MARK 11-16. THE PASSION (SUFFERING) OF CHRIST
Mark’s is the shortest of the four Gospels—only 16 chapters—but he devotes five chapters (11-15) to Jesus’ death and the events that lead to it and one chapter (16) to Jesus resurrection. As a result, this Gospel is sometimes described as “a passion narrative with a lengthy introduction” (Brooks, 175).
The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is found in all four Gospels (see also Matthew 21:1-9; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19). The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell of only one visit by Jesus to Jerusalem—except for his visits to the temple as a boy (Luke 2:27, 46) and at his temptation (Luke 4:9)—but the Gospel of John tells of multiple visits (John 2:13 ff; 5:1 ff; 10:22 ff; 12:12 ff). We can assume that Jesus visited Jerusalem several times during his ministry but the Synoptic writers choose to tell only of this one.
There are several distinctive elements to Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and it is difficult to avoid imposing the other Gospels on Mark:
• In Mark’s Gospel, there is no quotation from Zechariah 9:9 (see Matthew 21:5).
• Jesus rides a colt instead of a donkey and colt (see Matthew 21:2).
• The people spread “leafy branches that they had cut in the fields” in Jesus’ path (v. 8) instead of “branches of the palm trees” (see John 12:13).
• In the hosannas, there is no mention of Jesus as Son of David (see Matthew 21:9).
• Jesus does not weep over Jerusalem (see Luke 19:41-44).
• He visits the temple, goes to Bethany, curses a fig tree, and then cleanses the temple (11:11 ff)—a somewhat different sequence from that in Matthew 21.
It might be appropriate to think of Blind Bartimaeus as beginning the Palm Sunday events when he greets Jesus as “Son of David” (10:47)—a confession of faith showing that a blind man is able to see what the religious leaders cannot see—that Jesus is the Messiah.
MARK 11:1-6. THE LORD NEEDS HIM
1When they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethsphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, 2and said to them, “Go your way into the village that is opposite you. Immediately as you enter into it, you will find a young donkey (Greek: polon) tied, on which no one has sat. Untie him, and bring him. 3If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs him;’ and immediately he will send him back here.” 4They went away, and found a young donkey tied at the door outside in the open street, and they untied him. 5Some of those who stood there asked them, “What are you doing, untying the young donkey?” 6They said to them just as Jesus had said, and they let them go.
“When they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethsphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples” (v. 1). Jesus is coming from Jericho, about 18 miles (30 km) northeast of Jerusalem (10:46). Bethany is located on the east slope of the Mount of Olives about two miles (three kilometers) from Jerusalem. It is the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and John reports Jesus as raising Lazarus from the dead shortly before entering Jerusalem (John 11:1-16). The location of Bethphage is less certain, but it is probably located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives near Bethany.
The Mount of Olives is a ridge overlooking Jerusalem about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) in length and 2963 feet (903 meters) in height at its highest point. It was probably the site of the first observance of the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8). Zechariah associates it with the coming of the Messiah (Zechariah 14) (Myers, 778-779). “At the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Ezekiel had a vision of the glory of the Lord departing from Jerusalem and settling on the Mount of Olives (Ezek 11:23)” (Edwards, 334).
The connection between the Mount of Olives and the Feast of Tabernacles and the fact that leafy branches (v. 8) are associated with Tabernacles has led some to ask whether Jesus enters Jerusalem at Tabernacles (October) instead of Passover. However, John and Mark specifically link the entry to Passover (Hooker, 256).
“Go your way into the village that is opposite you. Immediately as you enter into it, you will find a young donkey (polon) tied, on which no one has sat. Untie him, and bring him” (v. 2). A polon can be the colt either of a donkey or a horse, but Matthew tells us of a donkey and a colt (Matthew 21:2), so we can assume that this is the colt of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9 tells of a king coming “lowly, and riding on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
“a young donkey tied, on which no one has sat” (v. 2b). The intent may be to provide Jesus with a special mount, never used by any other person—like the provision that will be made later for a tomb “where no one has ever been laid” (Luke 23:53; John 19:41) (Evans, WBC, 142). It may also be related to the Mishnah instruction that forbids others to ride a king’s mount (Evans, TLC, 267). In other words, Jesus is assuming a kingly prerogative by riding a colt that has never been ridden. Numbers 19:2 and Deuteronomy 21:3 require animals that have never borne a yoke to be used for sacrifice. This is related to our text in that it demonstrates a preference for using animals for sacred purposes that have not been used for mundane purposes.
“Untie him, and bring him” (v. 2c). This is a bold mission—like looking for a car with the keys in the ignition and driving away in it. The disciples could be punished for taking a colt without authorization. Their willingness to obey Jesus is a mark of faith.
“If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord (ho kurios) needs him;’ and immediately he will send him back here” (v. 3). We have no way of knowing whether Jesus is exercising Godly power or has prearranged this with the owner of the animal. In either event, he appears to be exercising royal authority to commandeer an animal as needed.
Kurios can be translated variously—sir, master, Lord—but the use of the article (Greek ho—meaning “the”) clearly means “the Lord” here—with overtones of the deity. Scholars debate whether ho kurios is intended to refer to God or Jesus, but that is of little consequence given that Jesus is the Son of God (1:1).
“They went away, and found a young donkey tied at the door outside in the open street, and they untied him. Some of those who stood there asked them, ‘What are you doing, untying the young donkey?’ They said to them just as Jesus had said, and they let them go” (vv. 4-6). It would have been natural for these people to refuse the disciples. After all, what Lord would need a humble donkey? Also, a request to take a donkey without the owner’s explicit permission could sound like a scam. However, these people comply with the disciples’ request. Perhaps they have seen the disciples with Jesus and are sympathetic. Or perhaps God has prepared them for this moment.
This incident is instructive. The Lord asked for something—a mere donkey—that seemed altogether too insignificant to be of any use to God’s kingdom. However, that turned out not to be the case. When the disciples took the donkey to Jesus, he used it for his grand entrance into Jerusalem. The lesson for us is that the Lord can take our humble offerings and turn them to gold. He can use our modest gifts in ways that we could never have anticipated. The issue is not whether we have value, but whether we will answer the call. If we do, we can be assured that God will make something important of us and our faithful service.
MARK 11:7-10. HOSANNA!
7They brought the young donkey to Jesus, and threw their garments on it, and Jesus sat on it. 8Many spread their garments on the way, and others were cutting down branches from the trees, and spreading them on the road. 9Those who went in front, and those who followed, cried out,
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
“They brought the young donkey to Jesus, and threw their garments on it” (v. 7a). The colt has not been ridden before, so it has no saddle. The cloaks substitute for a saddle—cushion the ride.
“and Jesus sat on it” (v. 7b). This is unusual, because so far Jesus has walked everywhere and pilgrims generally walk into Jerusalem. His mounted entry, however, is a dramatic way to convey his status—he is a king, riding a king’s mount. Kings would ride a horse to battle, but a donkey when he came in peace (Barclay).
“Many spread their garments on the way, and others were cutting down branches from the trees, and spreading them on the road” (v. 8). Some scholars suggest that, instead of being met by a crowd of Jerusalemites, Jesus comes into Jerusalem accompanied by a crowd of pilgrims (Perkins, 658). The crowd’s response is fit for a king—like rolling out a red carpet—reminiscent of the crowd spreading their cloaks before Jehu, shouting, “Jehu is king!” (2 Kings 9:13). It is also reminiscent of the reception that the people gave Simon Maccabeus, who entered Jerusalem triumphantly after defeating Antiochus and restoring the profaned temple (1 Maccabees 13:51). It is worth noting that Jesus will restore the profaned temple once again—and very soon (vv. 15-17).
“Those who went in front, and those who followed, cried out, ‘Hosanna!'” (v. 9a). Hosanna is the transliteration of a Hebrew word that means “Save us!” However, people adopted it as a celebratory word or a word of praise, in much the same way that some Christians use the word Hallelujah today, so it can be used either as a prayer or as a shout of praise.
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (v. 9b).This is from Psalm 118:26, a Hallel (praise) psalm that praises God for having delivered Israel from Egypt (Brooks, 180).
“Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 10). The origin and meaning of this expression are uncertain. “The coming kingdom of our father David” sounds seditious, and accords with the charges that will soon be brought against Jesus that he is (or has pretensions to become) “King of the Jews” (15:2, 9, 12, 18, 26). Jesus revealed himself to a select group of his disciples at the Transfiguration (9:2-8). Now the revelation to the general populace begins.
The crowd is walking a fine line here, because any overt suggestion that Jesus intends to assume kingly powers would be met by quick and decisive action by the Romans. Not until the high priest asks directly, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” will Jesus declare himself messiah (14:61-62).
Why would these people cry “Hosanna!” on this day and “Crucify him!” a few days later? One possibility is that they are fickle—and easily swayed by the religious leaders who have set out to kill Jesus. But it might be that this Sunday crowd is composed of Jesus’ disciples, pilgrims from Galilee, and ordinary people from Jerusalem—and the Friday crowd will be composed of people under the influence of the religious leaders.
MARK 11:11. HE ENTERED INTO THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM
11Jesus entered into the temple in Jerusalem. When he had looked around at everything, it being now evening, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
“Jesus entered into the temple in Jerusalem” (v. 11a). In Matthew and Luke, Jesus cleanses the temple immediately after entering Jerusalem (in John he does so much earlier). However, in Mark, he simply goes to the temple to look around and then goes to Bethany with his disciples for the night. We would expect them to be tired, because they have walked from Jericho (10:46)—a distance of over 20 miles (32 kilometers)—much of it uphill.
In the temple, there is no crowd—no greeting from the priests. The acclamation that was accorded Jesus outside Jerusalem has faded. He is accorded no honor. His quick trip to the temple seems anti-climactic, but is an inspection tour in preparation for the cleansing of the temple that will occur the next day.
“it being now evening, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (v. 11c). Bethany is located near Jerusalem, and is the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus has only recently raised Lazarus from the dead in Bethany (John 11:38-44)—an action that prompted the chief priests and Pharisees to plot Jesus’ death (John 11:45-54). It was in Bethany that Mary anointed Jesus feet with expensive nard and wiped his feet with her hair. When Judas criticized her for using the expensive ointment in this way, Jesus defended her, saying, “She has kept this for the day of my burial” (John 12:8). It would be natural for Jesus to go to Bethany where he would be among friends. That would be far more comfortable than seeking lodging in the crowded city—a city where he would soon die.
After this, Jesus will cleanse the temple (11:15-17)—teach in the temple (11:18; 12:35; 14:49)—defend himself from attack in the temple (11:27—12:41)—commend a scribe for understanding that love is more important than ritual observance in the temple (12:28-34)—and foretell the destruction of the temple (13:1-8). His enemies will charge him with planning to destroy the temple (14:57-58). At his death, the temple veil will be torn in two, from top to bottom (15:38). After three days, the temple of his body will be restored to life (16:1-8).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, Gospel of Mark (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1954)
Brooks, James A, The New American Commentary: Mark (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1991)
Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002)
Evans, Craig A., in Van Harn, Roger, E. (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Evans, Craig A., Word Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27—16:20 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001)
France, R.T., The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002)
Geddert, Timothy J., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Mark (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001)
Grant, Frederick C. and Luccock, Halford E., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1951)
Hare, Douglas R. A., Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)
Hooker, Morna D., The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991)
Myers, Allen C. (ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987)
Perkins, Pheme, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
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Copyright 2015, Richard Niell Donovan