Matthew 21: 18-32, Jesus' Authority!
General Idea: This passage may seem strange; for, why would Jesus curse a fig tree? But, it was meant to illustrate a very important point. The fig tree refused to do as it was designed to do-to produce fruit. All it was doing was making leaves. The Jewish leadership was refusing to heed their call, just as the tree was. They were corrupt and diseased, just as the tree was. Both the leadership and the tree were fruitless, and worthless to fulfill their purpose to glorify our Lord. This passage continues Jesus' attack on the Temple, and His calling it "a den of thieves." A Christian leader who refuses to be fruitful is a very heinous sight to our Lord! Causing others to stray from the Truth is perhaps the very worst thing a person can do, especially for a leader, and extremely wicked! Jesus is exposing wickedness and showing His authority to do so. He is the Living God of the Universe!
The illustration of the fig tree and fruit is the archetypal model of one who is in Christ. It is about aligning oneself either with Him or with oneself and other false belief systems and sin. It also shows what your call and your potential is. One will either move forward in Christ or move backward in pride. We all have the choice to live our life as we please. But, is this the best way? Perhaps His way is best; after all, He is God, and omniscient, while we are fallen and limited. So, the choice is ours to live out Galatians 5:19-21 or Galatians 5: 22-23. The choices are ours to either be filled with the Fruit of the Spirit or with the stain of corruption, to either be prepared by man or to be equipped by the Holy Spirit. The solution is simple; we can, by His grace and Spirit, make a determination to receive Him and allow His will to work out in us (Phil. 2:12-13).
1. Now in the morning. Matthew condenses this story, whereas Mark shows Jesus cursing the tree on Monday, then that the tree is withered on Tuesday (Mark 11:12-26). Mark's rendering of this passage varies in sequence because classic Judaism does not tell stories in chorological order. That is a Greek concept. Luke is the Gospel that gives the chronologic order. Mark and Matthew tell the story according to what is important to their audience.
a. Morning refers to sunrise, about 6:00 a.m.
b. Return to the city. It was Passover, and Jerusalem would be hosting over 500,000 people! The people stayed in inns and in people's homes, either relatives or people with spare rooms for such occasions.
c. City refers to Jerusalem.
d. Nothing on it. This time of year, figs would be just forming leaves and have small, green, uneatable fruit. Apparently, this tree had nothing but leaves, displaying only self-interest. The readiness of the fruit was not the issue; it was the willingness to make the fruit. A tree that has leaves at that time of year should also have fruit, even though it would not be ready to eat. It was cursed because it refused to produce.
e. Mark adds, "no one will ever eat fruit from you again (Mark 11:14)."
f. Here, also, is a picture of Jesus' sovereignty and an allegory of judgment. The fig tree represents Israel and its apostate leaders (Hos. 9:10; Nah. 3:12). This passage also, in context, foretells the judgment and destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. (Jer. 24:1-8).
g. This tree promised, but did not deliver; it was just a display having no real intention, impact, or worth.
h. In this passage, the emphasis is for us not to doubt or to hold back, lest we lose out on what is best for us and those around us!
i. The awareness of God's will has more to do with our character and faith then what we do for a living!
j. As Christians, we operate from heaven as God's ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20).
2. Mountain, be removed. From where Jesus was, near the Mount of Olives, one could see the Dead Sea and the surrounding mountains. This would have been a very powerful and penetrating illustration! Jesus was using hyperbole speech, not meaning we could literally move a mountain, but an illustration of the power and significance of faith. Without faith, a Christian can do nothing-no growth, no fruit, no ministry, and no impact (Rom. 12:2; Phil. 4:8).
a. The context is the Kingdom of God; in the similar passage in Matt. 17:20, it means we do not need to worry, as we can move great problems out of our way (Isa. 54:10; 1 Cor. 13:2).
b. You will receive. This is the promise that nothing is impossible. Other passages tell us the important of obedience and faith that is within God's will and what is best for us (1 John 3:21-24; 5:14-15).
c. The key to this passage is realizing we are to have a faith that is rooted in trust and immersed in prayer (Matt. 13:31-32; Mark 9:29; 11: 21-25).
d. Not doubt. The disciples needed another reminder of Jesus' authority and power so they could start to develop their trust and faith in Him.
e. Faith sees God, and has trust in His provision. It sees God's plan and call and seeks its best to implement it, regardless of consequences or oppositions. (For more on faith, see Matthew 17:14-27.)
Real faith will never be arrogant. Arrogance blinds and corrupts faith. The leaders were men of conceit and egotism, not men of faith, which is why Jesus was so harsh with them!
3. Confronted Him. This was the typical Jewish approach in arguments of doctrinal debate. One sect or person would challenge the other and try to trap them in their own words, using wit. Trapping someone in this way was a huge victory and proved a point. Jesus uses their words against them, showing them up, and proving His superiority. This act greatly angered their pride. Jesus continues this style of discourse with the scribes and priests for the next several chapters.
a. Jesus answered. Jesus replies to their challenge with a counter question; again, this is classic Jewish debate structure.
b. Where was it from? The source of John was "heaven," which is the same for "from God."
c. Jesus challenged their authority, saying John was of heaven but they were not! Jesus then uses this argument to prove His authority from God.
d. Chief priests were more like politicians than actual ministers. The Pharisees, however, held more power in Jesus' time. Both groups served as intermediaries between the Romans and the Jews. Their decisions were based on social pressures, and whoever was influencing them. Their concern was not for the things of God. Jesus challenges them in this area.
e. From men refers to being foolish-relying on false presumptions, traditions, and political maneuvering (1 Cor. 1: 18-25).
f. What do you think? Jesus uses a parable to show that they are the ones who are disobedient (2 Sam. 12:1-7; Isa. 5:4). They represent the son who says he will go and work but never shows up, whereas the people they rejected went and worked. The Jewish son who refused to go would be a social disgrace; to disobey the father and not keep a promise was immoral.
g. Tax gatherers were considered the worst of the worst in Jewish society. They collected taxes, and profited greatly on the backs of the poor and oppressed. Jesus used the most outcast of society to show that even they are better then the leaders. The issue was faith and obedience to God call. The converted were being obedient; the leaders were not!
h. You did not relent. They did not lead a righteous lifestyle as the converted sinners did (Prov. 8:20; 12:28; 16:31). The leaders were the ones not fulfilling their promises (Ezek. 18:21-24)!
Making leaves is essential for a tree; but, unless it also produces fruit, it is useless. The fig tree only cared about itself, whereas the other fig trees produced fruit before their leaves. We need to take a deep look into our lives and see ourselves as God sees us. Perhaps you can consider yourself as a tree-are your roots strong and healthy? That is, are you being fed, then carrying His nutrients to all the parts of your being? Is your trunk strong? That is, how is your relationship with Christ? Are your branches supporting the nests of birds? That is, are you nurturing and exhibiting good character? Are your leaves healthy and strong? That is, how is your personality and disposition? Do you attract people or are you revolting to them? And, are you producing fruit or just leaves? Leaves are essential, but the leaves are only good for the plant, not for others. Fruit is to be harvested and shared. Is your faith real so it makes a difference to you and others around you? We must make sure that our lives are not just about the care of ourselves, but the care of others as well (Matt. 7:15-20). If you think this is too hard, consider and take comfort in the fact that He will not give us anything we cannot handle (Phil 2:10-13; Heb. 2:10)! So, let us live with excellence, being our best for His glory! We can be a good tree or a bad one. Your church can produce fruit to nourish and impact others, or give out rotten fruit that will discourage and repulse all those in your neighborhood. Faith is the key to allow your determination and His call to move you. Be willing to be led by the truth of His Word, and by your faith and trust in Him
1. If you were a tree, what kind would you be? What is your favorite fruit?
2. Why would Jesus curse a fig tree? What is one very important point you can take from this passage?
3. What does it mean when Christians just make leaves?
4. What are some of the key reasons that cause you to either move forward in Christ or move backward in pride?
5. Are we, as a Church, just producing fat sheep-Christians that are fed but do not produce, where only self is the focus? If so, what does God think about that?
6. How do some churches and Christians display only self interest? What does that mean to God and the community?
7. How do you see Jesus' sovereignty in this passage?
8. What can you learn from this passage's emphasis to not doubt or worry? Why do you doubt? Why should you not doubt? How can you keep from doubting?
9. This tree, as well as the leaders, promised, but did not deliver; it was just a display, having no real intention, impact, or worth. Take a deep, honest look at your life. Are you like this tree? What about your church?
10. How would you illustrate the power and significance of faith? What is something in your life that took extra ordinary trust?
11. Read Rom. 12:2 and Phil. 4:8: Why is it that without faith, trust, and prayer a Christian can do nothing-no growth, no fruit, no ministry, and no impact?
12. What is the significance of obedience, as applied to faith? How can this help you to move great problems out of your way (Isa. 54:10; 1 Cor. 13:2)?
13. What happens when you combine faith with arrogance?
14. What happens when we base our worldview, that is, how we perceive the world and how we think, from men? How does being foolish-relying on false presumptions, traditions, and political maneuvering, affect your church and spiritual growth (1 Cor. 1: 18-25)?
15. Jesus uses a parable to show that the Jewish leaders were the ones who were disobedient. How did they respond? How would you respond? How would a prideful person respond? What about a spiritually mature person?
16. The awareness of God's will has more to do with our character and faith than what we do for a living! How and why would this be offensive to a person who is arrogant?
17. Are you and your church producing fruit, or just leaves? What is the fruit God has called you to produce? What needs pruning from your life so you can produce more fruit?
18. How do you, as a Christian, operate from heaven as God's ambassador (2 Cor. 5:20)? How should you? What are you going to do about it?
19. The fig tree only cared about itself, whereas the other fig trees produced their fruit before their leaves. How does this illustrate the spiritual condition of some churches? What about yours? What can be done so your church produces fruit and not just leaves? What would that mean to the Kingdom of God?
20. We must make sure that our lives and church are not just about the care of ourselves, but about the care of others, as well. How can you help make this happen?
© 2004, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org