All four Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, and all four of them do so from a slightly different literary angle. John’s gospel places the temple cleansing at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, Matthew and Luke place it unbroken from Palm Sunday, while Matthew is unique in mentioning that Jesus healed the blind and the lame. Finally, Mark, as we will soon see, positions the cleansing between the stories of a cursed fig tree.
Each Gospel writer provides a unique literary angle, and each do so for the purpose of making a profound theological statement about Christ and who he is. Let’s look together at Mark’s Gospel.
In the Gospel of Mark there are two unique observations we must make regarding Holy Monday. First, Holy Monday begins and ends with the cursing of a fig tree, with the cleansing of the temple being sandwiched in between. Secondly, the cursing of the fig treeis the only miracle of destruction that Jesus performs. Both of these features only occur in Mark’s Gospel, and both are meant to be the tool of interpretation to understand the theological meaning of Jesus’ temple cleansing.
Throughout the OT the temple has three main functions. It is the place where YHWH’s presence resides. It is the way people are able to approach God but only be means of the sacrificial system. Finally, as Jesus points out on Holy Monday, the temple is to be a place of prayer for all nations.
But with the arrival of Messiah Jesus is there still need for the temple?
Jesus is the presence of God because he is God. Jesus is not only able to be freely approached by all people, but he himself approaches those who were ceremonially unclean for the temple. Finally, Jesus is continually answering the prayers of outsiders such as the Canaanite woman.
Jesus curses the fig tree on the way to the temple because it was fruitless, following the temple cleansing the disciples find the fig tree “withered to the roots.” One theologian observes, “What Jesus does in the temple goes beyond a purging or correcting act… laying an ax at the root of the temple as an institution… Mark portrays the clearing of the temple not as its restoration but as its dissolution. Like the fig tree, its function is ‘withered from the roots’” (Edwards, 345).
Mark reminds us on Holy Monday that the temple is no longer needed because of Jesus Christ. In Christ Jesus, our resurrected King and Savior we are able to experience God’s presence, approach his throne and pray with confidence!
Today, may we meditate on this beautiful reality of what we have in Christ, and may we also consider the other Gospels and what they may be trying to teach us by how they present the story of Jesus’s temple cleansing.
- Zack Dunckley
Lead Pastor, The Mission Church