Around the time that Jesus cleansed the temple during His last Passover week, He cursed a fig tree that was not bearing fruit.
Matthew and Mark record this slightly differently.
Matthew’s account is in Chapter 21. The fig tree episode is placed after the cleansing of the temple.
Mark’s account is in Chapter 11, where it bookends the cleansing of the temple (verses 12-14 and 20-25).
It is interesting that neither account of Jesus cursing the fig tree is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. That said, Mark 11:20-25 — The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree — is included.
I wrote about Matthew 21:18-22 in March 2016. This is about more than a hungry Jesus being unable to find and eat a fig:
This is an allegory for the curse to come to the Jews for their unbelief and hard hearts. Remember that the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. No replacement was ever built.
The fig tree with leaves and no fruit symbolises the Jewish people of His day. The hierarchy were hypocrites, with one set of rules for themselves and an onerous one for ordinary Jews. The religious leaders felt that Jesus threatened their prestige and power. Instead of seeing Him as their long-awaited Messiah, foretold in so many places in Scripture, they plotted to kill Him. They looked religious — just as the fig tree looked fruitful, covered in leaves as it was. However, just as the leaders were devoid of faith and dead in sin, so the fig tree was devoid of fruit. Under the principles of divine judgement, both would have to go.
The ordinary people were no better. How many thousands followed Him to be amazed? How many followed Him and came to believe He was their Saviour? Very few.
This allegory also relates to Christians who look pious outwardly but have empty hearts with no faith. Works won’t make up for a lack of faith. True fruits of faith come spontaneously (emphases mine):
Fruit is a spontaneous product of real faith. It’s checking in on a sickly neighbour not because you think you ought to, but because you want to. It’s helping other people because you personally feel the urge to do so. Fruit is praying as if you were talking to a friend several times a day, whether asking for divine grace and assistance or giving thanks for blessings received.
My post on Matthew has good quotes from John MacArthur on those verses, including this one:
… some of you are not seeing God work in your life simply because there’s no persistence in your prayer. There’s no continuance in your prayer. There’s no strengthening. You don’t get an answer so you quit. And it’s not mustard seed, it’s something else. Mustard seeds start small, gets big.
I wrote about Mark 11:12-14 in 2012. The themes explored in that post relate to true worship and a nation’s health. It dovetails nicely with yesterday’s post, ‘Monday of Holy Week: the righteous anger of Jesus towards the money changers’. In 2012, I wrote:
It is time for more of us to return to the Bible, to prayer, to faith. We can see that our apostasy — again, generally speaking — is spreading to our nations and governments, allowing evil to gain a foothold. What did Jesus and the authors of the Epistles say? Repent, repent, repent. All is not lost, however, we must mend our ways starting today.
A corrupt Church means a corrupt nation.
Yes, Christ’s bride the Church will ultimately prevail, but it is time to reread Revelation 2 and 3, namely, His letters to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
It’s odd, isn’t it, that not one of those letters is in the Lectionary. Not a single one.
John MacArthur’s sermon on those verses has this:
The direct application of the curse is to the temple, but it expands to the temple leadership and the temple participants and thus to the nation and becomes very personal…very personal. Paul says they had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. They made a fatal flaw. They didn’t worship idols, that wasn’t what they did, that’s what caused the destruction of the first temple. And an idol caused the destruction of the second temple. The destruction of this temple is not about idols, it’s about thinking you can establish your own righteousness, Romans 10 …
He went to the temple at the beginning. He went to the temple at the end. And He confronted the corruption of Israel’s religion all three years in between. When the temple is corrupt, it’s because the leaders are corrupt. When the leaders are corrupt, the people are corrupt. When the people are corrupt, the nation is corrupt. If it’s bad in the temple, it’s bad everywhere. And I say to you in a general sense, the measure of any society is its worship. You cannot judge a people by their economic status. You cannot judge a nation by its economics. God doesn’t. You can’t judge a nation by its social equity. You can’t judge a nation by its concern for protection of people from harm. That’s superficial. You judge a nation by its worship. That’s how God judges. And it’s worship that determines eternal destiny.
The Lord always goes to the temple, to the heart of worship … Judgment always begins with the house of God.
Holy Week is the ideal time, in light of these historical events, for us to take stock of our personal spiritual situation. Are we Christians for appearance’s sake, in public but not in private? Or are we truly on the road to sanctification, becoming ever closer to Jesus and God the Father in our daily journey?