Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).
1. Why do you suppose Jesus cursed the fig tree? Note: The fact Mark mentions that it was not the season for figs is a hint that Jesus was not looking for figs but had some other purpose in mind. Also, consider what Jesus does immediately following the cursing of the fig tree (see Mark 11:15-17 printed below)
When they came into Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple. There he began to throw out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple courts; and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold the doves. (16) He would not allow anyone to carry any merchandise through the temple courts. (17) As he taught, he said to them, Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?” But you have made it into “a den of robbers!” (Mark 11:15-17)
The closing phrase of verse 13 is intended to call our attention beyond the act itself to the prophetic significance of Jesus’ act. If it was not the season for figs, why did Jesus curse the tree? Did He do so in order to teach a spiritual lesson? Yes. Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree was prophetically describing the condition and the coming fate of Israel. Just as the tree was full of leaves but devoid of fruit, so Israel was full of religious observance (Jerusalem was full of worshipers during the Passover season), but lacked true devotion to God (as seen by the fact that the whole multitude would cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion). Just as Jesus cursed the fig tree, so, too, He would cleanse the temple, and in A.D. 70 the temple would be destroyed by the Romans as an act of divine judgment.
2. If you were present in the temple courts at the time Jesus cleansed it, what would you have thought? Would Malachi 3:1-2 (printed below) have come to mind?
“Look, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says Jehovah of hosts (2) But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. (Malachi 3:1-2)
Witnessing Jesus cleanse the temple precincts in an act of righteous indignation would have caused us to stand in awe of His intense zeal for the holiness of God and the sacredness of God’s house. His act would have brought to mind the prophecy of Malachi 3 that declares that the Lord would suddenly come to His temple as a refiner’s fire.
3. With what question do the chief priests confront Jesus (see Mark 11:27-28 printed below?) How does Jesus reply (see Mark 11:29-30 printed below?)
They returned to Jerusalem; and as Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came up to him (28) and asked him, By what authority do you do these things? Or who gave you the authority to do these things? (Mark 11:27-28)
Jesus said to them, I will ask you one question, if you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I do these things. (30) The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men? Answer me. (Mark 11:29-30)
The chief priests want to know by what authority Jesus has performed this act of cleansing the temple. Jesus responds by insisting that they first answer His question concerning John the Baptist before He will answer their question.
4. Why do you suppose Jesus demanded that the chief priests to answer His question about John the Baptist?
Jesus is forcing the chief priests to recognize the connection between Himself and John the Baptist. If they admit that John came from God, then they would be compelled to confess that Jesus is the Messiah, because John came preparing the way for Jesus (cp. John 1:29-34)
5. What foolish conclusion do the tenant farmers draw when the owner finally sends his son to them? See Mark 12:7 (printed below)
But those tenants said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. (Mark 12:7)
When the owner finally sends his son, the tenants foolishly assume that the owner himself has died and if they kill the son, the vineyard will become their own possession.