Summary: Those who truly depend upon God, lay hold of divine opportunities and see the invisible, attempt the impossible and achieve the unthinkable!
In Mark 11, we find Jesus and His disciples en route to Jerusalem. Travelling from Bethany, it was a 2 mile journey. As they make their way, in the distance Jesus sees a fig tree. He was hungry and was sorely disappointed to find the tree fruitless. It may seem strange that the Lord Jesus would curse the tree for not having figs –especially since the Bible says in verse 13, ‘the time of figs was not yet.’ Surely Jesus knew figs were not in season. But these fig trees are a little different than fruit trees we are used to in this part of the world. These fig trees produce leaves in early spring and by June they begin to bear fruit. A second crop of figs are produced in August and sometimes a third crop in December. Often the tree would have figs on it year round, even if they were left over from the previous growing season.
A simple rule of thumb was, if the fig tree had leaves, it would have figs or at the very least pre-growth nodules. They were not figs but they were eatable and were often plucked by travelers to satisfy their hunger. So when Jesus saw this fig tree, He was ready to eat. From a distance it had all the signs and indications of bearing fruit. However, it was completely bare. From here, Jesus continues towards Jerusalem. He then enters the Temple and proceeds to clear it out.
On the following day Peter sees the fig tree. It is completely dead –dried up from its roots. He calls it to Jesus’ attention to which Christ replies, ‘Have faith in God.’ To understand the significance of the fig tree we need to understand Jewish imagery. In the Old Testament, the fig tree is often used to represent the nation of Israel.
It is of no coincidence that the Bible records Jesus going to the Temple immediately following the cursing of the fig and returns to it afterwards. The cursing of the fig is a visible, tangible illustration of where the nation of Israel was spiritually. They had the Temple, the Law, the ceremonies, the infrastructure and hierarchy –they had the signs of life and activity but they were fruitless. They were dead in their religion because they had rejected the Holy One of Israel. This is the lesson that the Lord Jesus was teaching His disciples.
His response to Peter, Have faith in God, is very significant. For in it we see a subtle but sublime condemnation of the Judaism. The Jews had refused to truly place their faith in God instead they had settled for a legal code and a calloused form of godliness. They were offered the greatest of opportunities, yet they rejected Christ and clung to a lifeless religion. In four simple words, the Lord Jesus calls His disciples to go beyond the example of Israel and to lay hold of all that God had for them in Christ Jesus. There is an under riding theme of opportunity here and the key to not missing these opportunities is having faith in God.