THE WITHERED FIG TREE
—A LESSON ABOUT FAITH
JESUS’ AUTHORITY IS CHALLENGED
Leaving Jerusalem on Monday afternoon, Jesus returns to Bethany on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. He likely spends the night at the home of his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.
Now it is the morning of Nisan 11. Jesus and his disciples are on the road again, heading back to Jerusalem where he will be at the temple for the last time. And it is the final day of his public ministry before he celebrates the Passover, institutes the Memorial of his death, and then faces trial and execution.
En route from Bethany over the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem, Peter notices the tree that Jesus cursed the previous morning. “Rabbi, see!” he exclaims, “the fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
But why did Jesus cause the tree to wither? He reveals the reason in his response: “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what I did to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And all the things you ask in prayer, having faith, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:21, 22) He is thus repeating the point he made earlier about faith being able to move a mountain.
So by causing the tree to wither, Jesus provides an object lesson on the need to have faith in God. He states: “All the things you pray and ask for, have faith that you have received them, and you will have them.” (Mark 11:24) What an important lesson for all of Jesus’ followers! It is especially appropriate for the apostles in view of the difficult tests they will soon face. There is yet another connection between the withering of the fig tree and the quality of faith.
Like this fig tree, the nation of Israel has a deceptive appearance. The people of this nation are in a covenant relationship with God, and they might outwardly appear to observe his Law. However, the nation as a whole has proved to be both lacking faith and barren of good fruitage. They even reject God’s own Son! Hence, by causing the unproductive fig tree to wither, Jesus demonstrates what the end will be for this fruitless, faithless nation.
Shortly, Jesus and his disciples enter Jerusalem. As is his custom, Jesus goes to the temple and begins teaching. The chief priests and elders of the people, likely having in mind what Jesus did the day before to the money changers, challenge him: “By what authority do you do these things? Or who gave you this authority to do these things?”
Jesus replies: “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism by John from heaven or from men? Answer me.” Now his opponents are the ones being challenged. The priests and elders consult one another about how to answer: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why, then, did you not believe him?’ But dare we say, ‘From men’?” They reason this way because they are in fear of the crowd, “for these all held that John had really been a prophet.”
Those opposing Jesus cannot come up with an appropriate answer. So they reply: “We do not know.” Jesus, in turn, says: “Neither am I telling you by what authority I do these things.”