On this Palm Sunday, the Church pauses to remember and reflect upon Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
This Sunday we will learn more about an encounter Jesus had with a fig tree after His triumphal entry. Mark, in chapter 11 verses 12-14 wrote:
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.
The Fig Tree
Jesus, having just ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of “Messiah, Save Us” (Hosanna), entered the temple looked around and then went to Bethany with His disciples for the night. The next morning, as Jesus came from Bethany to Jerusalem, He was hungry and saw from a distance an interesting sight. Even though it was not the usual season for figs, He saw a fig tree in leaf that showed the appearance of mature figs.
In this part of the world there is a defined season for figs and most species of fig trees bear fruit in that season. There were, however, a few species of fig trees that bear fruit outside the usual season. Being out of season for figs, this perhaps was one of those unusual fig trees that was in leaf out of season and had the possibility of mature figs. Jesus went to see whether or not there were figs on the tree and when He came to it “He found nothing but leaves”.
When Jesus saw that there were no figs (fruit) on this fig tree He cursed it by saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (14). We find out that this curse was effective because when “they passed by in the morning [of the next day], they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots” (20).
Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? Was He simply angry because He did not get any figs? Was His curse caused by His hunger pains and a complete overreaction against a helpless, innocent plant? We can rest assured that our Lord was not in a bad mood due to hunger and was not overreacting. Jesus, the Son of God who created all things and holds all things together (Col 1:17), was well aware of fig season, well aware of the nature of fig trees, and well aware of the absence of figs on this particular tree before He came up to it.
So, why did Jesus curse the fig tree? Jesus cursed this fig tree as an object lesson for you and me. The lesson to be learned is that those who do not bear fruit are under God’s curse of death.
How are we to understand this lesson? John 15 provides the key. Jesus, in John 15:2, said: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit [the Father] takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” According to this parable, those who do not bear fruit are those who do not abide in Christ. The absence of fruit is due to an absence of Christ. It is this group that is fruitless and therefore under God’s curse of death. Jesus continues in John 15:6 by saying, “if anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
What is the fruit? The answer is found in Galatians 5:22-23. It is the fruit (result) of faith. Paul says it “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).
The Cursed One
You may be thinking: “If God’s curse is on those who do not bear fruit, then I will work hard to bear fruit. I will be more loving, joyful, etc.” The Bible exhorts you to bear fruit and holds you accountable for a lack of fruit, but the Bible is also clear that fruit is only born through faith in Jesus Christ.
In John 15:4-5, Jesus said:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Escape from the curse of God does not come by doing better. Galatians 3:10 tells us that “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” Just trying to do better results in failure because the Bible says, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Gal 3:10). Galatians 3:11 shows us that God’s curse remains on us in our attempts to do better because “it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law.” It is Christ who “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal 3:13). Do not try to do better, rather repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Salvation comes to us through the Holy Spirit through faith.
When Jesus examines your life, does He see the fruit of the Spirit working in your life? Does Jesus see a life that is fruitful and satisfying to Him and carrying out the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10)? Or does Jesus, like in our passage, find nothing but leaves?