Cleansing the Temple – 11th Nissan

Please read Matthew 21:12-19, Mark 11:12-18,
Luke 19:45-48 & John 12:20-43

Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.”
Matthew 21:18-19a LSB

The next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry.  Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if He would find any fruit on it. When He came up to it, He found nothing except leaves, because it wasn’t the season for figs.  And He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening. Mark 11:12-14 TLB

The fig tree has many branches, large leaves, and widely spread boughs. Large, shady fig trees are to be found in Israel, especially on the banks of streams and near springs, and are among the most beautiful trees in the country.  The fig tree sheds its leaves in winter, at the end of which, even before the tree is covered with leaves, the paggim (“early figs,” Song 2:13) begin to develop in the form of small fruits, which are really tiny flowers covered with a soft skin, and which continue to grow and ripen throughout spring and into the summer months. The fruit of the fig tree appears before the leaves in spring, and, because the fruit is green it blends in with the leaves right up until it is almost ripe. This particular tree drew Yeshua’s attention because it already had a full covering of leaves. When Yeshua and His talmidim saw from a distance that the tree was covered in fully formed leaves, they would have expected to see much fruit on closer inspection, even though it was too early in the season for that fruit to be ripe.  

Hosea 9:10 compared the young nation of Israel to bakkurot (“first-ripe figs“, early fruit on a fig tree in its first season), which are delicious and eagerly sought after (Isaiah 28:4Jeremiah 24:2). Fig trees are prolific and will bear two crops of fruit each year. The first crop appears in spring before the leaves. The fruit is green and is inconspicuous among the leaves as they unfold, until the time of ripening which is from about May in Israel. If a fig tree has leaves but no fruit, the tree is barren.

In Israel, the presence of a fruitful fig tree was considered to be a symbol of blessing and prosperity for the nation. Likewise, the absence or death of a fig tree symbolized divine judgment and rejection. This fig tree, covered in lush green leaves but having no fruit hiding among them, represented the barren and empty spiritual state of Israel. It looked vibrant and healthy from a distance, had a magnificent temple of white marble and gold, had an appearance of godliness as Jews from around the world gathered together in Jerusalem and went through ritual purification ceremonies to prepare for the Passover celebration, but still it was fruitless. It wasn’t just that the fruit was immature because it was not yet the season for picking the figs – there was none. This mirrored what Yeshua would find when He arrived in the temple that day – and the cursing of the fig tree reflected His turning over of the money changer’s tables and illustrated His right to do so.

Then Yeshua entered the Temple and drove out all those selling and buying in the Temple. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those selling doves.  And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of thieves’!”
Matthew 21:12-13 TLV

Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He was not permitting anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbers’ den.”
And the chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.
Mark 11:15-18 LSB

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Luke 19:45-46 NIV

There was no fruit of repentance. The fig tree was barren. Yeshua had rebuked the merchants and money changers and chased them out during the days of cleansing before His first Passover after being baptized by Yohanan (Yeshua’s 2nd lesson – Passover – Renewal Blog), but nothing had changed. How He had longed to see evidence of the people’s love of God and honoring of His holiness, but for all their religious practices, all their large, lush show of leaves, there was no fruit. Even now, instead of repenting “the chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him“.

The blind and lame came to Him in the Temple, and He healed them.
But when the ruling kohanim and Torah scholars (chief priests and the scribes) saw the wonders He performed, and the children crying out in the Temple and saying, “Hoshia-na to Ben-David,” (Hosanna to the Son of David) they became indignant. 
And they said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” “Yes,” Yeshua said to them. “Haven’t you ever read,
‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing toddlers
You have prepared praise for Yourself’?”

Matthew 21:14-16 TLV

The blind and the lame came to Yeshua in the temple and He healed them. Yeshua was harsh with those misusing the temple but compassionate with those who came seeking His healing. He had come for the blind and the lame. He had come to give sight and to be the Way men walked. This show of authority followed by healing compassion excited the imagination of the people who were looking for a Messiah who would with authority throw out their Roman overlords and with compassion heal His own people. The children repeated the chorus from the triumphal entry the day before – they knew and enjoyed this song. In response to the indignant rebuke of the ruling kohanim and Torah scholars, Yeshua directed them to one of the Messianic Psalms:

From the mouths of children and infants You have ordained praise
on account of Your adversaries, to silence the enemy and avenger.
When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which You have set in place—
what is man that You are mindful of him,
or the Son of Man that You care for Him?
You made Him a little lower than the angels;
You crowned Him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler of the works of Your hands;
You have placed everything under his feet:
all sheep and oxen, and even the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air and the fish of the sea,

all that swim the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8

All this was taking place in the temple’s “Gentiles Courtyard.” This space for peoples of all nations to come and pray and seek the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob which had been filled with Jews buying and selling all the things the Jews needed for their sacrificial worship beyond the Gate Beautiful.  Temple guards were charged by the chief priests to ensure that any Gentile who attempted to pass from the noisy marketplace of the Gentiles Courtyard into the inner sacred Jewish worship space was immediately killed.

After Yeshua healed all the lame and blind who had come to Him, He passed through the gate into the Jews only section of the temple.

Now there were some Greeks (Gentiles) among those who were going up to worship at the feast.  These came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in the Galilee. “Sir,” they said, “we want to see Yeshua.”  
Philip comes and tells Andrew; Andrew and Philip come and tell Yeshua.

Yeshua answers them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified!  Amen, amen I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.  He who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it forever.  If any man serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there also will My servant be. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
“Now My soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But it was for this reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name!”

Then a voice came out of heaven, “I have glorified it, and again I will glorify it!”

Therefore the crowd that was standing there and heard it was saying that it had thundered. Others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.”

Yeshua responded, “This voice hasn’t come for My sake, but for yours. Now is the judgment of this world! Now the prince of this world will be driven out!  And as I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to Myself.” 

He said this to show the kind of death He was about to die.

The crowd answered Him, “We’ve heard from Scripture that the Messiah remains forever. How can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?”

Therefore Yeshua said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness will not overtake you. The one who walks in darkness doesn’t know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become sons of light.” 
John 12:20-36a TLV

Those who came to Philip were Gentiles, but proselytes to Judaism, and worshippers of the true God, persons who had come to Jerusalem, it seems, for the express purpose of worshipping Him.  It is likely that they had heard of the Messiah, and cherished expectations of His coming: but, being foreigners, they had never seen YeshuaThe same came, therefore, to Philip, which was of Bethsaida — This circumstance is mentioned to show how these men came to apply themselves to Philip. Probably they were Syro-Phœnicians, dwelling about Tyre and Sidon, and who, having commerce with Galilee, might be acquainted with Philip. It appears that Yeshua had already passed from the Court of the Gentiles, through the carefully guarded gate and into the area set aside for Jews to worship, these Gentiles could not pass into there to try to see Him.

Yeshua‘s response appears to be avoiding the question. Instead, He speaks of the hour having come. It was at last the time for Him to be glorified, but this glorification was not what we would think. It would not involve Him being praised and honoured by mankind, but rather being despised, rejected, mocked, beaten and crucified – “falls to the earth and dies“. There was nothing glorious to the natural eyes about death on a cross – it was deliberately designed to be the most shameful, torturous way to die. Yeshua held no illusions about the horrors He was soon to suffer, this would be no easy ride cocooned in God’s grace and peace but raw, overwhelming, unremitting pain and suffering: Now My soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? The only thing glorious about what was to come was His total yielding to the Father’s will, His loving us so much that He laid down His life for us.

Then Yeshua addressed the desire of Gentiles to see Him: Now is the judgment of this world! Now the prince of this world will be driven out!  And as I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to Myself. His salvation was going to be open to all people from all nations. The prince of this world who had blinded the eyes of the peoples to God’s glory was going to be driven out and He would draw all people to Himself.

The Jewish crowd understood what Yeshua meant when He declared that the: The Son of Man must be lifted up, and it utterly confused them. How could He be crucified, how could He die, if Messiah remains forever? He responded by exhorting them to believe in and walk in the light (Himself) while He was still with them, then left the temple area and hid himself from the crowd.

But even though He had performed so many signs before them, they weren’t trusting in Him.  This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet, who said,
“Adonai, who has believed our report?
To whom has the arm of Adonai been revealed?”
For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah also said,
“He has blinded their eyes
     and hardened their hearts,
so they might not see with their eyes
nor understand with their hearts and turn back,
     and I would heal them.”
Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory and spoke of Him.

John 12:37-41 TLV

In quoting from the first verse of Isaiah 53, John is directing our attention to the whole of this Messianic prophesy:

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of Yahweh been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should desire Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our peace fell upon Him,
And by His wounds we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But Yahweh has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living,
That for the transgression of my people, striking was due to Him?
So His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
But Yahweh was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If You would place His soul as a guilt offering,
He will see His seed,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of Yahweh will succeed in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will divide for Him a portion with the many,
And He will divide the spoil with the strong;
Because He poured out His soul to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

Despite all the miracles, including raising Lazareth from the dead, the crowds were not ready to put their trust in a Messiah who was going to suffer and die for them instead of destroying the Romans for them.

Next, He takes us to Isaiah 6:9-13 ESV:

This had been illustrated by Yeshua cursing the fig tree. Jerusalem, and all the Jewish cities, were going to be laid waste and God’s people removed far away. About 33 years after Yeshua‘s death and resurrection a series of large-scale revolts by the Jews of Judaea and the Eastern Mediterranean were launched against the Roman Empire. These are referred to as the Jewish-Roman wars and took place between 66 and 135 AD. The Jewish–Roman wars had a devastating impact on the Jewish people, transforming them from a major population in the Eastern Mediterranean into a dispersed and persecuted minority.  The First Jewish-Roman War culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem, and other towns and villages in Judaea, resulting in significant loss of life and a considerable segment of the population being uprooted or displaced. Those who remained were stripped of any form of political autonomy. Subsequently, the brutal suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt resulted in even more severe consequences. Judea witnessed a significant depopulation, as many Jews were killed, expelled, or sold into slavery. Jews were banned from residing in the vicinity of Jerusalem, which the Romans rebuilt into the pagan colony of Aelia Capitolina, and the province of Judaea was renamed Syria Palaestina. Despite this devastation and destruction, the worst and longest lasting in all Jewish history, God held out the hope to His people that even as the terebinth and oak when cut down retain the principle of vitality in their roots, which will again spring up into a great tree (cf. Job 14:7 ff.), so the ruined Israel would still contain the indestructible germ of the future kingdom of God, the “holy seed” remains wrapped up in it. The people knew this had come to pass in their history, with the Babylonian exile, but an even greater destruction awaited them, yet still not without hope.

Nevertheless many, even among the leaders, put their trust in Him. But because of the Pharisees, they were not confessing Yeshua, so they would not be thrown out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God. John 12:42-43 TLV

Many even of the Sanhedrin believed. We know of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, apparently there were others who remain unnamed. They did not yet, however, have the courage to proclaim their conviction. They did not want to be thrown out and hoped, rather, to change things from within. The Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on them to empower them to stand up to those who threatened dire consequences for anyone who believed. As we will see, even Peter withered under the gaze of Yeshua‘s enemies.

 Yeshua spoke these things, then left and hid Himself from them.
John 12:36 TLV

 When evening came, they left the city. Mark 11:19

Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He spent the night there. Matthew 21:17 TLV

And He was teaching every day in the Temple. The ruling kohanim (priests) and the Torah scholars, even the leaders of the people, were trying to destroy Him;  but they could not find any way to do it, because all the people were hanging on His words. Luke 19:47-48 TLV

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In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* How did the fig tree represent Israel?
* Describe how both the mercy and severity of God was displayed on this day.
* What was Jesus’ response to the suffering He knew He was going to endure?
* How do we respond when suffering unjustly, do you have examples from your own life?
* How do we get the courage to speak boldly of Jesus in the face of persecution?