Matthew 21:20

ESV When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?”
NIV When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. 'How did the fig tree wither so quickly?' they asked.
NASB Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, 'How did the fig tree wither all at once?'
CSB When the disciples saw it, they were amazed and said, "How did the fig tree wither so quickly? "
NLT The disciples were amazed when they saw this and asked, 'How did the fig tree wither so quickly?'
KJV And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!

What does Matthew 21:20 mean?

Jesus' disciples notice that the fig tree has withered (Matthew 21:18–19), likely something they noticed the following morning, according to Mark 11:20–25. Overnight, the tree went from healthy-looking to shriveled. Matthew condenses the details, though he does not actually say it all took place on the same day. Recording events in topical order, rather than a strict time order, was quite common in ancient literature. Matthew has chosen to do so in this part of his book in order to focus on specific themes.

The disciples do not ask Jesus what may seem to us to be the most logical question: Why did you curse the fig tree if figs are out of season? Instead, they ask Jesus how He caused the fig tree to wither. He answers that question in following verse (Matthew 21:21). The disciples would have known, more naturally than we would, that a productive tree would have had unripe, edible buds. The fact that it had nothing meant it was not producing fruit and would bring nothing that season.

This event was not merely an expression of Jesus' displeasure in that moment. It's possible the point of this destructive miracle was to provoke the question from the disciples. More likely is that Jesus meant the miracle as a warning of the coming judgment. Comparison of Israel to a withering, fruitless tree is also seen in Old Testament writings (Jeremiah 8:13).
What is the Gospel?
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