These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Matthew 21:18-32 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Verse by Verse Commentary

Matthew 21:18-32

I. Jesus curses the fig tree (18-22)
II. Jesus’ authority questioned (23-27)
III. Parable of two sons (28-32)

I. Jesus curses the fig tree (18-22)

Discussion Questions

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree?
Was He angry and annoyed?
What lesson was He teaching His disciples through this?
What is the purpose of a fig tree?
Was it fulfilling its purpose?
What will happen to people who bear no fruit?
What lesson did Jesus teach His disciples about faith?
What lessons can we learn about prayer?
Someone asks you to tell them what the statement means, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” What will you tell them?


Luke 13:6-9 – If the fig tree doesn’t bear fruit, cut it down.

John 15:5 – Abide in me and you will bear fruit.

Matthew 7:17 – A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit.

Verse by Verse Commentary

These come from the parallel passage in Mark 11:12-26 found at this page:

“1. The fig tree – It is often asked why did Jesus “curse” this fig tree? Was it a careless act of temper? Was He destroying someone’s property? Why would He destroy the tree if it was out of season? We will look at a few of these questions.

A. A curse in the Bible is not the same as we consider a curse. In modern day cursing often involves profanity or anger. In the New Testament a curse was a pronouncement of judgment on someone or something (see also Matthew 25:41). Jesus was using His words to command a miracle which would cause this tree to die.

B. Matthew 21:19 says that this tree was by the wayside. Also, Peter did not rebuke Jesus for destroying someone’s property. It was quite common at that time for travelers to pick fruit from trees that grew beside the road. In fact, one could even pick grain or fruit from other’s fields/orchards, but there is no evidence that this was the case here. Because Jesus is the Son of God, everything belongs to Him. He is sovereign over Creation and has the right to use Creation for His own purposes. That applies to a herd of pigs as in Mark 5:13 or trees, the donkey in the first part of Mark 11 or anything else.

C. Why did Jesus curse the tree when it was “out of season” for fruit? According to scholars, in Palestine the fruit appears before the leaves. When they saw the tree from a distance the natural assumption would be that since it had leaves it also had fruit. This would not be surprising even if it was not the key season for figs because there were often more than one crop per year and sometimes a fig tree could have fruit for as much as ten months per year.

D. We know that the Bible talks a lot about trees and fruit. A fruitless tree is considered to be worthless, deserving nothing except to be cut down. (Luke 13:6-9). While this passage doesn’t specifically mention the symbolism associated with this, many scholars believe that through this event Jesus is pronouncing judgment on Israel (which is sometimes referred to as a fig tree as in Jeremiah 8:13, Hosea 9:10) because it rejected Him and was fruitless spiritually despite all of God’s blessings. One piece of evidence for this is the fact that this passage is mentioned in connection with the cleansing of the temple which is another manifestation of Israel’s “fruitless” status. While I am normally not a fan of reading into the text symbolism or meaning which is not there, in this case it does make some sense. Even if Jesus did not curse the tree to show God’s judgment on Israel for rejecting the Messiah, it still shows that trees are for making fruit and if they don’t have any they should be cut down. The same is true for us. God chose us that we may bear fruit. If we don’t bear fruit, then there is a problem and we deserve the judgment that is coming. Israel too was planted, fertilized, and tended for millennia. And it still didn’t bear fruit. So, it would be judged once again.”

For some answers to any possible discrepancy between the Mark and Matthew account of the fig tree see:


2. Verses 21-22 – Jesus is teaching them to have faith in God’s power. Think about some of the things Jesus did that would be impossible for man. Feeding the five thousand. Walking on water. Calming the storm. Healing the blind and the lepers. Raising the dead. Withering this tree. Turning the water to wine. The list goes on and on. He was teaching His disciples to have faith. The disciples themselves learned to believe that God could do the impossible. Hence Peter and John in the book of Acts also are the tools by which God accomplishes many miracles. They would never have told the crippled man to walk (Acts 3:3-8) unless they believed that through God it was possible, and also that it was God’s will.

How can a person have faith like this? And why does it not always seem to work?

Let’s face it. Many of us have prayed earnestly for something we really have wanted. Perhaps it is for healing for a sick relative. But no matter how hard we prayed or how hard we pushed ourselves to believe, the healing did not happen. How can we balance these facts from our everyday life with this verse? What would you tell a person who reads verse 22 and doesn’t understand how this is possible?

Assignment: Ask your Bible study to split into small groups of 2-3. Give them 5-10 minutes. Ask them to consider the question, “If a person prays really hard for their sick relative, and believes he will be healed, how can we understand it if he is not healed?” After the time is over they should be ready to give their answer to the grieving relative.

Notice that in the text Jesus gives a qualifier. He says “If you believe, you will receive…” This belief denotes a complete confidence that what we are asking is God’s will. Jesus knew it was God’s will to curse the tree and to do all of the other miracles listed above. Peter and John also knew it was God’s will to raise the beggar through God’s revelation to them. But when we pray for a sick relative we do not know without a shadow of a doubt that it is God’s will to heal that person. We hope He will. We know He can. But He has not promised to do it every time. Therefore we cannot be certain He will do it in any specific situation. See 1 John 5:14. See also Psalm 37:4. IF you want exactly what God wants, then He will give it to you. So the secret is not to believe really hard and try to force God into doing what we want. The key is to perfectly align ourselves with Him. And that is what we try to do through prayer. By getting down on our knees (either figuratively or literally) we are saying, “God, you are king. You are the ruler. Let me follow your will and not my own.”

Application: Firstly we should bear fruit. Fulfill the purpose for which God created and saved you. Secondly, we should seek to understand God’s will and align ourselves with it. While we should not be afraid to make big requests of God, unless you are 100% sure it is His will, you cannot be 100% sure of an affirmative answer.

II. Jesus’ authority questioned (23-27)

Discussion Questions

Why did the leaders ask Jesus this question?
What things were they referring to when they said “by what authority do you do these things?”
Why do you think Jesus did not directly answer their questions?
What do you learn from Jesus’ reply here?
Are there any applications for us?


Matthew 7:6 – Do not throw pearls before swine.

Proverbs 26:4-5 – Do not answer a fool according to his folly.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. The religious leaders wanted to know on what authority Jesus kicked the sellers out of the temple. Remember that in the last passage we discussed that likely the religious leaders were making money off of this enterprise. So Jesus hit them where it hurt, their pocketbooks. Naturally they were not very happy and challenged Jesus’ authority. These leaders considered that they themselves were the final authority so they did not acknowledge any others.

Application: We must remember that in all things God is the final authority. We should always turn to God when making decisions. The religious leaders clearly did not try to ascertain God’s will on doing business in the temple. In our families and churches and businesses we must remember that God is the head.

2. Jesus did not engage with them. See cross-references above. He knew that if He said His authority came from God it would create a bigger argument. If He said He was the Son of God and the Messiah they would not listen and would perhaps arrest immediately before His time had come. Answering their question here would accomplish nothing. Nothing He could say would convince them or change their heart. Under that premise, it is useless to engage with them. Nothing good would be accomplished, and the situation would only be made worse.

3. He cleverly comes up with another question to ask them in return.

Application: We must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. While we must always be truthful, sometimes it is better to not answer questions or ask a different question in return. Ask your Bible study group to around the table and each person give one example where it could be better not to answer someone’s question (for example while sharing the gospel) or to ask a different question in return.

One example is when people are directly challenging or testing God and they have shown themselves to be hostile and unteachable. Deuteronomy 6:16.

III. Parable of two sons (28-32)

Discussion Questions

What is the main point of this parable?
Who does the first son represent?
The second son?
How did the religious leaders respond to this (and the next) parable (see verse 45)?
What lesson can we learn from this parable? Does this teach us it is OK to tell lies?
What does it teach us is most important to God?


Matthew 15:8 – These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

1 Samuel 15:22 – Obedience is more important than sacrifice.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. Jesus told this parable in response to the religious leaders questioning Him. The parable was directed at them. They were supposed to be the obedient son. But although they professed to be obedient to God with their lips their actions proved otherwise. The fact that they let people buy and sell for profit in the temple, distracting people from worshiping God, was just one example of their selfish and rebellious behavior. The next parable was also directed at them and they knew it. Therefore in verse 46 they seek to find a way to quietly arrest Jesus.

2. The first son was used to represent the tax-collectors and sinners and prostitutes. These people did not look like obedient children. Most people would have thought that they were rebellious and sinful and not worthy to be heirs of the father. And they would have been right. However, it was this group of people that repented of their behavior. While the religious leaders did not recognize their wrongdoing or change, they did. And therefore they were forgiven while the priests and Pharisees remained separated from God in their sins.

Application: God desires obedience, not just words. He much prefers that we do what He wants us to do than just talk about doing it. Singing songs in church is nice. Telling people “praise the Lord” when we hear good news is nice. Talking about how much we love God is nice. It is not wrong to do so. The point of the parable is not teaching us that lying is OK. But the point is that we should be obedient. All the words of praise for God in the universe will be pointless if the way we live our life does not back it up. Talk can be cheap. As the old saying goes, we must not just talk to the talk, but we must walk the walk. What are the areas of your life where you need to change something to conform to what God wants you to do? What do you need to obey this week to put these lessons in to practice? I encourage you to have a partner who you can tell your application to who will check it to keep you accountable to obey what you have planned. The whole point is to study and obey.