This is going to be one of my more speculative thoughts. I am by no means a scriptorian, nor am I even conversant in Old Testament sacrificial practices. This is just something that connected in my mind.
In Mark chapter 11, verses 12-26 (and Matthew 21), Jesus and his disciples walk by a fig tree, which He condemns for producing no fruit and curses it. When they return by it, the tree has withered.
12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:
13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
. . .
21 And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.
22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
. . . then goes on to talk about the power that can do seemingly impossible things.
In the middle of this, verses 15-19, Jesus clears the moneychangers and those who sell animals to be sacrificed out of the Temple grounds:
15 ¶And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;
16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
It seems to me that the miracle of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple must be related, one surrounding the other, so it got me to thinking. What do fig trees have to do with the commanded practice of animal sacrifice?
One of the most remarkable uses of fig leaves in the Scriptures is in the Garden of Eden. In trying to cover their mistakes, Eve and Adam fashion aprons out of fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). They did not yet know that there would be a Savior who would cover us all, that they didn’t need to try to cover themselves but only needed to repent of what they had done.
What does this have to do with animal sacrifice? The details of what animals should be sacrificed for what sins is well detailed in Leviticus 1-7. It’s been law for many hundreds of years. This, I believe, results in two problems by the time of Christ.
The business of selling animals for sacrifice and changing money to money that is acceptable for use in the Temple has become a lucrative trade. This oppressive trade was at least tolerated by the Priests whose job it was to perform the sacrifices and keep the Temple grounds free of commercial traffic.
More importantly, the commandments for animal sacrifice (well beyond the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb foreshadowing the sacrifice of The Lamb of God exampled by Adam and Abel) were an attempt by the Israelites to cover their own sins. Like Adam and Eve, this was an attempt to cover their own sins rather than look forward to Christ. Animal sacrifice had become the Israelites’ fig leaves.
But weren’t these details given by God? Why would He give them something wrong? I believe this is another instance where the Israelites didn’t want to live the higher laws and asked for something more specific. A single sacrifice for everything doesn’t seem like enough? Fine, here’s something more complicated to help you feel better.
To me, this is the importance of the withering of the fig tree. No more trying to cover yourselves with your fig leaves of animal sacrifice. Get back to the basic, higher laws. Look to Christ and live.