On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he did so, he taught them saying, "Is it not written: `My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it `a den of robbers.'" The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him - the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, they went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!" "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand to pray, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" But if you do not forgive neither will your Father in heaven forgive your sins.
Isn't it likely that Jesus was tense because He knew that everything He had done up to this point was coming to a climax? He was deeply saddened by the hardness of heart of those who made life difficult for so many of the people in that land. We know He wept over Jerusalem because of all the godly prophets who had been killed for their obedience to God in that holy city.
So when He had His encounter with the fig-less fig-tree He was reminded that His disciples needed to discover something about true anger. After all, it's not wrong to be angry. And it's certainly not wrong to pull out a fig tree that has had it's opportunity to grow and bear fruit and has failed to do so. This reminds me of a story Jesus told which sounds very similar to this. It was about a fig-tree in a vineyard that wasn't growing any figs. The story went like this:
A man planted a fig tree in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit and found none. He said to the vinedresser, "Lo, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down now; why should it use up the ground?" And he answered, "Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it, and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down" (Luke 9:6-9).
In the parable the fig tree was given one last chance because it was not giving fruit. But when Jesus met this fig tree His words indicate that it had had its last chance. Next day as Jesus walks by, it is seen to have withered at His word.
This event seems to be part of Jesus' discovery of the depth of His Father's anger with the sins that would put the Son of Man to the gallows. We hear Jesus the Rabbi use the occasion to teach His disciples about God's love and mercy, His judgments and His forgiveness. The encounter with the fig-tree tells us a little about how Jesus was thinking at the time. Could He have been thinking about the rebellion of Israel against their heavenly Father?
Does Mark record the event to tell us what Jesus then did with His anger and how He channelled it for the teaching of His disciples? Would they see what Jesus did when He went into the temple precincts to teach? He would have nothing to do with fruitless hypocrisy. And that is what temple worship had become. And so He had thrown the money-changers and the traders out.
The next morning, on their way back to the temple, as they proceed along the road, Jesus was teaching His disciples. Peter noticed that the fig tree had shrivelled. For Peter, Jesus' curse had worked. The fig tree will never again give figs. The parable of Jesus which Luke re-tells reminded all who claimed to be God's people that they are under God's scrutiny. Those dwelling in Jerusalem were as much under His eye as those in Galilee. Those living far away were known to Him just as much as those leaving near the temple.
Wherever the fig-tree grew it would be given the chance to give figs. But sooner or later a figless tree will have to be taken out. Its time has come and gone. This fig tree, though in leaf, had no figs on it. Even if it was not the season for ripe figs there should have been green figs on it. Fig trees are in leaf 10 months of the year in Israel and this tree had leaves on it. But there was no sign of figs. Jesus may been happy if He had found a green fig - maybe just to suck on - but there were none.