Jesus the Hotheaded?
There seems to be some concern regarding Jesus’ temperament. This comes from Mark 11:12-14. Jesus curses a fig tree for not having fruit even though it wasn’t the season for figs. Jesus the hotheaded! Why would anyone want to follow someone like that?
While it may be simple to read these three verses and come to this conclusion, it would be rash and reckless to do so. As is true with every part of scripture, we cannot make suppositions based on a single verse. We must always read the verse in context.
Mark does something throughout his gospel: he intertwines two narratives to make a point. In essence, he takes an account and breaks it into two parts. In between these two parts, he inserts another account that helps him make his point.
This is what Mark is doing in chapter 11:12-21.
Mark 11:12-14 is only the first part of the narrative. Mark 11:20-21 concludes the narrative. Between these verses, Mark 11:15-19, he intercalates the account of Jesus driving out the money changers from the Temple court.
Jesus Curses the Fig Tree
So why does Mark do this? What is he trying to teach us? Let’s go through it and see what he’s doing.
On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening. – Mark 11:12-14
First, Mark tells us about Jesus running into a fig tree that has no fruit. The disciples aren’t too surprised at this because they know that the season for figs has not yet arrived. It’s like looking for apples on a tree in April: the tree itself might look healthy and full of leaves, but no ripe apples will be found on it until the fall arrives.
Yet, even though it is not the season for figs, Jesus seems to become irritated and curses the tree. We’ve all experienced that “hangry” moment, when we get angry because we’re hungry. Is this what Jesus is doing? Is Jesus really like Marsha Brady needing a Snickers Bar? Of course not.
Jesus Drives out the Money Changers
At this point in Mark’s narrative, he moves us to the account of Jesus in the Temple.
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 would not permit 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.” 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. When evening came, they would go out of the city. – Mark 11:15-19
So if we didn’t know better, we would think Jesus, hankering for something to eat, now takes his frustrations out on the poor money changers. What just happened?
Jesus enters into the Temple courts and finds what he finds every time he has gone to Jerusalem for the Passover: money changers and vendors selling sacrificial animals. Who are these people and why are they there?
Since the world was under Roman rule, the currency of the Empire was Roman currency. In the next chapter of Mark, we will see an example of this when the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking him a trick question about paying taxes to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17).The coin they give Jesus was probably a denarius, which was the equivalent to a day’s wages.
However, when it came to paying the Temple tax or purchasing the perfect animal for the Passover sacrifice, it must be done using Shekels. Enter the money changers.
Why Jesus gets so Angry
Meanwhile, according to God’s command, the Passover sacrifice needed to be perfect, unblemished. Since most of the Jews would have had to travel a good distance to sacrifice the Passover lamb at the Temple in Jerusalem, it would have been impossible to bring an animal and hope that it was still without blemish after the trip.
The workaround was to purchase the perfect sacrifice once you arrived at the Temple.
The problem was that these merchants knew they had a captive market, and like the price of a hot dog at a baseball game, the cost was exorbitant. Additionally, the money changers, knowing they had the same advantage, would charge an excessive fee for exchanging the currency.
Now we can see why the Son of Man was so angry. God had commanded His people to offer a perfect sacrifice at the Passover. The Jewish leaders were renting out booths to vendors and money changers. These hucksters were taking advantage of their own people who were simply trying to be faithful to God. It’s most probable that the Temple (i.e.: the Jewish leadership) was taking a percentage of the profits as well.
Jesus says, “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.”
The Fig Tree – Part Two
The next day, Jesus comes across the fig tree.
As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.” – Mark 11:20-21
Here we see the result of what Jesus did. He had cursed the fig tree and we see that it has withered. So, is Mark’s point that Jesus the hotheaded killed a fig tree?
Not at all.
Mark has put the account of Jesus’ rebuke against the Jewish leadership within the narrative of the cursed fig tree. He has made a bold point: The Jewish leadership is the fig tree!
Mark is teaching us that Jesus has actually cursed the religion of the Jewish leadership. Jesus crushed this religion earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:20). Jesus taught that if our righteousness does not surpass that of the Pharisees and the scribes (teachers of the scriptures), we could not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus was teaching us about a religion that looks great on the outside. Everything is pure and clean and white, just like whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27-28). But like these tombs, these religions are dead on the inside. The fig tree looked great on the outside, but there was no fruit. The fig tree represented this dead Jewish religion that the leaders were forcing on the people.
A Lesson for our Day
Less than 40-years after Jesus cursed the fig tree, the Roman army came in and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. Since that day, the Jewish people have no place to perform their sacrifices. They long for the day they can return to the sacrificial worship prescribed in the scriptures.
That day is coming. The scriptures teach that the sacrifice will return and that all nations will participate in the sacrificial worship (Isaiah 56:6-7, Zechariah 14:16,21).
But what about the Church today? When you look around, can you tell the Christians from those of the world? Has the Church developed a type of dead religion? Is Christianity all about Sunday, the building where we gather and the number of people or ministries?
All the while, where is God in the life of these people throughout the week? In the office and the marketplace?
We must be careful that we are not living a faith like that of the Pharisees and Scribes. We must be careful that our faith is not all pretty leaves but no fruit. Otherwise, Jesus curses our faith and our religion.
However, when we are living lives alienated from the world, we transform our minds (Romans 12:2) and we have a pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27).
 Did you catch it? The day before, Jesus is overturning the tables of the money changers because the Jewish leaders insist that only shekels be used, but the Pharisees have a Roman denarius in their pocket. Can someone say hypocrite? (Matthew 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27)