The Accursed Fig Tree by Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836 – 1902)
Where Science Meets Religion by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson May 15-21: Matthew 21–23; Mark 11; Luke 19–20; John 12
We read in Mark 11: 12-14 “And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.”
Matthew adds some additional details in 21:19-20: “…And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!” Neither Luke nor John say anything about the fig tree.
Matthew continued his teaching in verses 21 and 22: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” It is interesting to me that Jesus took an act that I have always viewed as negative – cursing a fig tree so that it withered away – and turned the incident into a teaching moment, “,,,whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
Apparently I’m missing something here, apparently causing a fig tree to wither was not a bad thing. However, I still struggle to comprehend the why of this particular miracle.
Andreas Köstenberger, at the Center for Bible Studies at Midwestern Seminary, estimates that Christ was crucified 3 April 33 AD.1 Another source gives Passover that year as May 3rd – and, therefore, the crucifixion as May 4th.2 Assuming the fig-tree incident was the Monday before the crucifixion, it could have occurred any time between 30 March and 30 April (pretty much the main part of the range for Passover).
Fig season around Jerusalem, when the figs are most ripe, usually runs from June through September.3 Therefore, Christ’s visit to the fig tree would have been anywhere from a few days to two or three months before the figs were ripe. None-the-less, even if there were no ripe figs on the tree, there should have been figs growing on the tree. Both the accounts in Matthew and Mark state that “…he found nothing but leaves…” Mark adds the explanation, “…for the time of figs was not yet.”
According to the Watchtower Online Library, “In Israel, the first fruit buds typically appear on the branches of the fig tree in February and the leaves appear in the final part of April or in May…”4 Therefore, a fig tree with leaves in April certainly should have had at least fig buds. A fig tree with no figs must have been sterile and therefore was good for nothing but to be “… hewn down, and cast into the fire.”5 Christ had already taught this idea as a theoretical concept, now apparently he was demonstrating the reality of the concept.
Apparently, the fig tree did not wither away right before the disciples’ eyes, but “presently.”6 But it must have withered within the next day or two – as the Passover was Thursday of that same week. I can only think of two things that could cause a tree to “wither” in such a short amount of time – extreme heat or extreme cold. As no account is left as to what actually happened to the tree – say a bolt of lightning – we do not know enough details to speculate farther as to the demise of the tree.
Please join me for my weekly discussions of Where Science Meets Religion – The Infinite Creation – 6 PM each Thursday at the Century Ward meeting house Primary room (at 4th and Fredregill, Pocatello). Last week we discussed: Who is God? This week we will discuss: The Creation of Man. I also will be Zooming the sessions: Meeting ID: 935 754 2152 Passcode: nka
Trent Dee Stephens
1. Köstenberger, Andreas, Why We Believe We Can Know the Exact Date Jesus Died; cbs.mbts.edu/2020/04/08/april-3-ad-33-why-we-believe-we-can-know-the-exact-date-jesus-died; retrieved 7 May 2023
2. http://intercontinentalcog.org/Appendix/Passover_dates_26-34_AD.php; retrieved 7 May 2023
3. themarketatdelval.com/the-fig-season-in-israel; retrieved 7 May 2023
4. wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1001072042; retrieved 7 May 2023
5. Matthew 3:10
6. Matthew 21:19