeply about the words of the songs. Make notes and applications about the sermon. Pray beforehand and afterward that God will teach you in that days service. Discuss what you learned with others. Choose one or two points and practice them during the week. Most importantly, remember to go to church for the right reason and don’t think about what you can get out of it. Confess all selfish motivation. Go to worship, learn, grow, and encourage others. Think about what you can give to God and people, not what you can get. John 4:24
1 Timothy 6:5-6.
Also, if the church you go to is not a place where you can truly worship and grow you should think about finding another church.
Another angle to think about this issue from is what if Jesus came to your church and see you there. Would He be happy with your reasons for going and your activities there? What practices and things might He cleanse from your church?
Jesus saw the greedy and selfish business practices going on at what was supposed to be a center of worship (the world religion during the tribulation will also be tied closely with economy). He made a whip and then drove them out of the temple with it! He overturned the tables where people were exchanging money! Wasn’t Jesus gentle? Wasn’t He like a quiet sheep? What was it that set Him off? Quite simply, He was angry.
It is common for us to think that anger is not sin. But this is not so. There are two kinds of anger. The second kind, the sinful kind, is very common to us so we naturally assume that all anger must be bad. This kind of anger stems from selfishness. Someone does something to us that we deem is unfair so we get angry. Someone gossips about us behind our back and we get angry. Somebody steals money, cheats us, lies to us, takes our seat on the subway, cuts in line, fouls us in sports, etc. and we get angry. In all of these cases this is probably a sinful response. We are upset because someone did something to us. They violated our rights! This kind of anger is sin and we should avoid it.
However, the first kind is a righteous or holy anger. This kind of anger is aroused because of injustice and sin. This is the kind of anger Jesus had. He was angry because people were sinning and violating the temple. See also Isaiah 57:16-17. Ephesians 4:26. In Greek this is actually a command to be angry! We are supposed to get angry when we see sin in the world. If we don’t ever have this kind of anger we have some problems. Probably we are too much like the world. Either we are agree with their sinful practices or are apathetic and indifferent. Do you ever experience righteous anger? Describe.
II. Verses 20-26 Discussion Questions
What can we conclude about where they were staying from verses 11,12, 19, and 20?
Why had the tree withered up? Was this a coincidence? Then why had Jesus made the tree wither?
What did He teach His disciples from this situation? What was the key principle here (have faith in God.)
What can learn from verses 23-24? Does this teach us that the answers to pray are up to us believing hard enough? If you just believe hard enough can you get anything you want?
If this is not what it means, what does it mean?
In what kind of situation could you have this kind of faith that a mountain would be moved for you?
How should this passage influence our prayer life?
Some have read passages like this and concluded that it is wrong and a cop-out to pray “if it’s God’s will” as this demonstrates a lack of faith in what we are asking for. What would you say to them?
What does it look like if someone has this kind of faith as they are praying?
What else do we learn about prayer in verse 25? How does how we forgive others affect how God forgives us?
What do you need to do based on these verses?
Matthew 6:10, Mark 14:36 – Pray according to the will of God.
1 John 5:14 – If we pray anything according to His will, He hears us.
Romans 8:26 – When we do not know how to pray the Spirit intercedes for us.
Romans 10:17 – Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (We can only have strong faith if it is based on God’s Word.)
Luke 1:37 – Nothing is impossible with God.
1 Corinthians 2:5 – That your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding…
1. Jesus and His disciples were staying out of the city – Each day they passed in and out. This is why one day Jesus cursed the tree and the next day they saw it. Verse 11 tells us that they were staying in Bethany. Most likely that was with Lazarus and his family.
2. Have faith in God – Here we see the second reason for the cursing of the fig tree. It was an object lesson about faith.
A. The word of faith movement – This movement is the fastest growing segment of professing Christianity. While they rarely use Scripture to support their arguments, if they did, they might refer to this passage. Originally this stemmed from the Pentecostal movement in the late 20th century. Its founder also studied the new age teachings of mind science which taught “name it and claim it.” This group basically believes in a faith-force. Even God is bound by this faith-force. If you believe in something, speak it out and you will receive it. Basically the idea is if you believe in something and pray it God will automatically give it to you. This goes hand in hand with the prosperity gospel. People believe that God will make them wealthy or heal and a physical ailment and expect that because they believe it God will automatically give it to them. In the end this brings God down to man-status and sets up people as God. How would you disprove someone who taught this?
B. Notice that Jesus starts off this passage saying, “Have faith in God.” It is not about believing in yourself. It is not about believing in your own plans and believing what you think should or will happen. The basis of this kind of faith has to be on God. I have said many times before, but how can a person have this type of faith? Only if God already revealed it to you in His Word (Another problem of the word of faith movement is they believe in new revelation outside of Scripture and this is used to validate their faith words.) I could not have faith that a mountain would move unless Scripture said so. The apostles could have this type of faith if Jesus revealed something to them or the Holy Spirit divinely communicated it to them. At that time, Scripture was not complete and God did reveal Himself to His people through encounters, or visions.
C. Have faith in God – Even if God didn’t reveal His plan of action to you in a specific circumstance can you have faith? Surely you can. This doesn’t mean you can know God will heal someone. But you can have faith in God. You can have faith in His character, that He is loving and gracious and merciful and does what is best for us. You can have faith in His sovereign power, that He is completely able to control circumstances to bring about a specific outcome or even supernaturally intervene. We can truly pray with confidence, not because we know that God will always answer “yes” to what we are asking, but because we know who we are praying to. What is the difference between praying with the right kind of faith and praying with doubt?
D. How can you guarantee a “yes” answer? The only way to be sure God will answer “yes” is if you ask Him to do something that you know is His will to do. How can you do that? Simply put, claim God’s promises in prayer. For example, God promises eternal life to those who believe in Him. Believe in God and claim this promise. Jesus promised to come again. Pray for it. God promises to take care of believers who put His kingdom first. Put God first and pray for it. There are many more examples. Psalms says to delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. If you have the right desires because you have a close relationship with God then your desires would be fulfilled. The key is not in finding magic formulas for getting what we want. You are not God. You cannot make God do something you want. The key is instead of wanting what God wants. If you try to make God give you something He doesn’t want to give to you then you will be disappointed, but if instead you make up your mind to pursue God’s will in everything then you will be joyful and content.