Notes: There were two stages to this event: on Monday the tree was cursed, on Tuesday it was found withered. Mark makes this clear. Matthew (as was his customary style) grouped them together (he tends to arrange events more thematically than chronologically). Matthew 21:18 refers to Monday morning (i.e., the morning of the day which he had narrated in Matthew 21:12-17); Matthew 21:20 refers to Tuesday morning (when the fig tree was discovered to have withered, and Jesus responded to the wonder of His disciples).
The day did not begin with a meal in Jewish culture, so they would often "snack" early in the day. Fig trees bore fruit twice a year: (harvestable summer figs, harvested in the autumn and worthless winter figs which appeared in the spring). There should have been winter figs on this tree, but Jesus found none.
Questions/Observations: What do you think might have been the point Jesus was making in the cursing of the fig tree? (That is, what spiritual reality is Jesus illustrating in this act - if any?)
Notes: This was not just an act of resentment, as if Jesus stumbled on abuses He had not anticipated and flew into a righteous rage. There were four Passovers during Jesus's ministry. He cleansed the temple at the first (John 2), and then again at this feast (the fourth and last). There is strategy in this. In that regard, it is important to note whose territory Jesus was treading upon here.
It is impossible to overstate the anger that this act produced in the leadership of the Jewish nation, or the delight it generated in the hearts of the Jewish people.
Questions/Observations: The temple was the jurisdiction of the Sadducees (by Roman decree); the synagogue was the domain of the Pharisees (by practical realities). Given that, what strategy do you think might be involved in Jesus's cleansing of the Temple at this time?
Notes: The cleansing of the temple is basically all that is described in the gospel narrative of Monday of the Passion Week; after this event, Jesus returned to Bethany (Matthew 21:17; Mark 11:11). Jesus's life was in constant and real danger; by walking with the vast crowds moving in and out of the city, and by lodging in Bethany - a village that deeply loved Jesus - at the home of a friend (who, by Jewish mores, was bound to provide protection for his Guest), Jesus protected Himself from the murderous designs of the Jewish leaders.
Questions/Observations: Remember that the disciples were convinced the kingdom was about to be established (Luke 19:11). How might the events of Sunday and Monday have affected that persuasion?
Adapted from the Life of Christ study notes of Dr. Doug Bookman, professor of New Testament Exposition at Shepherds Theological Seminary (used by permission).