A Fruitless Fig Tree


Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, He went to Bethany with the Twelve.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to find out if it had any fruit. When He reached it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then He said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And His disciples heard Him say it. (Mark 11:11-14)

Really Jesus! Why were you so peeved about a fig tree that had no fruit because it was out of season? Were you having a bad hair day? Did you have the sulks?

If He did have the sulks, it would have been the first time in His life. No, Jesus did not have the sulks. He cashed in on a golden opportunity to give His disciples another valuable lesson. But the story is still incomplete. This was much more than simply another example of His power over nature. Read on!

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig true you cursed has withered!’ Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’ (Mark 11:20-25).

There are two valuable lessons hidden in this story. Firstly, fig trees had symbolic meaning for a Jew. God often referred to Israel as a “fig tree”. Where was the fig tree first mentioned in the Bible? Way back in Genesis, it was the first tree mentioned by name in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve realised they were naked, they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. It was man’s first attempt to deal with his sin in his own way. Was this why God called Israel a fig tree? Israel’s greatest sin against God was their idolatry. They did not trust God for His solution for sin. They worshipped and served false gods and lived fruitless lives as a result.

In a wordless lesson to His disciples, Jesus demonstrated to them how useless it was to attempt to approach God their own way. Just as fig leaves could not cover the sin in their hearts, so their self-effort was useless to deal with sin. Would the disciples have got the message? Yes, if they understood the imagery. The fig tree was full of leaves but no fruit. God’s people were full of “good works”, but they were useless to deal with sin. The real fruit was repentance – returning to the way of the Lord and coming under His authority. Only Jesus’s sacrifice could bring them back into fellowship with Him.

The second lesson was far more visible to them. Jesus was not showing off by speaking death to the fig tree. He was showing them by a clear visual aid how powerful faith was. Faith is expressed in ad declaration. Why did the tree die? Jesus spoke to it. He declared His intention. The tree must die in order to teach His disciples a life lesson they would never forget.

Paul used this same principle when he wrote to the Roman church about experiencing the reality of salvation.

If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9).

Did you notice the sequence? Declare and believe.

Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.

This does not mean, of course, that you can get God to do anything you want by simply speaking it out. Faith’s foundation is not what we want but what God has promised. His promises are a declaration of His intent, but we must activate them through faith.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God (2 Cor. 1:20).

We activate faith by our declaration – like turning on a light by flicking the switch.

Is Jesus tying these two ideas together? Our sin is covered, not by the “fig leaves” of self-righteousness, but by the forgiveness God offers us through Jesus. However, it must be received by the declaration of faith. From then on our walk with the Lord is a journey of faith, steadfastly speaking out God’s promises rather than our doubts and fears.

Let us not be like fruitless fig trees.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Luella Campbell

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