Damien F. Mackey
“It has puzzled people for generations why Jesus was so upset with a fig tree
that by nature should not have had figs or leaves…”.
Dr. Ernest L. Martin appears to have had something of a knack of being able to interpret (at least some key aspects) of the parables and actions of Jesus Christ. See on this e.g. my:
Dr. Martin’s interpretation of the puzzling action of Jesus in relation to the barren fig tree appears to make good sense, as well as providing us with some important extra information – it seems – about the Garden of Eden.
We read of Martin’s interpretation of this in Roger Waite’s “The Lost History of Jerusalem” (pp. 187-190): http://www.rogerswebsite.com/articles/TheLostHistoryofJerusalem.pdf
A Tale of Two Trees
…. What … type of trees were the two trees? We have seen that the earthly tabernacle and Temple was modeled after the Garden of Eden and the heavenly Temple. The Holy of holies symbolised the midst of the Garden where the two trees [were].
Within the Holy of holies was placed Aaron‘s rod that miraculously budded which symbolised the Tree of Life. In Numbers 17:8 we read:
The rod of Aaron of the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe ALMONDS.
Aaron‘s rod that budded was an almond tree. Since it symbolised the Tree of Life there is every chance that the Tree of Life was an almond tree. Ernest Martin makes these comments:
The Old Testament description of the Menorah constructed in the time of Moses showed that it was intimately connected with the almond tree motif. Note that the flowers and the bowls for the oil on each of the seven branches of the Menorah were designed to be like those of the almond tree (Exodus 37:17-24).
This almond tree type of lampstand was placed by Moses in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle just outside the Holy of Holies. But inside the inner sanctum itself was deposited the rod of Aaron that budded. It too had the symbol of the almond tree associated with it. The rod brought forth almond flowers and even almonds themselves in a supernatural manner (Numbers 17:1-13). Because Moses placed this almond rod of Aaron inside the Holy of Holies, this goes a long way in showing that the rod (with its almond tree genre) was the symbolic Tree of Life which had been in the Garden of Eden.
Philo in the time of Jesus, said the almond tree was “the emblem of the priesthood” (Life of Moses, 111.22) because it was the first to bloom in the springtime and the last to lose its leaves. This tree showed the greatest longevity of life each year and it was a fit symbol for the Tree of Life (Golgotha p.384).
In Revelation 22:2 we read the about the river of life and the tree of life in the New Jerusalem:
In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
The tree of life here bears 12 different fruits beyond the almonds which may have been the original fruit from it. Given the prominence of the olive tree, especially on the Mount of Olives, there is also the possibility that the olive tree could have been the tree of life though olives are quite salty to the taste.
Traditionally the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is portrayed as an apple. Was it an apple or something else?
Shortly before Jesus was crucified there is recorded an incident that strongly suggests that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a fig tree. Now a fig tree is also used in a positive way in the Bible in the millennial verse that speaks of every man sitting under his vine and under his fig tree and no one being afraid (Micah 4:4).
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil belonged ONLY to God so there is nothing evil about the tree by and of itself. The evil was the choice of Adam and Eve to disobey and take what belonged ONLY to God against His clear instructions. Ernest Martin writes the following about the connection between the fig tree and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:
It will be remembered that in the Garden in Eden there were two trees that God specifically selected for the attention of Adam and Eve. One was the Tree of Life and the other was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Our first parents partook of this latter tree and they were then expelled from the Garden for this sin (the first sins ever committed by mankind).
What type of tree was this that Adam and Eve partook of? While many different types of trees have been guessed (the pomegranate, date, grape and even the apple), the only tree mentioned in the context of Genesis describing the “fall” of Adam and Eve is the “fig.” It is to be noted that as soon as Adam and Eve knew they had sinned, they sewed fig leaves together to hide their shame. It is well documented among the Jews that this was understood to be the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
“What was the tree of which Adam and Eve ate? Rabbi Yosi says: It was the fig tree…the fig whereof he ate the fruit opened its doors and took him in” (Midrash, Bereshith Raba, 15,7).
“The fig leaf which brought remorse to the world” (ibid., 19, 11).
“The tree of which the first man ate … Rabbi Nehemiah says: It was the fig, the thing wherewith they were spoilt, yet were they redressed by it. As it is said: And they stitched a fig-leaf’ (Berakoth 40a, and see Sanhedrin 70a).
In the non-canonical Book of Adam and Eve (20:5) it says: “I sought a leaf to cover up my nakedness and found none, for, when I ate, the leaves withered off every tree in my plot except for the fig, and from it I took leaves and it made me a girdle, even from the tree of which I ate”…
The symbol of the fig tree as being the “evil” tree in the Garden of Eden figures in a prominent episode that occurred during the week just before Jesus was crucified. Once the symbolic meaning of the fig tree is recognized, then this special event can make a great deal of doctrinal sense in regard to the role that Jesus played in expelling “sin” from the world. I am talking about the time when he saw a fig tree on the Mount of Olives as he was approaching Jerusalem, and he cursed it. This fig tree would have been very near if not directly adjacent to the village of Bethphage which meant “House of Unripe Figs.” Before that day was over that particular fig tree was withered up and completely dead. This has a remarkable figurative meaning to it.
Four days before his crucifixion, Jesus left Bethany and started walking towards Jerusalem. When he was near the summit of the Mount of Olives, opposite Bethphage, he noticed on the side of the road a fig tree. He went to it and finding no figs on its branches (yet the tree was covered with leaves), he cursed that fig tree and said: “Let no man eat fruit from you henceforth forever. And his disciples heard it” (Mark 11:14). The cursing of that particular fig tree has baffled men ever since. The truth is, even Mark said that “it was not the season of figs” (Mark 11:13). Indeed, difficulty in understanding the curse of Jesus went further than that. It was not even the time for fig trees to have leaves! It has puzzled people for generations why Jesus was so upset with a fig tree that by nature should not have had figs or leaves…
Since the tree was located on a main thoroughfare into Jerusalem and with the heavy population around the city at that Passover season, it is not to be imagined that Jesus expected to find a few dried figs of last year’s crop on the branches. The tree would surely have been stripped clean of its fruit [The fruit season was around Tabernacles]. Jesus must have known that he would not find any figs on this unusual fig tree…
Note that the next day after Jesus cursed that fig tree, the disciples found it withered (Mark 11:20,22; Matthew 21:18-21). What was significant about this? It meant that the type of tree that Adam and Eve first ate which brought sin and death to them (and in an extended sense to all humanity) was now withered and dead.
Tradition had it that the only tree under Adam’s care in the Garden of Eden that did not shed its leaves after our first parents took of the fruit was the fig tree. It was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But with this miracle of Jesus on the Mount of Olives, it meant that symbolic tree was now withered and dead. It signified that no longer would that type of tree be in the midst of humanity to encourage mankind to sin in the manner of our first parents…
Jesus cursed that symbolic tree at the top of Olivet so that no man would eat of it
again. And to complete his victory over sin, a short time later Jesus was going to be sacrificed for the sins of the world just a few yards away from this withered and dead tree. What Jesus was doing in the last week of his life on earth was acting out a symbolic victory over all the factors in the Garden of Eden around which our first parents failed. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was now withered and dead.
But there was a second symbolic meaning to the withering of the fig tree. There was the village of priests called Bethphage (House of Unripe Figs) along side that
withered tree. And Bethphage was where the Sanhedrin met for special sentencing, especially that dealing with whom they considered to be a rebellious elder who needed to be excommunicated. And why was this priestly village called Bethphage? It meant “The House of Unripe Figs.” The Jewish authorities understood that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil from which Adam and Eve ate that brought sin into the world was the fig (not the apple). Adam and Eve took leaves from that very tree from which they ate to hide their nakedness from God. But, in the case of the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem at Bethphage, they were supposed to act as God’s judges and thereby they were supposed to be rendered free of sin in their adjudications. This is probably why they named the village on Olivet the “House of Unripe Figs” because at this place of the court there were supposed to be no ripe figs available to tempt the judges to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil like was the case with Adam and Eve…
It was no accident that Jesus told his disciples to go into Bethphage and obtain a donkey for him to ride into Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah about the Jews adoring their king riding on a donkey. By getting this donkey at Bethphage was like saying that Jesus went to the Supreme Court for his transport.
But there is even more. Note that when Jesus departed on the donkey from Bethphage that the people praised him as the King of Israel (Matthew 21:1-17). Jesus then returned to Bethany on the east side of the Mount of Olives and the next morning started once again into Jerusalem. He then saw the fig tree (note carefully that this was a fig tree) that had no eatable fruit on it. Indeed, the texts say that it was not yet the time for ripe figs because it was so early in the season. But Christ, finding no ripe figs on it, cursed it then and there. This event occurred on the Mount of Olives and right next to the village of Bethphage (the House of Unripe Figs). Soon that fig tree withered away and died, within a matter of hours.
Jews living at the time in Jerusalem (without the slightest doubt in their minds) would have known the significance that Jesus was placing on that miraculous event. That fig tree itself was a “Tree of Unripe Figs” which was located next to the village of Bethphage (with the name “House of Unripe Figs”) which was the site where the Sanhedrin determined the limits of things that were holy and things not holy. In effect, Jesus through the miraculous withering of that fig tree of unripe figs was showing the demise and final authority of the Sanhedrin to make decisions at Bethphage (the House of Unripe Figs).
Later Jewish interpretation said that the verse in the Song of Songs which said: “the fig tree putteth forth her green figs” (Song of Songs 2:13) was figurative of the coming days of the Messiah, see the fifth century Jewish work called the Pesikta de-Rab Kahana (Piska 5:9). But here was Jesus, doing the work of the Messiah, causing the fig tree with no figs to dry up. The official work of God was to be given to a nation bringing forth proper results. Recall, Jesus later stated in the Temple: “Therefore say I unto you. The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21:43) (Golgotha p.138-144).