Jesus enters Jerusalem one last time. He will spend the next few days needling the religious authorities to within an inch of their patience. The people come out to greet Jesus as he enters the city. No doubt the people are reminded of another triumphal entry many decades before-- the entry of Judas Maccabeus, who had liberated Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple. But Jesus has something else in mind for the Temple. His first stop upon his arrival is the Temple itself, but it is too late in the day, so Jesus leaves for Bethany with his disciples to stay with friends.
The next day, Jesus performs a strange act that will explain his soon-to-be-actions in the Temple. Jesus is hungry, so he approaches a fig tree to pick some of its fruit, even though Jesus knows that its season for the production of fruit has already passed. Nevertheless, he curses the fig tree saying, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again."
He then enters the Temple to do what he had planned to do the night before, but did not because the hustle and bustle of the day had finished. In an act sure to get everybody's attention, Jesus begins turning over the tables of the money changers and those selling animals for sacrifice, refusing to allow anyone to carry anything through.
Jesus' anger is two-fold with both concerns related:
The religious leaders have taken the Temple, which God had intended to be a place for all the nations to come and worship, and they had crowded out the Gentiles with their buying and selling. They had turned the Temple into a place of ethnic pride and exclusivity.
Moreover, in so doing the religious leaders had also turned the Temple, says Jesus quoting Jeremiah, into their own little safety zone, their refuge, feeling that they are safe from God's judgment. In essence, Jesus accuses them of turning the Temple into the hideout where they, "the James Gang," divide the loot they have robbed from others.
In this symbolic act, Jesus does not cleanse the Temple; he judges it. The Sadduccees and the Pharisees have so corrupted the Temple, that there is no reforming it. God will judge it, just as Jesus cursed the fig tree. If the tree will not bear fruit in its season, then there will be no season for it at all. God has expected his people, his fig tree, to bear fruit, and they have not; so now the season for producing fruit has passed and there will be no further opportunities.
Such acts continue to raise the authority question in the minds of the religious leaders. The chief priests and the scribes and the elders ask Jesus, "By what authory are you doing these things." Who gave you authority to do them."
Of course, there is nothing that Jesus can say that will satisfy them, so he turns the tables on them by asking them a question: "Did John's baptism come from heaven or from human origin?" They know that no matter how they answer, they have a problem. They did not believe John, but they knew that the people believed him to be a prophet.
Instead of taking a stand they simply respond that they do not know; an amazing admission from people who are supposed to know these things. Jesus responds to them in like fashion. If they will not answer his question, neither will he answer theirs. At this point the religious leaders are probably so embarrassed that they do not press Jesus further. At least in this they are wise.