Matthewby Mike Raiter
We are now in the last week of Jesus' earthly life before He faces the cross, and most of it is spent teaching in the temple. The verbal conflict with the Jewish leaders becomes even more intense. They plague Him with questions designed to trap Him, and as He responds, He exposes the darkness in their hearts and their ultimate spiritual doom.
As Jesus approaches the temple, He sees a fig tree. It bears leaves, which suggests life, but upon closer inspection it is fruitless. Jesus then curses the tree (vv. 18-19). This appears a strange and shocking thing for the Lord to do, until we remember that in the Old Testament, the fig tree was a symbol for Israel (e.g., Jeremiah 24:2-5). This sign prepares us for what will follow in the temple. Like the fig tree, the Jewish nation has proven spiritually barren, and in His debates with the Pharisees, Jesus will similarly pronounce judgment upon them.
In one of the question and answer encounters (vv. 23-27), the chief priests and the elders of the people demonstrate the hardness of their hearts in their refusal to acknowledge that John the Baptist, who proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, was sent from God, although deep down they knew it to be true. They rejected John, while sinners repented at his preaching.
Jesus then tells two parables exposing the hardness of the Pharisees. The first (vv. 28-32) concerns two sons: one who claims to be obedient but is in fact fruitless (like the fig tree), and another who displays genuine repentance and faith.
The second parable (vv. 33-46) gives a brief review of Jewish history, which was consistently marked by Israel's rejection of God. This rebellion is about to reach its climax in the determination of the Jewish leaders to kill their Messiah, God's Son (vv. 37-39). Again, Jesus alludes to their fruitlessness (v. 43) and pronounces their imminent end (v. 44).
Jesus is foreshadowing the dawn of the new age. The old age was marked by God's dealings with Israel, which failed to be a light to the nations. This age is about to pass away as God's salvation is extended to all people who demonstrate true faith and repentance. In the end it is not appearances that count, or empty confessions, but the fruit of the Spirit.
Why do you think Jesus refuses to answer the chief priests and elders' question in verse 27? Is there any lesson here for us in our discussions with people about the gospel?
The appearance of godliness and empty words or confessions is still a danger for today's church. What is the spiritual fruit that God looks for in His people?