Why Did Jesus Curse the Fig Tree?

Dr. Ray Pritchard

2010 1 Jun
Why Did Jesus Curse the Fig Tree?

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered (Matthew 21:18-19).

Fig trees are for making figs.

Pretty simple, really. We plant apple trees because we want apples, peach trees because we want peaches, orange trees because we want oranges, and fig trees because we want figs. We might as well ask what good is an apple tree that doesn't produce apples? You might as well cut it down. Or curse it, as Jesus did the fig tree in Matthew 21:18-19.

How did Jesus know the fig tree was barren? Because the leaves and the fruit typically appear at about the same time. To see a fig tree covered with leaves but with no fruit meant that it was barren.

Symbolism and Context of the Cursed Fig Tree

Three insights will help us understand this story:

  • First, in the Old Testament, the fig tree often stood as a symbol for the nation of Israel (Jeremiah 8:13; Hosea 9:10).
  • Second, we also need to observe that the cursing of the fig tree occurs on Monday of Jesus's Passion Week, four days before his crucifixion.
  • Third, this story is placed next to the story of Jesus cleansing the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-17). The money lenders had turned the Lord's house into a den of thieves. They were profiteers who exchanged foreign currency and also sold the animals that worshipers from distant towns would buy to sacrifice before the Lord. By shrewd marketing, they could charge exorbitant rates and make a killing off the pilgrims who came to worship. The whole scene angered our Lord because he knew that the temple should be a house of prayer for all nations.

The Meaning of the Parable of the Fig Tree

Cursing the fig tree was Jesus's way of saying that the whole nation had become spiritually barren before the Lord. They had the form of religion but not the reality. They knew the right words to say, but their hearts were far from God.

Another Bible Passage About the Parable of the Fig Tree

Comparing and contrasting two accounts of the same story gives readers the benefit of different perspectives and details. In Mark’s account (Mark 11: 12-14), we read the fig tree parable before we get to Jesus clearing the temple courts. While Matthew’s account, the order of the story is swapped.

“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.” (Mark 11: 12-14).

Cultural Importance of Fig Trees

According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary, the fig tree was very common to the area both in Biblical times and still today.  And it was common knowledge in Jesus’ time that if you saw leaves on a fig tree, you could also expect fruit unless the tree was barren.

Throughout the Bible (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10), sitting under their own fig tree was a common phrase symbolizing peace and prosperity.

Excerpted from "How Did The Fig Tree Wither So Quickly?" by Keep Believing Ministries (used by permission).

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