Holy Week Tuesday - All Authority Is Christ's
On Monday, we saw Jesus as a Holy King who stands squarely against sin and injustice. Today, Tuesday, we see Jesus stand squarely against the religious leaders and authorities of the day and claim all authority for himself.
According to Mark 11, right before Jesus cleanses the temple on Monday, Jesus approaches a fig tree to see if he might find something to eat. Finding no fruit, Jesus curses the tree saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” The narrative then moves directly into the cleansing of the temple.
The next day, Tuesday, Jesus and his disciples pass by the tree, and it has completely withered (Mark 11:20). His disciples are amazed, and Jesus simply answers “Have faith in God” (11:22).
This is the meaning of the cursing of the fig tree. The tree is a metaphor for Israel, and Jesus is pronouncing the judgment that Israel has failed to bear fruit in keeping with true faith. This is why Mark places the cleansing of the temple (11:15-19) in between the cursing of the fig tree (vv. 12-14) and its explanation (vv. 20-25). The cursing of the tree serves as a picture of the spiritual reality that Jesus is enacting when he enters the holy place of the Jewish people and purges the evil. The nation has become corrupt and failed to produce the fruit of a living faith, and Jesus will have none of it.
This is why, on Tuesday, Jesus explains the meaning of the fig tree by saying, “Have faith in God.” Like live trees, faith that is alive bears fruit. Dead trees, and dead faith, don’t. The curse of the fig tree is a picture of the judgement on Israel and her dead faith, which Jesus carried out in the cleansing of the temple. So Jesus says, “Have true faith,” and then lists some of the fruit that true faith will produce. True faith will trust that God is powerful enough to move mountains, and will produce the prayer to accomplish such mountain-moving work in the world (11:23-24). True faith will produce a forgiving heart that reflects the forgiveness of the Father (11:25).
And in all these things, Jesus is asserting that he is the one with the power and authority to make such judgements. After all, the fig tree actually died when he cursed it. The same is true of his judgement on Israel. Jesus is the Holy God who judges corrupt, dead faith, and gives mountain-moving power to those who truly trust him.
Now, having cleansed the temple of the false teachers and corrupt leaders the previous day, he re-enters the temple to assert this authority as the righteous ruler of the heavenly kingdom.
The religious leaders ask him directly, “By what authority do you do these things?” They are trying to trap him so as to have grounds for arrest. But Jesus instead asks them a question in response, and they cannot answer:
“Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.’ And they discussed it with one another, saying, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘From man’?’—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things’” (Mark 11:27-33).
They could not answer him, so he does not answer them directly. Instead, he proceeds to tell a series of parables that clearly show the religious leaders do not have the authority they claim to possess. He tells the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32) where sinners of all types enter the kingdom ahead of the religious leaders. He tells the parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:33– 44; Mark 12:1– 11; Luke 20:9– 18), which pictures the religious leaders as dishonest, murderous tenants of a vineyard owner and Jesus as the Favored Son the tenants ignore. He tells the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14) where the religious leaders are said to have ignored the invitation to the banquet and instead are condemned when ALL are invited in their place.
Then, after answering several more trapping questions, Jesus launches into a scathing critique of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23:1– 39; Mark 12:38– 40; Luke 20:45– 47) as blind guides and whitewashed tombs. Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor explain it well:
“This full-scale verbal assault against the current religious authorities removes all doubt concerning Jesus’s intentions, agenda, and aims. He has no desire to ally himself with the current leadership; he has come to overthrow their authority and to replace it with his own. There is no way that both sides can survive the escalating conflict. It seems that either Jesus will come to assume power or face death.” [Kostenberger, Andreas J.; Taylor, Justin (2014-01-31). The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived (p. 43). Crossway. Kindle Edition.]
Of course, what the people of Jesus’ day don’t know is that he will ultimately assume power BY facing death. And on the way to the cross, he is claiming the authority that only he has as the righteous Son of God. His followers love it. The Pharisees hate it. And no one (except Jesus) understands yet how the coming events of this most Holy Week will establish Jesus as the one with all glory and majesty and authority, both now and forevermore (Jude 1:24-25).