THE CURSED FIG TREE
A Puzzling Occurrence
Jesus curses a fig tree for all eternity because he found no fruit on
its branches. And this in spite of the fact that it was not yet time for fruit (v. 13).
How untypical of Jesus! Was he in a bad mood or something? Was this the same man who was
known to be meek and mild and humble? Was this the same Jesus who showed mercy and kindness to
a woman caught in the very act of adultery, or the Canaanite woman at the well, or to all kinds
of sinners and tax collectors? In Matthew 12:20 we read, “A bruised reed shall he not break,
and smoking flax shall he not quench.”
Old Testament miracles frequently had a negative effect on people. Consider the plagues
of Egypt, the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God's judgment of the Jews’ enemies,
and of course, God's judgment of his own rebellious people.
Then come the wonders Jesus performed in the New Testament! They were almost exclusively beneficial
to all, even sinners. He changed water into wine at the wedding of Cana and healed many diseases.
Jesus said that he didn't come into the world to judge sinners, but to save them.
The fig tree in question was not a person nor was it located in someone’s garden. It was
just a wild tree that grew near a busy highway. Still, the reaction of Jesus seems so untypical!
There are only two other incidents in the life of Christ which have any similarity whatsoever.
One is in the story of the maniac of Gadera. When Jesus cast out the demons, they requested
permission to enter a herd of swine and Jesus gave his permission. The swine ran into the sea and drowned.
Pigs were unclean animals and Jews were not permitted to eat pork, so they would not have considered
this a great loss. The other incident is when Jesus drove out the money changers and sellers of
sacrificial animals from the temple. The temple businesses were corrupt and did not belong in the
Jesus’ action in Mark 11 becomes even more puzzling when we read the parable of another unfruitful
fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. The tree in Luke 13 was given another chance to produce.
Most commentaries have nothing to say about this act of Jesus and only deal with the lesson Jesus
was teaching his disciples about prayer and faith (see below).
Fig Trees in the Bible
Figs belong to the first-fruits and grapes belong to the late harvest of Israel (Judges 9:10-11;
Joel 1:7; Hosea 9:10).
Like pussy willows, lilac and dogwood, the fig tree announced the arrival of spring. Both the grape
vine and the fig tree are symbolic of God's people (Matthew 24:32; Luke 21:29-32).
About Fig Trees in General
First there are blossoms and then come leaves and fruit simultaneously. Ripe figs can therefore be
expected when the leaves are full. This particular tree had leaves but no fruit.
The fig is nourishing, tasty and refreshing, and fig trees bear fruit throughout the growing season.
Fig trees draw much nourishment and water from the soil (see the parable in Luke 13).
A fig tree which gets sun and water easily will seldom produce fruit because it blooms too early
and gets nipped by the frost. A late frost can also nip buds, but in that case all fig trees would
As a rule, one could expect much good fruit from a tree that grows in an orchard. Wild trees
generally produce less and poorer quality fruit. There are of course exceptions.
About this Particular Fig Tree
It grew in a climate that was not very conducive for fig trees. Peter warmed himself by a fire at
the trial of Jesus not far from here.
It was located near the main highway between Jericho and Jerusalem. Jesus saw the tree from a
distance and had to leave the highway in order to reach it.
Pilgrims had probably beaten a path to that tree in hopes of getting refreshed, but they all returned
disappointed and hungry. It is possible that Jesus had been here and was disappointed on a previous
The tree had likely produced fruit at some time, however, because Jesus said,
shall eat fruit of thee hereafter forever" (v. 14)
What we can learn from this text
First and foremost, it serves as an eternal reminder of the power of prayer: For verily I say unto
you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea;
and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to
pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire,
when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. (v. 23-24).
It is also a warning for nominal Christians. Those who claim to be Christians but do not bear fruit
for God. Jesus called this hypocrisy Greek: hypo= below or under + krise= decision or judgment.
This term had its origin in the theatrical world and meant to knowingly and purposely fool people.
We would say, “pull the wool over their eyes.”
Hypocrisy denies or rejects the truth. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide
you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he
speak: and he will shew you things to come. (John 16:13), so hypocrisy is a sin against the Holy
Spirit! The sharpest words that came out of the mouth of Jesus were directed toward the Pharisees,
whom he called hypocrites (Matthew 23).
The cleansing of the temple was for the same reason. The dealers and money changers were hypocrites
in that they kept two sets of weights.“
It also shows how dangerous it is when we do not bring fruit consistently. Dr. Bob Jones Sr. used
to say, “The greatest ability is dependability“.
It is also a warning against mediocrisy. In the Lord's message to Laodicea, he said it is Better to be
hot or cold, but God spews out that which is lukewarm! In this case the fig tree should have had figs,
but since it had none, it should not have had leaves that sent a false message.
Another lesson we can learn from this incident is that even inferior fig trees with little or poor
quality figs can be valuable -- if they produce fruit. A weary and hungry traveler is not helped by
an orchard full of productive fig trees somewhere far away. He would prefer a few inferior figs close
at hand. Jesus said in Matthew 25:35-36, "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty,
and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and
ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." The story of the Good Samaritan also
illustrates this truth. New Christians may not have a lot of knowledge or be polished in their walk,
but they are closer to the lost. Their testimony can be more effective than the sermons of a trained
pastor or evangelist.
This would also teach that God expects more and better fruit from those of us who were reared in a
Christian environment, who know the Bible well and are faithful in church. For unto whomsoever much
is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the
more (Luke 12:48). Woe to us if we hide our light under a bushel.
We are recognized by our fruits, not our roots (Matthew 7:16-20)
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do
men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but
a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt
tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the
fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Ralph V. Harvey