Mary anointed Jesus on a Saturday. On Sunday morning, He entered the city of Jerusalem, riding on a colt. The Lamb of God presented Himself publicly in Zion as a humble king.
Before sundown that same day, He left Jerusalem and returned to Bethany, where He lodged.
On Monday morning, He left for Jerusalem again. And on the way there, He hungered and saw a fig tree with leaves. Upon closer inspection, He discovered that there were no figs on it. Here’s what the text says:
As Jesus was returning to Jerusalem from Bethany the next morning, he became hungry. In the distance by the road he saw a fig tree covered with leaves, so he went to find fruit on it. When he reached it, he found only the leaves (it wasn’t the right season for figs). So Jesus said to it, “May you bear no fruit from this time onward, and may no one ever eat your fruit again.”
His disciples heard him say it. And the fig tree immediately withered. Then they came to Jerusalem, and Jesus went into the temple of God and began to drive out everyone who was selling and buying things there … Then he left them, and when the evening came he left the city and spent the night in Bethany. The next morning they passed by the fig tree and saw that it had dried up from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Master, look! The fig tree you cursed has shriveled up.”
A fig tree’s leaves typically appear at the same time as its fruit. Thus to see a fig tree covered with leaves but no fruit meant that it was barren.
The tree in this story was a defective tree. And it was bearing a false testimony. It was announcing that it possessed figs (by the fact that it had leaves on it), while it had none. Jesus cursed it, and it withered away.
Note that the Lord didn’t curse the fig tree because it was barren. He cursed it because it bore false witness.
The fig tree could not feed the Lord. It produced no figs, so it could not satisfy His heart.
But there was a place that could feed Him. There was a place that could satisfy His heart.
At sundown, Jesus returned to Bethany.
And what happened in Bethany? Our Lord was fed. He was cared for. He was loved. And He was satisfied.
Ironically, Bethany means house of figs.
Scholars agree that the fig tree represents Israel. Like the fig tree that Jesus cursed, Israel put forth an outward show of religion. But in reality, it was spiritually barren. And it could not satisfy the heart of God.
Israel was supposed to feed our Lord, but it fed itself instead. The nation rejected its Messiah. “He came to his own and his own received him not.” So He cursed the fig tree as an act of judgment, and He declared that it would never yield figs again.
In the Gospels, the cursing of the fig tree is mentioned with the cleansing of the temple. Both were signposts of God’s judgment on Israel and its religion. Israel was like a barren tree, fruitless, and ripe for God’s chastisement.
Each event—the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple—contains the same message. Both were dramatic parables—symbolic actions—of divine displeasure and judgment.
Jesus cleansed the temple sometime after He cursed the fig tree, on Monday. On Tuesday, He went to Jerusalem to speak to the people for the last time. On Wednesday, He tarried in Bethany. On Thursday, He went to Jerusalem, ate the Passover in an upper room, and prayed in agony in the garden of Gethsemane. On Friday He was crucified.
Adapted from God’s Favorite Place on Earth by Frank Viola, author