Read Matthew 21:18-22
According to Mark Jesus cursed the fig tree on his way to the temple Tuesday morning and the next day, on Wednesday, Peter noticed the tree, remembered Jesus had cursed it, and now it is withered from the roots. The tree wasn’t just a little droopy in the leaves, it was withered from the roots out.
Matthew likes to cut to the chase, he gets to the point and the point is, Jesus cursed the tree and now it is completely dead and withered. Mark also mentions that it was not time for figs to grow. Figs were out of season in this particular area. So why would Jesus curse a fig tree that wasn’t even supposed to have fruit on it in the first place?
Let’s set the scene. Its early morning. We are not sure why Jesus is so hungry, I’m sure Martha prepared breakfast for them. Maybe Jesus was too busy praying or maybe he decided to sleep in a little that morning. Either way their two-mile, uphill trek had Jesus work up an appetite. Just off the side of the road, a short distance off, he notices a fig tree. Figs are tasty treats. And very good for you, they are full of fiber that will help you feel full longer.
Noticing the tree, Jesus heads over to get some of its fruit. But then he notices the tree had deceived him because there was no fruit on it. This fruit tree was not bearing fruit. We mentioned before that Jesus gets a little hangry and so he cursed the tree.
In order to have this unusual story make sense it would be helpful to understand a little about fig trees and their symbolism. All through the Bible the fig tree is a symbol that represents Israel. The fig tree represents wealth, prosperity and richness in the land. The lack of fig trees growing on the land represented judgement.
Fig trees develop their fruit before they develop their leaves. The fruit is green, and it blends into the leaves so from a distance you would notice the green leaves and since leaves come after the fruit, it would be correct for Jesus to assume this tree had fruit as well. Yes, he knew it would have been out of season (according to Mark) but he saw the leaves. He expected fruit.
A fig tree often produces two to three crops each season. Early spring and then two more later in the season. Depending on where they’re located in Israel, the tree could produce fruit 10 out of the 12 months. So, even though it wasn’t quite in season, it was possible this tree could have fruit.
The day before, Jesus spent his morning clearing out his Father’s temple. The very temple where his Father’s chosen people were supposed to be praying and worshiping. Today he sees a tree that is the symbol of Israel and it’s not bearing any fruit. It is a sore reminder of just how off base his own people really are.
This barren fig tree was a representation of the spiritual condition of Israel. And Jesus cursed it. This curse was a symbolic way of criticizing the people’s lack of worship. Their lack of respect for God and his holy dwelling place.
You see, the Jews acted like they had it all together. On the outside they were sacrificing, they were going to temple regularly, they were remembering their rescue from the Egyptians just like God told them to do. They were doing everything any good little church goer should do. The problem is there is no fruit. It does not matter what you do or what you say, if you are not bearing the fruit of the Lord, then you are not connected to God.
The tree is Israel; the leaves represent Israel’s activity and the lack of figs represents Israel’s lack of godliness. You see the fruit is always the indicator of salvation. Jesus said we will know them by their fruit. We can tell who the real Christians are based on their fruit. When we see Godly characteristics being displayed by average people, we know they are one with God.
Jesus cursed the fig tree, goes into the temple, clears out the temple. The next day they pass by and see how withered the tree became because of its lack of fruit, its lack of salvation. There is no life without salvation.
When Jesus cleared the temple, he was criticizing his own people. He was pouring out judgement on their disobedience. The chief priests and teachers of law hated this. No one wants to be told they are in the wrong or especially that they are going against God. They certainly were not expecting to receive a king who poured out judgement on them. But that is exactly what Jesus did on that day. He judged them for their ungodly behavior. They were deceiving. They had every appearance of being a child of God, except for the fruit.
When Jesus cursed the fig tree it died (vs. 19). The disciples were amazed at just how quickly this tree dried up. And they asked Jesus about it. They knew it was cursed, I guess they didn’t expect it to immediately begin to decay, and they asked, ” How did the fig tree wither so quickly?”
The disciples didn’t make the correlation between the fig tree and the Jews. I wonder if they ever did. But what they were amazed at, was the miracle they witnessed firsthand. The fact that Jesus could curse a living creation because it wasn’t producing the fruit it was ordained to produce. That he could curse a living creation because it was deceiving, it looked good but wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. This is the power Jesus has. He can speak out blessings and curses and they will forever be maintained. The word of God will not return void, it accomplishes exactly what it is intended to do.