Here we go. It's all about to kick off. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem at the start of Mark 11 in highly symbolic fashion, fulfilling the Old Testament images of the King of Israel who would bring salvation (see Zech 9:9 and Psalm 118:26). This is big.
Surely next on the agenda will be enthronement, followed by victorious military victory over the Roman Gentiles, restoring and saving Israel. The tension builds as Jesus finally arrives at the temple. What will he say? Will he give some inspiring revolutionary address? Will he pray for the deliverance of Israel?
And then comes the huge anti-climax; he has a quick look around...and just leaves.
In case we haven't got the picture already from Mark, this should make pretty clear that Jesus isn't exactly fulfilling people's expectations. He's not the kind of King they were expecting - and his judgment and salvation aren't working in quite the same way as Israel anticipated.
In fact, the first thing on his agenda seems to be a petty outburst against a poor little fig tree. The fig tree should really have had fruit on it - the way that fig trees work being that the fruit comes before the leaves, so the presence of leaves means one should reasonably expect to find figs - but Jesus still looks to have over-reacted here.
That is, until we understand the comparison Jesus is making here between the fig tree and the temple. Just like the fig tree, Jesus says in v17, the people of Israel at the temple are going through the motions of outward worship of God, while they are in reality corrupt, unjust and callous (see Jeremiah 7:1-11). In other words, the temple is leafy - but there's no fruit in the people's lives. So Jesus puts a stop to the whole temple system (11:16).
When Peter sees what has happened to the cursed and now withered fig tree the next day, he sees the connection - and is immediately worried (v21). If Jesus has announced (and just given a foretaste of) judgement the temple in the same way that he judged this tree, what is that going to mean for the disciples? After all, without the temple, which for hundreds of years had been Israel's only way of relating to God and only means of forgiveness of sin (through the sacrificial system), what hope is there for sinful people?
So Jesus closes this little episode with a wonderful encouragement. For those who have faith in God, forgiveness will still be possible, even without the temple. We don't quite know how yet, but it must have something to do with what Jesus is doing in Jerusalem.
Here then is a glimpse of the salvation that this King is bringing - not from the Romans, but from sin and His righteous judgment on leafy people.
Question for application
How does this passage challenge our view of meek and mild Jesus?