SODOM & GOMORRAH: Two slightly different stories of Jesus Christ cursing a fig tree are presented in the New Testament. The timeline of events holds significance for what message is being taught.
Christ’s curse occurs in two places: in the book of Matthew and the book of Mark. The passages are as follows.
Matthew 21:10 And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?
Matthew 21:11 And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.
Matthew 21:12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
Matthew 21:13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Matthew 21:14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.
Matthew 21:15 And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased,
Matthew 21:16 And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?
Matthew 21:17 And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.
Matthew 21:18 Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.
Matthew 21:19 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.
Matthew 21:20 And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!
Matthew 21:21 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.
Matthew 21:22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
Mark 11:11 And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.
Mark 11:12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:
Mark 11:13 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.
Mark 11:14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
Mark 11:15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;
Mark 11:16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
Mark 11:17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Mark 11:18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.
Mark 11:19 And when even was come, he went out of the city.
Mark 11:20 And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.
Mark 11:21 And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.
Mark 11:22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
Mark 11:23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
Mark 11:24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
Mark 11:25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
Mark 11:26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
Analysis – Why did Jesus Christ Curse the Fig Tree?
Jesus arrives in Jerusalem riding on a donkey (as we find in the prior verses). Zechariah 9:9 documents that the true king will ride to Jerusalem on a donkey, preceding the day when the Lord destroys the enemies of Israel. Upon his arrival, he casts out people who polluted the temple. In Matthew 21:13 Jesus states “It is written” and quotes a composite of two verses: Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. This chapter of Isaiah promises salvation to any who keep pure the Sabbaths and the house of God while Jeremiah calls on Israel to repent from idolatry and of polluting the house of God. The lesson of the cursed tree is in relation to the entire Christian community and refers to a particular struggle between false gods and the true God. Matthew 21:16 has Jesus saying “Have ye not read” and this refers to Psalms 8:2. It reads “Out of the mouth of babes and suckling has thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.” The enemy, naturally, is Satan (the word “Satan” in Hebrew means “Adversary” or enemy). The lesson of the tree concerns the struggle with Satan and those who serve him. Any time figs are utilized in the Bible, it refers to the controversy between Civitas Dei and the Civitas Diaboli – those who serve God and those who serve Satan. We find in Genesis 3:7 that after the serpent (which is Satan as documented in Revelation 12:9) tempted Adam and Eve, they discovered that they were naked and sewed together aprons of fig leaves to hide their sin. The enemies of God and those who Satan actively utilizes for his purpose are bad figs, those who serve God are good figs. Jeremiah 24 has God giving Jeremiah two baskets of figs that look the same, but in one basket are good figs and in the other are bad figs. God promises to provide for the good figs and to destroy the bad.
In Mark, the order of events is changed. Jesus enters the temple first, then leaves before throwing out the moneychangers. After leaving Bethany he is hungry but finds no fruit, kills the tree right there, then goes and casts out the moneychangers. This documents that the exchange between Christ and those in the temple is related to the teaching of the tree; the apparent contradiction serves to draw attention to the importance of the lesson.
So what does this mean for the curse? We have some information so far: Christ has an exchange with enemies of God – bad figs, who run the temple. To say very plainly that the identification of the bad figs with the priests is accurate, since this same group would plot to crucify Christ and would later conspire to murder Paul. Just as Christ cast out the moneychangers, he strikes the fig tree and promises the disciples that they can do the same. Further, his words to the disciples state that they can cast down mountains, which in prophecy have signified nations and governments. The first lesson of the tree is that Christ gives his followers power over their enemies so long as they believe in that power. The believer has power over their enemies with the aid of Christ (Luke 10:19). The interaction of the Old Testament verses and books that are quoted in these passages show that the lesson instructs us that God takes care of his own, even if this means casting down governmental powers.
But why did the tree have no fruit? We can find the answer by looking at the Parable of the Fig Tree, which discusses a fig tree without fruit:
Matthew 24:31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Matthew 24:32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
Matthew 24:33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
Matthew 24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
It appears also in Mark in similar words. In Luke, we see this:
Luke 21:29 And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees;
Luke 21:30 When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand.
Luke 21:31 So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
Luke 21:32 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.
Fig trees are not planted with a seed, but are set out in shoots. So when the fig trees are set out, the final generation is near and Christ will return soon. The second lesson of the tree was to demonstrate that the time of the end is not yet. Matthew 17:10-13 discusses this fact – if people received John the Baptist as Elijah, then the time would have been right. The scribes said “Elijah must come first” before the end, but Elijah did come but was rejected. Christ kills the tree because it is not yet time, but he is hungry for that time.