Mark 11:12-14 – On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
Mark 11 accounts for us Jesus’ entering Jerusalem on the back of the young colt. It was a royal scene in which the followers of Jesus heralded his arrival as the coming son of David and king of Israel. Indeed, Jesus was making an intentional royal entry. But, when Jesus entered the city, he went into the temple, looked around, and then left. The next day, as Jesus headed into the city, he did what we read above. He was hungry, and went to a fig tree. The tree had no fruit on it, and so he cursed it.
This passage, which has always been strange to me, makes symbolic sense in its context. In Daniel, God told the nation of Israel that they had a set amount of time from the moment a command was given for Jerusalem to be rebuilt in which they must put away their sin.
Daniel 9:24-26a – “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.”
Without totally trying to get into all of what is said and predicted here, one thing is sure for Israel. After they heard Daniel’s message, they had a set period of time in which they were to return to God.
When Jesus rode into the temple on the donkey, he looked around. This was the moment when he should have found Israel obedient to God’s call “to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness.” However, he found a system of corruption, greed, and abuse. Even though John 2 tells us that Jesus came into the temple during the first year of his ministry and drove out the money changers and sellers of animals, they were back in full force. Israel had refused to obey the voice of their God. They had not put away their sin. So, when the Messiah, Anointed One, arrived, he found Israel disobedient.
So, what about this tree. It is a symbol of Israel. Fig trees are supposed to be fruitful. You should be able, in season, to go to a fig tree and find figs there. When Jesus went to this tree, it was not time for it to have figs, though; so he found it barren. But, to show, with the tree, what Israel was like and what would come next, Jesus cursed the tree. Israel should have been repentant, they should have had fruit, but Jesus found them barren and sinful. And, make no mistake about it, Israel has suffered the consequences of that fruitlessness for years following the arrival of their long-promised King, the King they rejected.
Before I make an application for us, let me also say that, to the glory of God, Israel will not remain a barren tree forever. Israel, as a spiritual people of God, is being fruitful as God brings in the gentiles to is chosen people (see Romans 9-11). There will be a day when the eyes of many ethnic Israelites will also be opened, and they will come to faith in Jesus Christ and thus into God’s family in the only possible way, through faith in Christ. There is no justification for Christians or any other people to mistreat the ethnic people of Israel, and anyone who would use the curse language regarding the spiritual condition of Israel for such an evil will rightly fall under the judgment of God. Christians should pray for Israel and share the gospel with that nation as we are called to share Christ with all nations.
Now, let us move to simple application. This account is a call for us to learn from the mistakes of others. Israel was called by God to put away her sin. She refused to do so as a nation, and she suffered greatly because of it. You and I are also called by God to come to Christ, repent of sin, and live for his glory. Christ Jesus, as our King, will return someday. How will he find you? Will he find you faithfully doing what he has commanded, or will he find you in sinful disobedience as he saw the temple nearly 2,000 years ago? To obey and love your God leads to blessings as the Master finds you faithfully about his business. To disobey your God leads to great sorrow, as you will dishonor the Master. No, we are not made acceptable to God by our working faithfully. We are only made right in God’s sight through the work of Jesus and our faith in him. But, we rightly should learn to follow him, put away sin, and live for his glory in order to be found his faithful servants.
Dear Lord, I recognize that you are King of kings and Lord of Lords. You will reign as King forever. I am your servant, and it is my duty and delight to obey your will. I pray that you will never find me fruitless. I pray that, whenever you examine my life, you will find me bearing the fruit of your Holy Spirit. I pray that you will work in me. I pray that you will help me to work as you command me to. I long to be a faithful servant, so I ask that you will empower me to that end. I long to glorify your name, so I ask that you will steer my heart and my steps in that direction. Let me be a fruitful fig tree that brings you glory and delight.