Matthew 21:18-22

18 Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry.

19 And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.

20 And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?”

21 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.

22 And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

This account is also found in Mark 11:12-14, 20-26

There are three fig-tree passages that are definitely linked together and give us a dispensational picture of God’s dealings with the Jews: Luke 13:6-9; Matthew 21:17-20; Matthew 24:32-33. — Ironside, page 271

The fig tree is used in Scripture as a symbol of Israel (Hosea 9:10; Joel 1:7)

 At a distance in front of Him Jesus caught sight of a solitary fig tree, and although the ordinary season at which figs ripened had not yet arrived, yet, as it was clad with verdure, and as the fruit of a fig sets before the leaves unfold, this tree looked more than usually promising. Its rich large leaves seemed to show that it was fruitful, and their unusually early growth that it was not only fruitful but precociously vigorous. There was every chance, therefore, of finding upon it either the late violet-colored kermouses, or autumn figs, that often remained hanging on the trees all through the winter, and even until the new spring leaves had come; or the delicious bakkooroth, the first ripe fruit on the fig tree, of which Orientals are particularly fond.

It was not indeed the season for figs, but that tree, perhaps because its soil and situation were good, had matured early. Since it was in leaf, it was reasonable to expect fruit upon its boughs; but, when Jesus approached, He found nothing but leaves. In that fig tree so advantageously situated, so abundant in promise, yet fruitless, Jesus saw an emblem of Israel.

In this incident, then, we find Christ pronouncing judgment on that generation which John had exhorted, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Like the leafy tree, they had given external evidence of being fruitful but on examination they were seen to be barren and fruitless. Therefore judgment had to come on that generation. — Pentecost, pages 377-378.

So far, so good. The jump from the fig tree to Christ’s words on prayer seems abrupt. Pentecost takes a stab at it that makes sense — that faith was called on in light of the coming judgment on Israel —  but might be a bit of a reach. I post it here as my position pending further study and with the caveat that Christ did, in fact, forgive Israel while He was hanging on the cross. He offered the kingdom to this generation at Pentecost, and it was only after their continued rejection in Acts 7 that the judgment was set into motion.

In the morning Peter discovered that the fig tree cursed by the Lord had withered away. Peter expressed surprise that withering had taken place so quickly (Mark 11:21). This sudden withering was significant, for it revealed that the judgment pronounced on that generation would fall quickly and suddenly.

The lesson from Christ that Israel would be brought under judgment called for the response of faith. The judgment on Israel seemed to signify the termination of God’s program for that people. But the covenant given to Abraham was unconditional and eternal; and so Peter could not understand how the nation to whom the covenant was given could be brought under such a judgment. But Christ encouraged Peter to trust God — to have faith in God for the fulfillment of the promises even thought the nation had been brought under judgment (Mark 11:22). In view of the judgment that had been announced, it took faith to believe that there was a future for Israel and that God would fulfill the covenant.

The Lord used Peter’s exclamation as an occasion to instruct him in the nature of prayer. He said, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (v.24). As Christ had forgiven the nation that had rejected Him, so must those who pray forgive those who have injured them. Thus Christ demonstrated His right to judge and His right to occupy and rule over God’s house. This latter is significant in light of the fact that Ezekiel predicted (Ezekiel 43:1-7) that the Messiah would rule His kingdom from the temple to be erected following His advent. — Pentecost, pages 381-382.

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