Cursing of the fig tree


Michael Jeshurun

“And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, He was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He might find anything thereon: and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And His disciples heard it. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto Him, Master, behold, the fig tree which Thou cursedst is withered away.” [Mark 11:12-21]

THIS is one portion of scripture that always perplexes new converts. WHY did our Lord curse the ‘fig tree’ seeing that it was not the time of figs?

But THAT is the whole point! There is contained in this episode a frightening truth which many are not willing to receive. First of all why a ‘fig-tree’ and not a ‘date-tree’ or an ‘olive tree’?

Good reliable and sound theologians through the ages have always understood the ‘fig-tree’ to represent the nation Israel! And that with good reason, for God Himself compares Israel to a ‘fig-tree’.

“I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I SAW YOUR FATHERS AS THE FIRSTRIPE IN THE FIG TREE at her first time!” [Hosea 9:10]

“For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion. He hath laid my vine waste, AND BARKED MY FIG TREE: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.” [Joel 1:6,7]

Now if a tree is ‘cut down’ there is hope that it will sprout again – “there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease!” [Job 14:7] But when a tree is dried up from the ROOTS that hope is a vain hope! “for the root of the matter is not in it!” [Job 19:28]

And the fig tree which our Lord cursed was “dried up from the ROOTS!”

Notice the words that Mark records: ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again’(NASV). The King James is even more emphatic:, ‘No man eat fruit of thee HEREAFTER FOREVER!’ Additionally this harmonizes with the Lord’s parable in Luke 13 where the fruitless fig tree is cut down after giving it additional time to produce fruit. Notice that the tree had been given a period of three years (Luke 13:7) yet it still failed to produce any fruit. It is then given an additional year at the urging of the vineyard dresser. Then, if it is still fruitless, it is cut down as it only encumbers the ground.

Christ’s ministry with the Jews lasted 3½ years. This parable appears to have been given after the third year of Jesus’ ministry. After these three years of being blessed by the presence of the glorious Son of God in their midst, the nation by far had rejected Him. Note – the leaders and scribes in particular. They continually sought to poison the minds of His hearers and did all they could to discredit Him even accusing Him of being in league with Beelzebub! How many times do we read of the crowd taking up stones in an attempt to kill Him? How many times do we read of their insults and cruelty towards His person, mocking His virgin birth, calling Him ‘mad’ and a quack, accusing Him of being a wine bibber and a drunkard and glutton etc? They would be granted one more year in which to hear Him speak the words of life and then they would reap the whirlwind if they still remained fruitless.

The continued hostility of the chief priests and scribes right until the very end of Jesus’ life, even as He hung upon the bloody cross, revealed the depth of their intense hatred of His person and ministry. In other words, the longsuffering of the owner of the vineyard had been exhausted and there remained nothing to look for except the onslaught of the fierce judgment of God upon the apostate nation.

There is a poignant saying of Christ at the end of chapter 21 in which He has just finished speaking a parable to the scribes and chief priests in which He predicts their utter ruin (Matt 21: 33-41). So angered were they by this parable that they sought to kill Jesus right there on the spot (v.46) as they understood that He was speaking directly against them (v. 45). Something Jesus said in verse 43 bears close scrutiny:

“The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and GIVEN TO A NATION bringing forth the fruits thereof !” (Matt 21: 43).

This is a remarkable saying indeed! Fruitless Israel was stripped of the kingdom and was soon to be cast into utter ruin and desolation (v 41). Now what possible nation could be given the kingdom? Answer – the holy nation spoken of by the apostle Peter in his first letter:

“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an HOLY NATION, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light …” (1 Peter 2: 9).

The Scripture knows of no other nation that is called ‘God’s holy nation’ but the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, that nation made up of both Jews and Gentiles, made one new man in Christ (Eph 2: 11-16, especially v. 15) where all national distinctions vanish (Gal 3: 26-29). Fruitless Israel after the flesh has been cast out, the covenant broken (Zech 11: 10-11) exactly as God had promised. The barren fruit tree would be cut down never to cumber the ground anymore or produce any fruit forever!

The rest of Matthew , chapter 22, chronicles the manner in which the chief priests, scribes, and lawyers attempted to trick Jesus into saying something treasonable so that they could might accuse him before Pilate or confuse Him by arguing about some abstract matters of the law so as to discredit Him before the people. Little did they figure on the Wisdom of God incarnate utterly putting them to shame. So thoroughly did the Lord Jesus confound His opponents that He left them speechless!

This now sets the stage where the Lord launches into a denunciation of the Pharisees, scribes, religious leaders, etc, of the day employing some of the harshest language even seen in the Scriptures. One solemn woe after another is pronounced upon these wicked men culminating in perhaps the most blood-chilling expression ever recorded in the entirety of Scripture.

“Fill up then the measure (of the guilt) of your fathers!” [Matt 23:32]

There is no more time for repentance. No more pleas from the Son of God. No more urgings. That is over! The longsuffering of God is exhausted and now all that awaits these reprobates is the totality of the wrath of God against whom they have finally sinned unto death!

“Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Not only did our Lord curse the Nation Israel to fruitlessness and desolation, but THEY CURSED THEMSELVES! Remember their spiteful words before Pilate? – “His blood be on us, and on our children!” [Matt 27:25]

And the blood of Christ came upon them! This precious blood which is the most precious thing in the universe; which can wash the vilest sinner and qualify him for heaven is also the greatest curse when it comes on a person or people in wrath! In the parable of the vinedressers which is a direct reference to the Jews our Lord said this –

“But last of all He sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my Son.
But when the husbandmen saw the Son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on His inheritance.
And they caught Him, and cast Him out of the vineyard, and slew Him.
When the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will He do unto those husbandmen?
They say unto Him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out His vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render Him the fruits in their seasons.
Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?
And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, IT WILL GRIND HIM TO POWDER!” [Matt 21:27-44]

None of this means that a Jew cannot be saved! For “even so then at this present time also THERE IS A REMNANT according to the election of grace!” [Rom 11:5] But any Jew who ‘gets saved’ now or in the future is saved the same way the African, Indian or Ethiopian is saved – by repentance and faith in the precious sacrifice and atonement of the Messiah – even the Lord Jesus Christ! And he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him! Amen! [John 3:36]


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