The Week That Changed the World: Part 2

On Monday, as Jesus and His disciples were returning to Jerusalem, He was hungry. Spotting a fig tree, He walked towards the tree hoping for the first century equivalent of a “fast food” breakfast. When He reached the tree, there was nothing on it but leaves.

According to the ESV Study Bible, the fruit of a fig tree usually appeared around the same time as the leaves (or just a little after). The appearance of leaves in full bloom should have indicated that fruit — in the form of new figs — were already growing on the tree. Instead, the “fig tree” was barren.  

The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it. —Mark 11:12-14 NLT

Mark’s gives us this little insight, “…it was not the season for figs…” (11:13). But a fig tree with leaves was “advertising” fruit. As Daniel Akin in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark writes, this tree was saying, “Come to me. Others may be barren, but not me. I have [some] fruit for you.” [1]

The tree looked good, but it was empty. It was barren.  It had failed its purpose in providing food for a hungry world. 

What’s somewhat stunning to most readers is the fact that Jesus was upset! He immediately spoke to the tree, “No more figs from this tree… Ever!” (Matthew 21:19 MSG) 

Matthew’s gospel condenses the event. Mark’s gospel gives us the chronological order of everything that happened. Fast forward ahead 24 hours, and the next day the fig tree had completely withered. The disciples were blown away by the power of Jesus’ word and the swiftness of His judgment (Mk 11:20). 

For some, this story can appear somewhat odd. I mean, what’s going on in this passage and with this story? Why was Jesus so upset that He cursed an ordinary fig tree? 

According to scholar, Andres Kostenberger, “Israel is often characterized as a fig tree in the Old Testament (Jer 8:13; Hos 9:10, 16; Joel 1:7), and Jesus’s cursing the fig tree symbolized God’s judgment upon a nation that had the outward appearance of life, but failed to bear fruit.” [2]

I believe this episode in the life of Jesus is also a revelation of God’s heart when it comes to hypocrisy — of God’s heart when it comes to those who have the appearance that they’re bearing fruit, but upon closer inspection, it’s all for show.

The heart of God and the expectation of Jesus is that we bear fruit. In fact, God’s first command was for us to, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:22). 

According to Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola when God gave us that command He was simply calling upon us to “reflect His nature. He is fruitful and multiplies” and He longs for us to do the same! [3]

In Luke 13:6-9 Jesus shared a story about a farmer and fig tree that illustrates God’s expectation for His people… 

     6 Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’

   “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’” —Lk 13:6-9 NLT

The point of Jesus’ story? God’s expectation is that we produce fruit. 

In His grace, He gives us chance after chance, providing “special attention” and fertilizer. But make no mistake, a day of reckoning is coming, and God’s expectation is that I produce fruit. 

1. The FRUIT God expects involves the CHARACTER and QUALITY of my life.

Galatians 5:22-23 describes it like this: 

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. 
—Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

A good question to regularly ask yourself is: “Am I becoming more and more like Jesus in my attitudes and my actions? Is my character becoming more and more like Christ?”

2. The fruit also involves the IMPACT of my life.

In other words… Am I actively leading the people God allows me to rub shoulders with and do life with into a personal relationship with Jesus? Am I being intentional and proactive in sharing my faith with the people God has placed in my life? 

On Monday Jesus saw a fig tree that had the appearance of fruit but was barren. He cursed it. By Tuesday, the tree had completely withered…

The message? If you’re advertising fruit, make certain your ad is legit. In sales terminology, “Under promise and over deliver.” But whatever you do, don’t con yourself into believing you can look the part and lack the substance and get by with God. It didn’t work back then. It still doesn’t work today. 

God’s expectation is always fruit and always fruitfulness. 

*  *  *  *  *

The action on Monday began with Jesus cursing a fig tree. “No more figs from this tree… Ever!” (Matthew 21:19 MSG). But it didn’t stop there. 

With the events of Sunday and last week still fresh on everyone’s minds, speculation must have mounted as to what Jesus would do next? 

People didn’t have to guess for long. Jesus marched straight back into the temple. He knew what He would find. After all, He had just been there the evening before. 

12 Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”
Matthew 21:12-13 NLT

18 When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching. —Mark 11:18 NLT

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. 15 The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.” But the leaders were indignant. 16 They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” “Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’[b]” 17 Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight. —Matthew 21:14-17 NLT

Merchants and money changers had set up shop in the temple complex, selling sacrificial animals for anyone coming to worship. 

Many believe that Annas, the former high priest and his sons had grown incredibly wealthy at the expense of the people who came to worship God. 

According to one commentary, Annas basically took over an area of the temple known as the Court of the Gentiles where everyone was allowed entrance, and he transformed into an over-crowded market that had come to be known as the “Bazaar of Annas.” [4]

There were a few problems with what was taking place. 

FIRST of all, the Court of the Gentiles was already a relatively small area. Setting up the equivalent of a “spiritual flea market” in this area made it even more difficult for people who already felt like they were on the “outside” to know they mattered to the God and the people they viewed as “on the inside.” 

In the first century, the Temple had several divisions. 

Closest to the Holy of Holies — near the inner court or the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place — was the court of the Priests. Only priests were allowed to enter this area of the temple. 

Next to that, was the court of the Israelites. Only Jewish men were allowed to enter this section. 

Separated by several steps was what was known as the court of women. This was as far as a Jewish woman could enter into the temple complex. It was as close as she could get to the most Holy Place.  

Then, there was the court of the Gentles. This was as far as a non-Jewish person was allowed to go. 

In fact, the court of the Gentles and the rest of the temple was divided by a literal wall of separation. 

The historian Josephus tells us that attached to that barrier or wall at various intervals were signs that marked the boundaries for Gentiles when it came to worship. Archeologists have even discovered an inscription that marked this wall that read as follows:

“No foreigner may enter within this barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” —Inscription on Temple

Can you imagine that in 2021? “Welcome to church! We’re glad you’re here. Cross this line and YOU DIE.” 

Yeah! The temple was NOT “seeker friendly” at all!

This is the area that had evidently been turned into some kind of religious garage sale. 

When Jesus saw all these divisions, separations, exclusions and the spiritual shakedowns taking place He had had enough! 

This is the way the episode reads in The Message. 

“Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:

‘My house was designated a house of prayer;
You have made it a hangout for thieves.’

Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.” —Matthew 21:12-14 MSG

Jesus’ overturning the tables of those selling goods in the temple, wasn’t simply a protest against the commercialism of the temple. It was more than that! By driving out those who were buying and selling temple sacrifices, He effectively brought what had went on in the temple for centuries to a screeching halt for the next several hours. 

Talk about performance art! Jesus was making a statement! Think about what He said. 

“My house was designated a house of prayer…” 
Matt 21:13 (Isa 56:7)

The Gospel of Mark includes a line that was originally in the prophecy from Isaiah, 

“My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations…”
—Mark 11:17 (Cf Isa 56:7)

In other words, the Temple was meant to be a place where people from every nation, tribe, village and people could come and experience God. No divisions, separations or exclusions! 

But Annas, the dude who was supposed to be in charge of making certain God’s directives were actually being carried out, had transformed the very area meant to be designated for those who felt like “outcasts” into an overcrowded, overpriced “spiritual swap meet or Walmart” that created barriers between people and God, instead of removing those barriers!

The SECOND problem with what was taking place was that the merchants were evidently charging exorbitant money exchange rates and also price gouging on the items necessary for worship. 

Providing necessary goods and services somewhere near the temple complex might have been a very good thing. After all, pilgrim worshipers traveling from distant lands would be hard-pressed to bring the necessary sacrifices with them on the journey. Being able to purchase those items at a fair price near the temple compound could have been really helpful. 

But the “Bazaar of Annas” wasn’t about helping the average worshiper. It was about exploiting people for the purpose of making a buck. Jesus even said, 

My house will be called a house of prayer.
You have made it a hangout for thieves.” 
Matt 21:13 (Cf Jer 7:11)

He was quoting Scripture again (Jer 7:11). In Jesus’ mind, the temple was supposed to be a place where people could come and know they mattered to God, express their worship, experience His presence, receive His goodness and offer God their best. Instead, the temple had become a place where the broken, outcasts, rejects and marginalized were extorted, pushed aside, crowded out, dismissed and even abused. 

Jesus said, “I’ve had it! Enough is enough!”

It’s interesting that the primary issue for Jesus wasn’t Rome’s political power or army, it was God’s temple. 

He didn’t come as a military, economic, political or social revolutionary. He came as a Savior who would willingly pay the penalty for sin that all of us rightfully owed, so that He could rescue us from sin and death and set us free! He came to tear down every wall that separated us from God. 

Jesus came to tear down every wall that separates us from God!

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus had also cleared the temple at the beginning of His ministry, as well (Jn 2:13-22). 

Now, in Matthew 21, Mark 11 and Luke 19 He did it again just four days before His arrest and execution. 

This is an indication of the priority He placed on and the passion He had for the temple! 

In fact, after Jesus cleared the temple the first time in John 2, John’s commentary on what went down was that, “His disciples remembered that it is written, ‘Passion or zeal for your house will consume me.’” (John 2:17) 

That’s a quote from Psalm 69:9. 

Passion for your house will consume me!

It was Jesus’ PASSION for HIS HOUSE that moved Him to: 

1) cleanse it, 
2) de-clutter it, and,
3) restore it to its original purpose as…

  • A house of PRAYER — a place where people from every nation could gather to communicate with God. 
  • A house for HIS PRESENCE – a place where people from every nation could encounter the presence of God, and, 
  • A place where people could experience GOD’S POWER in operation to save, heal, deliver and set them free! 

That’s what Matthew 21:14 is describing when it reads: 

Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. 
They came to Jesus and he healed them. 
Matt 21:14 MSG

In other words, once the kiosks for temple merchants and “spiritual loan sharks” had been cleared out, there was room for the blind and crippled — the outcasts, rejects and poor —  to get in! People who had been ignored by their own families, friends, religious community and culture now had a path to not only get to God, but to receive from God. And they came flooding into the temple area.

How did Jesus respond? 

According to Matthew 21:14, He healed them all (See Matt 21:14 TPT).

Imagine it: the blind and crippled were healed, delivered and set free! 

Who knows how long this went on? Perhaps it took up the better part of that Monday morning and afternoon? But for these few hours, only days before His death, Jesus gave us a picture of what the temple was supposed to be. 

Jesus gave us a picture of what the temple was supposed to be!

Unfortunately, this is how the religious establishment responded: 

 When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things [or “wonderful miracles” (NLT)], and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?”
—Matt 21:15-16 MSG

I love the fact that children, who, in that culture were often ignored, overlooked and neglected, but who Jesus regularly honored (Lk 18:16-17; Mk 9:37; Matt 18:6, 10, 14), were running and shouting, probably dancing, singing and celebrating through the temple declaring Jesus’ identity and reveling in their freedom!

The religious establishment was perturbed! They went ballistic! “Don’t you see what’s happening? Don’t you hear what they’re saying?” 

Jesus’ answer was so straight forward. Once again, He quoted Scripture from Psalm 8:2

Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. 
And haven’t you read in God’s Word, 
‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?”
Matt 21:16 MSG

It’s almost as if Jesus was saying: “You guys don’t get it, do you? This is what God had always imagined the temple to be… No, I won’t tell them to stop! Because this place doesn’t need less of this! It needs more of it!”

“This place doesn’t need LESS of this! It needs MORE of it!”

This is the action that went down on Monday of The Week That Changed The World. 

Here’s my question: 

What was the message in Jesus cleansing the temple? (Again, he did it twice. Once at the beginning of his ministry and once near the end.) Why? Why was this so important that in Jesus’ mind, as He approached the end of His life, it demanded a repeat performance?

And, why did Jesus earlier curse the fig tree and the next day allow his disciples to see it completely withered away? What was all of this about? 

I believe that through both of these prophetic acts that took place on the Monday before His arrest and crucifixion on Friday, Jesus was demonstrating a critical message. 

When He cursed the fig tree and cleaned house at the temple, he was putting everyone on notice: 

“This entire system is finished! It’s day is done! It’s about to be overturned! 
This ‘tree’ is never going to bear fruit again!
And this ‘temple’ will no longer be a barrier again…”

It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “Don’t weep over a dead tree, weep over a dead temple…” 

“This system is under judgment and it’s about to be destroyed. I’ve come as the fulfillment of every sacrifice that has ever been offered.”

Through Jesus’ actions on Monday, He was saying, “The time is coming when all of these barriers between people and God will be ancient history. The time is coming when a person will not have to sacrifice an animal in order to connect with a holy God. Because I will be the final and ultimate sacrifice.” 

Hebrews 10:12 would later describe it like this: 

But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 
—Hebrews 10:12 NLT

It doesn’t stop there. When Jesus cleansed the temple, He was also saying something like this: 

“The day is coming when there will be no more barriers, no more exclusions and no more walls! Anybody who wants to – Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor, slave or free – anyone and everyone will be able to walk right into God’s presence! 

“I’m not only flipping tables, I’m flipping the system! I’m flipping things back to God’s original intention, which was never about meticulously keeping all the rules, but always about the beauty of a personal relationship! 

“The day is coming when the need for this temple will not exist, because God is going to make Himself available anytime, anywhere, to anyone and everyone who wants Him! It’s all going to happen through me.” (Luke 21:6; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 19:44; John 4:21-24)

Paul would later describe it like this in Ephesians 2:14. 

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down
the wall of hostility that separated us. 
Ephesians 2:14 NLT

In other words, “Because of the cross, it doesn’t matter whether you’re…

Jew or Gentile,
black or white,
Asian or Hispanic,
male or female,
a millionaire or beggar,
parent or child,
old or young,
husband or wife,
a person with a spotless moral past or
a person with a very blemished moral past,
high class, low class or no class… 

“It’s not your ethnicity or history that matters! What matters most is JESUS! What matters most is THE CROSS! The ground is LEVEL at the foot of the cross! Every wall and barrier has been obliterated!”

That’s the message of what went down on that Monday! 

On Monday, with “T-minus 4 days and counting” until His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus publicly picked a fight with the religious authorities by essentially saying, “This whole system is coming down! I’m flipping things from religion back to relationship! I’m going to show you what extravagant grace looks like!” 

“I’m flipping things from religion back to relationship!”

At the church I serve as pastor, one of our Core Values reads as follows: 

PEOPLE: are our priority — People matter to God and they ought to matter to us. Just like Jesus, we love and accept people unconditionally, 
right where they are. 
(Luke 15; 19:10; Romans 5:8; 15:7; 1 Jn 4:19)

Jesus said, “My house will be called a house of prayer FOR all nations…”—Mark 11:17 (Cf Isa 56:7)

When it was first released, our team read Jeff Henderson’s excellent book, Know What You’re For. I highly recommend it. It’s terrific! Maybe the reason the book resonated with us was because a few years before reading Jeff’s book, we had already made this decision at A2 Church. While many churches are known for what they’re against, we want to be known for what we are FOR. 

So, what are we for? Here are just four of the items that went on our list. There are several more

We are FOR JESUS — it’s all about Jesus, always about Jesus, only about Jesus. We are Jesus people, not religious people! (Acts 4:12; Phil 2:5-11; Col 1:17-18)

We are FOR LOVE — radical, relentless, unconditional, self-sacrificial love that reaches out beyond the “safe” walls of our comfort level! (Jeremiah 31:3; John 3:16)

We are FOR GRACE — radical, revolutionary, extravagant grace that meets people right where they are (not where we think they “should” or “could” be). (1 Cor 15:10; 2 Cor 12:9; Ephesians 1:1-7; 2:1-8)

We are FOR FORGIVENESS — because of what Jesus did on the cross, our past can be forgiven! Our old life can be forgotten! Our history doesn’t have to define our destiny. Our past, present and future sins can be wiped clean! On top of that, because we’ve been forgiven by God, we actually have the power to forgive people who’ve hurt and wounded us (Ephesians 4:32). 

That’s just a glimpse of some of what we are FOR at A2 Church. After reading Jeff’s book, we now say it like this: 

#ForGod #ForBHM #ForYou

We make no apologies about it. 

We are FOR PEOPLE because
Jesus was FOR PEOPLE!

While there was certainly more on the heart of Jesus when He cleansed the temple and made room for the blind, crippled and children to get in (Mt 21:14). This was definitely one of the things that made His heart beat fast. “My house will be called a house of prayer FOR all nations…” (Mk 11:17)

So, from now on, when you think of the “temple,” the “house of God” or the CHURCH, think of it through the heart of Jesus, as…

  • A house of PRAYER — a place where people from every nation and people group can gather to communicate with God. 
  • A house for HIS PRESENCE – a place where people from every nation and people group can encounter the presence of God, and, 
  • A place where anyone and everyone can experience GOD’S POWER in operation to save, heal, deliver and set them free! 

Think of the church as… 

A place that is FOR people — people just like YOU.

The church should be FOR people because Jesus was FOR people. 

[1] Daniel Akin, Exalting Jesus In Mark, Location 5454 of 9730. 

[2] Andres Kostenberger, The Final Days of Jesus, Location 465 of 3547

[3] Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, Jesus: A Theography, page 205. 

[4] John MacArthur, Commentary on Matthew, Location 35478 of 54768

Published by Chris Goins

My name is Chris Goins. I live in Birmingham, AL where I serve as the Lead Pastor of A2 Church + a certified John Maxwell Speaker + Coach. Welcome to my blog - a collection of ideas, quotes, insights, message notes + dynamic content intended to motivate you to reach your God-given potential + live a life of freedom and significance.

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