Monday, April 18, 2011

The Monday Before the Resurrection

About two thousand years ago this Monday morning the Savior and His disciples were on their way to Jerusalem when the Savior saw a fig tree in the way. Under the law of Moses trees that were growing “in the way” were common property and anyone could freely partake of the fruit. In addition this fig tree was full of leaves and fig trees normally produce fruit before leaves. Being hungry, the sight of a fig tree with leaves meant food, but when Jesus approached the tree He discovered it had no fruit and said, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever” (Matthew 21:19) and the fig tree withered away.

For many this story is difficult to understand. Why would the Savior curse the tree just because it had no fruit? There are several answers. First, the fig tree that has leaves but no fruit is a symbol of hypocrisy just as people who create a self-image of righteousness but produce no righteous “fruits” are hypocrites. Thus by cursing the tree Jesus warns of the fate that awaits the impenitent and the hypocrites. Second, it was a witness to all who beheld the miracle that Jesus had power over death. They had seen him give life by raising Lazarus from the dead, but now they saw that He also had the power to administer death. The fact that He demonstrates this on a tree and not a person is testimony of His great love. The lesson had to be taught, but He teaches it in the kindest way possible. Third, it teaches those who had eyes to see about faith. On the morrow He will instruct his followers about faith and this experience will help them understand. It is also a foreboding of what is about to occur.

After cursing the fig tree, Jesus moves on to the temple and as He approaches discovers that it is polluted with moneychangers and animal vendors. You can imagine the scene. Thousands of people have come from far away to celebrate Passover and in order to perform the rituals they need to offer sacrifices in the temple. Rather than journey with animals they intend to buy their animals in Jerusalem and so enterprising vendors have set up their stalls not as close to the temple as they can, but in the temple compound. These men are shouting for people to buy from them, and the competition is shouting louder to buy from them. The animals are bleating, bellowing, and cawing. The waste is filling the air with noxious smells, and all around is the chaos and confusion of an outdoor market. In addition, the temple would not accept Roman coins. Thus eager moneychangers are on hand to change Roman coins for temple coins—all for a price.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record how Jesus chases away the vendors, but not one of them depicts Jesus as angry. The anger is something we readers assume. But the fact that there are possibly scores of offending vendors and moneychangers and yet not one fights back leads me to believe that because He is so calm and collected as He disperses them their own hearts are inflicted with guilt and they leave. If He had approached them with anger it would have ignited anger in them and they would have retaliated.

But the most important thing to realize in this account is that this is the second time Jesus has cleansed the temple. He did it during the first year of His ministry and at that time declared to the people, “Make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise” (John 2:16). But now, at the end of His ministry he says to the people, “My house shall be called the house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13). The house is now His! But on the morrow, Jesus will condemn the people for their wickedness and because of that relinquish the temple with the words, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38). This is fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, “But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the Lord that this house shall become a desolation" (Jeremiah 22:5). 

About forty years from the time Jesus proclaimed that the temple had been polluted and was no longer His house, the Roman general Titus invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple so completely that there was not one stone left. This is amazing when one considers that some single stones of the temple were about 67 feet long and 7 feet high and 9 feet wide. The pillars supporting the porches were 37 ½ feet high. But a temple from which the people have evicted God, cannot stand.

It was a memorable Monday those many years ago. By refusing to believe in and bear the fruits of righteousness, the wicked people and their beloved temple, like the fig tree, were destroyed forever.


Wendi said...

This was really interesting. Thanks for sharing what you've learned. :)

Laura said...

Thank you. That was just wonderful especially this week

Becky Rose said...

Sheri, I know that the Romans' recaptured Jerusalem in 70 AD, but when were they driven out before that and how?

Sherrie Mills Johnson said...

The Romans didn't recapture Jerusalem. They still ruled, but the Jews kept rebelling,attacking and harrassing Roman troops so that Titus was sent in to put down the rebellion. He was so angry with the Jews that he destroyed the city making it uninhabitable. (He even salted the ground so it wouldn't grow crops!) He didn't want any more trouble from them!