The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE CROSS AND THE CROWN
THE SECOND DAY IN PASSION-WEEK
THE BARREN FIG-TREE
THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE
THE HOSANNA OF THE CHILDREN
(St. Matthew 21:12-22; St. Mark 11:15-26; St.
How the King of Israel spent the night after the triumphal
Entry into His City and Temple, we may venture reverently to infer. His royal
banquet would be fellowship with the disciples. We know how often His nights
had been spent in lonely prayer,1
and surely it is not too bold to associate such thoughts with the first night
in Passion week. Thus, also, we can most readily account for that exhaustion
and faintness of hunger, which next morning made Him seek fruit on the fig-tree
on His way to the City.
Mark i. 35; St. Luke v.16; St. Matt. xiv. 23; St. Luke vi. 12; ix. 28.
It was very early2
on the morning of the second day in Passion-week (Monday), when Jesus, with his
disciples, left Bethany. In the fresh, crisp, spring air, after the exhaustion
of that night, 'He hungered.' By the roadside, as so often in the East, a
grew in the rocky soil. It must have stood on an eminence, where it caught the
sunshine and warmth, for He saw it 'afar off,'4
and though spring had but lately wooed nature into life, it stood out, with its
wide-spreading mantle of green, against the sky. 'It was not the season of
figs,' but the tree, covered with leaves, attracted His attention. It might have
been, that they hid some of the fruit which hung through the winter, or else
the springing fruits of the new crop. For it is a well-known fact, that in
Palestine 'the fruit appears before the leaves,'5
and that this fig-tree, whether from its exposure or soil, was precocious, is
evident from the fact that it was in leaf, which is quite unusual at that
season on the Mount of Olives,6
The old fruit would, of course, have been edible, and in regard to the unripe
fruit we have the distinct evidence of the Mishnah,7
confirmed by the Talmud,8
that the unripe fruit was eaten, so soon as it began to assume a red colour -
as it is expressed, 'in the field, with bread,' or, as we understand it, by
those whom hunger overtook in the fields, whether working or travelling. But in
the present case there was neither old nor new fruit, 'but leaves only.' It was
evidently a barren fig-tree, cumbering the ground, and to be hewn down. Our
mind almost instinctively reverts to the Parable of the Barren Fig-tree, which
He had so lately spoken.9
To Him, Who but yesterday had wept over the Jerusalem that knew not the day of
its visitation, and over which the sharp axe of judgment was already lifted,
this fig-tree, with its luxuriant mantle of leaves, must have recalled, with
pictorial vividness, the scene of the previous day. Israel was that barren
fig-tree; and the leaves only covered their nakedness, as erst they had that of
our first parents after their Fall. And the judgment, symbolically spoken in
the Parable, must be symbolically executed in this leafy fig-tree, barren when
searched for fruit by the Master. It seems almost an inward necessity, not only
symbolically but really also, that Christ's Word should have laid it low. We
cannot conceive that any other should have eaten of it after the hungering
Christ had in vain sought fruit thereon. We cannot conceive that anything
should resist Christ, and not be swept away. We cannot conceive, that the
reality of what He had taught should not, when occasion came, be visibly placed
before the eyes of the disciples. Lastly, we seem to feel (with Bengel)
that, as always, the manifestation of His true Humanity, in hunger, should be
accompanied by that of His Divinity, in the power of His Word of judgment.10
2. prwi, used of the last night-watch in
St. Mark i. 35.
3. idwn sukhn mian, a single tree.
Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 352.
the fig-tree generally, see the remarks on the Parable of the Barren Fig-tree,
Book IV. ch. xvi.
Shebh. 35 b, last lines.
Luke xiii. 6-9.
St. John xi. 35-44.
With St. Matthew, who, for the sake of continuity, relates this
incident after the events of that day (the Monday) and immediately before those
of the next,11
we anticipate what was only witnessed on the morrow.12
As St. Matthew has it: on Christ's Word the fig-tree immediately withered away.
But according to the more detailed account of St. Mark, it was only next
morning, when they again passed by, that they noticed the fig-tree had withered
from its very roots. The spectacle attracted their attention, and vividly
recalled the Words of Christ, to which, on the previous day, they had, perhaps,
scarcely attached sufficient importance. And it was the suddenness and
completeness of the judgment that had been denounced, which now struck Peter,
rather than its symbolic meaning. It was rather the Miracle than its moral and
spiritual import - the storm and earthquake rather than the still small Voice -
which impressed the disciples. Besides, the words of Peter are at least capable
of this interpretation, that the fig-tree had withered in consequence of,
rather than by the Word of Christ. But He ever leads His own from mere
wonderment at the Miraculous up to that which is higher.13
His answer now combined all that they needed to learn. It pointed to the
typical lesson of what had taken place: the need of realising, simple faith,
the absence of which was the cause of Israel's leafy barrenness, and which, if
present and active, could accomplish all, however impossible it might seem by
And yet it was only to 'have faith in God;' such faith as becomes those who
know God; a faith in God, which seeks not and has not its foundation in
anything outward, but rests on Him alone. To one who 'shall not doubt in his
heart, but shall believe that what he saith cometh to pass, it shall be to
him.'15 And this
general principle of the Kingdom, which to the devout and reverent believer
needs neither explanation nor limitation, received its further application,
specially to the Apostles in their coming need: 'Therefore I say unto you,
whatsoever things, praying, ye ask for, believe that ye have received them
[not, in the counsel of God,16
but actually, in answer to the prayer of faith], and it shall be to you.'
Matt. xxi. 18. 22.
Mark xi. 20.
remind the reader, that the expression 'rooting up mountains' is in common
Rabbinic use as a hyperbole for doing the impossible or the incredible. For the
former, see Babha B. 3 b (yrw+ rq(); for the latter (Myrh rqw() Ber. 64 a;
Sanh. 24 a; Horay. 14 a.
other words are spurious.
These two things follow: faith gives absolute power in prayer,
but it is also its moral condition. None other than this is faith; and none
other than faith - absolute, simple, trustful - gives glory to God, or has the
promise. This is, so to speak, the New Testament application of the first Table
of the Law, summed up in the 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.' But there is
yet another moral condition of prayer closely connected with the first - a New
Testament application of the second Table of the Law, summed up in the 'Thou
shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.' If the first moral condition was
God-ward, the second is man-ward; if the first bound us to faith, the second
binds us to charity, while hope, the expectancy of answered prayer, is the link
connecting the two. Prayer, unlimited in its possibilities, stands midway
between heaven and earth; with one hand it reaches up to heaven, with the other
down to earth; in it, faith prepares to receive, what charity is ready to
dispense. He who so prays believes in God and loves man; such prayer is not
selfish, self-seeking, self-conscious; least of all, is it compatible with
mindfulness of wrongs, or an unforgiving spirit. This, then, is the second
condition of prayer, and not only of such all-prevailing prayer, but even of
personal acceptance in prayer. We can, therefore, have no doubt that St. Mark
correctly reports in this connection this as the condition which the Lord
attaches to acceptance, that we previously put away all uncharitableness.1718
We remember, that the promise had a special application to the Apostles
and early disciples; we also remember, how difficult to them was the
thought of full forgiveness of offenders and persecutors;19
and again, how great the temptation to avenge wrongs and to wield miraculous
power in the vindication of their authority.20
In these circumstances Peter and his fellow-disciples, when assured of the
unlimited power of the prayer of faith, required all the more to be both
reminded and warned of this as its second moral condition: the need of hearty
forgiveness, if they had aught against any.
Mark xi. 25.
26 is in all probability a spurious addition.
Matt. xviii. 21, 22.
Luke ix. 52-56.
From this digression we return to the events of that second day
in Passion-week (the Monday), which began with the symbolic judgment on the
leafy, barren fig-tree. The same symbolism of judgment was to be immediately
set forth still more clearly, and that in the Temple itself. On the previous afternoon,
when Christ had come to it, the services were probably over, and the Sanctuary
comparatively empty of worshippers and of those who there carried on their
traffic. When treating of the first cleansing of the Temple, at the beginning
of Christ's Ministry, sufficient has been said to explain the character and
mode of that nefarious traffic, the profits of which went to the leaders of the
priesthood, as also how popular indignation was roused alike against this trade
and the traders. We need not here recall the words of Christ; Jewish
authorities sufficiently describe, in even stronger terms, this transformation
of 'the House of Prayer' into 'a den of robbers.'21
If, when beginning to do the 'business' of His Father, and for the first time
publicly presenting Himself with Messianic claim, it was fitting He should take
such authority, and first 'cleanse the Temple' of the nefarious intruders who,
under the guise of being God's chief priests, made His House one of traffic,
much more was this appropriate now, at the close of His Work, when, as King, He
had entered His City, and publicly claimed authority. At the first it had been
for teaching and warning, now it was in symbolic judgment; what and as He then
began, that and so He now finished. Accordingly, as we compare the words, and
even some of the acts, of the first 'cleansing' with those accompanying and
explaining the second, we find the latter, we shall not say, much more severe,
but bearing a different character - that of final judicial sentence.22
grounds on which this second has to be distinguished from the first cleansing
of the Temple, which is recorded only by St. John (ii. 13-23) have been
explained on a previous occasion. They are stated in most commentaries, though
perhaps not always satisfactorily. But intelligent readers can have no
difficulty in gathering them for themselves. The difficulty lies not in the two
purifications, nor yet in the silence of the Synoptists as to the first, since
the early Jerusalem Ministry lay not within the scope of their narratives, but
in the silence of the Fourth Gospel in regard to the second purification. But
here we would remark that, less than any of the others, is the Fourth Gospel a history
or successive narration; but, if we may so say, historical dogmatics - the Logos
in the historical manifestation of His Person and Work. If so, the first
included the second purification of the Temple. Again, to have introduced it,
or the cursing of the fig-tree, would have been to break up the course, and mar
the symmetry of the narrative (St. John xii.), which presents in successive and
deepening shading the attestation of the Christ: at the Supper of Bethany, on
His Entry into Jerusalem, before the Greeks in the Temple, by the Voice from
Heaven before His gainsayers, and to his disciples.
Nor did the Temple-authorities now, as on the former occasion,
seek to raise the populace against Him, or challenge His authority by demanding
the warrant of 'a sign.' The contest had reached quite another stage. They
heard what He said in their condemnation, and with bitter hatred in their
hearts sought for some means to destroy Him. But fear of the people restrained
their violence. For, marvellous indeed was the power which He wielded. With
rapt attention the people hung entranced on his lips,23
'astonished' at those new and blessed truths which dropped from them. All was
so other than it had been! By His authority the Temple was cleansed of the
unholy, thievish traffic which a corrupt priesthood carried on, and so, for the
time, restored to the solemn Service of God; and that purified House now became
the scene of Christ's teaching, when He spake those words of blessed truth and
of comfort concerning the Father - thus truly realising the prophetic promise
of 'a House of Prayer for all the nations.'24
And as those traffickers were driven from the Temple, and He spake, there
flocked in from porches and Temple-Mount the poor sufferers - the blind and the
lame - to get healing to body and soul. It was truly spring-time in that
Temple, and the boys that gathered about their fathers and looked in turn from
their faces of rapt wonderment and enthusiasm to the Godlike Face of the
Christ, and then on those healed sufferers, took up the echoes of the welcome
at His entrance into Jerusalem - in their simplicity understanding and applying
them better - as they burst into 'Hosanna to the Son of David.'
It rang through the courts and porches of the Temple, this
Children's Hosanna. They heard it, whom the wonders He had spoken and done, so
far from leading to repentance and faith, had only filled with indignation.
Once more in their impotent anger they sought, as the Pharisees had done on the
day of His Entry, by a hypocritical appeal to His reverence for God, not only
to mislead, and so to use His very love of the truth against the truth, but to
betray Him into silencing those Children's Voices. But the undimmed mirror of
His soul only reflected the light.25
These Children's Voices were Angels' Echoes, echoes of the far-off praises of
heaven, which children's souls had caught and children's lips welled forth. Not
from the great, the wise, nor the learned, but 'out of the mouth of babes and
sucklings' has He 'perfected praise.'26
And this, also, is the Music of the Gospel.
may here note, once for all, that the manner of answering used by Christ, that
of answering a question by putting another in which the answer appeared with
irresistible force. was very common among the Jews (rbd Kwtm rbd by#m). Another mode was
by an allegory - whether of word or action.
in the LXX., rightly giving the sense; in the original 'strength.' It is
perhaps one of the grandest of the grand contrasts in the Psalms: God opposing
and appeasing His enemies, not by a display of power, as they understand it,
but by the mouth of young boys [such is the proper rendering] and sucklings.
The Eternal of Hosts has these for His armourbearers, and needs none other. The
ancient Synagogue, somewhat realistically, yet with a basis of higher truth,
declared (in the Haggadah), that at the Red Sea little children, even the babes
in the womb, had joined in Israel's song of triumph, so fulfilling this saying
of the Psalmist.