In the Synoptic Gospels, the story of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple is surrounded by stories of Jesus cursing the fig tree. John doesn’t include this story in his Gospel, but the Synoptics help to provide some added context to this bizarre act of Christ.
Did Jesus just lose his temper? Or is there something bigger going on here?
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus spends the night in the nearby village of Bethany, and early the next morning he heads back to the big city.
He gets hungry along the way, and stops by a fig tree along the path, but it was covered in nothing but leaves.
He then curses it, saying, “May you never bear fruit again!” and immediately the tree withers.
The disciples are amazed, and say, “How did you do that?”
Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
But wait a minute… why did Jesus curse the fig tree again? The other Gospel writers let us know that it wasn’t even the season for figs. So what was Jesus point? Was he just having a bad day?
Many scholars see the fig tree as representative of Jerusalem, and Jesus is using the fig tree as a visual aid for a parable.
Just as the fig tree did not produce the kind of fruit that Jesus demanded, continuous and not seasonal, so too the people of Jerusalem had not produced the kind of “fruit” that God demanded.
Just as the fig tree did not recognize its creator and submit to his will when he approached, the same was true with Jerusalem, the city of God… and both would be destroyed.
And this is why he’s so angry when he goes into the Jerusalem Temple. Not because he didn’t have breakfast. But because the people who were supposed to be leaders of faith, showing people the way to God, were blocking the way – they were cheating people out of God’s goodness.
So when God in the flesh shows up – Jesus – of course he’s mad that they’re cheating his own people in his own house! He comes in to purge and purify the place. But of course, the religious leaders have no desire for true cleansing.
Their hearts are the exact opposite of their father and founder King David, who humbled himself before God, and they have become more like Pharaoh, who hardened his heart against God.
When David cries out to God in repentance after his sin with Bathsheba, he says, "Cleanse me with hyssop."
This is not an insignificant request. Hyssop was used as a healing ointment for wounds. It cleansed the wound so that healing could begin, but this wasn't a comfortable process by any means. It hurt! It burned! David isn't saying "take my sin away from me," he is saying "burn this sin right out of me!" It'd be like saying, "God, pour battery acid on me until all the evil in me has been burned up!"
Also, healing doesn't always come quickly. David never fully recovered from the consequences of his sin, however, his "wound" would never have been healed at all had it not first been "cleansed."