Why did Jesus curse a fig tree? What is the importance of Jesus cursing the fig tree?
Jesus cursing the fig tree is recorded in both Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-14, 20-25. A close look at these accounts provides insights regarding why Jesus chose to curse this fig tree.
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In both accounts, it is clear that the timing of this cursing is of critical relevance. It took place during the week that Jesus would be crucified. It appears Jesus cursed the fig tree the day after the triumphal entry, or Palm Sunday, when the people praised Him as the Messiah-King. In Mark's account, Jesus cursed the fig tree on His way to clear the temple. The next day, Jesus and the disciples passed the fig tree and saw that it had withered overnight, a surprising contrast.
The relevance of the cursing of the fig tree is closely related with the other events taking place at that time. Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem during the time of the Passover. He was to be received as King and His followers were to bear much fruit. Yet Jesus knew He would soon be rejected by His own people. Mark notes that "it was not the season for figs," but the tree was "in leaf," a sign that figs should have been on it. The people appeared to accept Jesus and the religious leaders claimed to follow God; but they failed to bear fruit and instead Jesus was crucified. Many see Jesus' cursing of the fig tree and cleansing of the temple as symbolic of God's denouncing Israel as a nation, and in many ways His denouncing those who claim Christ but do not actually follow Him (such as in Matthew 7:15-23). As related to the people of Israel, some understand this as the curse of the Messiah being put to death while others view this curse as related to Israel's soon destruction as a nation in AD 70.
The concept of fruitful living as God's people is relevant to people today. It is not enough to be religious; rather, we are called to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ (John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:8-10). Those who are in Christ are made new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) and called into an active relationship with God that bears fruit. Followers of Jesus are expected to live a life of faith that is revealed through godly living.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, expressed this idea saying, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:14-17).
John 15 also focuses on the concept of living as a fruitful follower of the Lord. The fruit of the Spirit is specifically described in Galatians 5:22-23 as, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."
The curse of the fig tree stood for God's judgment upon those who were unfruitful to the Lord. Still today, God calls His people to live fruitful lives, enabled by relationship with Him, for His glory.
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