The Lesson of the Fig Tree

Photograph of a large fig tree taken at Centen...

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And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
(Mar 11:13-14 ESV)

As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
(Mar 11:20-21 ESV)

The fig tree was pretending to be something it was not. It looked nice and pretty, but the fruit wasn’t there. Jesus wants us to bear fruit. Note that Jesus wouldn’t have cursed the tree had it been leafless, and without fruit. Be what you are, don’t pretend to be something that you aren’t. Either you follow Jesus wholeheartedly, or you reject Him. The fate of those who outwardly follow Him, but bear no fruit, will be cursed like the fig tree.

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
(Rev 3:14-16 ESV)

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Posted on January 8, 2011, in Exhortation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Good word. At least if we acknowledge that we are a mess, God can then begin to help us get back on the path, but to pretend to be “just fine” and in good spiritual condition when we know full well that we are not closes the door on God’s desire to grow us.

  2. Great comment! I absolutely agree. I don’t think that we can come to God unless we are honest about who we are. God is near to the humble, but watches the proud from afar.

  3. This scripture pierces the soul and reminds us to be genuine in our walk with the King and it encourages us to be diligent to abide in Him which is the only way we are able to bear fruit, for without Him we can do nothing.

  4. Hey there would you mind sharing which blog platform
    you’re working with? I’m planning to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a difficult time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

  5. Romans 10:4, which says: “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes,” will help in understanding what is means that Christians are not under the law. The apostle Paul clarifies the effects of original sin in Romans 2:12, stating “All who sin apart from the law will perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” All men stand condemned before God, whether they are Jews or not, or to put it another way, whether they have the Law of God or not. Paul also states “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

    If we are without Christ, we are justly condemned in God’s sight by the Law that was given to His servant Moses. However, we might argue that those who are not Jewish and therefore do not benefit from the knowledge of the Mosaic Law (including the moral and ceremonial laws), should not be condemned in the same way. This is dealt with by the Apostle in Romans 2:14-15, where he states that the Gentiles have the essence of God’s legal requirements already ingrained and so are just as much without excuse.

    The Law is the issue that has to be dealt with in order to bring us into a right relationship with God. “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). This passage reveals that the Law cannot justify or make righteous any man in God’s sight, which is why God sent His Son to completely fulfil the requirements of the Law for all those who would ever believe in Him.

    Christ Jesus redeemed us from the curse that has been brought through the law by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). He substituted Himself in our place and upon the cross took the punishment that is justly ours so that we are no longer under the curse of the Law. In doing so, He fulfilled and upheld the requirements of the Law. This does not mean that Christians are to be lawless, as some advocate today—a teaching called antinomianism. Rather, it means that we are free from the Mosaic Law and instead under the law of Christ, which is to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

    Christ became the end of the Law by virtue of what He did on earth through His sinless life and His sacrifice on the cross. So, the Law no longer has any bearing over us because its demands have been fully met in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ who satisfied the righteous demands of the Law restores us into a pleasing relationship with God and keeps us there. No longer under the penalty of the Law, we now live under the law of grace in the love of God.

  6. The account of Jesus cursing the barren fig tree is found in two different gospel accounts. First, it is seen in Matthew 21:18-22, and then also in Mark 11:12-14. While there are slight differences between the two accounts, they are easily reconciled by studying the passages. Like all Scripture, the key to understanding this passage comes from understanding the context in which it happened. In order to properly understand this passage, we must first look at the chronological and geographical setting. For example, when did this occur, what was the setting, and where did it happen? Also, in order to fully understand this passage, we need to have an understanding of the importance of the fig tree as it relates to the nation of Israel and understand how the fig tree is often used in the Scriptures to symbolically represent Israel. Finally, we must have a basic understanding of the fig tree itself, its growing seasons, etc.

    First, in looking at the general chronological setting of the passage, we see that it happened during the week before His crucifixion. Jesus had entered Jerusalem a day earlier amid the praise and worship of the Jewish people who were looking to Him as the King/Messiah who was going to deliver them from Roman occupation (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11). Now, the next day, Jesus is again on His way to Jerusalem from where He was staying in Bethany. On His way, both Matthew and Mark record that He was hungry and saw a fig tree in the distance that had leaves on it (Mark 11:13). Upon coming to the tree expecting to find something to eat, Jesus instead discovered that the fig tree had no fruit on it and cursed the tree saying, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” (Matthew 21:19; Mark 11:14). Matthew records the cursing and the withering of the fig tree all in one account and includes it after the account of Jesus cleansing the Temple of the moneychangers. Mark explains that it actually took place over two days, with Jesus cursing the fig tree the first day on the way to cleanse the Temple, and the disciples seeing the tree withered on the second day when they were again going to Jerusalem from Bethany (Mark 11:12-14 and Mark 11:19-20). Of course, upon seeing the tree “withered from the roots up,” the disciples were amazed, as that would have normally taken several weeks.

    Having reviewed the general chronological setting of the story, we can begin to answer some of many questions that are often asked of it. First of all is the question, Why did Jesus curse the fig tree if it was not the right season for figs? The answer to this question can be determined by studying the characteristics of fig trees. The fruit of the fig tree generally appears before the leaves, and, because the fruit is green it blends in with the leaves right up until it is almost ripe. Therefore, when Jesus and His disciples saw from a distance that the tree had leaves, they would have expected it to also have fruit on it even though it was earlier in the season than what would be normal for a fig tree to be bearing fruit. Also, each tree would often produce two to three crops of figs each season. There would be an early crop in the spring followed by one or two later crops. In some parts of Israel, depending on climate and conditions, it was also possible that a tree might produce fruit ten out of twelve months. This also explains why Jesus and His disciples would be looking for fruit on the fig tree even if it was not in the main growing season. The fact that the tree already had leaves on it even though it was at a higher elevation around Jerusalem, and therefore would have been outside the normal season for figs, would have seemed to be a good indication that there would also be fruit on it.

    As to the significance of this passage and what it means, the answer to that is again found in the chronological setting and in understanding how a fig tree is often used symbolically to represent Israel in the Scriptures. First of all, chronologically, Jesus had just arrived at Jerusalem amid great fanfare and great expectations, but then proceeds to cleanse the Temple and curse the barren fig tree. Both had significance as to the spiritual condition of Israel. With His cleansing of the Temple and His criticism of the worship that was going on there (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17), Jesus was effectively denouncing Israel’s worship of God. With the cursing of the fig tree, He was symbolically denouncing Israel as a nation and, in a sense, even denouncing unfruitful “Christians” (that is, people who profess to be Christian but have no evidence of a relationship with Christ).

    The presence of a fruitful fig tree was considered to be a symbol of blessing and prosperity for the nation of Israel. Likewise, the absence or death of a fig tree would symbolize judgment and rejection. Symbolically, the fig tree represented the spiritual deadness of Israel, who while very religious outwardly with all the sacrifices and ceremonies, were spiritually barren because of their sins. By cleansing the Temple and cursing the fig tree, causing it to whither and die, Jesus was pronouncing His coming judgment of Israel and demonstrating His power to carry it out. It also teaches the principle that religious profession and observance are not enough to guarantee salvation, unless there is the fruit of genuine salvation evidenced in the life of the person. James would later echo this truth when he wrote that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). The lesson of the fig tree is that we should bear spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), not just give an appearance of religiosity. God judges fruitlessness, and expects that those who have a relationship with Him will “bear much fruit” (John 15:5-8).

  1. Pingback: What Does It Mean for a Christian to Bear Fruit? « The King's Presence

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