About a fig tree bearing no fruit

A green fig tree is worth a mint! People in the ancient world already knew that. Its large leaves provided pleasant shade. But what use was the tree and its beautiful leaves if you were hungry? A fig tree without any fruit does not fill bellies.

The Bible offers two different explanations for the parable of the fig tree: preservation or unfaithfulness. If the fig was green you could rest in its shade. But what use was a fig tree if it did not have fruit. Jesus Himself experienced this, and we can read about it in Mark: “Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, ‘Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.’ And His disciples heard it” (Mark 11: 12–14). The people of the ancient world had no problem understanding this short and informative parable. Today, however, we need some explanations.

Recognising the tree by its fruit

A fig tree without figs? The fruit of the tree is sweet and delicious and nourishing. People love to serve them to their guests. Jesus cursed the fig tree He saw as He came out of Bethany. He was hungry, but the tree bore no fruit, only leaves. It looked like a fig, but it had no fruit. What, exactly, is this supposed to tell us? Is there more to this than a mere story? Bible exegetics say yes.

Jesus was the promised Messiah for whom the people had been waiting so long. His coming had been announced by the prophets. And He had clearly shown the people that He was able to work miracles. He also taught them with authority and wisdom. But all of this bore little fruit. Nothing developed out of this. Only a few cared at all. Most did not now bear any fruit at all: they did not follow Him, nor did they rejoice about the coming of the Messiah. The people did not believe in Him. In fact they rejected Him and even killed Him.

And our fruits?

Let us come back into our time. Christians must not be presumptuous and look down on others. They must ask themselves whether in addition to their belief in Jesus Christ—which is why they call themselves Christians in the first place—they have developed fruit. Is there joy? Is there peace? Is there love among humankind? Do we, who have been baptised in name of the Son of God, stand up for and advocate His message? Or have we become lukewarm and indifferent? Do things on the surface look good, but without any fruit?

The seven letters to the congregations in Asia Minor can tell us a thing or two about this. About the congregation in Sardis, for example, we can read: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3: 1). Already then there was a lack of love. On the outside everything was fine, but there were not fruits of love or the fear of God. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is what it says in Galatians.

Professing and testifying

The image of the fig tree was originally a metaphor for Israel, who did not recognise the Messiah in Jesus. It is, however, also a warning for us Christians today: let us do the will of God, be ready to forgive, and testify of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

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Peter Johanning
Bible Study , Divine service, Doctrinal instruction