40 Jesus "Curses" the Fig Tree
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
If Jesus is not violent what do we do with the time that He cursed the fig tree? Join us to discover what Jesus was really endeavouring to accomplish in this story about the fig tree.
Jesus “Curses” the Barren Fig Tree and it Wither’s.
Jesus had come to Jerusalem for the last time hoping the Jewish leaders would accept the salvation He had communicated through teaching, miracles and compassion. After the Triumphal Entry on Sunday, he finds the temple being misused again as a place of commercial exploitation even though He had cleansed it of this trafficking three years earlier. This selling would have been in the Gentile’s court, the only place foreigners could worship. He had hoped His influence, including the temple cleansing at the beginning of His public ministry, would have given the leaders an understanding of the character of God. If they had responded He could have explained the significance of the sacrifices. But it was not to be. The leaders were caught up in their own agendas of wealth, political position and national greatness. The fruit of the Spirit was absent from their lives and in the barren fig tree Jesus sees a reflection of the situation and He uses it as an acted parable to illustrate the consequence of rejecting God’s Messiah. Here are the Biblical passages. Matthew 21:18 Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 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. 20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. 21 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Mark 11:12 The next day (Monday) as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 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. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. The temple is cleansed, and Jesus declares it was made to be a house of prayer for all nations. Mark11:20 In the morning (Tuesday), as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” 22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “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 believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” A fig tree loses its leaves in winter. When it produces leaves in Spring it advertises that it has figs too because they appear at the same time. The other fig trees had no leaves and so they were not claiming fruit. It was the tree that was claiming to have fruit which drew Jesus’ attention. Jesus was reminded of another “tree” which had leaves! (Jeremiah 8:13; Hosea 9:10) Trees are also used to symbolize leaders in the Bible. In Daniel 4:22 the great tree represents king Nebuchadnezzar. In Psalm 1:3 trees represent godly leaders. Thus, Jesus is justified in viewing this fig tree a symbol of His people Israel who claimed to represent God. Mark 13:1 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 41
The magnificent temple corresponds to the leaves of the fig tree advertising figs. One would expect to have the fruit of worshiping God from those who worshiped in this temple. One would not expect these fruits from those who did not know the God of this temple. Jesus came to this beautiful temple to find the fruit of the Spirit. What He found was resistance, rejection and rebellion. So, He prophesies that the temple will come to an end from the “roots” up. How can we be sure this is what was on Jesus mind in this enacted parable of the future of the temple? When Jesus calls His disciples to “Have faith in God” he is thinking of the religious leaders who have no faith in God. Their religion had become a round of human traditions and rituals to earn salvation. They had all the leaves, the pretense of having the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit, or the natural consequence of welcoming the Spirit into the heart, was missing. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). What Jesus experienced from the temple leaders was exactly the opposite: hatred, anger, conflict, impatience, cruelty, wickedness, badness and Satanic possession. Their failure to believe in the Messiah was the mountain that stood in the way of their salvation. Jesus knew that if only they would have faith in God, this mountain would be removed. They would be forgiven of their sin of unbelief and the Messianic age would be ushered in.
Jesus never curses (let your no be no!)
Matthew 5:37 (NIV) Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Jesus did not curse the tree in the same way He never cursed the temple. What He did was to foretell the future of both the fig tree and the temple. It was Peter who decided Jesus had cursed the tree (Mark 11:20). Cursing is very popular with sinners and because they are under the curse of sin they are apt to curse others. Those who are “under law” are inclined to curse. It is the consequence of feeling condemned. Those “under grace” have inspiration for those they meet. There was a lot of cursing in the Old Testament. Read Leviticus 26 to notice many curses God was promising if Israel were disobedient. Peter decided the tree had died because of what Jesus had said. The truth was that tree was already dying and this is why it had no fruit. Jesus’ words did not determine the future, they predicted the future. If I say, “You, the reader, will be dead in less than 90 years.” This does not mean I am going to kill you so that you will die! You do not die because I said you would die, but because we all do. It is the consequence of Adam’s sin. Prediction is not causation. The temple which Jesus visited was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, not because Jesus said it would be, but because the people of the temple did not receive the One who could have preserved the temple forever.
It is attitude that counts
Romans 6:14-15 (NIV) For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Parables which allude to the end of sinners
There are parables which Jesus told which seem to indicate that He would bring a violent end to, or a curse on, Jerusalem and sinners. To bring closure on the apparent use of a violent “curse” by Jesus we will examine these parables.
The Parable of the weeds
(Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).
41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
According to this passage it seems clear that Jesus will send His angels to sort sinners from saints and finish off sinners with fire. This conclusion is as good as it gets if one would like to prove that Jesus brings sinners to a violent end. There is the problem of how to cast sin into a fire that needs to be considered. It seems that the idea of this parable is that sin and sinners will be destroyed. However, before we draw any conclusions, we need to consider the other parables about the end of sinners.
The unmerciful servant. (Matthew 18:23-35)
34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” Based on this passage the Father is apparently going to torture those who do not forgive others. If the end is literal who would the jailers? Angels? Demons? Some of the saved?
The wicked tenants (Matthew 21:28-32)
After Jesus has told the parable which ends with the son being killed by the wicked tenants He asks the listeners to speculate on what should happen to these tenants. Here is their answer: 41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” This answer is interesting because it reflects their understanding of what eventually happens to sinners, unmerciful servants, and wicked tenants. They come to a wretched end. From the parables we have considered so far, this “wretched end” is confusing, but it is certain. Another issue which needs to be addressed is the use and meaning of parables. The word parable has the same root as parabola. The latter means having one focus, like the headlamp on an automobile. In the same way parables have one focus. They are stories which have one main point to make. They have a punch line like a good joke. Apart from the main point or punch line the other details are incidental to this thrust or major concern. The stories which comprise Jesus’ parables were known to His audience. So, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the details of these two conversing across the great chasm was a familiar story of the day. This conversation and other details were not intended to reveal anything about what happens after death. The point of this parable was that if the listeners did not have faith they would not even believe the words of a resurrected prophet. Jesus had a way of adding an unexpected punch line to familiar stories which made the listeners take notice.
The wedding banquet. (Matthew 22:1-14)
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
The wicked servant. (Matthew 24:45-51) 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The talents. (Matthew 25:14-30)
24 “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The sheep and the goats. (Matthew 25:31-46)
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. According to the above passage then the fate of sinners is parallel to the fate of the devil – a fate never intended for men and women. What the fate of the devil is will be considered at a later stage. But while all these parables make their point, none of them are intended to focus on the end of sinners. The fate of sinners in incidental to the parables except to emphasize that there is a horrible end for sin and sinners. But one verse in particular bears a closer scrutiny. It comes from the parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14). 5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. What does this last sentence mean? Certainly it does not mean that Jesus was so angry with His people that He destroyed them and burned their city. All these consequences happened but not at the hand of the Saviour who wept over their stubborn resistance. In 70 AD the Roman armies came to deal with this rebellious city. It was the Romans who burned the city and destroyed the inhabitants. Shall we say that Caesar’s armies metonymically stand in for God’s armies referred to in the parable? Hardly! Again, in this parable, Jesus was predicting the fate of His city in language that was in vogue at the time. Insurance language refers to a tornado as “an act of God.” We do not believe this for one moment, but we do not attempt to edit the language used in our home and auto policies. We simply go along with it knowing that it is a misunderstanding of the cause of tornadoes.
The end of sinners described by these parables is contradictory.
Here is a summary of their fate: a fiery furnace, torture by jailers, a wretched end, cut in pieces, thrown into the darkness, burned in the eternal fire, destroyed by an army. What we can be sure of is that they will be destroyed. How this will happen cannot be determined from the parables. Parables, we must be remember, are not reliable for determining details. Parables communicate one point and the details are often taken from the current folklore. They teach by calling on the concrete to communicate the unexpected or the abstract. In these parables, Jesus was not trying to communicate exactly what happens to sinners, but that their end is certain. To find out how they come to their end we will have to search elsewhere.
According to one Messianic passage in the book of Isaiah, Jesus never resorted to violence. 53:9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. There are many passages in the New Testament which refer to gentleness as a primary characteristic of Jesus, His followers and as a gift of the Spirit. (Matthew 11:29; 21:5; 2 Corinthians 10:1; Galatians 5:23; Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 4:5; Colossians 3:12; 1Timothy 3:3; 6:11; 1 Peter 3:4,15) These references indicate that the writers understood the gentleness of their Lord and Master. We can too. We must espouse the gentleness of Jesus. There is no place for curses and threats and violence in God’s Kingdom.