Matthew 21:12-13, 18-19; Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:45-48
I have spoken the last couple of days about how fickle the crowds were which surrounded Jesus, praising him one day and calling for his crucifixion the next. But fickle is one thing our Lord is not. Our Lord always acts out of His perfect nature which hates sin while seeking to redeem the sinner. Yesterday, Jesus was happy to receive the people’s praises, not because he harbored illusions about their devotion to him, but, because, if only for a moment, heaven and earth rejoiced over its King. But today, we see Jesus’ judgment on the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation. Jesus didn’t change: he could receive their praises as their rightful Lord and Savior, and also pronounce judgment upon them as their rightful Lord and Judge, and all from that same perfect and holy nature he always bears.
Today’s lesson includes the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple, both of which openly manifest Jesus as the coming Judge. It seems an odd way for him to begin his last week; after all, upon such a reception as he received yesterday from the people as he entered the holy city, surely now was the time to let bygones be bygones and sit around talking theology over coffee. But Jesus is no armchair theologian; indeed, he is the very theos (Greek word for “God”) that such a discussion would address: He would not be a participant in the discussion but the very subject thereof.
So today upon returning to the city, he curses a fig tree, which served as the symbol for Israel in the Old Testament (e.g., Jeremiah 8:13; Micah 7:1). The passage says that the tree had leaves but that it was not the season for figs. Thus, the fig tree represents Israel as a nation that looks good but is never ready to produce the desired fruit. And the cleansing of the temple shows the Jewish state of the day as a beautiful, magnificent edifice on the outside, but whose worship is corrupted by graft and hypocrisy on the inside. Indeed, the very parables which Jesus will teach this week will prophesy the nation’s doom. The leaders will not allow this, and it shall lead to his crucifixion. But from that kernel buried in the ground will spring up a new nation of both Jew and Gentile (John 12:24; Ephesians 2:14), which is not situated in some geographical location but is spread over all the earth, whose capital is the New Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21:2). It will be a nation not born of men and blood but of the Spirit and water (John 1:13 3:5-8); a nation whose purpose is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). And that nation is the Church of Jesus Christ.