12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.13 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.14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
(Mark 11:12-14, 20-21 NIV)
Yesterday we looked at the overall passage of verses 12 – 25 and noted that this is actually two intertwined stories – the fig tree and the Temple.
Today we will take a step back and look at the parable of the fig tree, which occurs as the “bookends” of the larger story.
At first reading, this story seems totally incongruous with Jesus’ character. Jesus preached love and forgiveness and life. He practiced unselfish service and humility. Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, and Jesus refused, even after 40 days of not eating. So why would Jesus be angry at a tree for not having figs when it wasn’t even the season for figs?
As we noted yesterday, there is something else going on here. Neither Jesus’ hunger nor His disappointment in not finding figs was the reason that led to His judgment on the fig tree. This was a living parable, an illustration of the parallels between the fig tree and Israel.
As Mark noted, Jesus saw the fig tree from a distance; it was leafy and green, full of life, and had great promise. But upon closer inspection, there was no fruit – not even immature fruit that needed to ripen.
Likewise, the Temple seemed full of life, with much physical activity, but no fruit – no people living for God. Remember that Jesus had seen this before, and had quoted Isaiah, who had said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Mark 7:6).
We must not miss the fact that Jesus’ disciples were paying attention. They heard Jesus pronounce judgment on the fig tree (v. 14) and remembered the pronouncement the next day when they saw the tree withered from the roots up (v. 21). For the disciples to pay attention was normally not the case.
The end state of the fig tree was a prophetic sign of the impending judgment upon the people of Israel and the Temple. And true to Jesus’ words, the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD.
So how does this relate to us? Do we look good on the outside, like the fig tree? When Jesus inspects our life, does He find fruit, or just leaves?
What else did Jesus have to say about the topic of bearing fruit?
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7:16 NIV)
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (Luke 3:8 NIV)
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Mathew 7:21 NIV)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8 NIV)
May we abide in Christ and bear much fruit for His glory.