Matthew 21:18-22 (The Curse of Unfruitfulness)

Recall that as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem on Monday morning after spending the night in Bethany, He saw a fig tree at a distance that had leafed out.  Being hungry He went looking for some of the immature developing fruits that one would expect to find at that time, but instead found it to be barren.  In what way is any sort of false religion similar to such a fig tree?  What word in the curse pronounced upon the fig tree highlights the great danger to practitioners of false religion who have a form of godliness which like a show of leaves draws people looking for fruit to satisfy their spiritual hunger, but upon investigation are found to have none?  See especially the KJV and note that the NAS “ever” translates the Greek eis ton aiona which is commonly translated as “forever” in the sense of “eternal”; see Joh 6:51,58, 8:35,51, 2Co 9:9, 1Pe 1:25, etc…; cf. Mar 3:29, Heb 6:4-8, 10:26-31, 2Pe 2:18-22.

What does Matthew record happened after Jesus cursed the fig tree?  Should we understand “at once” as “instantly”?  See Mar 11:14,19-21.  Should we suppose that the two accounts are contradictory, or that Matthew simply condensed the full account in order to report the nearly immediate results in the same context?  In doing so, was he in any way dishonest in regard to the relevant facts of the episode?  What does this teach us about being too literal and dogmatic in our interpretation of Scripture and not allowing for such literary conventions?  Is it possible that there was even a discernible change that did happen instantly in the fig tree, but which the apostles dismissed as insignificant until the next day when the full effects were more apparent?  What does this teach us about the seeming contradictions that appear in Scripture, and how rather than casting doubt on the veracity of Scripture, they are actually evidence that the different accounts were not contrived and so are even more to be believed as faithful and true descriptions of a real event as it was perceived and recounted by different witnesses?  What does this also teach us about the nature of God’s judgments, especially in the context of the Jewish nation of which this episode was a parable?  Should we suppose that God’s judgments are necessarily instantaneous in their effects, or simply that they are sure and certain?  Cf. Hos 5:9-12.  What warning does this give us against becoming “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1) so as to suppose that God’s wrath must not be poured out upon us because we haven’t yet experienced its full inevitable calamity?

How does Mark describe the withered fig tree when the apostles observed it the next day?  See Mar 11:20. What does the root of a planting represent in a spiritual sense?  Cf. Job 14:7-9, Psa 80:8-9, Pro 12:3, Isa 27:6, 37:31, Dan 4:13-15,26, Hos 9:16, Mat 3:10, 13:6,21, Rom 11:16-18, Eph 3:17, Col 2:7, 1Ti 6:10, Heb 12:15.  What then is the danger of a plant being cursed so as to wither “from the roots up”?  By what means only may one ensure that a planting will not wither from the roots?  See Jer 17:7-8, Psa 1:1-3, Joh 4:10,14, 7:37-39, Eze 47:1-7,12, Rev 22:1-2; contrast Jer 2:13.

Consider that this event took place the day after Jesus’ triumphal entry and welcome into the city by many who hailed and received Him as the promised Messiah and king of the Jews.  Was Jesus in fact their Messiah?  In spite of His welcome, did those who receive Him have any understanding of the true nature of the deliverance He would bring?  Again, what was their expectation for deliverance in receiving Jesus as their Messiah and king?  As we have seen in previous studies, can there be any real, lasting deliverance from bondage—whatever its form—unless there is first a deliverance from sin?  As a nation, did the Jews accept Jesus as their Messiah for the salvation from sin that He brought, or reject Him as their Messiah because He did not bring the salvation they expected?  Cf. Rom 9:1-5, 10:1-3.  Because they would not receive God’s Messiah for salvation from their sins, was it possible that there could ever be a Messiah to deliver them from the bondage of their oppressors?  Cf. Mat 23:37-38, Luk 19:41-44.  What happened in 70 a.d. that demonstrated the tragic but inevitable result of expecting a worldly salvation while rejecting the deliverance from sin that alone is able to effect true salvation?  In what similar way have many Christians today welcomed Jesus as their Messiah in expectation of a worldly salvation while rejecting the deliverance from sin that alone is able to effect true salvation?  Think: what do many Christians expect to happen at Jesus’ second coming, and do they truly understand the salvation of His first coming as a deliverance from sin, or simply the forgiveness of sins even if they continue in them?  Cf. Jud 1:4.  If Christians do not truly repent but reject the real salvation of Christ’s first coming as a true deliverance from sin and bear no fruit—even if it is yet imperfect and not fully formed—but only a show of leaves, should they expect anything but the same tragic but inevitable result?  See Amos 5:18-20, Isa 28:15-19, Luk 3:7-9.

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