Ministry of the Word
  The Parable of the Fig Tree

The Parable of the fig tree

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree


Mt 21:18-22.  18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once. 20When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ 21Jesus answered them, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea”, it will be done. 22Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.’  

Mk 11:12-24  12 The next day 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. 15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’[c]? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’[d]” 18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. 19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples[e] went out of the city. 20 In the morning, 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 “Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours


Mention of the Fig tree in the Old Testament:

First mentioned in Gen. 3:7. ‘For they sewed fig leaves together & made loin cloth with them’;  Deut. 8:8 ‘The promised land is filled with other food grains also fig trees’  one of the valuable products of Palestine; 1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zech. 3:10 It was a sign of peace and prosperity;  2 Kings 20:7 Figs were used medicinally ;   1 Sam. 30:12; Jer. 24:2 and pressed together and formed into "cakes" as articles of diet.


The fig trees in Palestine (Ficus carica) bore successively three crops of fruit in a year:

1. the bikkurah, or "early-ripe fig" ripe about the end of June, Nah. 3:12).  2. the kermus, or "summer fig" is ripe about August.  3. the pag "green figs," or "winter fig" which ripens in sheltered spots in spring


Our Lord's cursing the fig-tree near Bethany (Mark 11:13) has raised many questions, as mentioned by the evangelist, that "the time of figs was not yet."


The explanation of the words, however, lies in the simple fact that the fruit of the fig-tree appears before the leaves, and hence that if the tree produced leaves it ought also to have had fruit. If it had been true to its "pretensions," in showing its leaves at this particular season. "This tree, so to speak, boasted to be in advanced full bloom compared to all the other trees, challenged the passer-by that he should come and refresh himself with its fruit. Yet when the Lord accepted its challenge and drew near, it proved to be but as the others, without fruit.


Fig trees were a common and important source of food for the Jews.  Bad figs or a decaying fig tree was linked with evil deeds and spiritual decay.  The unfruitful fig tree symbolized the outcome of Israel's unresponsiveness to the word of God. 


Jesus cursed The fig tree represented the Jewish nation Israel, which was unfaithful to God.

The history of Israel is one long preparation for the coming of the Promised One.  But the promise is unfulfilled in those who reject Jesus through unbelief. (See also Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree in Luke 13:6-9).  

Q. Why then did our Savior expect figs, when he might certainly know that it was not yet the time of figs?

Q. Why not finding them, did he curse the innocent fig tree ?


I. We will first consider the situation of this tree. Our evangelist tell us, that it was in the way. Meaning fruits of trees of common right, which did not belong to any peculiar master, but grew in woody places, or in common  fields, a wild fig tree. growing in a place or field, not belonging to any one in particular, but common to all. No one in particular was put at a loss), when he caused this tree to wither.

II. He found nothing thereon but leaves, because the time of figs was not yet a great while, Mark 11:13.


St. Mark, therefore, in that clause, which chiefly perplexes interpreters, why on that mountain (mount of Olives, Gethsemane) which abounded with fig trees he saw but one that had such leaves; and being at a great distance when he saw it, he went to it, expecting figs only from it. The reason, we realize that the fig tree represented Israel & he expected at least Israel to be faithful to God, which it was not.


1. The background. The OT prophets frequently used the fig tree and its fruit as images of Israel's relationship to Yahweh and her experience of his judgment: Isa 34:4; Jer 8:13; 29:17; Hos 2:12; 9:10, 16; Joel 1:7; Mic 7:1-6.

2. The context of Matthews text is surrounded by words and acts of judgment.


(a) The cleansing of the temple Jn 2:12-22. Reflected in Jesus' expulsion of the merchants is a judgment upon the priesthood - and indeed upon the temple itself.

Jn 2:19, "Destroy this temple ...," while referring directly to Jesus' own body, implies that with his resurrection from the dead the temple in Jerusalem will have served its purpose - and that there is now nothing to prevent the execution of the divine judgment pronounced upon it. (& on Jesus)

(b) The three parables of 21:28-22:14, which combine as a powerful pronouncement of judgment upon Jewish community.

                                                                                           Matthew 21:28-22:14

The Parable of the Two Sons

28 ‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” 29He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. (Judgement)

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

33 ‘ There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’ 42 Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected,  has become the cornerstone;this was the Lord’s doing,,   and it is amazing in our eyes”? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’ (Judgement)45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

22: 2‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14For many are called, but few are chosen.’ (Judgement, are you still not ready)


3. Jesus' shocking action.


a. The fact of the curse. Jesus' very cursing of the tree, quite apart from the time of the curse, is terribly shocking. His miracles characteristically heal and restore God's creatures. Here, and here alone, he deliberately curses and destroys something that God has made!


b. The time of the curse. As though the fact of the curse were not enough, Jesus seemingly pronounces a curse upon an innocent victim. For at that time, fig trees are not expected to bear fruit! How can the poor tree be blamed for not having figs? The very fact that Jesus goes to the tree to look for fruit that could not be expected - and then proceeds to pronounce the curse because there was no fruit - is a most effective way (with OT antecedents) for him to grab the disciples' attention and to point them to the reason for his action.


c. The message of the curse. This miracle is an enacted parable, a visible parable corresponding to the verbal parable of Lk 13:6-9. Like a verbal parable, this visible one serves to jar witnesses into serious thinking and spiritual probing:

Luke 13:6-9   The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree

Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”


"Why should Jesus do such a thing? Why should he show such seeming disrespect for God's creation? Why should he show such apparent pique A feeling of irritation or resentment resulting from a slight, esp. to one's pride. ? He has been hungry before but has not reacted like this. This act seems so out of character." It is most significant that Jesus offers the disciples no interpretation of the cursing itself. He does draw a lesson, but it concerns a different matter (cf. below on 21:20-22). The disciples will surely remember the incident (how could they shake it off?). And as they ponder it, and relate it to other events and teachings of Jesus' ministry, they will come to understand its meaning: that Yahweh is responding to Israel's unfruitfulness (3:10; Lk 13:6-9), unbelief, and in particular her rejection of Messiah, with the severest judgment. Just as Jesus - "God with us" - here curses the fig tree so that it immediately withers, never to bear fruit again, so the present generation of Jews - together with their land, their capital, and their temple - is to suffer sudden and irretrievable judgment at the hand of God.



A. The Transition.

"When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. 'How did the fig tree wither so quickly?' they asked" (v. 20). The disciples focus on the miracle itself rather than its spiritual meaning. Rather than dismissing their question, Jesus uses it as an opportunity to teach a lesson about faith and prayer. But in doing so, he maintains a link both with the immediate surroundings ("this mountain" is the Mount of Olives) and with the parable that he has just enacted.


B. Faith and Prayer.

We approach v. 21 by way of the more general statement of Mt v. 22: "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." The Mark’s parallel (11:24) is stronger: "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."


1.The problem.

In this promise there is no limitation on the petitions ("whatever you ask for")  and no qualification attached to the divine response (Mt, "you will receive"; Mk, "it will be yours").

The only condition attaches to the petition (is it a prayer of faith or not?).

What are we to make of the promise of v. 22 (together with its parallel in Mk 11:24)? - particularly in anticipation of Gethsemane, where Jesus himself considers that the Father's response to his prayer is conditional. Mt 26:39   And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ "Yet not as I will, but as you will." 






If you believe, you

will receive


Whatever you ask for  in prayer, believe


what ever you ask in prayer


that you received it, it will be yours


There is no limitation to the petition '



You will receive it.


It will be yours


The only condition attached to the petition



Expresses dependence on God


Have faith in God.


and where Jesus' request is denied rather than granted (the cup is not taken from him.

" Not merely the account of Gethsemane, but this passage too, teaches submission to God's will. Could one really trust God without depending on his will?


2. The prayer of faith. The prayer of Mt 21:22 expresses dependence upon God;. the parallel in Mk 11:22, "Have faith in God." "True prayer takes hold of God's strength" Prayer is "impotence grasping hold of omnipotence." One is to "ask for" certain things, and to "receive" them. The sovereign God remains in control. The unqualified and comprehensive promise, does not alter the fact that the response to the prayer is a gracious gift of God to his children.

"The power to believe a promise depends entirely, [and] only, on faith in the promiser


3. 1 Jn 5:14-15 "This is the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him."


4. Claiming the promise. Perhaps we in the Reformed tradition find it easier to pray "Thy will be done," than to claim the promise of Mt 21:22. It is possible to resign oneself to the will of God without first wrestling and struggling with him in prayer.


There is a place for persistence in prayer, even clamor in prayer, beseeching God to be true to what He has revealed about himself, to honor his promises and be faithful to his covenant people. Let us not minimize the call to faith imbedded in the promise of Mk 11:24b, "believe that you have received it...." The use of the aorist verb elabete implies that one prays as though the petition were already granted; such is the confidence of faith.

C. Faith and the Kingdom of God.

The cursing of the fig tree & the context of prayer are both related.

1. Jesus' act of faith. The disciples' exercise of faith is to be modeled on Jesus' own.

Jesus had total faith in God as he invoked the miraculous power needed for destroying the fig tree? From the preceding discussion the answer is clear: Jesus acted in the conviction, not merely that God would supply the power needed to kill the tree - but also that God would surely accomplish what this episode symbolized, namely the judging of rebellious Israel. In other words, Jesus exercises faith concerning promises related to the coming of the Kingdom of God.


2. Removing the mountain. Jesus moves from the figure of the fig tree to "this mountain," which in this context must mean the Mount of Olives "this mountain" is the Mount of Transfiguration (17:1) - a site other than the Mount of Olives. I think it probable, nonetheless, that Jesus speaks here of the removal of "this mountain" in conscious allusion to Zech 14:4, "On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west...."

If (as I believe) there is merit in the view, then Jesus is underscoring the point made with reference to the fig tree- namely that disciples should fervently pray for the swift and final coming of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus Curses the Nation for Fruitlessness

Remember this is building toward the Lord’s sufferings in Jerusalem and His ministry has increasingly come under criticism by the Jewish leaders.1 Here we discover: Jesus Cursing of the Fig Tree and Jesus Teaching His Disciples.2

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree for Fruitlessness    

After this incident Jesus exhorts his disciples to “have faith in God”.  They are to pray with expectant faith  no matter how difficult the situation may be. The phrase “to remove mountains” was a common Jewish expression for removing difficulties.  A wise teacher who could solve difficulties was called a “mountain remover”.  If we pray with faith God will give us the means to overcome difficulties and obstacles.  If we want God to hear our prayers we must forgive those who wrong us as God has forgiven us.  Do we pray with expectant faith?

The fig tree, had also became an emblem of the nation of Israel herself. When Jesus walked by, looking for figs and found only leaves, it illustrated that the nation was spiritual barren of fruit for the glory of God and only offered the leaves of the religious trappings.

The Lord had just purified the temple, with its religious worship and now He rebukes the nations lack of spiritual fruit. Actually he did more than rebuke the nation, He symbolically cursed the nation.

God had previously promised the covenant nation that if she obeyed he would bless her, but if she disobeyed He would curse the nation. Deuteronomy 28 is God uncluttered testimony to this curse.

God would thoroughly curse the nation as Jesus does here, for her disobedience and lack of spiritual fruit. The nation was called to be distinct from all nations of the earth and bring forth fruit for God's glory.

The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree

6 Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” 8He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

During His three year ministry He only found leaves or the religious trappings of the nation. And in His absence, the nation would be given one more chance to bear fruit, as the Apostles preached for Israel to "repent" and bear fruit for God's glory, by embracing their Messiah. But unfortunately, the nation would refuse to repent and God would issue a final judgment by letting the tree to be "cut it down" at the roots, i.e., Jerusalem herself would be destroyed and the Temple itself torn down.

What Jesus was doing here as He cursed the fig tree was resurrecting that parable in the minds of His disciples. They knew He was referring to the nation and the time of her judgment was near at hand. But they were amazed at the physical manifestation of Jesus' object lesson.

Next Jesus Teaches His Disciples how to Prayer

Fig trees took months and years to die and no doubt would not show its decay for some time, it lives more than 500 years, there is no way it can wither away in one night. Dried from its roots. (Mk 11:20)

No doubt the Apostles would immediately remember both the parable of Luke 13 and the cursing of the tree the night before

At the question of the disciples, Jesus took the opportunity to teach a lesson on faith.

what the nation of Israel didn't have was "faith," in the sense of a commitment to her Messiah; she didn't have faith in God's

As we discovered in Matthew 17, when Jesus referred to faith being able to "say unto this mountain, Be thou removed and cast into the sea, and it shall be done," He was reminding His Jewish disciples of a rabbinical proverb. The Jews referred to rabbis who could remove great difficulties by their answers, as "removing mountains."

Peter wrote 35 years later...

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a people of his own, that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.( 1 Pet.2:9)

Main Idea: There comes a time when the patience of the Lord is exhausted, as illustrated in the nation of Israel. We are called to faithfully bear fruit for the glory of God.


Compiled by Tony DIAS


22nd Sept 2012.

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