The Fig Tree And The Temple - The One Year Christian History

The Fig Tree And The Temple

Jesus used visual parables.

THE MORNING after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on March 31, A.D. 33, as Jesus and his disciples were leaving Bethany, where they had spent the night, Jesus was hungry. He noticed a fig tree covered with leaves a little way off the road. He went over to it to see if it had any figs, but since it was early in the season, it had only leaves. Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” (Mark 11:12-14).

Was Jesus having a temper tantrum because the tree had no fruit for his breakfast? Certainly he knew that it was too early in the season for figs, so he used the opportunity for a visual parable. Several passages in the Old Testament liken Israel to a fig tree. Just as the leaves concealed the lack of fruit on the tree, so the magnificence of the temple concealed the fact that Israel did not have the fruit of righteousness God required. Both the fig tree and the temple looked attractive from a distance, but on closer inspection both had no fruit. Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree symbolized the curse that would soon fall on Judaism and its temple.

When Jesus and the disciples arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple and found the court of the Gentiles filled with merchants. When Jews traveled to Jerusalem to sacrifice at the temple, they needed to purchase animals for their sacrifices. In addition, they had to pay the temple tax of one shekel. In those days the shekel of the city of Tyre was the closest equivalent to the old Hebrew shekel, so money changers were needed to change Roman currency into Tyrian shekels. For years these various transactions were made at four markets on the Mount of Olives. But around A.D. 30, Caiaphas, the high priest, decided to set up a market in the court of the Gentiles to compete with the markets on the Mount of Olives. The result was that the court of the Gentiles looked like an Oriental bazaar.

When Jesus saw all this commerce, he began to drive out the merchants and their customers, knocking over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves, and stopping everyone from bringing in more merchandise. To explain himself, he announced, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves” (11:15-17).

To Jesus, turning any part of the temple into a market was an abomination. The court of the Gentiles was supposed to be the “place of prayer for all nations,” but there was no room for Gentiles to pray when it was filled with merchants. This was his temple, and he was not about to allow buying and selling within it.

When the chief priests and teachers of Jewish law heard what Jesus had done, they intensified their plotting to kill him. Nevertheless they were afraid of him because the people were so enthusiastic about his teaching (11:18).

The next morning as Jesus and his disciples passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed that its leaves had dried up. Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the day before and exclaimed, “Look, Teacher! The fig tree you cursed has withered” (11:21).


When Jesus saw the fig tree from a distance, it looked beautiful, but when he looked more closely, there was no fruit. The temple also looked magnificent from a distance, but upon closer examination, it had become a shopping mall. Jesus cursed the fig tree and in A.D. 70 sent the Roman armies to destroy his temple, forty years after Caiaphas had set up the market in it.

Jesus replied, “These magnificent buildings will be so completely demolished that not one stone will be left on top of another.”

Mark 13:2

From the Book:

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The One Year Christian History
By E. Michael Rusten and Sharon O. Rusten

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