Mountain and sea
Mark 11:22-25 is a well-known passage on faith:
And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
In his commentary on the gospel of Mark, Mark Horne writes about this and the context:
The fig tree story is sandwiched around the story of Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple (as it is commonly called). The miracle of the withered fig tree is a parable for Jerusalem and the people of Israel. God wants some fruit from them and he is about to judge them because they are not producing any.
Thus, Jesus’ discussion of prayer in Mark 11:22-26 is not simply a timeless exhortation to have faith and know that all prayers asked in faith will be answered. Jesus is discussing the prayers which the early Church will have to pray in the face of opposition from the Temple Mount. . . . Jesus is not speaking of mountains in general. He has made a point of saying which mountain will be cast into the sea by believing prayer. The “sea” in this case is the same sea Daniel saw in his vision (Dan. 7; cf. Rev. 17:15). Speaking of a foreign invasion as a drowning flood was not uncommon rhetoric for a prophet (Is. 8:7; Jer. 47:2). . . . It is the Gentile nations who will overwhelm Jerusalem as a flood and trample the city underfoot. Just as Jesus cursed the fig tree, so will God deliver the Church through the prayers of the saints.
For this reason, it is important that the persecuted saints not become personally vindictive and hateful. Jesus warns them to forgive all personal offenses. . . (149-150)
Even before Daniel, Isaiah and Jeremiah, we see mountains battling with the sea in Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. . . .
Because of Israel’s faithlessness, the city of God was cast into the Babylonian sea in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, but was re-established by God through Cyrus. Antiochus Epiphanes later covered the mountain with the Greek sea. And Jerusalem would be finally cast into the Roman sea in A.D. 70. We see a hint in each case that it is because of the prayers of the persecuted and oppressed that the corrupt and unrepentant mountain is cast into the sea.
Psalm 46 gives hope — not that the sea would be kept at bay, but that there would be protection and restoration for the persecuted, for the faithful and repentant remnant, even though the mountain is destroyed. Just as he had previously desolated the temple (e.g., Ezek. 10), Jesus left the temple desolate of his presence (Mark 13), so that he was no longer “in the midst of her.” He established a new city-mountain in his church (Heb. 12:18ff).
I wonder if there is a subtle ambiguity to this prophetic imagery. For those who do not repent, the raging sea destroys the mountain. But for those who are faithful to Jesus, Jew and Gentile are united in a different and life-giving way, so that in Jesus the two become one tree (Rom. 11), one man and body (Eph.). Both are accomplished through the prayer and witness of the church.
Realizing the pointed nature of Jesus’s imagery here does not lessen the application of this passage to our faith today; on the contrary, it underscores the great power of the praying church.