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What did Jesus mean when He said, “Whoever says to this mountain . . .” (Mark 11:23)?

whoever says to this mountain

In Mark 11:23, Jesus makes an astonishing statement: “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says” (NKJV). Does this mean we can move mountains with our words? Is it true that we can have whatever we wish simply by speaking it into existence?

First of all, no, Jesus is not teaching that our words of faith can move actual mountains or that we can have whatever we want if we just believe. Rather, Jesus is teaching an important lesson on faith and prayer and the power of God.

Let’s back up and take a look at the context. The day before His statement about “whoever says to this mountain,” Jesus had approached a fig tree, expecting to find fruit. To His dismay, the tree had no figs (Mark 11:13). Jesus cursed the fig tree, saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (Mark 11:14). The next day, as they were passing the same fig tree, the disciples “saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!’” (Mark 11:20–21). The disciples were amazed by two things: the power of Jesus’ word and the speed of the withering.

It’s at this juncture that Jesus says, “Have faith in God. . . . Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:22–24).

Is this passage applicable to the believer in Christ today? Yes, all of Mark 11 is applicable to believers today. In Mark 11:24 and again in verse 25, Jesus makes clear that He is speaking of prayer, and we are all to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In this passage following the fig tree lesson, Jesus teaches two things about prayer:

1) We are to pray believing, without doubting, a truth taught elsewhere, too: “When you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (James 1:6–8). Our prayers should be wholehearted.

2) We are to pray boldly; we are to be courageous, even when the situation seems impossible. God is the God of the impossible (Luke 1:37), and nothing stands in His way.

The mountain referenced in Jesus’ words is the Mount of Olives. The imagery Jesus uses, of a mountain uprooting itself and casting itself into the sea, is hyperbolic, but there is more to it than that. The phrase mover of mountains seems to have been a commonplace idiom at one time. Rabbah Bar Nachmani was called “a remover of mountains” because of his great learning and ability to overcome great doctrinal difficulties (Lightfoot, J., The Harmony, Chronicle, and Order of the New Testament, 1655, § LXXIV, p. 57). Interestingly, the Mount of Olives is the site of Jesus’ future return, at which time the mountain will literally move: “The Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zechariah 14:4).

We do not think Jesus meant that mountains will literally throw themselves into the sea at our bidding. The Matterhorn is safe from the whims of larky Christians. The Mount of Olives that Jesus pointed out was representative of huge obstacles and impossible situations. We seek spiritual applications. Matthew Henry has a good word on this: “Christ taught them from hence to pray in faith. It may be applied to that mighty faith with which all true Christians are endued, and which does wonders in spiritual things. It justifies us, and so removes mountains of guilt, never to rise up in judgment against us. It purifies the heart, and so removes mountains of corruption, and makes them plain before the grace of God” (Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1706, entry for Mark 11:19–26).

In forming doctrine and establishing practice, we draw on the whole of the Bible’s teaching on any subject. Concerning the doctrine of prayer, we look at all of Scripture and we find that we pray to the Father (Matthew 6:9), in the authority of the Son (John 16:24), for good and needful things (Matthew 7:11; Philippians 4:19), from a righteous and grateful heart (James 5:16; Philippians 4:6), persistently (Luke 18:1), unselfishly (James 4:3), in faith (James 1:6), and according to the will of God (1 John 5:14). Scripture makes evident the fact that prayer is not just wanting something done and expecting it to be done according to our wishes and words.

How should the believer apply the truth of this passage today? We apply the truth of Mark 11:23 every time we pray for an errant son or daughter who is living in rebellion. Every time we pray for the salvation of the curmudgeonly atheist down the street. Every time we pray for the gospel to make inroads into a historically resistant community. Every time we pray for hard hearts to be softened, closed minds to be opened, and wagging tongues to be stilled. Jesus’ words are not a guarantee that our prayers will remove cancer, prevent tornadoes, or give us riches. But, if God wants the mountain to be moved, it will move. We should pray boldly, in faith.

Word of Faith teachers sometimes latch on to Mark 11:23 to claim a special power in their words. This is a twisting of the passage. According to Word of Faith doctrine, what we believe ultimately controls all things that happen. Faith is a force that shapes our reality, and our words possess miraculous power. According to biblical doctrine, God controls what will happen. Faith in Him and His sovereign plan gives us confidence even when we are faced with seemingly impossible situations.

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What did Jesus mean when He said, “Whoever says to this mountain . . .” (Mark 11:23)?
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This page last updated: February 15, 2023