Order of events.
Now we find that He cleanses the temple. He did this twice. One cleansing was at the beginning of His ministry and one again at the end of His ministry.
And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting [John 2:14].
They were selling animals and selling doves and changing money. It is quite interesting that they would not accept any kind of money except the temple money there; no other kind could be used or offered. So they had an exchange place, and they made a good profit by making the exchange of coins. When I came back from Venezuela some time ago, I came back with some Venezuelan money that I wanted to get rid of because I couldn’t spend it here. There was an exchange place in the airport, and I went up there and told them that I wanted to change it for American money. Believe me, friend, I didn’t get as much as when I made the trade the other way around; that is, exchanging American money for the Venezuelan money. Now that is the way they did here at the temple, you see.
Why did they have such a system? Why did they do this? Because they were making religion easy. They would take the Roman coinage, which had an effigy of Caesar and the imprint of paganism on it, and they would exchange that for Jewish coinage which could be used in the temple. So they were there for the convenience of the worshipers. Also, they changed large coins into smaller ones. Not only did they make religion easy, but they also made religion cheap. I recognize that we ought not to overemphasize money in the church and should not beg, but I’ll tell you something that is more intolerable than that. Some people treat the church and the cause of Christ as something so cheap that at times it becomes necessary to sound an alarm.
They were also selling animals. There was a lot of traffic in those sacrificial animals. It was work and expense to raise those sheep and oxen, and somebody would have to do it for a price. It was very easy for all this to become a religious racket. Today we have that problem with us also.
And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.
And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up [John 2:15–17].
I tell you, the Lord was rough. There is no question about that. I don’t like the pictures we have of an anemic–looking Christ. The artists don’t seem to realize who He was.
The disciples remembered the verse from Psalm 69:9. This psalm is quoted seventeen times in the New Testament and is one of the six most quoted psalms in the New Testament. It is quoted again in John 15:25 and 19:28–29. The other psalms which are frequently quoted are Psalms 2, 22, 89, 110, and 118.
Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?
Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up [John 2:18–19].
The word that He used for destroy is luo which means “to untie.” He is, of course, referring to His own human body.
Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? [John 2:20].
The temple at that time was Herod’s temple. It was still in the process of being built, and it had already been under construction for forty–six years.
There is a specific use of words in the Greek here that I want you to see. In verses 14 and 15, when it tells of Jesus cleansing the temple, the word used for temple is hieron which refers to the temple as a whole. Specifically, it was the outer court of the temple which Jesus cleansed. The word Jesus uses in verse 19 and the Jews repeat in verse 20 is naos which refers to the inner sanctuary of the temple. This word can also be used in reference to the body as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 6:19 when he says that the holy place today is not a temple made with hands but that our body is the temple (naos) of the Holy Spirit. The Jews were asking the Lord whether He really meant that He would destroy this temple, but, of course, our Lord meant the temple of His body.
But he spake of the temple of his body [John 2:21].
Jesus said that if they destroyed this temple, He would “raise it up.” The word He used was egeiroµ, which John uses five times in his Gospel. Its actual meaning is “to wake up” and, each time the word is used, it refers to awaking from the dead. Paul used the same word in his sermon in Antioch of Pisidia where he used it four times. It refers to the resurrection of Christ, and it refers to the resurrection of believers also. It is used in reference to the restoration to life of Lazarus. It was a “waking up.” That is the picture which we have in this word egeiroµ. That is precisely what He meant when He spoke of the temple of His body. But His disciples didn’t understand that, and it was not until after His resurrection that they recalled it and referred to it.
THE SECOND CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves [Matt. 21:12–13].
That is very strong language, is it not? Now let me call your attention to certain facts regarding the so–called triumphal entry. First of all, I do not think that “triumphal” entry is the proper name for it because, as we have seen, only certain portions of Zechariah’s prophecy were fulfilled. Our Lord came into the city of Jerusalem in order that He might be the Savior. He was making the final public presentation of Himself to the people. When you consider the four Gospel records together, they present a composite picture. The obvious conclusion is that He did not enter the city on only one day but on three separate days.
The first time was on Saturday, the Sabbath Day. There were no money changers on that day, and He looked around and left, “And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve” (Mark 11:11). He entered as Priest.
The second day He entered Jerusalem was on Sunday, the first day of the week. The money changers were there, and He cleansed the temple (vv. 12–13). On this day He entered as King.
The third day He entered Jerusalem was on Monday, the second day of the week. At that time He wept over Jerusalem, then entered the temple and taught and healed (see Luke 19:41–44, 47–48). He entered as a Prophet that day.
As we compare these three records in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it becomes apparent that they record three different entries, and I believe that our Lord entered Jerusalem on three consecutive days and in three consecutive roles—as Priest, as King, as Prophet. And He retired each day to Bethany. Apparently, He did not spend the night in the city until He was arrested.
Remember that the so–called triumphal entry ended at the cross. But He will come the second time in triumph. The writer to the Hebrews puts this together in a wonderful way: “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28). We are told in Zechariah 14:4 that when He comes the next time to this earth, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives—that’s where He will touch down. Then when He enters the city of Jerusalem, that will be the triumphal entry! I cannot call these three entries into Jerusalem triumphal entries because He is on His way to the Cross to die for your sin and my sin.
After the Lord cleansed the temple, many came to Him for help:
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them [Matt. 21:14].
Notice how Matthew emphasizes the fact that multitudes of folk were healed.
And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased [Matt. 21:15].
They resented it.
And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?
And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there [Matt. 21:16–17].
“And he left them” indicates His rejection of the religious leaders.
“And went out of the city into Bethany.” As we have indicated, our Lord did not spend the night in Jerusalem until the night of His arrest. But we find Him coming back into the city the next day. This, I think, is the entry that Luke emphasizes for us, His third and last entry on Monday morning—
THE SCORCHED FIG TREE
Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.
And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away [Matt. 21:18–19].
There has been a great deal of difficulty in attempting to interpret the fig tree incident. I have heard all sorts of ideas about what the fig tree represents. The fig tree, I believe, is symbolic of Israel as in Matthew 24, as we shall see. At least we can say with confidence that when our Lord came into the world, there was no fruit evidenced by the nation of Israel. There were only the outward leaves of a ritualistic, lifeless religion. This the Lord condemned. The nation of Israel went through a religious form, but they had no power. They had turned what God had given them into a dead, lifeless ritual without vitality and virility which no longer was accomplishing God’s purpose. And I am of the opinion that God will deal the same way with the organized church which has turned its back upon the person of Jesus Christ.
Again let me say that I feel His cursing of the fig tree is symbolic. Certainly He condemned the nation of Israel, and the nation suffered devastating judgment in A.D. 70.
And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! [Matt. 21:20].
To them this was an amazing thing.
Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.
And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive [Matt. 21:21–22].
Our Lord is giving them a lesson in prayer, that there should be faith in prayer. They marvel that the fig tree was cursed, and He tells them that their problem is that they do not have faith to believe that God can move in such a miraculous way.
Frankly, I do not believe that our business is cursing fig trees or removing literal mountains. For many years I have lived in Southern California right along the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains. To me they are lovely. I have never grown tired of them. I always enjoy looking at them, and there are never two days when they are alike. In Psalm 121 the psalmist says, “I will (lit., “Shall I …?”) lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help?” I don’t think that he was implying that his help came from the hills, because he added, “My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1–2). Certainly, I do not look to those mountains for help, only for enjoyment, and I have never wanted to move them. I feel that there is something bigger and more important to do than mountain moving and fig tree cursing. To preach the gospel of Christ, to give out the Word of God so that the Spirit of God can use it—that, my friend, is a miracle! When these lips of clay can say something that the Spirit of God can use to transform a life, that involves the kind of faith that I want. What we need is faith to believe that God can and will use His Word.
THE SEARCHING QUESTION
21:18, 19 Returning to Jerusalem in the morning, the Lord came to a fig tree, hoping to find fruit on it to satisfy His hunger. Finding nothing on it but leaves, He said, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.
In Mark’s account (11:12–14) the comment is made that it was not the season for figs. Therefore, His condemning the tree because it had no fruit would seem to picture the Savior as unreasonable and petulant. Knowing this cannot be true, how is this difficulty explained?
Fig trees in Bible lands produced an early, edible fruit before the leaves appeared. This was a harbinger of the regular crop. If no early figs appeared, as in the case of this fig tree, it indicated that there would be no regular figs later on.
This is the only miracle in which Christ cursed rather than blessed—destroyed rather than restored life. This has been raised as a difficulty. Such criticism betrays an ignorance of the Person of Christ. He is God, the Sovereign of the universe. Some of His dealings are mysterious to us, but we must begin with the premise that they are always right. In this case, the Lord knew that the fig tree would never bear figs and He acted as a farmer would in removing a barren tree from his orchard.
Even those who criticize our Lord for cursing the fig tree admit it was a symbolic action. This incident is the Savior’s interpretation of the tumultuous welcome He had just received in Jerusalem. Like the vine and the olive tree, the fig tree represents the nation of Israel. When Jesus came to the nation there were leaves, which speak of profession, but no fruit for God. Jesus was hungry for fruit from the nation.
Because there was no early fruit, He knew there would be no later fruit from that unbelieving people, and so He cursed the fig tree. This prepictured the judgment which would fall on the nation in A.D. 70.
We must remember that while unbelieving Israel will be fruitless forever, a remnant of the nation will return to the Messiah after the Rapture. They will bring forth fruit for Him during the Tribulation and during His Millennial Reign.
Although the primary interpretation of this passage relates to the nation of Israel, it has application to people of all ages who combine high talk and low walk.
21:20–22 When the disciples expressed amazement at the sudden withering of the tree, the Lord told them that they could do greater miracles than this if they had faith. For instance, they could say to a mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” and it would happen. “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
Again we must explain that these seemingly unqualified promises concerning prayer must be understood in light of all that the Bible teaches on the subject. Verse 22 does not mean that any Christian can ask anything he wants and expect to get it. He must pray in accordance with the conditions laid down in the Bible