The parable of the fig tree

“Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near” (Mark 13:28 NET).

When we approach Mark 13 we must be aware not only of the context of what he was teaching but also the context of that week. This parable from the fig tree is placed in context when we consider an incident that took place a few days earlier.

The day after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding the donkey to the acclaim of the people, he and his disciples were walking from Bethany back to Jerusalem and he saw a fig tree.

“After noticing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it. When he came to it he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season of figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it” (Mark 11:13-14).

We might want to ask Jesus why he went to seek figs from the tree when it was not the time of year to expect to find figs. The reason was that he saw the leaves. A fig tree produced the fruit before the leaves. When a fig tree produced leaves the figs were ready to eat. So there should have been fruit on the tree but there was none. Jesus “cursed” the fig tree. Although this might seem radical to us, we can see from Mark 13 that there was a purpose. He would use this fruitless fig tree to teach a lesson.

“In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered’” (Mark 11:20-21).

This was the following day. Peter noticed that the tree Jesus had cursed the day before was now totally withered and dead. Trees don’t normally do this! They knew that something supernatural had happened. Jesus gave them an explanation about the need for faith and prayer (see Mark 11:22-25).

It was a few days later, as they are looking out over Jerusalem and the temple from the Mount of Olives, that Jesus told them they needed to learn the parable of the fig tree. The lesson they needed to learn was this: when a fig tree puts out its leaves you know that summer is near. The problem with the fig tree they saw with leaves was that the leaves should have signified that the fruit was ready. Sadly there was no fruit.

Although not given as a lesson, we can see that this well represented Jerusalem at that time. Israel in so many ways looked to be faithful to God. After all, they were outwardly teaching and following God’s commands. But as Jesus frequently lamented: they might be following the commands, but their heart was far from God. Like the fig tree with leaves and no fruit, they were a nation that might look faithful but there was no spiritual fruit.

But notice the application Jesus gave to this ‘parable.’

“So also you, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mark 13:29-31).

Jesus had just told them events to look out for to know that Jerusalem was about to be destroyed. When they saw these things, they could know that it was like he was about to open the door – it was about to happen! And this would happen in their lifetime.

Perhaps the application for us is to make sure that we are producing fruit in our lives. Don’t just look faithful. Are we producing spiritual fruit in our lives?


Readings for next week:
25 February – Mark 11
26 February – Mark 12
27 February – Mark 13
28 February – Mark 14
1 March – Mark 15

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