There are three things that we need to study in this lesson concerning the fig tree that Jesus cursed on his way to the temple. We need to reconcile this passage with Mk 11:11-19, we need to study the typology of the fig tree and we need to apply the passage prophetically.
In Mk 11:13-14, Jesus cursed the fig tree, then in Mk 11:15-18, he cleansed the temple. On the next day (Mk 11:19-20), Peter pointed out that the fig tree had withered over night and then Jesus taught them the lesson on prayer.
In Matthew, it appears that the fig tree is cursed after the temple cleansing and that it withers as soon as Jesus speaks to it. So, this discrepancy can be cited as an apparent contradiction.
The reconciliation is quite simple if you refer to the chart from the prior lesson regarding the days leading up to the crucifixion. Mark’s account reveals that Jesus actually entered the temple the day before he cleansed it (Mk 11:11) and that he cursed the fig tree on his way to the temple the next day. Matthew leaves out these details and records the cursing of the fig tree as one event after the temple was cleansed. However, the days leading up to the crucifixion don’t work out without Mark’s added details. So, when you take Matthew and Mark’s gospels as supplementary accounts, there is no contradiction.
In the Bible, the fig tree pictures Israel. In Hos 9:10, the “fathers” of Israel were likened to the first ripe figs in the fig tree. In Jer 24:1-10, God used two baskets of figs to picture Israel. One pictures Israel in captivity and the other pictures the residue of Israel that remained in the land. Thus, when the prophets prophesied the destruction of Israel historically (i.e., by the Chaldeans) or prophetically (i.e., by the antichrist), they prophesied also the destruction of the fig trees (Jer 8:13; Hos 2:12; Joel 1:12; Is 34:4; Rev 6:13). In the future restoration of Israel, conversely, the fig trees “yield their strength,” (Joel 2:22).
Since a tree is known by its fruit (Matt 7:16-20), we can learn something about Israel from this fig tree. As a tree with fig leaves only, it pictures Israel covering its sinful nakedness like Adam and Eve did (Gen 3:7; Rom 10:3-4). Without fruit, it corresponds to the tree ready to be cut down in Lk 13:6-10. Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD and Israel was dispersed. Hence, Israel will not produce fruit until Jesus comes back. The time of his return is marked by the fig tree putting forth its leaves (Matt 24:32-34).