Revealing Jesus Christ’s authority was the aim of Tuesday of Passion Week. It accompanied two particular events that took place on that day: the cursing of a fig tree (Matt 21:18-19; Mark 11:12-14) and the 2nd cleansing of the Temple (Matt 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46).
The 2nd Temple Cleansing
“12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers’” (Matt 21:12-13).
Earlier in the ministry of Jesus, He cleansed the temple (John 2:13-16). Sadly, the corruption that led Jesus to cleanse it the first time had returned. They House of God bad become a trifling marketplace. And it was not their decision to make it that way.
It wasn’t a strange occurrence that all these animals would be present along with these moneychangers. Remember people had to travel to Jerusalem sometimes hundreds of miles to celebrate Passover. And many would not bring their own lamb or other animals to sacrifice because of the inconvenience of having to drag them over mountains and rivers. So they would usually wait until they arrived in Jerusalem to buy these animals, because animals were – of course – necessary for sacrifices. The oxen would have been available for the wealthy; the doves would have been available for the poor. There also were several different coin systems being used in Israel at the time so moneychangers were necessary. Moneychangers served to help give all these travelers the appropriate coinage to purchase these animals for sacrifice.
So what’s the problem you ask? The problem wasn’t that they were present; the problem was where they had set up shop: in the temple.
So Jesus has arrived at the temple to find this scene and He wasn’t too happy. Imagine as He walked up the steps of the temple to worship God and instead he found the stench of dirty animals, the filth and feces they left behind and hearing people shout back and forth making deals for livestock. Imagine trying to worship God with all this commotion!
What was supposed to a time of great celebration had become a time of desecration. And all this was a result of the distractions of worship that were taking place in the temple.
The Cursing of the Fig Tree
“18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once” (Matt 21:18-19).
So what do we make of this fig tree cursing? Jesus was hungry looking for something to eat and upon reaching a particular tree that should have produced fruit, he found it wanting. Perhaps, it was not the right season for figs (Mark 11:13), but we cannot be for sure why this fig tree didn’t have any fruit to offer Jesus.
And immediately, to the disciples’ amazement, the fig tree withered up and died. What should have taken weeks took a few seconds. When God judges, it is swift and it is certain.
In Jewish thinking, the fig tree was a symbol of the Jewish people. Thus, the cursing a fig tree was metaphorical. Israel, in Jesus’ day, had become just like a tree that lacked fruit. Just like a religious person who has no real relationship with Jesus Christ or no real affections for following the Lord, so the Jewish people had become. They were hypocrites, just like their religious leaders (Matt 23).
The curse certainly seems harsh, but his curse was more of a sign of judgment on that generation. He was condemning those who said they loved Yahweh but were rejecting His Son and in a matter of days would send Him to His death on a cross.
These people were wishy-washy. They received Him the day before in royalty as they waved their palm branches and shouted “Hosanna” and now their hearts are revealed by a barren fig tree. As James writes, “Faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:26).