By Rev. Dr. Michael Koplitz
20As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. 23 “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. 24 “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”
There are two elements in this passage, the fig tree and moving the mountain. To understand the message, you must see how the fig tree and moving the mountain are connected.
The fig tree is a metaphor for Israel. We hear God exclaiming, “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first season” (Hosea 9:10). However, we cannot jump to the damaging conclusion that all the people of Israel are cursed and withered. Why? Because the image of the fig tree is associated with moving the mountain.
Faith to move a mountain is an exciting expression that has been explored by many commentators over the centuries. The traditional explanation views these words literally, so with faith in Jesus one should be able to accomplish anything. But logically, this does not make sense. I once worked in an office with a gentleman who was addicted to gambling. He thought he could become rich by believing he could be a winner in the casino (which, of course, did not happen). So, let me share with you the original meaning of the expression “moving a mountain.”
In Jesus’ day, the moving of mountains and uprooting of trees were images found in legal, legendary, miracle worker, and end-time contexts. These symbolic images were employed in connection with Rabbis, kings, heroes, and Messianic followers (1). When Yeshua spoke of moving a mountain, he was referring to Mount Zion, which was the location of the Temple in Jerusalem. Mount Zion was known as “the mountain of the house”, the “house” meaning the Temple (Is. 2:2; Jer. 26:18; Micah 4:1). So, what did Yeshua mean by metaphorically throwing the Temple into the sea?
Consider Mark 14:58, where Jesus claimed that the Temple would be torn down in three days. He did not mean this literally. Both the tearing down of the Temple and the movement of Mount Zion where the Temple was located are referring metaphorically to the Temple leadership with its manufactured traditions and rules that needed to be destroyed and replaced by what the LORD initially gave the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. The disciples were told that they had the power to effect (or begin to effect) massive changes in the religious structure represented by the Temple on Mount Zion.
So, moving a mountain means reforming the religious system and making change occur to restore it to God’s original intention. The withering fig tree is the existing system of worship that is controlled by the withering fruit of many religious leaders.
In Jerusalem, the first fifteen bishops were Jewish. During that time, the most significant influence on Judaism’s reform was the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The leaders of Judaism were forced to change the system of worship without a Temple because there were no more animal sacrifices to the LORD. A new way had to be developed which became the rabbinic movement to pray for the forgiveness of sins.
How about today and the part that you should be playing in religious reform? Do you have the faith to move a mountain? Do you have the faith to be able to make changes to the church and our system of worship? Wow, that’s a tall order, but Jesus says, “Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”
Having faith to move the mountain is what Jesus wants from His disciples. He began the reform with Judaism in His day. Now we need to improve our churches and gatherings of Christians for worship because they are dying! The church has become irrelevant in many communities. When will church leadership at the top understand that the ways of doing business that worked in the 1950s do not work today?
I pray for the reform of the church at all levels and all denominations. If the church dies out, then the knowledge of salvation by following the ways of Jesus will be lost. Watching the news broadcasts, I feel the process of the church’s demise is in full swing.
BUT WE CAN STOP THIS. We can move the mountain. If you cannot move the mountain at the top of the leadership pyramid, look at your local church or gathering of Christian believers. Change the local church to be able to reach out and show its relevance to the community.
We have been given a difficult job by Jesus. Through our faith in the message of the Gospel, we can move the mountain. So, what are you waiting for?
(1) Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 198
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Pastor Michael H. Koplitz, D.Min., Ph.D. is an ordained minister, author, teacher, and webmaster at BibleInteract. He currently lives in York Pennsylvania with his wife, Sandy, where he has been a pastor at the United Methodist Church for over 18 years.
You may have heard that Jesus said faith could move a mountain but what did he really mean by this? And what does moving a mountain have to do with the fig tree in the preceding verses? Rev. Dr. Koplitz explains.