Jesus preached using many parables – stories which illustrate spiritual ideas or prophecies. When Jesus cursed the fig tree a few days before His crucifixion, He was acting out a message He had been proclaiming. Essentially, he was illustrating that because the nation of Israel had rejected Him, God was going to remove His special favor from Israel.
In the parable of Luke 13:6-9, our Lord used the picture of a fig tree to represent Israel. Jesus had just warned the crowd that they needed to repent. Then He went directly into the parable of the fig tree which hadn't been producing fruit for the past three years. (This approximately corresponds to the length of Jesus' ministry up until that time.) The fig tree was to be given additional attention and a chance to bear fruit.
Later in Luke 13:34-35, Jesus plainly proclaimed the rejection of Israel as a nation. Israel was to suffer greatly for not accepting Jesus as the promised Messiah. Yet our Lord offered hope for the nation: "Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' " (Verse 35)
Therefore, when Jesus approached the fig tree near Bethany (Matthew 21:18-20; Mark 11:12-14, 20-21) and found no early fruit, He cursed the fig tree (picturing Israel) for its lack of fruit.
A time is coming when God will open the eyes of Israel as a whole! In Luke 21, after detailing the horrific trouble which would befall Jerusalem for their unfaithfulness (especially verses 20-24), Jesus immediately tells another parable of a fig tree: "… 'Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.' " (Luke 21:29-31)
Today Israel is again a nation. It has not yet born the fruit of accepting Christ, but it is bearing leaves. "In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit." – Isaiah 27:6