Bible Society of South Africa
Xanthe Hancox

The role of trees in the Bible – Day 7

The fig tree (part 3) — all tree and no fig

Bible text(s)

(Mt 21.18–19)

12The next day, as they were coming back from Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13He saw in the distance a fig tree covered with leaves, so he went to see if he could find any figs on it. But when he came to it, he found only leaves, because it was not the right time for figs. 14Jesus said to the fig tree, “No one shall ever eat figs from you again!”

And his disciples heard him.

Mark 11:12-14GNBOpen in Bible reader

This seems so unfair! How could Jesus curse a fig tree for not having figs if it wasn’t fig season? To understand this, we need to know a bit about figs and the context of the story.

When leaves begin to appear on the fig tree at the beginning of spring, a crop of small knobs called pre-figs also appear. These are not the real figs, but a kind of early forerunner of the true fig which will appear some six weeks later. But if the leaves appear without any of these pre-figs, it is a sign that there will be no figs at all. Since Jesus found nothing but leaves, this was a hopeless, fruitless fig tree.

The other key to this parable is in the last sentence: “And his disciples heard him say it.” The disciples would have been familiar with the Old Testament and they would have understood the fig as a symbol of both God’s judgment and the nation of Israel.

The disciples knew that Jesus wasn’t angry with a plant because he was hungry — he was angry with Israel for bearing no spiritual fruit. Israel was just like this fruitless fig tree. They had all the signs of spiritual life, but they had no fruit. They were keeping the letter of the Law. They were carrying out the Temple ceremonies. They were observing the ancient feasts and the sacrifices. They were religious in every detail, but they had no spiritual fruit.

As you might imagine, there is a message here for us. When the Lord examines our lives, and he does, what does he see? Does he see us bearing fruit to the glory of God? Or, are you all tree and no fig?

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