Q&A: The Fig Tree - Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:20

The Fig Tree - Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:20

Question

Did the fig tree wither immediately or gradually? Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:20

Answer

Matthew 21:19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.

Mark 11:20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots

Mark's account tells us the fig tree event happened over two days (Mark 11:12,19,20), whereas Matthew condenses it. Matthew's account may be understood as the tree "immediately" beginning to die, but it was not "instantaneous." So, the term "immediately" may be used in a relative sense.

This miracle is connected with the cleansing of the temple (Matt. 21:12-17). The cleansing of the temple hints at God's imminent punishment of Israel by the destruction of the city and the temple (Jer. 24:1-8). In a sense, we could say that the process of judgment began "immediately" because of Israel's continued hypocrisy, lack of repentance, and covenant unfaithfulness, but the destruction was not "instantaneous."

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).