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Hi my name is Dean Smith and in this podcast I want to discuss one of the more puzzling stories in Gospels and perhaps even offer a bit of an explanation of the secret message that Jesus was trying to pass on.
It involves the time that Jesus cursed a fig tree, killing it, because it bore no fruit. Oh, yeah, before I forget, grab a sandwich, you’ll need it.
It is a strange story, but there may be more to it than we realize. And in this podcast I want to discuss the hidden meaning in the dead fig tree incident.
In Matthew 21:18-22, we read that Jesus and His disciples were walking down a dusty old road just outside Jerusalem when they encountered a fig tree by the side of the road. Jesus approached the tree looking for figs to eat, but there were none, so Christ cursed the tree.
The next day as they were returning to Jerusalem by the same route, the disciples saw that the tree had died. Christ gave the amazed disciples a brief teaching on faith, and they continued their journey.
But Mark’s account of the incident adds a couple of intriguing tidbits. First he notes that the tree had withered and died from the root up meaning there was absolutely no chance of regrowth from a still live root.
And secondly, Mark adds this tantalizing fact that it was not the time of year that a fig tree produced fruit, a fact both Jesus and the disciples were fully aware of it.
So while the teaching on faith tells how Jesus killed the fig tree, it doesn’t explain why Christ killed it.
Why would Jesus kill a fig tree for not producing figs out of season?
Well, to figure that out we need to apply what is referred to as “Sandwich theory” of Bible interpretation.
Occasionally, the Gospel writers would be discussing an issue and then suddenly plop in a seemingly unrelated story. Once they told the story, they then immediately continued with their original discussion.
According to the sandwich theory, when this happens the unrelated story is very much about what was being discussed before and after, even though it may not seem related.
Like a sandwich, where you have bread on top and the bottom, it is the all important filler in the middle that is the core of the sandwich. So based on the sandwich theory what was the dead fig tree incident really about?
Well just prior to the fig tree incident in Matthew 21:12-17, Jesus had cleansed the temple when the Lord turned over the money changers tables and the benches of those selling doves and then used a whip to drive the out the people selling sacrificial animals.
When the Jews brought their animals to be sacrificed at the Temple, they were first inspected by the priests who invariably found flaws. But fortunately wouldn’t you know it, they had previously inspected, unblemished animals for sale at the temple, at a premium price of course.
And since the unclean Roman currency often had images of the emperors or Roman gods on them, the Jews couldn’t use them to buy sacrificial animals with. But fortunately, the priests also had money changes on hand to exchange that filthy Roman currency often made of real silver with a Temple money made of cheap metal.
I think you are getting the drift. It was a racket and Jesus was outraged at the corruption He saw taking place in God’s temple. This is why the Lord referred to it as a ‘den of robbers.’
After cleansing the Temple, Jesus and the disciples left Jerusalem to spend the night in Bethany which led to the dead Fig Tree incident.
Then immediately following in Matthew 21:23, we read that Jesus and the disciples had returned to the Temple, where the priests and elders confronted Christ over what the Lord had done the previous day cleansing the temple.
So according to the sandwich theory, by being squeezed between two stories about the Temple, Matthew is telling us that the fig tree is about the temple as well.
So, based on that theory, here is my interpretation. Jesus had approached the Temple expecting it to be bearing fruit, there was no out of season for the Temple and because there was no fruit the Lord cursed it, so it would die.
And Mark adds this telling statement about what Jesus said to this tree:
14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:14)
Then in his Gospel, the apostle John adds one more detail on the confrontation that took place between Jesus and the priests over the cleansing of the Temple:
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:18-21 ESV)
The Jewish Temple had two main functions. First it housed the Ark of the Covenant on which the very presence of God rested. However, the Ark disappeared after the first temple was destroyed in 586 BC and Herod’s temple, the one that Jesus visited, not contain the Ark or the presence of God.
The second major function of the temple was to perform animal sacrifices which Herod’s temple was still doing at a premium price of course.
When Jesus told the priests that His body was the Temple of God, the Lord did this because His body now contained the very presence of God that was missing from Herod’s temple. And with the addition of Christ’s upcoming sacrificial death there would no longer be a need for animal sacrifices.
Essentially, the Temple would soon be officially obsolete.
After Christ’s resurrection we are told that the church became the ‘body of Christ, and the church and believers are now the temple of God because they now house the very presence of God.
Is it possible that the secret message in the dead fig tree incident is simply this: The days of the Temple are over and there will not be a third Jewish temple in Jerusalem because according to the Apostle Paul, the day is coming when Israel will embrace Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.