Summary: Lessons from the Withered Fig Tree
A sign posted outside a church on Highway 110 outside of Tyler, Texas once read, “God is looking for spiritual fruit not religious nuts.” Unfortunately, religious nuts abound everywhere, but in and out of the church, but spiritual fruit is rare. The importance though of bearing spiritual fruit in your life cannot be overstated.
Jesus put it this way: “By their fruits, ye shall know them…” (Matthew 7:20). The Scripture repeatedly addresses the importance of bearing fruit. In fact the New Testament refers to bearing fruit over 50 times.
What the Scripture so clearly emphasized, Jesus illustrated in a dramatic experience during the very last week of His life. The week began with His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem that served as a bold and deliberate announcement that He was the Messiah. The week ended with His crucifixion, but in between, Jesus took the opportunity one last time to teach His disciples the importance of bearing fruit.
These verses today stand as a word of warning from the Scripture. God is concerned with the fruit in your life. Listen to the Words of Scripture and see that God will judge those who fail to bear fruit.
I. The Reason for His Judgment
a. As Jesus was returning to Jerusalem from Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit.”
i. Under Mosaic Law, any Jew who was sojourning had the right to eat fruit that was growing by the road. When Jesus saw this fig tree in leaf, he decided to go and eat some of its fruit.
ii. We know from the context of Scripture that these events occurred around the Jewish Passover time. The Passover was held during the late spring. The prime fig season was not for a month or two after Passover, therefore, you might not expect for there to be fruit on the branches.
iii. However, if a fig tree was in a protective ravine, such as those around the Mount of Olives, it would be sheltered from the cold and would receive abundant moisture, and therefore would produce its fruit early. So it is altogether possible that there could have been fruit at this time.
iv. More importantly though, in Israel, the fruit on the fig tree always preceded the full development of leaves. The leaves on this tree were a signal that it was producing fruit.
b. Verse 13 says, “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.”
i. Now listen, the tree had all the outward signs of life. The tree had all the outward signs of vitality. The tree had all the outward signs of fruit, after all, it was covered with leaves. But it did not have fruit.
ii. Remember, in that climate, fruit proceeds full foliage. The leaves were an advertisement of abundance.
c. Was Jesus being unreasonable to expect fruit when it was not the season for figs? Was Jesus taken by surprise?
i. Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, was not taken by surprise by the lack of fruit. Jesus Christ was the Creator and Sustainer of that tree.
ii. What Jesus was doing was acting out a parable for the benefit of His disciples. Often Jesus spoke in parables. On this occasion, He acted out a parable for the benefit of His disciples. Jesus had a spiritual truth to teach the disciples, and He wanted to put it into terms their minds could understand.
iii. And here is the truth: fruitlessness brings judgment. Fruitlessness brings judgment.
d. Verse 14 says, “Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Some have wrongly assumed that Jesus cursed the tree out of vengeful anger. But there are no words of anger here in Mark or in the parallel account in Matthew 21. Jesus was simply judging the tree for giving the outward appearance of fruit, but not actually having any fruit.
e. The narrative seems to shift suddenly here in verse 15. (Read 15-19)
f. Far from an interruption in the narrative, Mark here provides an illustration of the danger of showing leaves without bearing fruit.
i. Notice in verse 17 that Jesus never missed a teachable moment. “As he taught them, he said, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ But you have made it a den of robbers.”
ii. The cleansing of the temple is a continuation of Jesus teaching on fruit bearing. “The religious system of the day had plenty of leaves but no fruit. Its surface piety was seen the tithes and prayers and fasts, in the ritual purity that kept out women, lepers, blind beggars and those possessed with demons. The foliage of the religious leaders offered much promise but no fulfillment. As the figless tree could not satisfy Jesus’ appetite, so the religious system could not satisfy the spiritual hunger of the people.” (Rodney Cooper, Holman New Testament Commentary: Mark, 187.)