Why did Jesus Curse the Fig Tree?
A fig tree

In Mark 11:12-25, Jesus and His 12 disciples were leaving Bethany, and Jesus was hungry. Jesus saw in a distance a fig tree in leaf, so He went to find if it had any fruit. But when He reached it, He found nothing but leaves, because it wasn’t the season for figs. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples heard Him say it. Upon reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple area. He began driving out these who were buying and selling there. He overturned the money changers’ tables, the benches of those selling doves, and wouldn’t allow anyone to carry merchandise through the Temple courts. As He taught them, He said, “My house will be called ‘a House of Prayer for all the nations’, but you’ve all made it ‘a den of robbers’.” The Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law heard this and began looking for a way to kill Him, for they feared Him because the whole crowd was amazed by His teachings. When evening came, they left the city. By morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree, withered from its roots. Peter remembered and mentioned it to Jesus. Jesus replied, “Have faith in God, I tell you the Truth. If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea’, and does not doubt in his heart, but believe what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him so that your Father in Heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Interestingly enough, verse 25 (the last sentence) seems out of place to me, for Simon only mentioned about the tree that Jesus cursed – hardly a place to bring up forgiving people. Another interesting thing about this verse is that it’s completely against human nature. No, seriously, for a faith or religion made by man would say, ‘If you have anything against anyone, curse them, and God will back you up’, using the example of the fig tree and mountain’. Because that’s what we would want, right? If we believe we’ve been wronged, we want justice! And following a God who stands for justice and is against injustice, we would expect that by using Jesus’ example with the fig tree, God would back us up in our curse against those who wronged us. But here, Jesus tells us that if we don’t forgive them, then God won’t forgive us. ‘Huh? But they wronged us! Why should we forgive THEM for sinning against US?’ Because if you want God to forgive you for the sins you commit against Him, then you need to follow the standard.

“Standard? What standard?”

Notice that Jesus called God, “Your Father in Heaven.” He didn’t say “The” Father in Heaven, He said “YOUR Father in Heaven.” (emphasis is mine). If God is OUR or YOUR FATHER in Heaven, then you must be His child. And so if you are a child of God, a child of the One and Only God who is in Heaven (and only those who receive Jesus as Lord, are), then you (we) need to take on His character and set His example in all things.

Remember, Jesus mentioned earlier about defilement originating from the heart. Don’t let your heart defile you. Jesus also continuously demonstrated true compassion for others (and He was disappointed when His 12 didn’t show such within themselves).

Jesus just talked about faith when praying. And now, when everything inside you tells you to fight, don’t. Instead, forgive them. And if you need motivation, then do it so that your Father in Heaven will forgive you when you give Him a (justified) reason not to.

Characters of our Father in Heaven:

  • Pure Heart
  • True compassion for others
  • Faith
  • Forgiveness

Remember, Jesus was training up His successors.

But what about the fig tree?
I used to joke about this, saying, “See? Even Jesus got cranky when He was hungry.” Well, Jesus’ crankiness would then continue to the Temple. But if Jesus did all this out of physical hunger, then it would be a sign of a lack of self-control, which would also be sin. So if Jesus never sinned, then there has to be more to this.

There’s something to be said about this verse (:23) that stands out more in the Greek than the English. I saw it in somebody else’s notes, but didn’t want to believe it until I checked the Greek myself. So let’s look at this a moment:
A) Jesus was hungry, saw a fig tree with leaves from afar, and figured that with leaves, it must have figs. But upon approaching it, there were none to be found, so He says that nobody will eat from it again. (nothing about withering and dying…could have continued bare, just with leaves).
B) Jesus goes into the Temple and turns over the tables/benches of those making money, etc.
C) Jesus leaves and Simon notices that the tree is withered.
D) Jesus talks on faith, moving (“This”) Mountain, believing when praying, and forgiveness of sins.

When Jesus saw the tree from afar, and expected that since it had leaves it must also have figs, which explains how disappointed He was to walk all that way expecting and looking forward to early-season figs, only to find the tree was fruitless.

In other words, it had the decoration and visual image of a tree with fruit, but it was bare, fruitless, and Jesus could only see that once He got right up to it to examine it. And so because it had the image of having fruit, but was all just show, Jesus cursed it to never bear fruit again. He didn’t tell it to wither, just that it wouldn’t ever bear fruit again. But if it doesn’t bear fruit, then there’s no identity to the tree, and there’s no reason for it to exist…so it withered and died.

In the same way, if a church exists, and looks at first as a good, holy, fruitful church, but then is realized to be quite the opposite by the time you really begin to examine it, then the same is the case. If a church is all looks and an empty shell, and produces no Godly fruit, then it has no purpose of existing. It would be better off withered and dead than to continue to fool people. There are MANY churches such as this today, and such was with the Temple of the Mount.

Notice that when Jesus arrived at the Temple, the first thing we see Him doing is destroying things? The problem was that:

  • The Temple was not built as God had commanded;
  • People were using the Temple area as a shortcut to go between the city and Mount of Olives (:16)
  • There were money-changers and vendors in the Temple. It was to be a place of worship.

So what do we make of the money-changers and vendors in the Temple? The Temple was created as a place to worship God, and none others. If you look at a coin, you will see a face of a former President on it. In Biblical times, the face on it was Caesar and the inscription on it demanded that he be recognized as a deity. So having money in the Temple was idolatry, for it bore the face of a false god (this helps understand the talk Jesus had with them later about taxes).

The point is, the Temple, like the fig tree, appeared to be serving and surviving for its purposes, but when you got up close and actually examined them for yourself, it was obvious that their purpose for existing was nowhere to be found. Remember, Jesus said that anybody who leads any of these little ones astray would be better off having a (huge) limestone tied around their neck and thrown into the sea. Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree was in response to its misleading nature. Just imagine how much worse fortune was due the temple.

Shortcut: Have you ever taken a shortcut to get someplace you wanted to go? Today, if you’re driving and want to turn onto the cross street, the rules of the road say you have to wait until you get to the intersection to turn. In other words, you’re not allowed to drive through a gas station on the corner to get to the other side. You may, but you could be cited for doing so because it’s illegal and an improper use of the gas station. Similarly, the Temple sat right between the Mount of Olives and an entrance to the town. So people would often take the shortest route to town, which was through the Temple, the Holy Temple of God. So people, often Gentiles, would carry money, lead animals and other forbidden items, through the Temple, and this was a problem, not only for the reasons of what they carried or led through, but also because they were not there for the purpose of worshipping, but to pass through to get to the city, and this was ceremonial and religiously forbidden, as well as disrespectful towards God.

The Temple wasn’t built as God had commanded: First of all, it wasn’t even the original Temple – it was built by Herod the Great. Now the size of the Jewish Temple, by Biblical standards, was a fairly modest structure…nothing huge. But pagan temples of the New Testament era were becoming mammoth-sized. So when Herod the Great rebuilt it, he first knocked down the Temple that was there and rebuilt it with massive retaining walls to help support the platform of the Temple Precinct (the western retaining wall, known today as the famous “Wailing Wall”). The place was HUGE!

The Temple area was basically a series of concentric courts, each of increasing holiness, proceeding closer to the actual Temple:
1st = “Court of the Gentiles”, where all could come and worship God. This was where the money-changers were. We can compare this today to the narthex or Fellowship Hall, I suppose. I understand that this is also the big wall that’s there today, which people stuff prayers into.
2nd = “Court of women”: Only Jewish men and women were allowed to enter this area. It had chests for tithes and the temple tax (this is the area where we read about the poor woman’s tithe).
3rd = “Court of Israel”: Only ritually-clean Jewish men could enter here. This was where Jesus “looked around” (:11)
4th = “Temple area”: Only priests were allowed beyond this point. It entailed an altar of uncut stones, a porch, and then the Temple, which was constructed of marble and gold, built to Solomon’s specifications.
5th = “Inside Temple (Holy Place)”: there you would find a lampstand, table for the bread of presence, incense, and an alter all cast in pure gold.
6th = “The Most Holy Place”: This was separate from the Holy place by a long heavy, embroidered curtain. There was one rock upon which the priests offered incense and sprinkled blood once annually on the Day of Atonement.

Other structures inside included barracks for Roman Troops, the House of the Sanhedrin, and a bath house for ritual immersion (required for entering the Temple area). That’s another thing, the Temple was created for worship, but it also housed the Sanhedrin, and barracks for Roman Troops…Gentiles! Gentiles lived in the Temple of God! On the plus side, it was good for the sake of the riot mentioned in Acts with Paul, for since they were already there, they were able to break things up and quickly control the situation…but it was still wrong for them to be there.

So in the morning, when Jesus and His 12 disciples walked past the fig tree, they noticed it was withered from its roots…as will the Temple be for its failure to exist for its purpose (and it was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans).

“Have Faith in God. If someone says to This Mountain…” Which mountain? The previous day, Jesus walked into the temple mountain. Bethany was southeast of Jerusalem, so as one approaching the city, the Temple mount would stand out. So the fig tree represented either the Temple or Israel (ultimately).

So now look at this:
If the fig tree represented the Temple, then it also represents the Church today.
If the fig tree represents Israel, then it also represents Christians today.

Reflection:

  1. Are you existing for your purpose, which is to worship, glorify, and live for God?
  2. If Jesus appeared before you now, what about you (or in your life) would you be afraid Jesus would overturn and drive out?

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