The Old Testament was packed with promises of God’s return to Israel and people were full of expectation of what that day would be like. Some passages spoke of God defeating enemies and rescuing His people (Zech 14:1-6, 16). Others talk about the sick being healed (Isaiah 35:3-6, 10) and Creation rejoicing (Psalm 96:12-13; 98:8-9) when God returned to dwell in His city (Zech 2:4-12; 8:2-3). Many of the promises focus on the Temple and the Mountain; on God coming to Jerusalem to reign as King.
So when Jesus approached Jerusalem at Passover, speaking and acting in ways that alluded to these prophecies and suggested that he might be the king for whom people had been waiting, the sense of expectation must have been palpable. What was he going to do? Was the true King finally going to take his throne?
As we saw yesterday, Jesus’ initial actions must have been a little confusing. Instead of declaring his intentions, gathering a crowd and seeking to take power, Jesus turned over tables and made some cutting claims about the failure of the Temple system – backed up with the cursing of a fig tree as a prophetic parable. But right in the middle of the story of the fig tree, we read this:
‘In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”’ (Mark 11:20-23)
Why does Jesus make this strange, cryptic statement about mountains being thrown into the sea? And perhaps more importantly, what does it have to do with the cursing of the fig tree and the critique of the temple?
The answer most likely has to do with Jesus’ location. You see, he wasn’t just speaking about mountains and seas in some metaphorical sense, whereby the mountain represents whatever large immovable problem happens to exist in your life! No. He was standing on a mountain – the mountain – God’s holy mountain. The mountain on which God’s Temple was built, to which the prophets expected God Himself to return. And on that exact spot, it was possible to see the Dead Sea right in front of you.
His hearers must have understood that Jesus was not speaking in abstract concepts; he was saying that if someone has the same sort of faith that Jesus did – the faith to speak to a fig tree and see it wither – then they have the power and authority to command this mountain to jump into that sea, and it will be done.
In other words, Jesus was again issuing a clear and firm warning that the Temple’s days were numbered. This mountain, and all it represented, had failed to live up to the purposes for which God intended it. It was meant to be a place of purity, but it had become a place of corruption; it should have been a house of prayer for all nations, but the non-Jewish nations were being excluded; it should have been led by righteous leaders, but the current leaders were restrictive, self-centred and immoral.
Around 550 years previously the prophet Zechariah made an astonishing prediction. He declared that the day of the LORD was coming, when God’s own feet would stand on the Mount of Olives, the mountain would be split in two and the separate parts would shift to the north and south. On that day, the Lord would be declared king over the whole earth (Zechariah 14:1, 4, 9-10). Here in Mark 11 we see more or less that happening; God Himself standing on a mountain declaring that it would be broken up and relocated, because he was coming to take his rightful place as the world’s true King.
The irony is, in Zechariah the destruction was only meant to come as far as the Temple Mount and no further. Jerusalem and its temple were meant to have been spared (v11). But here and in the surrounding passages Jesus declares that the Temple system has failed and even this mountain would not escape destruction.
I think the reason for the change is this: The purposes for which the Temple had been created were being fulfilled in a brand new way. Jesus could only claim that the Temple was being made obsolete because he believed it was being replaced by something even better. Now the place where God and man could meet, where forgiveness could be found, where healing could be obtained, where all nations could be accepted, where there was total purity and perfect priestly leadership, was not in a building on a hill, but in the person of Jesus. Jesus knew that his body was to take the place of the Temple, and that in just a few days time it was to be destroyed and then raised up again (John 2:19-22).
As he put it to the Pharisees, who were baffled by his radical claims, ‘I tell you, something greater than the Temple is here.’ (Matthew 12:6)
Questions for Reflection
- If Jesus is the true Temple, and forgiveness and relationship with God can be found in him rather than through journeying to a particular building at a particular place, what are the implications for the way you can experience relationship with God in your day-to-day life?
- Are you aware of God’s presence with you in all of your life? What disciplines or habits could you cultivate that would help you deepen your daily relationship with Him?
Why not use the following to help you to pray today:
Lord Jesus, thank you that you are the new Temple; the place where we can meet God and where we can receive forgiveness. Thank you that your plans are not restricted to a single nation at a single point in history; but you want all people to come to know you personally. Thank you that through your sacrifice we are forgiven and drawn into relationship with God, and we ask that you would reign as King in our lives. Amen
If you find yourself with some extra time today why not read the rest of Zechariah 14 and reflect on how the chapter is fulfilled through Jesus. You may want to compare it with John 7-8, and this talk on Jesus’ claim to be The Light of the World may be helpful.
You might also want to read this post, Return of the King, which looks at Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem as a declaration of his kingship.
Join us for one of our meetings over Easter:
Friday 18 April – Good Friday. 11.00-12.15. The Swiss Church, Covent Garden, WC2H 9DY
Sunday 20 April – Easter Sunday. 11.00-12.30. The Mermaid Theatre, EC4V 3DB
Image: Dead Sea by NasaMarshall, used under CC