When Jesus Curses The Fig Tree: What Message Does It Convey?

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Published by Kenneth Garcia


Co-Founder of Biblekeeper, Author & Theologian

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The story “Jesus curses the fig tree” is a remarkable event. According to accounts in the gospels, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he came across a fig tree with no fruit, despite most fig trees being in season.

This encounter with the barren tree prompted Jesus to curse the fig tree, causing it to wither and die instantly. At first glance, this incident may appear harsh or perplexing, but upon closer examination, it carries profound spiritual symbolism and teachings that resonate with readers across generations.

In the biblical narrative, every event holds significance and deeper meaning. The story is no exception. It is a powerful metaphor, conveying important lessons and truths about faith, authenticity, and the consequences of spiritual barrenness.

Why Did Jesus Curse The Fig Tree?

According to Bible commentary, when Christ cursed the fig tree, it symbolized Jerusalem’s spiritual condition. As Jeremiah had prophesied, the fig tree’s barrenness reflected Israel’s lack of spiritual fruit. The withering away of the fig tree represented God’s judgment on Israel for its unfaithfulness, which was also a warning to Jerusalem.

Of all the miracles recorded in Mark’s gospel, only two involve Jesus’ use of supernatural powers against nature—calming a storm and cursing the fig tree. This makes it stand out among other miracles and highlights its significance. Interestingly, Matthew’s gospel also mentions this incident, which took place on Jesus’ way to Jerusalem. It is reminiscent of Jeremiah’s prophecy about the temple’s destruction in Jerusalem[1].

The Biblical Account Of Jesus Curses The Fig Tree

On his way to the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus saw a barren fig tree with no fruit. He cursed the fig tree, causing it to wither and die instantly. This story is recorded in the New Testament, specifically in Matthew 21:18–22 and Mark 11:12–14, 20–25. Later, when Jesus arrived at the house, he taught his disciples about the power of faith and prayer.

Fruit trees, especially fig trees, symbolize abundance and productivity in the Old Testament. It was a common practice for people to plant fig trees in their gardens, as they provided shade and nourishment. Figs on a tree indicate its ability to produce fruit, which is considered a sign of prosperity.

The mark of a fruitful tree was highly valued in the temple, as it represented abundance and blessings. According to Matthew, the fig tree was also used as an example of faith and obedience, as it withered when Jesus cursed it for not bearing fruit.

Scholars have interpreted Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree in different ways over time. Some believe it was an act of judgment, an object lesson, against Israel’s spiritual condition at that time, possibly marking a turning point for the temple. Others see it as a demonstration of Jesus’ power over nature or an illustration of faith and prayer.

This story remains significant regardless of interpretation because it highlights how Jesus used everyday objects like trees to convey important spiritual lessons in the temple. It also emphasizes how he expected his followers to bear fruit by being productive and faithful, leaving a mark on the world.

Historical And Cultural Context

To fully understand the significance of this story, it’s important to consider its historical and cultural context. In Jewish culture, fig trees were often used as symbols for Israel itself, which was expected to produce faithful followers of God. The temple played a significant role in marking the religious identity of Israel.

Father And Children Relationship

When we examine the relationship between a father and his children, we can see how this relates to Jesus’ actions towards the fig tree in Mark’s account of his visit to the temple. A good father desires for his children to grow healthy and strong, just as God desires for his people to be filled with the Holy Spirit and be fruitful in their faith while they are in the temple.

Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree can be seen as an act of tough love towards Israel and their temple. He wanted them to realize their lack of fruitfulness in the temple so they could turn back to God and become more faithful followers.

photo of an open fig fruit

Two Possible Explanations For Jesus’ Actions

Symbolic Act Of Judgment Against Israel

Jesus’ actions in cursing the fig tree may be interpreted as a symbolic act of judgment against Israel. This interpretation is supported by the fact that immediately after the incident with the fig tree, Jesus entered the temple and drove out those who were buying and selling, calling it a “den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13). This action can be seen as another symbolic act of judgment against the religious leaders who failed to lead Israel in righteousness.

Power Over Nature Through Miracles

Other scholars say he demonstrated his power over nature through the miracle of the withered tree in front of the temple. They argue that this miracle was meant to show that Jesus had authority over people and all aspects of creation, including the temple. This interpretation is supported by Jesus’ own words in Matthew 17:20, when he says, “Even if your faith is as small as a mustard seed, you can instruct this mountain to ‘move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing is impossible for you.”

The Fig Tree Represents Jewish Religious Leaders

Others suggest that the fig tree represented the Jewish religious leaders who were not bearing fruit in their leadership at the temple. Just as the fig tree appeared healthy on the outside but was barren on closer inspection, many of these leaders were also hypocritical and lacking in true spiritual fruitfulness at the temple. This interpretation highlights an important lesson about leadership: true leaders must bear fruit in their lives and work towards righteousness at the temple.

Importance Of Faith And Prayer

Regardless of which interpretation one subscribes to, Jesus’ actions at the temple and the fig tree story serve as a reminder of the importance of faith and prayer in the life of a believer. In Matthew 21:22, Jesus answered, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” This statement emphasizes the power of faith and prayer and how they can move mountains and bring about miraculous change, just like the fig tree cursing where the tree withers.

Divine Authority And Power Over All Things

Jesus curses the fig tree, not because he wants to eat fruit; instead, it is a powerful reminder of his divine authority and power over all things, including the temple. Whether he was demonstrating his power over nature or symbolically condemning Israel’s lack of faith in the temple, Jesus’ actions highlight that he is not just a great teacher or miracle worker but also the Son of God with authority over all creation and the temple.

Gospel Of Luke: A Different Perspective

Luke’s gospel provides a unique perspective on the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree compared to other gospels. Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not link the account of Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple with his cursing of the fig tree. Instead, Luke focused on the fig tree as a symbol of Israel’s unfruitfulness, reflecting his concern for the spiritual lives of his readers.

In Luke 13:6–9, Jesus tells a parable about a man who planted a fig tree in his vineyard but found no fruit for three years. Jesus teaches the gardener to give it one more year before cutting it down, saying, “Should it bear fruit next year, fine! If not, cut it down.”

This parable echoes Isaiah 5:1–7, where God plants a vineyard but finds only wild grapes and threatens to destroy it. The symbolism is clear—just as God expected fruitfulness from Israel but found none, so did Jesus expect fruitfulness from the fig tree but found only leaves.

Luke’s emphasis on the symbolism of the fig tree story highlights his concern for the spiritual lives of his readers. He wants them to understand that, just as the tree withered and died without bearing fruit, they will also be judged if they do not produce good works and bear spiritual fruit in their own lives. This message is reinforced throughout Luke’s gospel through parables such as that of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) and through Jesus’ teachings about repentance and forgiveness.

The Meaning Behind Jesus’ Actions

Symbolizing The End Of The Sacrificial System

The fig tree represented Israel and its failure to bear fruit for God. Just as the fruit tree appeared healthy on the outside but was barren on the inside, Israel may look religious and stand praying piously to worship God, but it lacked true faith. By cursing at the tree, Jesus warned his followers about what would happen if they continued down this path. He was also symbolically announcing the end of the sacrificial system.

In Judaism, sacrifices were made to atone for sins committed by individuals or groups. But Jesus’ death on the cross ended this practice once and for all. His sacrifice covered all past, present, and future sins. As the fig tree withered when he cursed it, Jesus showed that redemption could only come through him, not through prayer or sacrifice.

A Warning Against Losing Sight Of God’s True Purpose

Another reason behind Jesus’ curse on the fig tree is that he wanted to warn people against losing sight of God’s true purpose. The religious leaders of his time had become so focused on following rules and traditions that they had forgotten why they were doing it in the first place—to honor God.

By overturning tables in the temple (Matthew 21:12–13), Jesus showed them their focus should be on worshiping God rather than making money from selling doves and sacrificial animals. He wanted them to remember that their actions should be motivated by love for God rather than greed or self-interest.

Similarly, by cursing the fig tree, Jesus warned his followers about the dangers of becoming complacent in their faith. Just as the fig tree stands, appearing healthy on the outside but barren on the inside, so too could people look religious and pious but lack true faith in God. Jesus wanted his followers to examine themselves and ensure their genuine love for God motivated their actions.

people gathered together with heads bowed in prayer


The story of Jesus cursing the fig tree is a powerful and thought-provoking event in the Gospels. Whether we interpret it as a demonstration of Jesus’ power over nature or as a symbol of judgment against Israel’s spiritual barrenness, it challenges us to consider our own faith.

Some see this story as an example of Jesus’ righteous anger against hypocrisy, while others view it as a warning about the consequences of rejecting God’s grace. Whatever interpretation we choose, one thing is clear: this event underscores the urgency of responding to God’s call and bearing fruit for his kingdom. Like the fig tree that withered away, we must be careful not to become complacent in our spiritual lives.

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