Sandwich Theology in the Cleansing of the Temple in Mark

The account of the cleansing of the Temple is sandwiched by the narrative of the cursing of the fig tree by Jesus before the cleansing of the Temple (Mk 11, 12-14), and immediately follows the report of Peter to Jesus about the withered fig tree to its roots which he had cursed. This is a prophetic symbolic act foreshadowing the destruction of the Temple.

The initial episode of the cursing of the fig tree (Mk 11, 12-14. 20) determines already Jesus’ attitude to Jerusalem and the theme of the chapters in Mark 11, 12 and 13 (destruction of the Temple and of its replacement by a New Temple).

The cursed and withered fig tree symbolizes the unfruitfulness of Israel/Temple and its eventual destruction. The destruction of the tenants in the parable (Mk 12, 1-11) is again a sign of what will happen to the people who failed to produce grapes (Mk 12, 2). In this context the citation of Psalm 118, 22-23 on the lips of Jesus (Mk 12, 10-11) already contains an implicit reference to the construction of a new building. After a series of disputes with the religious leaders Jesus leaves the Temple and predicts its destruction (Mk 13, 1ff). Thus the act of cleansing of the Temple and the teaching that follows (Mk 11, 15-17) together form part of the general theme of these chapters (Mk 11; 12; 13). The saying in Mark 11, 17., then, more than being a statement of the actual situation of the Temple, has a future orientation. The Temple of Jerusalem, which has become obsolete and which can play no further role in God’s plan of salvation, will be destroyed; and it will be replaced by a New Temple to which all nations (all people) will come in order to worship God.

It is also to be pointed out that Mark’s Gospel does not develop the theme of the New Temple; however, there are certain indications in the Gospel that suggest his understanding of it. The New Temple comes into existence with Jesus’ death. Mark has already hinted at in 11, 17-18., the connection between Jesus’ death and the New Temple. It is at the moment when Jesus declares God’s purpose for the Temple as a house of prayer for all nations (Mk 11, 17) that the Jewish leaders plan to destroy him (Mk 11, 18). Again, Jesus concludes the parable of vineyard (Mk 12, 1-9) by saying that the vineyard will be given to others (Mk 12, 9). The quotation (Ps 118, 22-23) in Mark 12, 10-11., clearly refers to Jesus himself, the beloved Son (Mk 12, 6), who by his death becomes the corner-stone of a new building. The faith confession of the Gentile Centurion at the moment of Jesus’ death (Mk 15, 39) is, again, of great importance for the evangelist’s view of the New Temple that becomes a reality with Jesus’ death. The Gentile Centurion’s faith confession, for Mark, prefigures the coming of the Gentiles to faith and their entry into the Temple, which is the house of prayer for all nations.

Thus the theological significance of what Mark presents in 11, 17 as Jesus’ teaching, is not limited to the context of the cleansing of the Temple (Mk 11, 15-16). Related though it is to the Temple cleansing, the saying itself is not to be considered as Jesus’ interpretation of his actions in the Temple. The sin of people has profaned the Temple and prevented the realization of God’s plan. However, despite people’s sins and infidelity, God remains faithful to his promises. The desecrated Temple will be destroyed and a New Temple will be raised up through Jesus’ death.

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