11. Old is out; new is in, 21:1-23:39

ii] Cleansing the temple


Jesus has just entered Jerusalem, welcomed by a crowd of pilgrims. He now visits the temple, and there, in the Court of the Gentiles, he finds the dirt of a cattle market and the haggling of a money exchange, and so he sets about driving out the merchants - God's house is a house of prayer, but the temple officials have turned it into a "den of robbers." For the rest of the day Jesus heals the sick, stirring up a great commotion as young people move around the temple complex calling out "Hosanna to the Son of David." Of course, the temple authorities are less than pleased.

That evening Jesus returns to Bethany and then the next morning he and the disciples return again to Jerusalem. On the way, and a bit peckish, Jesus looks for fruit on a fig tree. Finding none he curses the tree and it begins to wither before their eyes. The disciples are amazed. In response, Jesus has a word to say on the subject of faith and prayer.


Old Israel's house stands under God's curse, once a house of prayer, now a den of brigands. The Lord's new house, the Christian community, is now God's house, a house that moves spiritual mountains, by grace through faith.


i] Context: See 21:1-11.


ii] Structure: Jesus cleanses the temple, and The withered fig tree:

Jesus cleanses the temple, v12-17:

Jesus drives out the money changers, v12-13:

"my house will be called a house of prayer, but ....."

The broken come to Jesus, v14;

The Pharisees react to the children's proclamation, v15:

"hosanna to the Son of David."

Jesus responds, v16:

"from the lips of children and infants .....", Ps.8:2.

Jesus returns to Bethany, v17.

The withered fig tree, v18-22:

The cursing of the tree, v18-19;

The response of the disciples, v20;

Sayings, v21-22:

"if you have faith and do not doubt, ......."

"whatever you ask in prayer,

you will receive, if you have faith."


iii] Interpretation:

The cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the fig tree is beautifully shaped by Mark, weaving the two stories together to remove any doubt that the curse on the fruitless fig tree serves as a paradigm for the divine curse now hanging over fruitless Israel. Schweizer suggests that Matthew's arrangement serves to promote a different message to that of Mark, namely, "a sign of the power of prayer." Gundry suggests, particularly with reference to v21, "in this way Matthew makes Jesus a paradigm in the exercise of faith." Yet, it is more than likely that Matthew and Mark share the same teaching purpose, it is just that Mark handles it differently.

The coming of the Son of Man is a coming in judgment, and to this end, in the cleansing of the temple, Jesus plays the role of the coming judge. Israel's temple, the house of God, is designed as a house of prayer, but the people of Israel have turned it into a den of thieves - they "have prevented the temple from being what God intended it to be, a house of prayer", D&A. The religious life of Israel is a sham.

In the acted out sign of the cursed fig tree, the consequence of Israel's unfaithfulness is revealed to those with eyes to see. This interpretation has a long history, as Cranfield notes in his commentary on Mark, 356-7, when he quotes Victor of Antioch, "an acted parable in which Jesus used the fig tree to set forth the judgment that was about to fall on Jerusalem" - like the fig tree, old Israel stands condemned and will wither and die. Blomberg argues for the possibility of saving grace, "unless Israel repents, like the fig tree it will perish", but there is not "unless" in the narrative.

The appended sayings, v21 and 22, are somewhat problematic. Luz, in line with quite a few commentators, argues that these verses do not take up the judgment theme revealed in the cursing of the fig tree. The cursing seems to illustrate judgment, but it is also a miracle of faith, so these verses may address the complete faith, the doubt-free faith that is an essential feature of the Christian life, eg., Carson who argues the Jesus uses this miracle "to teach the power of faith." Nolland doesn't discard the judgment theme when he argues that "if they have faith, the disciples will, like Jesus, be instruments of dramatic and even miraculous symbolic enactments of the coming judgment. They will also have a role in bringing the restoration which is anticipated in the kingdom of heaven. They will receive what they pray for."

Yet, it seems more likely that these verses are intended to address the wider context of v12-20. Marcus, commenting on Mark's account of this pericope, states that these verses present as "an alternative: faith and prayer that bypass the sacrificial system of the 'den of brigands' and appeal directly to the heavenly Father for mercy." Boring also argues that "the cluster of sayings on prayer and faith seems to be best explained as possibly his (Mark's) conception that the Jerusalem temple was being replaced by the Christian community as the place of faith, prayer and the presence of God", cf. The Church as Temple, Best. Old Israel's religious life is a sham and stands condemned, corrupted by a pharisaic / nomistic (law obedience for blessing) form of religion. It is expected that the new Israel, unlike the old now condemned, be a people of faith, mountain-moving faith, a people who rest wholly on the grace of God for their salvation, and this apart from works of the law.


What is meant by the promise "Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done"?

Mark leads the saying with "have faith in God", and adds "believes that what he says will happen" to the clause "and do not doubt." Matthew may not have added the tou qeou, "of God", found in Mark, but it is surely assumed; presumably an objective genitive here, given its relationship with "and do not doubt" = "do not doubt God." By rightly assuming the presence of "God" in the clause, we don't end up with the idea that "mountainous difficulties have often been removed when people have prayed in faith", Morris. God identifies the mountain he is willing to remove, and through faith / trust in God's divine grace we are able to participate in its moving in accord with his divine will. It is not our place to identify mountains that should be moved by some form of doubt-free religious mind-game, rather it is a believer's prayer "according to his will", that God hears and acts upon, 1Jn.5:14.

Matthew relates the saying to the cursing of the fig tree, prompting many commentators to interpret the cursing in terms of "you can do miracles too if you have faith", eg., Gundry, "a paradigm in the exercise of faith." Yet, surely the cursing is a paradigm of judgment. "If the withering of the fig tree presages judgment, it may well be that the removal of the mountain in Matthew presages restoration or salvation, as it does in Zechariah (cf. Zech.14:4, the splitting of the Mount of Olives to provide a way of escape for the citizens of Jerusalem)", Nolland. As Nolland notes, we are unsure what this means for the disciples. He posits that the disciples "remove the mountain by proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and thus opening up for the people the place of escape and achieving what God intends before the end will come."

Contextually we can say that v21, as with v22, exposes the true substance of religion as a "genuine trust in God and obedience to the discernment of his will", Carson. Such is exercised in the religious life of the new Israel / Christian community as a people who rest wholly on the grace of God through faith for the full appropriation of the promised blessings of the covenant, as opposed to the flawed (nomistic - sanctification by obedience) religious life of old Israel which now stands under the curse of God.


iv] Synoptics:

Matthew's account of the cleansing of the temple is closely aligned to Mark. D&A suggest that Matthew has used Mark for his source, given his removal of the rather strange comment by Jesus regarding the carrying of vessels through the temple, Mk.11:16, and his removal of the post AD 70 historically incorrect phrase "for all the nations", Mk.11:17. It would be unlikely for Mark to add these, but then of course, both authors may be working off their own version of a common oral tradition, each editing as they see fit. From v14 Matthew charts his own course (note Luke 19:39-40): v15-16 / Mk.11:18 and v17 / Mk11:11b.

As for the cursing of the fig tree, Matthew's simplistic arrangement reduces the impact of the story, as compared to Mark. His rearrangement, changed sequencing and shortening, as compared to Mark, may indicate Markan priority, although better, mutual independence. Matthew's removal of "it was not the season for figs", implying that Jesus' action was irrational, seems to support Markan priority. The episode concludes with two conjoined sayings of Jesus related to prayer. Mark actually has a third, forgiveness in prayer, 11:25. The sayings would likely have attached early to the story of the cursing of the fig tree (even by Jesus himself!), although this linkage is usually viewed as a Markan construct.

Text - 21:12

Judgment on God's house, v12-22: i] The cleansing of the temple, v12-13.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[temple courts]" - [and jesus entered into the temple] of god. Variant, probably original. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, "the temple belonging to God", or idiomatic / local, "the temple where God dwells."

touV pwlountaV (pwlew) pres. part. "[all] who were buying [and selling]" - [and cast out all the ones selling and] buying. As with "selling", the participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting the substantival adjective pantaV, "all" = "everyone"; "all the people who were buying and selling." The merchants were selling and those who were wanting a sacrificial animal or bird were buying.

en + dat. "[there]" - in [the temple]. Local, expressing space. The market was in the court of the Gentiles. Jesus' protest may have been prompted in part by dishonest trading, but more so because the market should not be in the temple precinct at all, given that God's house is a house of prayer.

twn pwlountwn (pwlew) gen. part. "[benches] of those selling [doves]" - [and he overturned the tables of the money changes and] of the ones selling [doves]. The participle serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, possessive, "the chairs that belonged to the money changers." Temple offerings were required in Tyrian coinage due to its purity so necessitating an exchange market for foreign coinage.


Quote from Isaiah 56:7 with a little extra, "a robbers cave", from Jeremiah 7:11.

autoiV dat. pro. "[he said] to them" - Dative of indirect object.

proseuchV (h) gen. "[a house] of prayer" - [it has been written, the house of me is to be called a house] of prayer. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, idiomatic / local; "a house where prayer takes place", "a house set apart for prayer." "The house where people worship me", TH.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrast.

uJmeiV "you" - you [are making it]. Emphatic by use and position.

lhstwn (hV ou) gen. "[a den] of robbers" - The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / local; "a place / hideout where thieves hang out." Olmstead suggests verbal, subjective.


ii] Jesus heals in the temple, v14-17.

autw/ dat. pro. "[came] to him" - [and blind persons and lame persons came to] him. Dative of direct object after the proV prefix verb "to come to."

en + dat. "at [the temple]" - in [the temple and he healed them]. Local, expressing space. "In the temple precincts", Barclay.


de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrast, as NIV.

idonteV (oJraw) aor. part. "when [the chief priests and the teachers of the law] saw" - [the chief priests and the scribes] having seen. The participle is adverbial, best taken as temporal, as NIV.

ta qaumasia adj. "the wonderful things" - the wonderful, amazing things [which he did / performed]. The adjective serves as a substantive. "Astonishing things", Barclay.

touV krazontaV (krazw) aor. part. "shouting" - [and the children] crying out, calling out [in the temple]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the children", "who were shouting out in the temple precincts."

legontaV (legw) pres. part. "-" - [and] saying. As above, the participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the children", "who were shouting out ..... and who were saying." Virtually redundant.

wJsanna + dat. "Hosanna" - Aramaic = "God save I pray", but here more likely an exclamation, "glory to / hail to." None-the-less, "God save David's son", Barclay, makes better sense to us.

tw/ uiJw/ (oV) dat. "to the son [of David]" - Dative complement of "Hosanna", or dative of possession. The genitive proper, "of David", is adjectival, relational.

hganakthsan (aganaktew) aor. "they were indignant" - "They were up in arms", Peterson.


Quoted from Psalm 8:2. The Temple officials "had no criticism of the unholy traders who defiled the sacred place, but they objected to the praises of children", Morris.

autw/ dat. pro. "[they asked] him" - [and they said] to him [do you hear what they are saying?]. Dative of indirect object. "Are you listening to what they are saying?", TH.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrast, "but Jesus said to them."

autoiV dat. pro. "[replied Jesus]" - [jesus said] to them [yes]. Dative of indirect object.

oJti "-" - [have you never read] that. Here introducing a direct quotation from scripture. "Surely you have read in God's word", TH.

ek + gen. "from" - from, out of [mouth of children]. Expressing source / origin.

qhlazontwn (qhlazw) gen. pres. part. "[and] infants" - nursing. The participle serves as a substantive, "nursing babies"; "from the lips of those who feed at the breast", Cassirer.

kathritisw (katartizw) aor. mid. "you, Lord, have called forth your [praise]" - you have restored, equipped / furnished, prepared for yourself [praise]. "You have brought forth from the mouths of infants and children words of praise to yourself." The kata prefix gives the sense "bring to perfection", so "perfect praise", TEV.


katalipwn (kataleipw) aor. part. "and he left [them]" - [and] having left [them he went out]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "went out."

exw (ek) + gen "of [the city]" - outside [the city to bethany and spent the night there]. It is likely that ek, "from, out of", expressing separation, is intended, duplicating the prefix of the verb exercomai, "to come out from", which duplication is standard form. There is no theological significance in Jesus leaving the temple, as if the divine presence leaves as well, given that Jesus will return the next day.

hulisqh (aulizomai) aor. pas. "where he spent the night" - [and] lodged [there]. The verb means "to camp out", but later extended "to lodge." Given the number of pilgrims in and around Jerusalem at this time it is likely that the accommodation was of a temporary nature.


iii] The cursing of the fig tree, v18-22 - "God's judgment on the cult of Israel", Schweizer. This action of Jesus is "meant to be interpreted as a prophetic action prefiguring the judgment brought by the Messiah upon the Jewish nation and the strictness of the Jewish religion, neither of which bore the fruit expected from them - they gave promise of fulfillment but in fact produced nothing", Hill. So, we rightly answer "yes" to the question posed by Luz, "with this symbolic act does Jesus proclaim God's judgment on Israel?", ie., the action serves as a symbol of the temple and its immanent doom, cf. Telford The Barren Temple and the Withered Tree, JSNT Sup 1.Shefield.

de "-" - but/and. Here transitional, indicating a step in the narrative, "Now, early in the morning."

prwi adv. "early in the morning" - early. Temporal adverb.

epanagwn (epanagw) pres. part. "as Jesus was on his way back [to the city]" - going up [into the city he was hungry]. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as NIV. The journey from Bethany to Jerusalem is some 3 kilometers. "When Jesus got up the next morning he was hungry. He started out for the city, and along the way .....", CEV.


idwn (oJraw) aor. part. "seeing" - [and] having seen [one fig tree]. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal; "when he saw a fig tree ...... he went up to it ..." The clause is somewhat elliptical and so can be made clearer with "As Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, he saw a fig tree near the road. He went up to it to get some fruit, but he only found leaves."

epi + gen. "by [the road]" - upon [the way]. Spacial; "on, upon / at / near" - "by / beside" would require para.

ep (epi) + acc. "[he went] up [to it]" - Spacial; "on, upon / up to, against." As NIV; "up to."

en + dat. "on [it]" - [and he found nothing] on [it]. Local, expressing space.

ei mh "except" - if not = except [leaves only]. Introducing an exceptive clause expressing a contrast by designating an exception.

auth/ dat. pro. "to it" - [and he said] to it. Dative of indirect object.

genhtai (ginomai) aor. subj. "may you [never] bear [fruit]" - [no longer] may it be [fruit from you]. Subjunctive of prohibition. Obviously there was no Council tree preservation order over the tree, although the owner may well have been somewhat disturbed to find his fruit tree destroyed for no good reason. As Mark notes, it was not the season for figs. The symbolic importance of the act takes precedence over the preservation of the tree, but the incident remains disturbing to those who view the world through green tinted glasses.

eiV on aiwna "again" - into the age. A temporal construction, idiomatic for "forever".

paracrhma adv. "Immediately" - [and the fig tree] instantly, immediately [dried up = withered]. Temporal adverb.


idonteV (oJraw) aor. part. "when [the disciples] saw this" - [and] having seen [the disciples were amazed, astonished, saying]. The participle is usually taken as adverbial, temporal, as NIV. Amazement is usually a response that lacks understanding, often a pre-faith response.

twV "how" - how, in what way [did the fig tree immediately wither]? Interrogative particle, here expressing a surprised befuddlement; "how" = "how is it that / what has caused the fig tree to wither at once?" = "what made it happen?", Nolland. This is a bit too obvious, since Jesus made it happen. Surely the disciples' question is more in terms of "what is happening here?' "What's the point being made in causing this tree to turn up its toes and die on the spot?"

paracrhma adv. "so quickly" - immediately. Temporal adverb. "It began to wilt from that moment on", Ridderbos.

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "they asked" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "they were amazed"; "the disciples were amazed and said ..."


The disciples are amazed by what they have seen and so they ask Jesus to explain the point he is making by destroying a fig tree - a kind of "what's this all about?" A bit more content would be appreciated at this point, but seeing it didn't exist in the received tradition, both Matthew and Mark choose not to create it. The miracle presents as a prophetic message of judgment to the old Israel, and a lesson to the new Israel regarding the religious life of a community of faith. Faith moves immovable spiritual obstructions, and without it the community will wither and die. To this end, we are provided with some sayings of Jesus on the subject of faith.

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "[Jesus] replied" - [and] having replied [jesus said]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said", "answered and said"; redundant.

autoiV dat. pro. "-" - to them. Dative of indirect object.

amhn amhn legw uJmin "truly I tell you" - truly truly I say to you. The phrase is used to introduce an important statement.

ean + subj. "if" - if [you have faith and do not doubt]. Introducing a conditional clause 3rd. class where the proposed condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, you have faith and do not doubt, then not only ......" "If you really believe in God, a belief that is firm, unwavering."

pistin (iV ewV) "faith" - Used in the sense of reliance, dependence upon God. Presented negatively "and do not doubt God."

to "what was done" - the thing that happened. The article serves as a nominalizer, forming a somewhat elliptical substantival construction, "what happened to the fig tree", Zerwick.

thV sukhV (h) gen. "to the fig tree" - of the fig tree [you will do]. The genitive is usually read as verbal, objective, as NIV.

alla "but" - Adversative, as NIV, standing in a counterpoint construction, "not ..... but .....".

kan "also" - and. Adjunctive, as NIV, or possibly better, ascensive, particularly if we assume a repeat of ean, here with the subjunctive eiphte, "you may say"; "but even if, as the case may be, you say to this mountain be lifted up and thrown into the sea, then it will happen." "Why, if you said to this mountain here, 'Lift yourself up and throw yourself into the sea', that is what would happen", Cassirer.

tw/ orei (oV) dat. "to [this] mountain" - Dative of indirect object. The toutw/, "this", does imply that a particular mountain / hill is in mind. This has prompted the suggestion that the Mount of Olives is intended and thus an interpretation in line with Zechariah's prophecy. Of course, the "hill" may be temple mount, indicating not just the destruction of a fig tree, but Jerusalem / the temple itself! "If you should say to this hill, 'Get up and throw yourself into the sea', it will happen", Phillips. It is likely that "mountain" is a common illusion to an obstacle of some sort, an illusion that Jesus uses of a spiritual obstacle for which God has promised action, eg., judgment / salvation - both, of course.


"Faith and prayer, not the temple cult, are now the way to God", Harrington, Mark. The "whatever" must surely be God's promised blessings, not whatever I happen to think of. Law-bound Israel sought to access God's promised blessings through obedience to the law. Such thinking is corrupt and faces judgment. God's promised blessings have always been available to his people as a gift of grace for the asking. Let the new Israel not forget this truth, as did the old Israel, otherwise we too will wither like a cursed fig tree.

pisteuonteV (pisteuw) pres. part. "if you believe" - [and all things whatever you may ask in brayer] believing [you will receive]. The participle is usually taken as adverbial, conditional, as NIV, although it may be treated as modal, expressing the manner of asking; "whatever you ask for with confident hearts", Cassirer = "Whatever you ask in the confident knowledge that it is the will of God."

panta o{sa an "whatever [you ask for]" - Probably best taken to introduce a relative conditional clause 3rd. class where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "everything which = whatever, as the case may be, you may ask in prayer believing, then you will receive."

en dat. "in [prayer]" - The preposition here is probably adverbial, temporal; "while praying."


Matthew Introduction


[Pumpkin Cottage]