Matthew 21:16-20

Mat 21:16 (KJB)
And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?

The religious leaders had asked Jesus basically, do you know what they are saying? They had probably thought that Jesus had put the children up to it but that was not the case because they would have witnessed all the people that were healed by Jesus in the temple. (Psa 8:2 KJV) Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. Jesus quoted to them Psalm 8:2 which was the fact that the children would praise the Lord. In essence Jesus was telling the religious leaders that the children had it right because they knew who Jesus was and the religious leaders had it wrong because they did not know who Jesus was. We can even say that those who have become saved, the children of God, will be the ones to praise the Lord and the dead religious leaders in churches will not.

Mat 21:17 (KJB)
And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.

(Mark 11:19 KJV) And when even was come, he went out of the city. Mark 11:19 may give us an insight that Jesus left the city every night. This time when He left the temple, He went to Bethany and He probably lodged at the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Bethany was maybe about a mile from Jerusalem. I am sure that night the religious leaders were discussing the days events and how they could rectify the situation.

Mat 21:18 (KJB)
Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.

The single word in the Greek for “in the morning” carries with it the meaning of “very early in the morning or a great while before day.” So here Jesus rose up even before the sun came up. Then Jesus went back into the city but at this time He was hungry. It may be that He did not stay at the house of His friends in Bethany but stayed outside all night which would not have been unusual during the Passover.

Mat 21:19 (KJB)
And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

As Jesus was walking toward Jerusalem with His disciples, they spotted a fig tree and was hoping to find fruit on it but all they found was leaves as it was a barren fruit tree. Fig trees normally bear fruit about 40 days after the leaves appear. They would normally appear at the end of May and this was the middle of April. Early figs was a good indicator that there was going to be a good crop. However, Jesus found no figs on this tree and cursed the fig tree that it should not grow fruit for ever. This was not a cursing because there was no fruit on the tree but it was a symbolic cursing because it was a representation of the fruitlessness of Israel.

(Hosea 9:16 KJV) Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.

(Micah 7:1 KJV) Woe is me! for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grapegleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat: my soul desired the firstripe fruit.

(Mat 3:10 KJV) And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

(Mat 21:41 KJV) They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.

The cursing of the fruit tree was a parabolic action. Jesus used the fig tree as a reaction to what He saw in the temple and how He was rejected by Israel because all He saw was the dead, formal, unspiritual, and lifeless religion. The withering of the fig tree was a prophecy of the coming razing of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. No longer would the Mosaic law be in power, the temple was no longer needed since the anti-type of the temple was now here, salvation would be by grace and not law. Now those who claim to be followers of Jesus would prove their lives by living a fruitful existence, that is, bearing spiritual fruit by leading others to the Lord, ministering to them, taking up the cross and following Jesus without any hesitation. Lack of fruit shows that you have a lack of life.

There is also another application to the withered fig tree. It can also be applied to those in the church who are religious but not saved. Their life will have no fruit because a dead tree can not bring forth any fruit. The body of Christ is called the Israel of God. (Rom 2:28-29 KJV) For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: {29} But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. Romans 2:28 states that one is not a Jew who is one outwardly, who only manifests their religion in a fleshly and not spiritual manner. Romans 2:29 states that that one is a true Jew who is one inwardly that has the circumcision of the heart by the spirit and not in the law, that is, by grace alone. (Phil 3:3 KJV) For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. In Philippians, Paul settles the question as to who the true circumcision is and that is the body of believers who are in Christ.

Now back to the fig tree. Ancient Israel had a false religion at the time of Christ which was Judaism. That caused them to miss who Jesus was and because of that, they were typed by the withered fig tree. Then on Pentecost, the Jewish disciples and other believers received the Holy Spirit making them the true Israel of God. So at that point in time there was the true and false Israel dwelling together. The withered fig tree represented the false Israel and their religion. It is the same in the churches today. You have the saved and the unsaved dwelling together, just like false and true Israel dwelling together. Those who are spiritually dead but religious will rely on the rituals and ceremonies of their church for salvation, just like the religious leaders in Israel relied on their rituals and ceremonies for salvation, by focusing on these you will miss salvation through Christ altogether.

Mat 21:20 (KJB)
And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!

The disciples, as usual, not seeking the symbolic meaning of the withered tree only looked at it and wanted to know how it withered so fast. It seems even at this point, a few days away from the crucifixion, they were still looking at things from a fleshly perspective but that was about to change in about 54 days.