On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
Christ spent the night in Bethany after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. When he returned to Jerusalem the next morning it is natural that He was hungry. Jesus saw a fig tree in a distance. It was in full bloom. That was is a sure sign there were figs on it. When He arrived at the tree He found it had no figs.
Mark tells us it was not the session for figs. If it was not the season for figs why would Jesus expect there to be figs? If it was not the season for figs why would Jesus curse the tree for not having figs? This seems unjust.
Dr. RC. Sproul tells of a certain species of a fig tree that produces its fruit out the normal season for figs. Its fruit is particularly sweet and tasty. It was a delicacy. Jesus saw a tree showing all the signs of fruit production. This tree was claiming to be one of these special fig producing trees. When Jesus got to the tree He found no fruit.
The tree showed all the signs of fruit. It enticed people to it. But it was barren. The tree was hypocritical.
Christ’s hunger gave Him the opportunity to teach His disciples. Christ gave an object lesson of what awaits hypocrites.
What was the curse Christ gave the tree? The curse was that it remain in its barren state. That is the curse we were under. We were barren, dead. The curse of God is not to increase our miserable condition. It is to leave us where we are. But the grace and mercy of God change us from barrenness to life.
When they by the tree the next morning Peter points out the tree Jesus cursed. It had withered. It was had not changed so much as it showed its true nature. It was barren. It would remain barren.
Jesus’ response seems incongruous. Peter said look at the tree and Jesus responds with, Have faith in God.
The lesson is to trust in God mercy. Faith is not a thing. It must have an object. You have to have faith in something. You can have faith in a lot of things. But it is God who saves us from our barrenness.
Prosperity preachers miss use this passage to teach a destructive and heretical doctrine. They claim, “See it says right here, whoever ‘believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.’ and again ‘believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’ See these are promises from God.”
Let us examine what Christ said in context. Christ’s first told His disciples to have faith in God. Then the promise follows. They will get through faith whatever they ask from God. To have faith in God means to expect and assured or obtaining, from God, whatever we need. Christ uses hyperbole to explain the nature of the goodness and mercy of God.
First, we are to have faith. Where does that faith come from? It comes from God. (Ephesians 2:8-9). God gives us faith. We cannot generate faith. Christ does call us to exercise it. Second, we are not to doubt. Who among us is without any doubt. We all doubt God’s mercy. We all doubt God will not keep His promises. When you question your salvation you doubt. God has said He will save whoever calls on His name. (Act 16:31, Romans 10:13) Despite the promise from God Himself, we doubt.
To have faith in God means, to expect, and be assured of obtaining, what we need from God.
We are to not doubt. We are to believe. This is in direct contrast to what Rome teaches. Rome teaches it is not good to have an assurance of salvation. If we had an assurance of our salvation we would be presumptuous. Christ tells us we are not to doubt. Rome mixes faith with doubt.
To faith, Christ adds prayer. He did not say we will have whatever we wish. This passage shows also that the true test of faith lies in prayer.
You may claim prayers are never heard. Mountains are never thrown into the sea. The response is simple. Christ does not give a loose rein to the wicked desires of men. We are not given any pleasure we desire. Christ places prayer after the rule of faith. The Spirit brings our affections into obedience by the word of God.
Christ did not promise anything to his disciples if they were restrained to the good pleasure of God.
Jesus repeats something here He has said before. It is often ignored because it is scary. It is one of the scariest things Jesus said. “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
We are to forgive so that God will forgive us. This appears also in the Lord’s prayer. “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12, Luke 11:4) . Our willingness to forgive ties directly to the forgiveness we receive from the Father. (Matthew 6:14-15; 18:21-35; Luke 6:35-37; 17:3-4; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). If you do not forgive the heavenly Father will not forgive you. This is the message of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35).
Examine your heart. Do you hold a grudge against anyone? Forgive them. God has forgiven you of so much more than you could possibly forgive.
Verse 26 I not in the ESV translation. “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.” The reason is, it does not appear in the most ancient manuscripts. It was most likely added. But it is consistent with Jesus teaching elsewhere.