Looking around with Jesus

I experience something with verses like this, and I’m not sure I can effectively communicate the sentiment. Nevertheless, I try.

Mark 11:11

Καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα εἰς τὸ ἱερόν, καὶ περιβλεψάμενος πάντα, ὀψίας ἤδη οὔσης τῆς ὥρας, ἐξῆλθεν εἰς Βηθανίαν μετὰ τῶν δώδεκα.

He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, because it was already getting late, he went out into Bethany with the twelve.

This is one of those verses that makes me stop and reread and think and read again. The words themselves cause me to visualize the scene through Jesus’ eyes. I suppose the trigger is περιβλεψάμενος (looking around), a favorite of Mark’s (3:5, 34; 5:32; 9:8; 10:23; 11:11). As I imagine what he sees and how he feels, it is strangely comforting. There’s gospel here.

How does he feel

If you know how this story plays out the next morning, it impacts how you experience Mark 11:11. The next paragraph tells how, on the next morning, Jesus enters the temple again and rages against the corruption he sees (11:12–17). He literally trashes the place, and he won’t let anyone pass through it.

I don’t in any way want to say that the rage and emotion were not genuine — that would undermine everything I want to say here. But this isn’t a portrait of some “Man, I really lost in that moment” episode in Jesus’ life. Causing a scene in the temple was a prophetic act, and Mark makes this plain by tipping his hat to Jeremiah. In the last words of the paragraph, Jesus calls the temple, to use the old King James I grew up on, “a den of thieves” (σπήλαιον λῃστῶν).

With these two words, σπήλαιον λῃστῶν, Mark exponentially expands his narrative world, recalling the famous prophet Jeremiah, the rage of all the prophets, and centuries of national tragedy and suffering. In the Greek translation of Jeremiah, “a den of thieves” is exactly how the prophet describes the temple of his day.

Listen to some of these passages from Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 6:10–11 — To whom can I speak and make protest so that they’ll hear? Look! Their ears are uncircumcised; they can’t listen! Look! the word of Yahweh is to them something to mock; there’s no way they’ll want it! I’ve filled up my anger and held it back …

Jeremiah 7:4, 11 — Don’t trust lies because they won’t help you at all, saying “The temple of the Lord! It’s the temple of the Lord!” … Surely my house, the place bearing my name, has not become a den of thieves right before your eyes?! And I — Look! — I have seen it, says the Lord!”

That’s some of the context of the “den of thieves” passage in Jeremiah, and it echoes in Jesus’ own den of thieves pronouncement.

Looking around with him

If you know where Mark 11:11 is going and you know Jesus is boiling with righteous rage like Jeremiah, how intriguing it is to look around the city and the temple through his eyes. I don’t know what the temple looked like, but I see it through squinted eyes, a bit of shaky-cam, first person footage, I hear the gravely crunch of his sandals pace back and forth a little, and memories of anger and frustration from my own past overlap and overlay the scene.

Now we are to the heart of the matter. In passages like this, where we see and sense Jesus’ emotions, if we reread a little and take time to reflect, there is real comfort. Do you really believe he was and is a flesh and blood human being? Did he really experience such strong emotions? “Yes,” you say, and in that reaffirmation and rereading, you encounter a Jesus like yourself. In these moments, it is so much easier to believe and feel that he understands you.