Matthew 21:18-22 (The Withering of the Fig Tree)

Recall that Jesus has just made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem in a manner quite unlike that which heralds the kingdoms and rulers of this world.  Also recall that as in the days of Judas Maccabeus who cleansed the temple of the “abomination of desolation” (Dan 11:31), Jesus had also immediately begun to cleanse the temple.  In what three ways did He do so?  Think: physically by casting out those who were buying and selling, spiritually by His teaching that He would conduct daily in the temple (cf. Joh 15:3, 17:17, Eph 5:26-27), and finally with His own blood that would sanctify God’s people as the true temple of the Lord and holy dwelling place of His Spirit; see Eph 5:25, Joh 1:14, 14:16-18,23, 1Co 3:16.  In what way do these three things model what is necessary for any true repentance and deliverance?  What morning would it have been in Mat 21:18 when Jesus was returning to the city from Bethany?

Where does Mark describe the fig tree in relation to where Jesus took notice of it?  See Mar 11:13.  Why would Jesus go a distance to see if there were any figs on a tree if it “was not the season for figs”? See note.[1] Was it the case then that from a distance the appearance of the tree offered no hope that there would be something to eat upon it?  Considering that the fruit of the Palestinian fig began developing at the same time as the leaves, what was it about the tree that would have caused Jesus to expect to find something on it to satisfy His hunger?  What does Jesus’ willingness to satisfy His hunger with small, undeveloped and less-desirable fruits indicate about His nature?  Is it possible that we may miss God’s provision for us because we think too highly of ourselves and are too picky and expect more than did our Savior?  See Rom 12:3.  What does this episode indicate about the different emphasis He and others had for food in those days than what we have today?  Cf. Mat 6:26, 16:5.

In what way are people and nations like trees of the field?  See Eze 31:2-9.  In what way are the people of God especially like fig trees that have leafed out, so that one might naturally expect to find fruit upon them?  See Eze 17:22-24, Isa 5:1-2, Jer 2:21, Mat 21:33-34.  What fruit does God expect His people to bear?  See Gal 5:22-23, Eph 5:9, Mic 6:8, Mat 23:23.  Although the fruit of God’s people like that of a fig in spring may be imperfect and not yet fully formed, what does this acted parable imply is our Savior’s acceptance of and satisfaction with such beginnings?  What does it teach us should be our own acceptance and satisfaction with such beginnings in others?  What does it teach us about the great danger of a planting not bearing the expected fruit?  See Isa 5:3-7, Psa 80:8-16, Eze 17:1-10, 31:10-18, Mat 3:7-10, Luk 13:6-9, Joh 15:2,6, Heb 6:7-8.

With what one word does Matthew describe the fig tree in Mat 21:19, and what is its significance?  See NAS or the KJV text note (the NIV did not translate the Greek “one”!)  Think: who in particular did the fig tree represent?  See Amos 3:2, Jer 8:13, Hos 9:10,16.  Was the sin of the Jewish nation in the context of this acted parable that there was no fully formed and ripe fruit at a time when it wasn’t expected, or that the tree was barren and there was no fruit at all in spite of the show of leaves that would lead one to expect otherwise?  What does the show of leaves and barrenness of fruit represent in regard to the Jewish nation? See Mat 23:15,16,23,25,27-33, Joh 8:39-42.[2] What warning does the Jews’ example offer the Christian Church today?  Cf. Rom 11:17-21, 2Ti 3:1-5, Rev 3:1-3,15-19.  What hope in this context does Hab 3:17-18 offer the small remnant of those who remain faithful to God in such a time as Israel’s apostasy then or the Church’s today?

 


1. In Palestine and other warm climates the fig yields two crops annually–an earlier one, ripe about June, growing from the “old wood,” i.e. from the midsummer sprouts of the previous year, and a second, more important one, ripe about August, which grows upon the “new wood,” i.e. upon the spring shoots. By December, fig-trees in the mountainous regions of Palestine [such as around Jerusalem] have shed all their leaves, and they remain bare until about the end of March, when they commence putting forth their tender leaf buds (Mt 24:32), and at the same time, in the leaf axils, appear the tiny figs.  These tiny figs develop along with the leaves up to a certain point–to about the size of a small cherry–and then the great majority of them fall to the ground, carried down with every gust of wind. These are the “unripe figs” (Grk: olunthos)–translated, more appropriately in the King James Version, as “untimely figs”–of Rev 6:13…. These immature figs are known to the fellahin as taksh, by whom they are eaten as they fall; they may even sometimes be seen exposed for sale in the markets in Jerusalem. In the case of many trees the whole of this first crop may thus abort, so that by May no figs at all are to be found on the tree, but with the best varieties of fig-trees a certain proportion of the early crop of figs remains on the tree, and this fruit reaches ripe perfection about June. Such fruit is known in Arabic as dafur, or “early figs,” and in Hebrew as bicurah, “the first-ripe” (Isa 28:4). They are now, as of old, esteemed for their delicate flavor (Mic 7:1).  The miracle of our Lord (Mt 21:18-20; Mk 11:12-13,20-21) which occurred in the Passover season, about April, will be understood (as far as the natural phenomena are concerned) by the account given above of the fruiting of the fig-tree, as repeatedly observed by the present writer in the neighborhood of Jerusalem. When the young leaves are newly appearing, in April, every fig-tree which is going to bear fruit at all will have some taksh (“immature figs”) upon it, even though “the time of figs” (Mk 11:13), i.e. of ordinary edible figs–either early or late crop–“was not yet.” This taksh is not only eaten today, but it is sure evidence, even when it falls, that the tree bearing it is not barren…. Thomson (The Land and the Book) says that in a sheltered spot figs of an early kind may occasionally be found ripe as soon as the beginning of April, the time of Christ’s cursing the fig tree.  (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).

2. The Jews’ sin was, they were singled out by God from all nations (Amos 3:2), and had the Tower to bring forth the leaves of precocious profession but not the will to bring forth the fruit of faith and love. The sheltering hillside of Olivet had protected it, the sunlight had cherished it, and the dews of heaven watered it; but precocious leaves were the only result. The only result was not merely unfruitfulness but deceptiveness, “the rustling leaves of a religious profession, barren traditions of the Pharisees, and vain exuberance of words without the good fruit of works” (ISBE).

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