As Jesus and his followers were coming closer to Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives. From there Jesus sent two of his followers and said to them, “Go to the town you can see there. When you enter it, you will quickly find a colt tied, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here to me. If anyone asks you why you are doing this, tell him its Master needs the colt, and he will send it at once.” The followers went into the town, found a colt tied in the street near the door of a house, and untied it. Some people were standing there and asked, “What are you doing? Why are you untying that colt?” The followers answered the way Jesus told them to answer, and the people let them take the colt. They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it, and Jesus sat on it. Many people spread their coats on the road. Others cut branches in the fields and spread them on the road. The people were walking ahead of Jesus and behind him, shouting,
“Praise God! God bless the One who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the kingdom of our father David! That kingdom is coming! Praise to God in heaven!”
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After he had looked at everything, since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve apostles. The next day as Jesus was leaving Bethany, he became hungry. Seeing a fig tree in leaf from far away, he went to see if it had any figs on it. But he found no figs, only leaves, because it was not the right season for figs. So Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And Jesus’ followers heard him say this.
The next morning as Jesus was passing by with his followers, they saw the fig tree dry and dead, even to the roots. Peter remembered the tree and said to Jesus, “Teacher, look! The fig tree you cursed is dry and dead!” Jesus answered, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, fall into the sea.’ And if you have no doubts in your mind and believe that what you say will happen, God will do it for you. So I tell you to believe that you have received the things you ask for in prayer, and God will give them to you. When you are praying, if you are angry with someone, forgive him so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins. (But if you don’t forgive other people, then your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.)” Mark 11
Jesus checked the fig tree for figs, despite figs not being in season, and cursed the fig tree to unproductiveness. Doesn’t that seem odd? First, why would Jesus even have to check the fig tree? Surely he already knew there were no figs on the tree. Second, why would he curse something for being unproductive when it wasn’t the season for being productive? It might be tempting to look at these verses and assume Jesus is being selfish, because he is hungry and cannot satisfy his hunger with figs, and unreasonable, because he shouldn’t have expected the plant to be productive in the current season. But Jesus is neither selfish nor unreasonable.
I’ve kept the verses about the fig tree within the context of Mark 11 in its entirety for a purpose. It’s essential to keep Scripture in the context in which it is found.
Consider the timing of Jesus cursing the fig tree. He had entered Jerusalem to recognition, praise, and fanfare. He then entered to the Temple. Matthew 21 provides more details about what happened:
Jesus went into the Temple and threw out all the people who were buying and selling there. He turned over the tables of those who were exchanging different kinds of money, and he upset the benches of those who were selling doves. Jesus said to all the people there, “It is written in the Scriptures, ‘My Temple will be called a house for prayer.’ But you are changing it into a hideout for robbers.’”
The blind and crippled people came to Jesus in the Temple, and he healed them. The leading priests and the teachers of the law saw that Jesus was doing wonderful things and that the children were praising him in the Temple, saying, “Praise to the Son of David.” All these things made the priests and the teachers of the law very angry.
They asked Jesus, “Do you hear the things these children are saying?”
Jesus answered, “Yes. Haven’t you read in the Scriptures, ‘You have taught children and babies to sing praises’?” Then Jesus left and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night. (Matthew 21:12-17)
After the exultation of followers praising Jesus as the Messiah, he encountered people going against his will and disrespecting God’s house. Jesus was displeased with people who should have known better and been more faithful to keep God’s Word.
The fig tree often represents the nation of Israel in God’s Word. The curse for unproductiveness indicates a displeasure in Israel’s spiritual state. The nation of Israel as a whole was not recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. It was not going to produce fruit through a season of unbelief. Therefore, it’s growth would be stunted.
This came as no surprise to Jesus, of course. Jesus was God in flesh, so he still knew all even when in human form. However, he would still be disappointed to personally encounter wickedness, betrayal, and faithlessness. It wouldn’t have been unreasonable for the fig tree to be productive, because from a distance, Jesus saw a fig tree “in leaf.” Leaves grow prior to the fruit, and figs are actually a similar color to the leaves until they completely ripen, so it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to assume a leafy fig tree would have figs on it. Obviously, this was not the case. Jesus stated the fig tree wasn’t in the right season to produce figs. In other words, the nation of Israel will not be productive in this season. Jesus already knew what he would encounter while on earth. He would encounter a nation who would refuse to welcome him and grow in faith. Faith among the state of Israel would be stunted.
With God, there is always hope. When Peter speaks to Jesus about the dead fig tree the following day (a fig tree would typically take longer than one day to be completely “dry and dead”), Jesus in essence says nothing is impossible with God, including healing and productivity. Israel can still become a faithful people. Anyone, despite a rejection of, failure to recognize, or disobedience to God, can be restored to God. Faith, prayer, and forgiveness is all that is required to reestablish healthy, productive, fruit-producing spiritual growth.
What do you need to do to increase spiritual productivity in your life right now?
Matthew 21 and Mark 11 are not the only places in Scripture where figs are mentioned.
What do you learn from the following verses that mention figs?
Jesus told this story: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for some fruit on the tree, but he found none. So the man said to his gardener, ‘I have been looking for fruit on this tree for three years, but I never find any. Cut it down. Why should it waste the ground?’ But the servant answered, ‘Master, let the tree have one more year to produce fruit. Let me dig up the dirt around it and put on some fertilizer. If the tree produces fruit next year, good. But if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)
Then Jesus told this story: “Look at the fig tree and all the other trees. When their leaves appear, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you will know that God’s kingdom is near. I tell you the truth, all these things will happen while the people of this time are still living. Earth and sky will be destroyed, but the words I have spoken will never be destroyed.” (Luke 21:29-33)
“At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. Then all the peoples of the world will cry. They will see the Son of Man coming on clouds in the sky with great power and glory. He will use a loud trumpet to send his angels all around the earth, and they will gather his chosen people from every part of the world. Learn a lesson from the fig tree: When its branches become green and soft and new leaves appear, you know summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things happening, you will know that the time is near, ready to come. I tell you the truth, all these things will happen while the people of this time are still living. Earth and sky will be destroyed, but the words I have said will never be destroyed.” (Matthew 24:30-35)
Be faithful. Be attentive. Be productive.