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Matthew 21 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Faith to Accomplish the Impossible

Here Jesus provides an acted parable for his disciples, symbolizing another prophetic act of judgment. Matthew's audience, probably native to Syro-Palestine, are likely aware of what Mark states explicitly: it was not yet the season for figs (Mk 11:13). At Passover season in late March or early April, fig trees are often in leaf on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives. At this time of year the trees contain only green figs (Arabs call them taqsh); they ripen around June but often fall off before that time, leaving only leaves on the tree. Because of their unpalatable taste, these early figs rarely were eaten; but someone too hungry to care about taste would eat them anyway, as some do today. A leafy tree lacking early figs, however, would bear no figs at all that year (F. Bruce 1980:73-74; Witherington 1990:173).

Although Matthew retains Mark's emphasis from the context-judgment on the temple (compare fruitless trees in 3:10; 12:44-45; compare also 24:32; Jer 24)-his arrangement of the material lays primary stress on Jesus' lesson of faith. "Moving mountains" was a Jewish metaphor for accomplishing what was difficult or virtually impossible (as in ARN 6A; 12, 29B). Like the prophets of old, Jesus' disciples could do whatever God called them to do (compare 7:7-11; 10:8; 17:20). Faith, of course, implies obedience to God's wishes, not simply acting on our own. Given the surrounding context of conflict, Jesus' model of faith includes facing death bravely in obedience to God's call-and trusting his power over death itself.

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