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The Useless Tree


Fig trees are found all over Israel. The tall, leafy, shade-giving trees produce two harvests of fruit each year. Despite its unassuming exterior, the fruit produced by a fig tree is rich and delicious with a wonderful distinctive smell. But fig trees don’t necessarily flourish on their own. They take time and nurturing in order to grow and give fruit.

In today’s reading, Jesus uses the fig tree as an important symbol of the nation of Israel. Notice that the fig tree appears here both before (vv. 12–14) and after (vv. 20–21) Jesus’ tumultuous visit to the Temple. In order to restore the Temple to a house of prayer for the nations, Jesus began physically removing buyers, sellers, and vessel-carriers. His clearing of the Temple upset the chief priests and jealous scribes, and the Bible says they began plotting to destroy Him. Notice also that the incident with Jesus in the Temple occurs immediately following His Triumphal Entry (vv. 1–11). The Jewish hope was that their triumphant King would return to establish Himself in Jerusalem, provide the promises of His kingdom to Israel, and vanquish Israel’s foes. But even though Jesus had been welcomed by crowds, the Jewish people were not prepared to receive Jesus as their King.

Jesus discovered a nation living in a way that did not please His Father. That’s why they received the curses promised in Deuteronomy 28 for failing to obey the Lord; they would be cursed just like the fig tree. The cursing and withering of the fig tree here serve as a warning for Israel.

Despite this haunting symbol, all was not lost for Israel, as the promises to the disciples revealed. Neither is all lost for those churches today that have veered from the mission of being Christ’s witnesses. By faith, many in Israel will be forgiven, and it will be restored to glory.

Apply the Word

Keeping the church on track in Christ is not just the job of the pastor. With patience, love, humility, and prayer, every member has a responsibility to help our church maintain faithful stewardship of the gospel. Together, we need to seek the salvation of the lost and make disciples of those saved. Ask your pastoral staff how you can help.

BY Eric C. Redmond

Eric C. Redmond serves as a professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and as associate pastor of adult ministries at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Ill. He is married to Pam and they have five children. He is the author of Say It!  Celebrating Expository Preaching in the African American Tradition (Moody Publishers), Where Are All the Brothers? Straight Answers to Men's’ Questions about the Church (Crossway), a commentary on Jonah in the Christ-Centered Exposition Series (B&H Publishers), and a study guide on Ephesians in the Knowing the Bible series (Crossway).

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