Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

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Recently, I’ve been trying to do more Bible reading and study as part of my spiritual growth since I started doing the 2:7 Series. I’ve been reading the book of Mark and today, I came across a passage about Jesus cursing a fig tree:

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 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. (Mark 11:12-14 ESV)

For some reason, this passage made me pause and wonder. Why did Jesus have to result to such a drastic action just because the fig tree had no fruit, especially if it wasn’t even the season for figs? Why curse the tree so no one can eat fruit from it again? Surely it would have fruit later, right? Why kill all its chances of ever bearing fruit again? I asked my mum what this story meant. She was also uncertain so we searched for some explanations together. This is what we have learned:

At the time Jesus saw the fig tree, it would have been around March or April and fig trees usually bear fruit in May or June. However, they saw that the fig tree had leaves but no fruit. Generally speaking, the fruit of a fig tree appears before the leaves and blends in with the leaves until it is ripe. So when Jesus and the disciples saw that the tree had leaves, it would be expected that the tree would have fruit even though it was earlier in the season for a fig tree to bear fruit.

The fig tree is also used symbolically to represent Israel in scripture. After Jesus cursed the tree, he arrived in Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. These events are not unrelated. Jesus was denouncing Israel’s worship of God because they had used the temple to sell goods and make dealings with money. With the fig tree, he was symbolically denouncing Israel as a nation for being unfruitful Christians who profess to be ‘Christian‘ but have no evidence of a relationship with Christ. The fruitless fig tree symbolizes the spiritual deadness or emptiness of Israel. They seemed to appear outwardly religious, keeping to the traditions, sacrifices and ceremonies, but they were spiritually fruitless because of their sins. The cleansing of the temple and cursing of the fig tree both represent Jesus pronouncing his coming judgment of Israel. It demonstrated his power to carry it out and came as a warning to them. He was trying to teach the people of Israel that professing you are Christian does not guarantee your salvation, only those that bear fruit can be saved. God is not fooled by fruitless Christians and will judge them harshly.

There is another lesson from the cursing of the fig tree though. And it comes from Mark 11:20-25, after Jesus cleansed the temple:

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.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven may also forgive your trespasses.” 

The lesson Jesus was trying to teach his disciples was one of faith. Simply believe in your heart that it will be done and it will be. When we pray, pray with complete faith in God. Of course, we should also be praying according to his will and not for selfish reasons. If we pray with a genuine and faithful heart, we will receive whatever we ask for in prayer. However, we also need to forgive others if we pray and ask God to forgive our sins. Not only is faith in God important, we need to continually restore our relationships with others and with God by forgiving and confessing our sins. This is the only way we can have an intimate relationship with God. And when we have a relationship with God, we are then able to ‘bear much fruit’! It all links and makes sense now!

(The same account is also given in Matthew 21:18-22, however, there is a slight discrepancy in the time of the events. In Mark, the account happened over two days – Jesus cursed the tree on the first day and it withered on the following day, but in Matthew, the fig tree withered immediately after Jesus cursed it.)

I rarely dwell on a passage like this and I never thought that a simple story about a fig tree could teach us so much about living a fruitful Christian life. It is not easy to understand scripture when you just read it once or twice. You really need to spend time to study, analyse, and meditate on it. Sometimes you need to understand the historical and cultural background and even the science of nature. I’m amazed how God uses everything in our world and surroundings to teach us about truth, faith, worship and what it means to bear fruit.

I’ve been rushing through my Bible reading for the last couple of months and haven’t looked deeply enough into what I was reading before, and this story made me pause and think. God was trying to tell me to re-examine my heart and my motivations for my Bible reading. I wasn’t reading to understand his word, I was simply reading to tick off a box on my to-do list. I did not have a real intimate relationship with Christ. I was just like those Israelites – outwardly religious, but spiritually fruitless. God knew I needed a reminder and spoke to me through his word! Sometimes, we need to stop and pause and take time to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it. It may look like we are doing everything right but those actions are meaningless if our heart is not in it and if we are not honest with God.

Lord, thank you for speaking to me through the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree. Thank you for your grace and mercy for my iniquities. I have taken you for granted and neglected to spend time with you and meditate on your word when you were trying to speak to me. I complain that I don’t hear from you even though you have been trying to speak to me, I simply didn’t listen. My prayer life has been very dry and I didn’t try hard enough to connect with you. Give me the patience to listen and wisdom to discern what is from you and what is from the world. Guide me to where I need to go and give me the courage to follow the path you want me to take. Take away my doubts so that I may have complete faith in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The most helpful reference I found was from Got Questions:

Did this scripture impress you? Were you confused when you first read it, like I was? What do you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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