“And on the morrow, when they had come out of Bethany, he [Jesus] hungered. And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if perhaps he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season of figs. And he answered and said unto it, ‘No man [will] eat fruit from you from now on — for ever.’ And his disciples heard it. Mark 11:12-14

Several pastors interpret this event mentioned in Mark 11:12-14, as God will abolish those who do not yield like this fig tree. However, on the way back when the disciples saw the fig tree withered away from the roots, Jesus uses this incident to explain faith.

Why did Jesus cursed the tree, when it was not the time or season to bear fruits?

22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly[f] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

If Jesus used this incident to explain faith why do preachers use this incident to explain it as a warning to the sinners who didn't turn back to our Lord like this unyielding fig tree?

  • Fig trees start producing figs before the leaves. If it has leaves it should normally have figs. It was abnormal that this one didn't.
    – hookenz
    Sep 12 '13 at 22:16
  • This is the best answer, which I didn't know the characters of a fig tree. Thanks for sharing this. !
    – Benny
    Sep 17 '13 at 6:32

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 23:32-35)

The miracle of the cursing of the fig tree has a literary form called an inclusio, or what many seminary students have come to affectionately know as "the sandwich." The idea is that two stories (Story A and Story B) are related, and the way the hearer is cued to know that fact is the arrangement. In an inclusio, Story A is started, but not finished. Story B then comes in the middle. Finally, there is a return to Story A. The point of the inclusio is always story B, where Story A is usually the frame.

In the Synoptics, the story of the fig tree has as its inclusio Jesus clearing the Temple.

The Fig Tree is a metaphor for a vibrant, living thing that is supposed to be giving life. Like the tree in Psalm 1, the man who does not walk in the way of the wicked is:

...like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.

Unlike a tree, however, a man's 'season' is his lifetime. And, the Temple (having been recently reconstructed) should also be in its season at all time.

The fact that Jesus finds a barren tree is disconcerting, especially since he, the Messiah has come. Like his parable of the bridesmaids (where 5 foolish women burn all their oil but 5 wise ones save it), Jesus expects his people his people to be ready. (Indeed, there are several parables that teach this very point). Upon finding his Temple in disarray, Jesus is visibly disappointed that the fruits of Temple worshippers are noticeably absent. Like the Tree, the Temple worshippers may not have thought they needed to be in season, but they are wrong.

As Paul later would admonish Timothy, Jesus' followers must be "be ready in season, out of season."

In order to be ready like that, however, one must have complete faith that the Lord is coming. As Jesus says

if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

The sin of those in the Temple was simply that they were not ready. Those in the Temple should have been bearing fruit, not selling it. Though their own scriptures had been saying that the Messiah would be returning for centuries, when it actually happened, people were clearly not ready. Even the Temple had no special sway - people treated it like a shopping mall rather than the house of God. People were not "bearing fruit in keeping with repentence."

It was as Peter would say:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

As people awaiting the return of the Lord again, the lesson we are to take is that we should be producing fruit at all time. If our hope is to wait to be fruitful until the 11th hour, we better pray Jesus doesn't come at 10:30.

  • 1
    I think I need to read carfully to understand your answer. I will do repeated reading.
    – Benny
    Mar 13 '12 at 12:36
  • 3
    Here's the tl;dr> You need to have faith that Jesus is coming back. Faith means you are always in season. Don't be caught unprepared. Mar 13 '12 at 12:40
  • I agree. If I say I have faith in our Lord, I need to be fruit-bearing. If I am ready means, I am already fruit-bearing. I think I am getting clear now, It looks like a great passage to me now. Thank you all and Praise God.
    – Benny
    Mar 14 '12 at 5:59
  • But an individual tree has no control over when it produces fruit. It is not up to it. Its like saying the tiger can turn its stripes green for Jesus if required. This is not true. Also how are people supposed to know what this story is liked to? This explanation seems ok in hindsight, after you have read the Bible but how was his disciples, for eg, supposed to figure out what it meant? This is one of the biggest question I have had and no one is able to answer it.
    – bobbyalex
    May 30 '13 at 2:29

This act of Jesus was essentially a live-action parable against hypocrisy. It makes perfect sense if you understand a key fact about how fig trees work: they don't put forth leaves until very late in the spring, and by the time the leaves show up, the fruit is there too. However, unlike (for example) an apple tree, the fruits are small and (in some figs at least) the same color as the leaves. This means that you can't see them from far away.

So what Jesus and the disciples came across was a tree that showed the outward appearance of being full of fruit, but without having produced any actual fruit to sustain the weary traveler. And was this not his grievance against the Jewish leaders at the time, that they were full of extravagant outward displays of piety without actually doing real good? So the tree was cursed, as a symbol of the fate of all men who live their lives in a similar deception.

  • But when the disciples and Jesus comes back Mark 11:22-24, When Peter was wondering at the withered away fig tree, Jesus used his live-action parable to teach faith and not used it to teach against hypocrisy.
    – Benny
    Mar 14 '12 at 5:57

The bible says, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speak. Therefore the overflow of what is deposited inside will be revealed outside. The tree portrayed a wrong image of its abundance. It was fake, God wants us to be real when we produce. God always likens Himself as a farmer. Like any other farmer He expected figs as the leaves were a symbol of fruitfulness. We as children of God, need to speak to our situations that makes us appear we have while we do not have, by so doing we are exercising our faith through Christ that we must be authentic before the Lord. God doesn't want us to be lukewarm, its either we are hot or could not in between. Its either we produce or we are not producing.

  • 3
    Welcome to C.SE, could you cite the verse you quote here? Also there is a sentences in the middle that is quite unclear that I'm not quite sure how to fix, please edit this so that I can understand what you are saying, and where you are getting your thoughts from. Based on some of the answers I think you're pointed in the right direction here, you just need to cite your scripture ref and make yourself a bit clearer.
    – wax eagle
    Apr 5 '12 at 1:20

The story of withering of fig tree, apart from reminding for having faith in God's power, depicts a few other things about the persona of Jesus.

Firstly, he is capable of taking a life and giving it also. So he is the source of life.

Secondly to demostrate this, Bible at many places tell us that he brought many to life from death. Though he was in position to take away life in similar manner, he did not do it in case of humans in his entire life time but demonstrated it on a fig tree, indicating love, respeat and precious value for man's life. This indicates the special status of God's most precious creature, the man who was created in 'Their' own image as we find in Genesis.

Thirdly this also indicate that he came into this world not to judge and condemn the world but to give salvation and life everlasting to man.

Fourthly, though he had the power to take away life by uttering a single word as in the case of this fig tree, he did not resort to this power to overcome his adversaries even unto his death on cross and that is the diffetence between Jesus and founders of other religions. That is the reason one cannot compare Jesus or his teachings with any other religious leader or their teachings for they are not at all compatible with each other no matter how much the followers of other religion try to placate it so.

  • I don't see anything in the narrative to call this a parable. A miracle story, yes, but not a parable. Sep 11 '13 at 11:54
  • Right, it is not a parable. Sep 12 '13 at 4:05

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