The Book of Mark - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 3 Lesson 09 - Jerusalem Controversies

Teachers Comments
Aug 24 - Aug 30

Key Texts: Mark 11:15, 17; Mark 12:7

Study Focus: Mark 11, 12

Introduction: Mark is the shortest of the four Gospel narratives of the minis­try of Jesus. Until Mark 9, the author discusses Jesus’ ministry in His own region of Galilee. Starting with Mark 10, however, the narrative shifts to Jesus’ ministry in Judea, particularly in Jerusalem.

On His way to the great city, Jesus explains to His disciples His mission that will take place there. The account not only announces a change in location of Christ’s ministry but also introduces the readers to the last part of Jesus’ ministry and life on earth.

Lesson Themes: This week’s study considers some significant incidents in Jesus’ life that transpire in Jerusalem, most specifically concerning the temple:

  1. The announcement of Christ’s passion as it relates to His death.

  2. Jesus’ journey to the city of Jerusalem, notwithstanding Mark’s mention of Jesus’ sojourn to the region of Judea, in chapter 10. Chapter 11 describes Jesus’ momentous entrance into the storied city.

  3. Jesus’ activity in Jerusalem and its temple, the loci of most of the discussions in Mark 11 and 12.

Part II: Commentary

Announcement of the Passion

Starting in Mark 8, Jesus explicitly announces His impending suffering on the cross. “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise from the dead” (Mark 8:31, NASB). Later, in the following chapter, Jesus describes the future scenes of His death: “ ‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later’ ” (Mark 9:31, NASB). Jesus knows that His journey toward Jerusalem is the path of suffering and death. But He is resolved to go there because His mission is to die on the cross to save humanity.

Unfortunately, the disciples do not understand Jesus’ words about His mission as a direct fulfillment of prophecy. The disciples think that Jesus is going to establish an earthly kingdom in their lifetime. For this reason, they discuss the possible privileges or positions that they may gain in, and from, such a kingdom. Luke, in his Gospel, records the sense of uneasiness among the disciples after Jesus’ death has deeply disappointed their hopes and ambitions. “ ‘But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel’ ” (Luke 24:21, NASB), says one of them. Thus, though followed by multitudes, Jesus ultimately walks alone. He alone understands the full significance of each one of His actions. As Isaiah described it hundreds of years before: “ ‘I have trodden the wine trough alone, and from the peoples there was no one with Me’ ” (Isa. 63:3, NASB).

Jesus Moves to the City of Jerusalem

The storied city of Jerusalem receives the Messiah without major fanfare on the part of its religious leaders and learned people of the nation. Jesus comes on a foal. He is not recognized as a king by those judging His outward appearance. Some, perhaps the disciples, shout with joyful emotion about the coming of the kingdom. “Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!’ ” (Mark 11:9, 10, NASB).

The next part of Mark’s narrative in chapter 11 focuses on the temple—the center of the religious ceremonies for the entire Israelite nation—and particularly its services. From Jesus’ perspective, the purpose for which the temple had been originally established has become obsolete. Ellen G. White explains it in these words: “That service had been instituted by Christ Himself. In every part it was a symbol of Him; and it had been full of vitality and spiritual beauty. But the Jews lost the spiritual life from their ceremonies, and clung to the dead forms. They trusted to the sacrifices and ordinances themselves, instead of resting upon Him to whom they pointed. In order to supply the place of that which they had lost, the priests and rabbis multiplied requirements of their own; and the more rigid they grew, the less of the love of God was manifested. They measured their holiness by the multitude of their cere­monies, while their hearts were filled with pride and hypocrisy.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 29.

Jesus and the Temple

Mark tell us, “Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple area; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late” (Mark 11:11, NASB; emphasis added). The next day, upon His return to the temple, His indignation could not be restrained. “He entered the temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying on the temple grounds, and He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves” (Mark 11:15, NASB).

Then, quoting the Scripture, Jesus denounces them: “ ‘Is it not written: “My House will be called a House of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers’ ” (Mark 11:17, NASB). No doubt Jesus is indignant because of the unscrupulousness of the transactions conducted in the temple precincts. Ellen G. White comments on this point: “The dealers demanded exorbitant prices for the animals sold, and they shared their profits with the priests and rulers, who thus enriched themselves at the expense of the people.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 155.

At the same time, we know that “every Israelite male was expected to pay a half-shekel annual temple tax. . . . The debates about what the temple authorities did with the excess money suggest that the finances were completely nontransparent.”—David Instone-Brewer, “Temple and Priesthood,” in The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts, eds. Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), pp. 203, 204.

Mark 11:18 focuses his readers’ attention on the priests, the leaders of the temple services, and the scribes, and how “they began seeking how to put [Jesus] to death” (NASB). How sad to see that it is the religious leaders who initiate Jesus’ demise. When thus rebuked by the Savior, “they should have corrected the abuses of the temple court.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 156, 157. Instead of listening to Jesus’ message, the religious leaders want the messenger to disappear. Ellen G. White also writes, “The very priests who ministered in the temple had lost sight of the significance of the service they performed. They had ceased to look beyond the symbol to the thing signified. In presenting the sacrificial offerings they were as actors in a play. The ordinances which God Himself had appointed were made the means of blinding the mind and hardening the heart. God could do no more for man through these channels. The whole system must be swept away.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 36.

On the following day, Jesus again entered within the precincts of the temple (Mark 11:27). Once again, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to argue with Him. They contended with Jesus concerning His dominion, and asked, “By what authority are You doing these things?” (Mark 11:28, NASB). In response, Jesus answered their question with another question and avoided giving them a direct answer. In fact, Jesus had answered the same question in the past; yet no changes had been made in the attitude of the leaders of Israel since that time. Furthermore, Jesus knew, by the intention of their question, that they wanted only to contend with Him instead of repenting of their pride and hardheartedness. It was clear that through His teachings they perceived of Jesus’ divine character: “ ‘Teacher, we know that You are truthful and do not care what anyone thinks; for You are not partial to anyone, but You teach the way of God in truth’ ” (Mark 12:14, NASB).

In other cases, the religious leaders hurled questions at Jesus out of malice, as depicted in Mark 12:13: “Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement” (NASB). The religious leaders collectively “were seeking to seize [Jesus]” (Mark 12:12, NASB).

In the parable of the vineyard (Mark 12:1–11), Jesus unmasks with precision the nefarious plots of the religious leaders to take His life in the near future. Christ confirms their perfidy in the parable with these words: “ ‘They took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard’ ” (Mark 12:8, NASB). However, given our discussion about the temple, what is most significant are Jesus’ words in verse 9. In this verse, Jesus explains what will happen according to God’s salvific plan: “He will come and put the vine-growers to death, and give the vineyard to others” (Mark 12:9, NASB). With Jesus’ death, the entire tabernacle system reached its end. All its emblems pointed to Jesus. Additionally, the faithful remnant of Israel would carry on the mission. William L. Lane explains literal Israel’s dire fate in the following words: “Within the scope of the parable the inevitable consequence of the rejection of the son was decisive, catastrophic judgment. This points to the critical significance of the rejection of John and of Jesus which is so prominently in view in [John] 11:27–12:12, for what is involved is the rejection of God. Without declaring [H]is own transcendent sonship, Jesus clearly implies that the Sanhedrin has rejected God’s final messenger and that disaster will ensue. The sacred trust of the chosen people will be transferred to the new Israel of God.”—Lane, “The Gospel of Mark,” in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1974), p. 419.

Part III: Life Application

What practical lessons can we learn from Jesus’ act of cleansing the temple? Consider the following statement: “The courts of the temple at Jerusalem, filled with the tumult of unholy traffic, represented all too truly the temple of the heart, defiled by the presence of sensual passion and unholy thoughts. In cleansing the temple from the world’s buyers and sellers, Jesus announced His mission to cleanse the heart from the defilement of sin,—from the earthly desires, the selfish lusts, the evil habits, that corrupt the soul.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 161.

In Mark 12:14, one of the members of the Pharisees addresses Jesus and says, “ ‘Teacher, we know that You are truthful and do not care what anyone thinks; for You are not partial to anyone, but You teach the way of God in truth’ ” (NASB). It seems the religious leaders recognize who Jesus is and the authority of His teaching. However, they are not willing to follow Jesus and become part of His kingdom. Ask your class members, How could the leaders recognize His authority and yet still reject Him at the same time? How is this same recognition and rejection of Jesus repeated in modern times?