Jim what is meant by “if you have faith you can take this mountain and cast it into the sea?”
Considering that neither Jesus nor any of the disciples were recorded as having attempted a literal mountain-moving, nor did the disciples ask Jesus to do it, I have to wonder what they actually heard him say. I’m not questioning that he said it, only that the situation had directed their attention on something other than the same kind of literal meanings we might give it.
On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening. Then they *came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS’? But you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching. When evening came, they would go out of the city. As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Being reminded, Peter *said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.” And Jesus *answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Mark 11:12-23 NASB
Look at the events:
- Jesus cursed the fig tree that had no fruit
- They go to Jerusalem
- Entered temple
- Jesus drove out the merchants
- Scathing rebuke by Jesus directed at leadership
- Leaders begin hatching plan to destroy Jesus
- Disciples see fig tree withered and ask Jesus about it
- He speaks of casting “this mountain” into the sea.
Something tells me that their thoughts were not on a physical mountain. Instead, Jesus tied the incident regarding the fig tree together with asking for anything in faith, and then specifically spoke of asking that this mountain be cast into the sea. If the disciples wanted to express their doubts about the moving of an actual mountain, I think they would have, either by asking Jesus about it or more likely in private, when they were on their own. As it is, they would have been feeling the impact of everything that was happening at the time. I’m sure they enjoyed some of the interplay between Jesus and the leaders of Jerusalem, but they also knew how dangerous it was. We know this from the record because it reveals them being fairly freaked out.
I think they were feeling the weight of the mountain while they were in Jerusalem that day, and I am certain they carried the sense of back with them to the fig tree. Regarding their understanding of the figurative use of mountains, especially Jesus’ relation to it, consider the following:
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. John 1:10-11 NASB
This reality was playing itself out in front of them through that whole experience.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! “Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’” Luke 13:34-35 NASB
Jesus addressed Jerusalem as representative of his own who did not receive him.
Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. Galatians 4:21-26 NASB
Years later, Paul would also make an even more pointed description of the mountain that Jesus came to set his own free from. The present Jerusalem corresponds to Mount Sinai, the place where the Law was given.
For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:18-24 NASB
Here again, the author of the Hebrews letter makes a similar connection. The mountain that is done away in Christ is Mount Sinai —that which corresponds to the present earthly Jerusalem— while the mountain that corresponds to the freedom brought by Christ is Mount Zion, which is the heavenly Jerusalem.
Also, the story Jesus told of the vineyard that did not produce any fruit under its current tenants speaks to the same truth
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” They *said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” Matthew 21:33-41 NASB
Unaware of the trap, the leaders responded by condemning those tenants, only to discover that they had condemned themselves.
Jesus *said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet. Matthew 21:42-46 NASB
I do not believe that Jesus made up some kind of hypothetical prayer or theological fodder that would never get asked or fulfilled, but that he spoke of his very purpose in having come. For when Jesus died and rose again, he had cast the mountain of bondage into the sea. The hypocrites who had set themselves up in the seat of Moses were removed. A new owner was brought in to reign over a new creation.