Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Beginning of a Crucial Day
WHEN Jesus leaves Jerusalem on Monday evening, he returns to Bethany on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Two days of his final ministry in Jerusalem have been completed. Jesus no doubt again spends the night with his friend Lazarus. Since arriving from Jericho on Friday, this is his fourth night in Bethany.
Now, early Tuesday morning, Nisan 11, he and his disciples are on the road again. This proves to be a crucial day of Jesus’ ministry, the busiest thus far. It is the last day he appears in the temple. And it is the last day of his public ministry before his trial and execution.
They take the same route over the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem. Along that road from Bethany, Peter notices the tree that Jesus cursed the previous morning. “Rabbi, see!” he exclaims, “the fig tree that you cursed has withered up.”
But why did Jesus kill the tree? He indicates why when he goes on to say: “Truly I say to you, If only you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what I did to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain [the Mount of Olives on which they are standing], ‘Be lifted up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all the things you ask in prayer, having faith, you will receive.”
So by causing the tree to wither, Jesus is providing for his disciples an object lesson on their need to have faith in God. As he states: “All the things you pray and ask for have faith that you have practically received, and you will have them.” What an important lesson for them to learn, especially in view of the awesome tests that are soon to come! Yet, there is another connection between the withering of the fig tree and the quality of faith.
The nation of Israel, like this fig tree, has a deceptive appearance. Although the nation is in a covenant relationship with God and may outwardly appear to observe his regulations, it has proved to be without faith, barren of good fruitage. Because of lack of faith, it is even in the process of rejecting God’s own Son! Hence, by causing the unproductive fig tree to wither, Jesus is graphically demonstrating what the end result will be for this fruitless, faithless nation.
Shortly, Jesus and his disciples enter Jerusalem, and as is their custom, they go to the temple, where Jesus begins teaching. The chief priests and older men of the people, no doubt having in mind Jesus’ action the previous day against the money changers, challenge him: “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?”
In reply Jesus says: “I, also, will ask you one thing. If you tell it to me, I also will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism by John, from what source was it? From heaven or from men?”
The priests and older men begin consulting among themselves as to how they will answer. “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why, then, did you not believe him?’ If, though, we say, ‘From men,’ we have the crowd to fear, for they all hold John as a prophet.”
The leaders do not know what to answer. So they reply to Jesus: “We do not know.”
◆ What is significant about Tuesday, Nisan 11?
◆ What lessons does Jesus provide when he causes the fig tree to wither?
◆ How does Jesus answer those who ask by what authority he does things?