In the morning, as He was returning to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside He went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And He said to it, "May no fruit every come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once. When
the disciples saw it they marveled, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" And Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain,
'Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith" (Matthew 21:18-22).
The first act after the fall was that of Adam and Eve clothing themselves with fig leaves. So now Jesus is making the same figure of the fig tree the very last of His wondrous signs. Just as He was headed towards the Cross, He cursed the fig tree—not every
fig tree, but that one alone for its symbolic significance—saying, “May no one any more eat fruit of thee forever.” In this way the curse laid upon Adam and Eve was being reversed.
– Saint Cyril of Jerusalem
That you might learn that it was for the disciples' sakes that this was done, that He might train them in confidence, listen to what He said afterward: "You also shall do greater things, if you are willing to believe and to be confident in prayer." All
this was done for their sakes that they might not be afraid and tremble at plots against them. He repeated this to enable them to cleave to prayer and faith. For you shall not only do this, but you shall also remove mountains; and many more things you shall
do, being confident in faith and prayer. – Saint John Chrysostom, Homily on the Gospel of Matthew
The fig tree is a symbol of the Jewish nation, which had the outward appearance of fruits, because they had followed the letter of the law. But they lacked fruit in that
they did not abide by the Spirit of the law and “neglected the weightier things of the law.” They continued to question His authority even to the last moment. Christ had rejected the Jews, as they were plotting to slaughter Him.
Truly, when He came and found no fruit in [the Jews], He cursed them through the fig-tree, saying, ‘Let there be henceforth no fruit from you;’ and the fig-tree was dead and fruitless so that even the disciples wondered when it withered away…The Lord cursed
them under the figure of the fig-tree. And yet, He still spared them in His loving-kindness, and did not destroy the root and the entire tree. For He did not curse the root, but [said] that no man will eat fruit of it thenceforth. When He did this, He abolished
the shadow, causing it to wither; but preserved the root, so that we might [not] be grafted upon it; ‘they too, if they abide not in unbelief, may attain to be grafted into their own olive tree.’ Now when the Lord had cursed them because of their negligence,
He removed from them the new moons, the true lamb, and that which is truly the Passover.
– Saint Athanasius, Letter 6