Summary: The Lord Jesus arrived in Jerusalem hailed by the Jews as the Davidic king who would restore Israel. He arrived not for that purpose, but to fulfill Isaiah's prophecy of the Suffering Servant who restored all of HIs people back to God. The first step was to restore His house.
The final week of Jesus' public ministry had started with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, being hailed as the rightful heir of David and the One who would finally drive out the hated Roman Gentile oppressors and restore the nation of Israel back to its former glory, or so the people thought. Their preconceived notion was based on the past glory of the nation. They seemed to have forgotten that God's relationship with Israel was more important. They also conveniently left out the periods in their history where they abandoned God's rule and protection in order to go after the foreign idols of the neighboring nations which included the barbaric and forbidden practice of sacrificing their children to the bloodthirsty "god" Moloch (Leviticus 18:21, 20:3; 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 32:35). They also seemed to have forgotten the years of pleading with the kings and people by the prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel to repent of these and other sins and debauchery that brought down their nation, placing them under the rule of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and now the iron hand of Rome.
The High Priests and other religious officials did not mind Rome being over them as long as their rituals and practices were left alone. They based their own preconceived notion on their roles as "the representatives of God's holiness" and "keepers of the Law". The Pharisees and Sadducees believed that these observations of the Law and traditions were sufficient enough to please God, but they had abandoned the true worship of God long ago. The rituals for atonement of the people's sins had become a rote, emotionless, and dead series of practices, but yet were seen by these groups as a means of income not just for the alleged "upkeep of God's Temple" but to line their own pockets with illicit gain. The High Priests had established a type of "racket" where they would "inspect" a lamb or other animal that a Jewish pilgrim would bring with them for the annual Passover sacrifice and feast (Exodus 12), declare that the animal was 'unclean" or somehow "blemished" and rejected. For a "nominal fee", the Temple authorities would have on hand an "unblemished" animal that one could use for the sacrifices. The "fee" was much more expensive, naturally, and so were the rates of money exchange. Greek drachmas and Roman coins were not acceptable as donations for Temple upkeep. They had to be shekels, the Jewish coins only. The rate of exchange fee? More than likely a huge sum that few could afford. All of these schemes in the name of faith were nothing more than "cash cows" for the religious elite.
The fig tree (Mark 11:12-14), although it had leaves and bore the signs of preparation to produce fruit, had nothing. Mark wrote that it was not yet the season for figs, yet this tree looked "right" and "ready" to produce its fruit early. It was symbolically all a "show" and a representation of the apostate worship and lives of the people of Israel. On the outside, the Jewish leadership and many of the citizens looked pious, holy, reverent, and ready to please the LORD, but it was nothing but a farce, and Jesus knew it. While Israel has been and always will be His chosen nation to give the world the Word of God and to obey Him, they have been disobedient, rebellious, idolatrous, and often played the game of devotion and religion to make themselves look good before God. They also had times of deep and earnest repentance for their sins, and turned to God after periods of chastisement, and we read about these times within the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures, or what is referred to by some as the Old Testament. We are no better, and many of you reading this message know it.
So, as Jesus prepares for what will be His last week of public ministry and final instructions to His disciples before he goes to the cross and completes His mission of atonement for the sins of humanity, He sees three problems for Israel and needs to confront them, rebuke them, and to open the eyes of the remnant of true believers that what they tend to expect from the LORD is all too often the exact opposite, and either a riot or revival occurs. There never has been any neutrality when it comes to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is either love or hate. With this in mind, His actions are going to stir up hatred from the majority of Israel. He will destroy any concept of the restoration of the country. He will destroy the false and vain religious systems that have replaced the love of God into the hearts of Israel, and He cursed the symbolic holiness and righteousness that Israel claimed to possess, but like the leafy fig tree, it was nothing but empty formalism and ritual that appeared to be the fruit of genuine devotion to God.