The Barren Fig Tree
Mark 11:12-14, 20-24(also recorded in Matthew 21:18-22) presents an interesting event in Christ’s life. As morning came, Jesus was hungry. He saw a tree of opportunity and availed himself with the hope of satisfying the body’s needs. The fig was known for its sweet fruit (Judges 9:11), and so was a popular fruit among the people.
However, Jesus did not find fruit on this fig tree. Therefore, he cursed this fig tree, saying, “let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” Mark 11:13records a strange statement, “it was not the season for figs.” Why did Jesus curse this fig tree when it was not the season for figs, and what is the lesson for us?
In the International Standard Bible Encyclopediaentry on fig trees, E.W.G. Masterman notes that the fig tree had two crops each year. The early crop, which grew from “old wood” from the previous year and arrived in June. Then in late August/early September the late crop would grow from the “new wood” of the current year. This accords with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:32, that when fig trees put on leaves it is a sign that summer is near.
Let’s note when Jesus and his disciples met this fig tree. According to events recorded in John 12, the withering of the fig tree happened within the same week as Christ’s crucifixion. As this would be close to Passover, we can safely assume the fig tree incident took place in early Spring.
In the spring, Christ saw a fig tree with leaves on it, and he expected there to be figs on it because this would be natural for the fig tree. In the Song of Solomon 2:3, reference is made to immature, green figs arriving in the spring. Indeed, we are told that unripen figs were often eaten. The disciples never questioned why Jesus thought there ought to have been figs on the tree, because they too expected figs to be there.
This tree had the appearance of fruit, but there was no substance. This barrenness was an indication that the tree was unlikely to bear a crop that year and perhaps for the remainder of its life.
Earlier in Christ’s ministry he presented a parable which nearly parallels this event. Luke 13:6-9records,
“He also spoke this parable: ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’”
As Christ’s life on this earth was concluding, he gave the sign that this fig tree had had its time. It was time to cut it down. Jesus was not an angry man cursing an inanimate tree. He was not a lunatic who couldn’t count the seasons. Rather, he was declaring a message: the year of tending the tree goes by quickly, and judgment will come if the tree remains unfruitful. Are you that tree?
Ask yourself this question: is my faith wrapped up in outward appearance and name alone? Am I concerned more about saying the right things in public than I am about true righteousness and holiness to God? Am I more concerned with how often I meet with the church than how encouraging I make those meetings for my brethren? Do I have bumper sticker and t-shirt faith or genuine, written on the heart faith? Am I more interested in the quantity I give or the use of my blessings to glorify God?
It doesn’t really matter if we look the part of a Christian. We can make ourselves do all sorts of good things so that others are convinced of our righteousness, and through their attestation we can convince ourselves of the same. This, though, is self-righteousness. Romans 8:16reminds us that the only attestation we need is the Spirit of God. Without the proper Spirit within, everything we do is motivated by self. Without the proper Spirit, we will bear no fruit (Galatians 5:22-23).
When the time of judgment comes, will God find in you a heart cleaned and transformed by His Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18) through humble repentance? Or will he find a barren fig tree, having all the signs of life, but unable through its own bad root to bear fruit pleasing to the Lord?
Don’t just come and occupy a pew in the assembly. Don’t just put on your clean clothes and nice shoes. Don’t just bear the façade of Christ. PUT ON Christ. Be dead to your old self and let his Spirit transform who you are. And through that transformation, bear fruit to the glory of God.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen”(Ephesians 3:14-21).
May each one of us seek to be filled with the fullness of God, that we may bear His fruit and glorify His name!