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Having read the Gospel from Apostle Matthew chapter 21st and Apostle Mark chapter 11th, the parable about the withered fig tree, I became inclined to write about the symbolic and moral significance of this frightful damnation.


In examining the Evangelical narrations regarding the damnation of the fig tree, one can not overlook the words of Apostle Mark saying:  “And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves,” and with Apostle Matthews assertion, stating: “that the fig tree was covered with leaves”.  We need to remember that the Palestinian fig tree first opens its buds and then its leaves. When the leaves of the fig tree reach a known size and are substantial in number, then on the fig tree one can possibly hope to find at least some mature figs.


Leaving Bethany and going into Jerusalem, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, felt hunger.  He looked around and saw in the distance a fig tree, different from all the others along His way because it already had leaves. At that time of the year, (at the end of March or in the beginning of April), this was an unusual phenomenon. As fruits of a fig tree develop before the leaves and the leaves develop together with the ripening of the fruit, then on the fig tree covered with leaves, Christ obviously could have expected figs as well.  The occurrence of leaves on a fig tree entitled one to expect premature and early fruit.  Therefore, there is nothing surprising in the Evangelical parable that Christ in seeing the fig tree covered with leaves approached it with the purpose of finding some figs to satisfy His hunger. 


At first glance, it seems strange in the manner which Our Lord stated His indignation upon the fig tree: a fig tree which had no will and consequently was not responsible for itself: a fig tree which His Heavenly Father nurtured and vested with abundant magnificent leaves.  Incomprehensible how He could damn this fig tree, if only, that it could not satisfy His hunger.  To understand this precise, mysterious and apparent behavior of Our Lord, we must first cast a glance upon the circumstances in which this event took place.


Jesus Christ, the triumphant King of Israel, equally awaited by the Jews and the pagans, entered Jerusalem accompanied by crowds of people and was met with shouts of unusual greetings: “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9).  Thereafter, He visited the temple in Jerusalem “having examined all”, and in the evening, returned to Bethany.  The next day, again wishing to visit Jerusalem and the Temple, our Lord performs a miracle.  The damnation of the fig tree is in the middle of what the Lord had already seen in Jerusalem and in the Temple. What remained was His clearing-out of the moneychangers from the Temple.  It seems extremely probable that this wonderful sign directly represents the last struggle led by Christ with the unilateral representatives of Jewish theocracy.  Therefore, it is impossible to deny the opinion held by many Evangelical interpreters that the image of the damned fig tree symbolizes the face of Israel. This wonderful event is none other than an addition to the Divine actions of Christ’s parable regarding the fig tree, based only on the word of Apostle and Evangelist Luke, in chapter 13, verses 6 through 9.  The parable regarding the fig tree remained as though unfinished.  Christ concludes it with the request of the vinekeeper not to cut down the fig tree if only for one more year, in hopes that maybe in one year’s time, it would bring to fruition fruit.  “Sir, said the vinekeeper,  let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.  And if it bears fruit, well.  But if not, after that you can cut it down” (Luke 13:8-9).  And here, when the social service of Jesus Christ was at its termination, when all means were employed for the salvation and conversion of the lost sheep of the House of Israel, when the ground on which the parable of the fig tree grew was properly  fertilized, that same year, elicited by the vinekeeper from the Lord, for his beloved but unfruitful fig tree, also terminated.


Clearly, such an Evangelical damnation of a fig tree had an underlying meaning.  The action symbolically prophesied is indicative of the judgment which should have been carried out over Israel and accomplished through those whose eyes bore witness to this symbolic prophesy and who shortly thereafter, in disbelief, saw this wonderful fulfillment of Christ’s word  through His disciples. 


The fig tree was an image of a false and deceptive Israel.  Christ searches the tree for fruit because it already was covered with leaves; leaves of Divine Revelation expecting early fruit.  Israel had to believe, before all others, in the promised Messiah because through revealed signs, He had been prepared before all others, for this unusual, supernatural Divine Revelation; as on the Evangelical fig tree that had leaves during such a time when all other fig trees yet had none. The Jewish people persistently rejected the Angel of the Testament, who went into His own Temple:  the fig tree full of leaves, however, had no fruit.  God is angry at the fig tree and condemns it by saying: “Let no fruit grow on you ever again” (Mark 11:14).  Henceforth, the tree dries up as does the Israel Nation, having brought no fruit even after a diligent, supernatural, promised care. On behalf of its official and unofficial civil and spiritual leaders, it rejected the Savior.  Commencing with King Herod, who had killed the newborn in Bethlehem and finishing with the Sanhedrin that attracted to within itself the broad masses, shouting to Pilate: “Crucify!  Crucify! Him”!  The Jews from the very beginning aspired to murder Jesus Christ and eventually prevailed.  But, why did this tragedy happen?  Prophet Isaiah, many centuries ago, has given us the answer to this question. “Therefore, they could not believe, because He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them”.  These things Isaiah said and then adds Apostle John: “When he saw His Glory and spoke of Him” (John 12: 40-41).


The Apostles were astonished by the very fact of the miracle and how Christ’s word had authoritatively distributed itself on the plant kingdom. But Christ had already numerously taught them and confirmed it again that undoubtful belief has no boundaries. “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.” (Matthew 21:21).


The miracle of the fruitless fig tree was none other than a symbolic prophecy of our Lord,  Jesus Christ, regarding the approaching tragical end of Old Testament Israel which occurred shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Roman Emperor’s  Vespasian  and  Titus in  69-70 AD.


The fig tree damned by the Lord, as of yet, has not been thrown asunder.  It still remains as previously by the wayside, forever doomed to be fruitless and withered. Its vital signs have stopped, existing only as a mute, historical monument.  Not having believed in Christ, the Judaic people have ceased to be blessed with the fruits of God’s Revelation and are unable to satisfy the religious fervor of any traveler going to a Heavenly  Jerusalem.



Protopriest Anatoly Trepatschko

January / 2006



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