On Sunday my pastor preached on Mk. 11.12-26. As I listened to his sermon and read through the passage some things about it became more apparent. In this passage Jesus sees a fig tree that has no figs on it because it is out of season. He curses the fig tree and then he goes to the Temple. In the Temple he finds a corrupt economic system has overthrown the intent of the Temple to be “a house of prayer for all the nations” (v. 17). Rather than being a place that welcomes Jews from abroad and Gentiles seeking to learn more about Israel’s God, the Temple has become Wall Street. Jesus creates chaos by overthrowing their tables as well as the place where doves were being sold to the poorer, likely also for a profit.
Once Jesus has completed his judgment on the Temple he walks back outside Jerusalem past the fig tree that he had cursed. It is dead. The disciples note this and it becomes a vivid analogy for what will happen to the Temple which no longer bears the intended fruit.
In v. 23 Jesus says words that used to haunt me when I was a Pentecostal. He says that if one says to “this mountain” (τῷ ὄρει τούτῳ) that it should “Be taken and cast into the sea” and this is done without doubt it will happen. Of course, those influenced by the Word of Faith Movement used this as a proof text that certain “levels” of faith brought various results.
Since no Christian in the history of the church has successfully thrown a mountain into the sea it seemed like a bit of a mute point anyways. Even Jesus didn’t do it. I always assumed that this was hyperbolic, but I think I understand it a bit better now.
In v. 17 when Jesus says that the Temple will be a house of prayer for all the nations he is lifting this from Is. 56.7b where YHWH says of his holy mountain, Zion, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” In v. 3 he says that the foreigner that comes to Israel as a proselytite should not feel abandoned by YHWH. Also, the eunuch should not think of himself as “a dry tree” (v. 3b). Israel is to welcome the nations into the Temple to serve the true God.
By the time of Jesus this is exactly what is not happening. Gentiles are not welcome. There are warning signs of their demise if they enter the Temple inappropriately. The money changers are making a profit on anyone who has foreign currency. Gentiles do not feel close to YHWH; they feel like a dry, dying tree.
Yet as Jesus’ actions show it is the Temple official who are the dying tree. They are symbolized by the fig tree whom Jesus cursed. Jesus enacts God’s judgement on Israel’s Temple system because Israel has failed to listen to the words of their God spoken in Is. 56.
What of “this mountain”? I think I first read mention of this interpretation somewhere in the writings of N.T. Wright, but it was likely a half decade ago (maybe The New Testament and the People of God ?). In Is. 56.7-8 we see that Israel was to bring the nations to the mountain of God where the Temple was to welcome them. Now the Temple prohibits the nations from worshiping Israel’s God.
It is time for the Temple to go.
I think that when Jesus says that the “this mountain” will be tossed into the sea he isn’t speaking of some generic “level of faith = impressive results” concept, but rather it is time to believe that God can do something amazing by removing this mountain where the Temple stands so that it is no longer a barrier to the Gentiles. In other words, Jesus sees Israel ignoring YHWH’s command so he predicts YHWH’s judgement on Israel.
This seems like an imperative for the Gentile mission. As know in 70 AD “this mountain” was devastated and the Temple ceases to exist even to this day. The faith of Jesus has resulted in Israel’s God moving to include the nations without the Temple as part of his plan.