This is one of those proof texts, and I dislike proof texts. It is generally best to look at a couple of things here..
- Christ was capable of destruction. He was not a worshipper of nature: he did not respect the tree and see it as worthy beyond its utility. The tree was there to demonstrate the power of God in his actions.
- The disciples, who had been with him for years by now, were amazed. Thyy ahd seen a lot of miracles, but this stretched their experience. We should expect to have difficulty with this teaching because they did.
- We pray fervently for things and do not see them, then read this passage and are told by too many people that we don’t have sufficient faith. Well, we are not God incarnate, nor do we know God’s timing. His promises are sure, but he does not say when.
- and sometimes he says that what we have is sufficient.
Christ, who did this, was soon to pray fervently that he be spared the Cross, but then said that the will of God needed to be done. We don’t know which one of our prayers are said in weakness, and when we will in prayer align with God. But it may be in the hard times, when this passage seems too distant as to be on another plane of experience.
18 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He *said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.
20 Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither all at once?” 21 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
One of the things that we don’t like talking about now because we are all so woke and righteous is that there will be accounting and true justice, which will end up with some things being destroyed, as this fig tree was . Not because the fig tree was evil — it is part of this creation, and nothing in this creation will survive the end — but because we chose evil and not good. In the end, the choices will be start.
This is a bit too Papist and speculative for my bleak reformed taste, but it makes the point.
One should not be able to get away with declaring bits of the Bible to be figurative without some indication of what is actually being talked about. In case of the Last Things, the main message is Judgment. Nearly always, when the New Testament talks about heaven and hell, it’s really talking about judgment. In this life, we are all trapped in ambiguity; everyone is a mix of good and evil. But such is the simplicity of God that final allegiance to Him must be all or nothing. So our lives receive a final resolution, unjustifiable from the immanent perspective of our life history, imposed through Him. If this is the literal message, then one could drop belief in a literal afterlife while retaining it, but believing in heaven while rejecting hell undercuts this only plausible figurative reading. Universalism undermines Final Judgment, which is what Jesus is most adamant about.
Dropping the afterlife altogether solves the “how can it be fair to punish somebody forever?” problem and the “what kind of existence can it be if you can no longer change your mind?” problem. Universalism solves the first (since eternal undeserved reward bothers us less); it solves the second only if you accept the Thomist argument that someone enjoying the beatific vision could never freely choose to sin. Both of these are vulnerable to the “if that’s what Jesus meant, how is it nobody ever understood Him that way before?” objection. My idea that the damned are punished for a finite time and then live a pleasant but non-beatific eternity in limbo also has more going for it than universalism, since our lives then have at least some eternal consequence.
Speculation about the afterlife is unhelpful. The main message that must not be lost is Someday you will be judged. That, and Don’t aid the enemy.
The biggest miracle is not the fig tree died. Or that mountains fall into the sea — I live on and island That has earthquakes, drought and fire. It is that Christ chose us and we have a new creation in him. This world will end. Though we are stewards of it now, we are not to worship it or imagine that we can restore it to a glory it only had in the fevered imagination of Green pagan activists.
And we will all give account. This gives our lives significance: we will in the end either be children of God or the enemy. but the enemy will be destroyed, as will death. And the elite of this time want us not think of this. But we were never commanded to ally with them. or be like them .