Life of Christ 148
It is Monday morning of Passover week. Jesus will die on Wednesday afternoon. He and His Apostles are staying in Lazarus' home two miles away from Jerusalem in Bethany. On the way into the city on this Monday morning they spy a fig tree on the side of the road. Apparently they had not eaten breakfast that morning for they were hungry. (Mark 11.12) They were hoping for figs, and were sorely disappointed to find none. Jesus, not in anger but as a lesson to the Apostles, curses the fig tree, and by the following day it was dead. (Mark 11.20)
April is a spring month in Israel just as it is in America. It is not unusual, however, for a fig tree to bear early fruit in the spring months before its main summer crop comes in. This is because a fig is not a typical fruit; it is a cluster of flowers grown together called an inflorescence. This leafy cluster becomes meaty, and later grows seeds internally. Similar to other trees, it also flowers prior to or just as it grows its leaves after the winter break. Thus, to see a fig tree with leaves in Spring is a very good indication that it may well have a crop of early figs ready for picking.
A fig tree without fruit (and so rightly doomed to wither) was used in the Old Testament as a symbol of God's judgment. Jeremiah said as much in passing judgment on rebellious Israel. I will surely consume them, saith the Lord: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them. (Jeremiah 8.13) The prophet Joel, who's book clearly refers to apocalyptic judgment, uses a similar illustration. He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white. (Joel 1.7)
Elsewhere, an obedient Israel happily worshipping Jehovah was likened to the same early fig crop which Jesus went searching for on that tree outside of Jerusalem Monday morning. I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: (Hosea 9.10)
Moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament we find that Jesus has already, previously in His ministry, used a fig tree as an example of the great urgency national Israel was under to repent and turn to Him. (see Life of Christ 122)
Luke 13.6-9 He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
Let us recap, shall we? In the Old Testament a barren fig tree was a symbol of God's judgment. On the other hand, first ripe figs were likened to an obedient Israel. In the New Testament Jesus had already specifically likened a fig tree to a national Israel that was running out of time. She desperately needed to bear fruit soon or else she would be cut down.
All of this helps us, beloved, to understand the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree.
Mark 11.12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:
13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
On this Passover week Israel looked, to all observers, as if she were thriving. She was largely at peace with Rome. Millions of Jews cared enough about their religion to show up at Jerusalem for the Passover. The Temple was in the middle of a decades long massive renovation. The Pharisees, with their strict interpretation and legalistic application of the Torah, were in the ascendancy. Everything looked pretty good – just like the fig tree.
However, on this Passover week Israel bore Jehovah no fruit. For millennia He had carefully prepared her to be the earthly container of His Son. He had revealed Himself to her more fully than any other people group of antiquity. He had sent her judges, priests, and prophets. He had spanked her when she rebelled and blessed her when she obeyed. And yet, on this Monday morning, though the bright green leaves rustled in a spring breeze, she bore Jehovah no fruit – just like the fig tree.
Thus it was, on this Monday morning of Passover week, as Israel rejected her King, she was doomed to wither – just like the fig tree.