I’ve gone back and looked at the two posts on the cursing of the fig tree so far and realized that they make no sense. I should have just posted my teaching notes. Teach me for trying to throw a post together without having much time. Well, this post will be my final (and in a real sense first) piece addressing the fig tree.
So, all I’ve really stated so far is this: when Jesus was rejected by Israel as her king, she committed the final act of high treason, which resulted in two things. First, King Jesus became judge, pronouncing the verdict and sentence upon Israel. Second, the sin of Israel was shown to be beyond repair, save the intervening work of Israel’s savior. Therefore, the king and judge of Israel would also have to be sacrificed to redeem his chosen people.
Now I’m going to look at the cursing of the fig tree and try to fit this into what is happening in these days. First, it is not obvious how to place the three major events that I’m looking at: the triumphal (albeit failed) entry, the cursing of the fig tree, and the cleansing of the temple. Here is how I see the days fitting together:
The Triumphal Entry happens the first day Jesus comes to Jerusalem in the days preceding the feast. That same evening, after looking around the temple, he goes back to Bethany for the night. The following morning he proceeds back to Jerusalem, and this time, while he is walking toward the city, he sees a fig tree in the distance, inspects it for fruitfulness, curses it for being without fruit, and then he continues his walk to the city. As he comes over the Mount of Olives, and sees the city spread out below him, he begins weeping over the city (as seen in Luke’s account), giving the explanation for why the city will be utterly destroyed. Finally, he enters the city and temple again, and begins cleansing the temple from those who perverted the true worship of God.
If I’m correct in the ordering of these events, which I’m not sure really matters, it seems to me that in Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree, we are seeing a prophetic act, whereby he is demonstrating what is taking place even as the prophets of old did. The event seems odd because the actions of the prophets always seemed odd (think: laying on one’s side for a year, building models of Jerusalem and laying siege to it, etc.). Well, to the text.
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it.
Mark 11:12-14 (ESV)
I’ve seen a few commentators say things like, “See, Jesus is human and frail like us, the weight of knowing that he was about to be killed, and his hunger, have caused him to react harshly.” No, he is acting the part of a prophet. Here’s how.
We are told the Jesus saw the fig tree from afar and that it was not the season for figs. So, it really makes no sense for Jesus to go inspect it for fruit, unless he is trying to demonstrate something. Upon inspecting the tree, and finding it fruitless, he curses the fig tree, commanding it to be fruitless forever. It seems to me that Jesus is showing that in his coming from afar to inspect the Temple in Jerusalem, he found it lacking fruit, and therefore he was forced to remove the function of the temple. The sacrificial system instituted by God through Moses, was unable to produce the fruit that God required. God had commanded Israel to be fruitful and to be a blessing to the whole world, instead it had become rotten to the core, rejecting God himself. Therefore, Jesus was bringing that institution to an end.
And yet, as Jesus continues on his way, cresting the Mount of Olives, he saw the city, which he had just cursed, and broke down in tears. The weight of what he was going on at this time overcame him and he broke into tears crying, “Would that you, even you, would have known the day of your visitation.”
And, the prophetic act proved true, Jesus himself took on the whole sacrificial system in his own body, so that Israel could once again fulfill it’s mandate to be fruitful. In Christ’s death and resurrection, he not only purchased the right to forgive sins, but he also purchased the right to fill his people with his Holy Spirit. Now, it is through the filling of the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to bear the fruit of the Spirit and be a blessing to the nations.
In fact, he is coming again someday to inspect the world. He will be looking for the fruit that he died to obtain. If we are found fruitless at that time, we will be cursed forever, but if we remain in him and bear abundant fruit, we will prove to be the true sons of God and will be given the full inheritance.
Above: As I was in Indy when I posted this, I thought I throw up a picture of an old train trestle in the Bloomington area.