Did you ever wonder why Jesus killed the fig tree in Matthew 21? I have. I mean, did He go around cursing things that didn’t do what He wanted? It seems out of character for Him, doesn’t it?
I had the privilege of attending a bible study with Rabbi Matthew Salathe at Temple Aron haKodesh a couple of weeks ago. He was just starting a book study of Matthew. To my delight I found his desk covered in books when I arrived. That’s what I love about Rabbi Matthew. He dives into the Word, draws on the wisdom of others, and with the leading of the Holy Spirit brings up wonderful nuggets of truth and revelation.
Thursday night was no different.
As the evening ended, Rabbi Matthew had an extra nugget for us from Exodus 12:1-3. What does this have to do with Jesus and the fig tree? Hang in there, it’s coming.
In Exodus 12 the Lord instructs Moses and Aaron to choose a lamb for the Passover sacrifice. The Lord told them to do it on the tenth day of the first month. This is also the day Jesus entered Jerusalem – the day the lambs are selected.
Rabbi Matthew read to us a portion from the Midrash Rabbah, commenting on Exodus. I was not able to follow all the logic, but in this passage the sages were discussing Messiah. They quoted from Song of Solomon regarding the fig tree. One perspective said the fruit stood for the righteous people. The other points out that the Hebrew word means unripe fruit. As such, it would represent wicked people because Song of Solomon 2:11-13 says the winter has passed, the rain has come and gone, and it’s time for flowers to bloom and fruit to start showing on the tree.
Now we go to Matthew 21:18-19 where Jesus cursed the tree. At first read we see it was because He was hungry and there was no fruit on it. Again, it seems out of character for Him, doesn’t it?
Yet a closer look at what happened just before our key passage sheds some light. Matthew 21:12-13 tells us that after Jesus entered Jerusalem and before he cursed the fig tree, he overturned the tables in the temple. Why? Because the people were not doing right by God and each other. They were not bearing fruit of righteousness at a time when they should have been celebrating God’s redemptive work! Like the fig tree, the time had come to bear fruit and there wasn’t any.
I suspect Jesus would have known much of what would be written in later centuries in the Midrash Rabbah. Was this his way of saying, “The fruit tree, mentioned in Song of Solomon should have borne fruit, but didn’t. The sages who pointed out that it stood for wicked people were right. And they were right that it discussed Messiah. Here I am, the Messiah, looking for fruit and not finding any.”
Now does the story of the fig tree make more sense?
This is just one of many Hebraisms that we miss when we are divorced from the wisdom of the sages. Yet it is another proof that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah of God.