Relevant Scripture – Matthew 21:17-22:
And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. (18) In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. (19) And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. (20) When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” (21) And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. (22) And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
Jesus cursed the fig tree to demonstrate to the disciples what would happen to the Jewish nation as a result of their lack of spiritual fruit. In other words, this is an enacted parable. A similar pronouncement was made against the nation of Israel 600 years earlier through the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 8:13-14:
When I would gather them, declares the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.” (14) Why do we sit still? Gather together; let us go into the fortified cities and perish there, for the LORD our God has doomed us to perish and has given us poisoned water to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD.
We know from the following passages, that the fig tree represents Israel:
Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved.
For a nation has come up against my land, powerful and beyond number; its teeth are lions’ teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness. (7) It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree; it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches are made white.
Fruit represents spiritual fruit or the fruit of the spirit. Consider the following verses:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (16) You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (17) So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. (18) A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
God wanted his people to bear the fruits of the spirit. Jesus came to God’s people, but he didn’t find the nation bearing the fruit of righteousness. If we read the account of the cursing of the fig tree in Mark’s gospel record, we find a bit more information on this event. Mark 11:11-24:
And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (12) On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. (13) And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. (14) And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. (15) And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. (16) And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. (17) And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (18) And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. (19) And when evening came they went out of the city. (20) As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. (21) And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” (22) And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. (23) Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. (24) Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Notice that Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. He looked around at everything and as it was late, went out to Bethany with the twelve. He was looking for the fruit of the spirit, but instead found the temple being used as a market place. When he returned to Jerusalem, he cursed the fig tree on the way, then proceeded to overturn the tables of the money-changers etc, and roundly condemned the people in the temple for what they were doing.