ANSWER: This is a portion that has troubled and confused many people. It’s only by the grace of God and the leading of His Spirit that we might gain a proper understanding of the event and the lesson the Lord has for us in it. To start, let’s read Matthew 21:19-20, “And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!” The Gospel of Mark also tells us of this incident. Let’s read Mark 11:12-14, “And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Yahushua answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.”
This is the only miracle that Christ ever performed where he cursed something instead of blessing it. This should grab our attention and cause us to look deep to understand the significance of this event. This is the day after what is called the Lord’s “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. I encourage you to read Mark 11:1-11 to see how that after the Lord entered into Jerusalem, He and His disciples left to spend the night in Bethany and returned the next day, which is the day the Lord cursed the fig tree. While the account of this event in Matthew tells us the Lord found no fruit on this tree, Mark tells us that the Lord came looking for fruit from this tree. This is odd, considering we are told that “the time of figs was not yet.” Christ would certainly have known that the time was not right to find figs on the tree, yet he looked for fruit.
The difficulty of this portion is made simpler when we realize that the fig tree had more than one harvest season. There was an earlier fruit that usually appeared even before the leaves appeared on the tree. This early fruit was an indicator of the later harvest of the tree. If there was much early fruit, the later fruit would normally also be great. The fact that this tree was covered in leaves gave a false sign that it was also full of fruit. It gave the impression that it was fruitful, when in fact, it was desolate. Because of its deceptiveness, the Lord cursed this tree and said it would no longer bear fruit.
What is the lesson of this fig tree? Why do we need to know that the Lord cursed this tree? In this instance, the fig tree is a symbol of the nation of Israel. When Yahushua came, there was a ‘profession’ of Godliness in the land. This is symbolized in the leaves of the tree. It gave the appearance of being fruitful, but was not. So, the nation of Israel, with its order: the keeping of the Law, the governing rule of its High Priests, its scribes and Pharisees, gave the pretense that this was a Godly nation, while in truth, it was ungodly and destitute. The Lord Yahushua said of Israel in Matthew 15:8-9, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” While the different feasts were maintained by the Jews, the Lord had largely been left out of them. Even the Lord’s Passover is called the “Jews’ Passover” in John 2:13.
Because of their unfruitfulness and hypocrisy, the nation of Israel has been cursed of the Lord. We learn in Romans 11:20 that, “…because of unbelief they were broken off…” The nation of Israel has been cut off, or set aside by the Lord. Luke 21:24 says of Israel, “And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” When the “times of the Gentiles” are fulfilled, the Lord will rapture His church and the nation of Israel will once again become prominent before the Lord.