Suggested Reading : Mark 11:12-19
Tensions are extremely high between Jesus and the religious leaders. During the feast of dedication in Jerusalem, months before the Passover, we find a pointed question from the Jews, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24). To which Jesus answers, “I told you and you did not believe; because you are not of my sheep… the works I do in my Father’s name testify about me...”
This wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last deity claim of Jesus. And when He said it, the people pick up stones to kill Him. Had Jesus not been the Son of God, this would have been the right response. It was the law. But He actually was the Son of God, and that’s His defense as they stand clutching stones before Him (v. 37, 38). He escapes (somehow) and travels over 100 miles from Jerusalem to Nazareth beyond the Jordan. And here He stays doing ministry while the plots to kill Him continue. Even the disciples knew of these plans, which is why they resign themselves to death (11:16) when Jesus says they will return to Judea.
What prompted His return?
Lazarus died. And his miraculous resurrection, perhaps more than any other miracle, initiates the final push to kill Jesus. And not just Him, but Lazarus too (John 12:10,11), “for on account of him many were believing in Jesus.” So,“from that day on, they planned together to kill Him” (11:53), because, “if we let Him go on like this [performing many signs] everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will take away our Temple and our Nation (11:48).” Jesus leaves and goes to a region near the wilderness until the ‘appointed” time.
That ‘appointed time,’ starts with what the Church now calls, Holy Week, the culmination of Lent. After raising Lazarus from the dead, some believe but some notify the religious leaders. In response, Jesus withdraws from the public and stays 14 miles outside Jerusalem in a place called Ephraim while the rest of the Jews begin their yearly pilgrimage to the Temple for the Passover. During the Passover, sacrifices would be made to cleanse, purify, and forgive sin. And in the sacrificial system, this was the one and only way to be reconciled to God. Every Jew, no matter where they lived, would return. The city would swell 4 to 6 times it’s usual population, and the people would stay in tents spreading to all the surrounding cities so that they might come, daily, to the Temple.
All of them wanted to see Jesus. They had heard the story of Lazarus and were wondering what that kind of power would mean for the nation. They hoped it would mean liberation from Rome, and that’s just what the religious leaders meant to prevent. So they issue orders that anyone knowing where Jesus was should report it to them that they might seize Him. This only heightened the expectation of the people from the greatest to the least. Even a blind beggar on the Jericho road, upon hearing Jesus is near calls out, “Son of David, have mercy on me (Lk. 18:38). Do you see that? Not only does this title honor Jesus as a Jew of Jews, but it reinforces His legitimate lineage through King David.
Not only does Jesus have mercy, He heals the beggar, Bartimas, so he might see. And Jesus longed to do the same with all of Israel so they might recognize their time of visitation. Prophets foretold what began to unfold. Jesus arrives in Bethany at the home of Lazarus, 2 miles outside Jerusalem and sends two disciples ahead to bring back a colt for Him to ride (Zech. 9:9). And the people, hearing Jesus is coming, go to meet Him, spontaneously, celebrating Him as they would a victorious King overtaking a conquered city. And they continue even as He enters the Temple.
The religious rulers, there, are outraged and demand Jesus stop the people. But He refuses, saying creation itself would cry out if the people were forced to stop. And as He looks out over the people He came to save, He weeps. He knows the King they want is not the King He is. He is different. He is better. He is more.
But being that it is late, He returns to Bethany for the night (Mk. 11:11). And the next morning, we find the curious story of the fig tree, our focus for today. Jesus; hungry, walks up to the not-in-season fig tree and finding it barren curses it. It dies. And, this is a pretty intense Jesus. But this act is more than meets the eye. Figs, the fruit of the Fig tree, were a biblical/historical symbol of wealth, provision, abundance, safety, security, even prosperity for Israel.
As early as 12 years old, we see Jesus course-correcting these wayward people through the scriptures that point only to Him. He didn’t “abolish the old systems.” He came to fulfill. He came to reconcile us back to God. His life showed us exactly what Life looks like when that reconciliation occurs — it’s the life we were created to know in the garden before sin. And the rescue plan included a people, the Jews; blessed to be a blessing so the whole world might be saved.
In spite of the three years of signs and miracles, like the blind man or Lazarus’ resurrection, ultimately, the Jews reject their Messiah. And Jesus knew it long before the shouts of “crucify” were ever on their lips. He knew it when they celebrated Him as King, and He knew it months before when they tried to stone Him. Just as the fig tree failed to bear fruit, so did Israel. Their purpose was to know God and make Him known in the whole earth; only when He actually came as promised, they were too blind to see it.
Before we spend too much time judging them, the better path would be to recognize our own human tendency to overlook the ways God is steadily revealing Himself. That’s what you see in the story of Jesus even on the last days before the cross. Knowing what’s at stake, Jesus still raises Lazarus from the dead. Knowing the orders for His arrest are commonly known, he heals a vulnerable beggar on the way into the city. What kind of man is this? What kind of King?
Today, read through the stories of Jesus. Let the Holy Spirit open your eyes to see Him as He really is. Remember and See what you may have been blind to before.