And the next day, as they came from Bethany, he grew hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, he went to it, if perhaps he might find something on it. But when he went to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not time for figs. And Jesus answered and said to it, “Let no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And his disciples were listening. . . . And when it was evening, he went out of the city. And early in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed is dried up!” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God.”
Mark 11:12–14, 19–22
In this scene with the fig tree, we see Jesus so angry with God’s people that he acted irrationally. It was not the season for fig trees to bear fruit; this tree was doing exactly what it was created to do; it was in the process of producing fruit at the time God created it to produce fruit. In spite of that, Jesus cursed the tree, and it died. What had men done to provoke Jesus to this extent?
The day previous to this, Jesus had ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem and then visited the temple of God. It was what he saw there, the buying and selling in particular, that infuriated him. All that night, he must have replayed the scenes he had witnessed in the temple, and this morning, he was on his way back to the temple, where he would go on a rampage, overturning the tables and seats of the merchants and money-changers, driving the livestock out of the temple complex, and even forbidding anyone to carry anything through the temple area.
But on the way to do all that, he grew hungry, and there, by the road, stood the hapless fig tree. The men in the temple were blessed that Jesus did not curse them instead, that he took the worst of his wrath out on a tree instead of them.
An amazing element of this fig tree story is that, even though Jesus was so angry that he cursed and killed the fig tree for not having figs, even though it was not the season for figs, it was not sinful for Jesus to do that! Jesus did no sin; the Bible is very clear about that. Yet, he did some things that many probably would have condemned as sinful, based on human ideas of sinfulness. God’s thoughts truly are not our thoughts.
This story of Jesus’ anger, and his acting on it, is encouraging. It tells us that we, too, are free to feel righteous anger, as Jesus did, without it being sin. But even more than that, it tells us that we can even act on that anger, as Jesus acted on his righteous anger, and still be sinless in God’s sight.
What the Bible, throughout, shows us is that the godliest men and women who ever lived were real, with the feelings that we ourselves feel, and their stories teach us that those of us who love God are free to act on how we feel and what we think – without being condemned as sinful! This can be a vexing world, with its pride, malice, lust, and greed. And as God gives us the grace to see things as they are, be fearless and (when it is time for it) do as Paul exhorted us to do: “Be angry, but do not sin” (Eph. 4:26).