The OT in the NT

The other day I posted this on Facebook:

Christian, want to elevate your view of Jesus and deepen your appreciation for Scripture? In your reading, when the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, go back and read the whole chapter in which the particular Old Testament verse verse is found.
I wanted to give just one example. The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming book I am writing on Israel and the church:


The Fig-less Fig Tree, the New Temple, and the Den of Robbers

On the way back into Jerusalem, Jesus sees a fig tree that had no figs on it and says, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (Mark 11:14). I once heard a man teach that this is just a random inclusion to show that Jesus was frustrated at times. Um, not quite. Jesus sees himself as a new Jeremiah, warning unrepentant Israel. Right after the cursing of the fig tree, Jesus cleanses the temple, in an enacted parable of judgment. Jesus knocks over the tables and scathes his unrepentant people “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). Here, Jesus alludes to two OT passages: Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7.[1]

Doubtless, Jesus has the larger context of those verses in mind when he cites them. Recall that Isaiah 56 is the promise of the salvation of Israel and of Gentiles who join themselves to the Lord. Then it speaks of these foreigners becoming priests and ministering to the Lord as his servants (Isa. 56:6). The very next verse says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” which Jesus quotes. Jeremiah 7 was Jeremiah’s “temple sermon.” The Lord had told Jeremiah to stand at the gate of the temple and preach. Jeremiah was to warn the people of God: “Amend your ways and your deeds” (Jer. 7:3). He warned Judah that if they amend their wicked ways, God would let them dwell in that place. Then the Lord asks,
Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim. (Jer. 7:11-15)

Shiloh was the sanctuary before the monarchy that God judged through the Philistines (Ps. 78:60-64). If they do not repent, God will once again destroy the temple through judgment. The “robbers” are those who trust in the temple but offer corrupt worship.

So Jesus has a double message in mind when he combines these two passages. He picks up Isaiah to say that the vision of foreigners coming to do priestly service in a new temple is coming but currently the temple and its leadership is corrupt and, like at Shiloh, is on the verge of being destroyed. Elijah had come and warned but Israel had not amended their ways. So Jesus would destroy the temple (Mark 13) and build a new one where the nations would gather, he himself being the keystone.

Which is why the very next episode in the story is a return to the fig tree. Now the tree has “withered away to its roots” (Mark 11:20). The fig tree is a symbol of idolatrous Israel. Jesus is alluding to Jeremiah’s judgment oracle on unrepentant Judah. They will be punished and overthrown. “When I would gather them, declares the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them” (Jer. 8:13, cf. Micah 7:1). The messenger had come before the great and terrible day of the Lord but the Jewish people did to him “whatever they pleased” (Mark 9:13). So the Lord would come and curse the land and the figless fig tree is a sobering illustration. Mark sandwiches the enacted judgment on the temple in between the fig tree teaching to make is point dramatically clear.



[1]
Hays, Reading Backwards, 6-12.