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March 24, 2912 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

On the Monday before Passover Jesus started out from the home of Lazarus in the morning, probably in time to reach the Temple for Morning Prayer at nine o’clock.  They passed a fig tree on the way.  Jesus used it as a parable of growth without fruit.  Both Bethany and Bethphage can be translated from Hebrew into “house of figs.”  Bethany breaks down to “bet,” meaning “house” and “teenah,” meaning figs.  Bethpage uses a word that means “unripe figs,” or “phage” in Hebrew.  On their way to the Temple Jesus is hungry and finds no fruit.  He likely suggests to his Disciples that the Temple establishment displays much outward show but little spiritual value.

On their return in the evening the same tree is found to have withered.  Jesus teaches his followers that faith is the preventative for a useless life.

There is some question as to which entrance Jesus used when he arrived at the Temple.  Tradition has him entering at the Eastern Gate which leads to the Kidron Valley.  However, this is not the main pilgrimage entrance.  It is more likely Jesus used the monumental staircase at the southern end of the Temple complex where the ritual baths were located and which led under the Royal Stoa, or porch, to the outer courts of the Temple complex.  Here he confronted the Passover market place where the commercial interests of the Temple were making available all that was necessary for the thousands of Pilgrims to properly observe Passover in Jerusalem.

We should appreciate that the merchandising that was going on in and around the Temple was necessary for the Passover observance.  The Temple tax had to be paid in Tyronian silver, which meant that money had to be changed.  Families could not always bring a kosher lamb with them on the long journey to Jerusalem.  They had to purchase one on site.  Jesus did not object to the trade itself.  What he objected to was the place where it was being carried on.  The Herodian Temple had ample market space along the western wall of the Temple enclosure.  There were also additional commercial areas to the south of the Temple.  Jesus confronted the commerce as he entered the Temple itself, which meant the buyers and sellers were carrying out their business in the Court of the Gentiles.  This was the only area of the Temple where non-Jews could come to pray.

The text Jesus uses to explain his actions to the worshipers comes from Isaiah 56:6-8.  It speaks of “Foreigners who join themselves to the Lord.”  It calls the Temple “A house of prayer for all peoples.”  The earlier Temples could not accommodate non-Jews.  However, Herod added additional courts that could be used by gentile seekers.  The Temple establishment had not seen this as an opportunity to bless the nations, but rather as a way of controlling the Passover economic activity.  Jesus never became angry over a personal matter, but only over a matter of principle.  But it was his interference with the financial traffic that caused the establishment to plan for his demise.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at