Why did Jesus curse the fig tree in Mark 11:12-14? By Jack Kettler
“And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, no man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever. And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:12-14)
A mocker or scoffer of the Gospel may accuse Jesus of being mad at a tree. What is the significance of what Jesus did? Was this cursing of the tree a warning? If so, to whom?
Some Dispensationalists advocate the idea that there is a double meaning in this passage, and there will be a restoration of the nation of Israel in the “futuristic end times” along with a re-built temple and animal sacrifices. See Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation *
A parallel passage occurs in Matthew:
“And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever. And presently the fig tree withered away.” (Matthew 21:19)
Specifically, on Mark 11:14, Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary explains the significance of the cursing of the fig tree:
“11:12-18 Christ looked to find some fruit, for the time of gathering figs, though it was near, was not yet come; but he found none. He made this fig-tree an example, not to the trees, but to the men of that generation. It was a figure of the doom upon the Jewish church, to which he came seeking fruit, but found none. Christ went to the temple, and began to reform the abuses in its courts, to show that when the Redeemer came to Zion, it was to turn away ungodliness from Jacob. The scribes and the chief priests sought, not how they might make their peace with him, but how they might destroy him. A desperate attempt, which they could not but fear was fighting against God.” (1)
From Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible on the Matthew 21:19:
“And when he saw a fig tree, … In the Greek text it is "one fig tree", one remarkable fig tree: he must see a great many, as he went along; for a large tract of the Mount Of Olives was full of fig trees, and therefore called "Bethpage": and notice has been taken already of the figs of Bethany: but he saw none that had such large and spreading leaves as this; for it was the time when the fig tree was just budding, and putting forth its leaves: wherefore he took notice of it; and though it was "afar off", as Mark says, yet being hungry, he made up to it, expecting, from its promising appearance, to find fruit on it. This fig tree was "in the way"; by the road side, and probably had no owner; was common to anybody, and so no injury was done to any person by losing it: he came to it,
and found nothing thereon but leaves only: Mark says, "he came, if haply he might find anything thereon"; which must be understood of him as man; for as he hungered as man, so he judged and expected as man, from the appearance of this fig tree, that he might find fruit upon it; and which is no contradiction to his deity, and his having the Spirit of God, as the Jew (t) objects; and especially since, as Bishop Kidder (u) observes, such an expectation is attributed to God himself, in Isaiah 5:2 and it may be added, and with regard to that people, of which this fig tree was an emblem, and designed by Christ to be considered as such in what he did to it. The same evangelist further observes, "and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for the time of figs was not yet". The word "yet" is not in the original text; which last clause is a reason, either why he found no fruit, or nothing but leaves upon it, because it was not a time, or season of figs: it was not a good fig year, so Dr. Hammond interprets it; and yet though it was not, since this tree was so very flourishing, fruit might have been expected on it: and also, it furnishes out a reason why Christ took so much pains to go to it, seeing there were very few figs to be had elsewhere, and this bid very fair to supply him with some in this time of scarcity: or else, as a reason why, besides its promising appearance, he expected fruit upon it, because the time of figs, that is, of the gathering of the figs, was not come: in which sense the phrase is used in Matthew 21:34; and is Bishop Kidder's interpretation of the passage: and since therefore the time was not come for the ingathering of the figs, none had been taken off of it, the more might be expected on it. This sense would be very probable, did it appear that figs were usually ripe about this time; but the contrary seems manifest, both from Scripture, which represents the fig tree putting forth its leaves, as a sign the summer is nigh, Matthew 24:32 and from the Talmudists, who say (w), that the beginning of leaves, or putting forth of the leaves of trees, is in the month Nisan, the month in which the passover was kept, and so the then present time of the year; and who, from this time, reckon three times fifty days, or five full months before the figs are ripe (x): so that these words are rather a reason why Christ did not expect to find figs on other trees, which he saw in great abundance as he passed along, because the time of common, ordinary figs being ripe, was not come; and why he particularly expected to find some on this tree, because it being full of leaves, appeared to be of a different kind from other fig trees: and was either of that sort which they call , "Benoth Shuach", as Dr. Lightfoot conjectures which were a kind of white figs that were not ripe till the third year (y). This tree put forth its fruit the first year, which hung on it the second, and were brought to perfection on the third: so that when it was three years old, it had fruit of the first, second, and third year on it: this being such a tree, by its being full of leaves, when others had none, or were just putting out, fruit, of one year, or more might have been expected on it, when it had none at all, and therefore was cursed: or it might be one of that sort which brought forth fruit twice a year; for of such sort of fig trees we read in the Jewish writings (z): and therefore though it was not the time of the common figs being ripe, yet this being one of the seasons, in which this tree bore ripe fruit, and being so very flourishing, might reasonably be expected from it: but there being none,
he said unto it, let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever; or, as it is expressed in Mark, "no man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever": for if none grew on it henceforward, no man could hereafter eat of it. Both expressions design the same thing, the perpetual barrenness of the fig tree:
and presently the fig tree withered away: immediately, upon Christ's saying these words, its sap was dried up, it lost its verdure; its leaves were shrivelled and shrunk up, and dropped off, and the whole was blasted. This tree was an emblem of the Jews: Christ being hungry, and very desirous of the salvation of men, came first to them, from whom, on account of their large profession of religion, and great pretensions to holiness, and the many advantages they enjoyed, humanly speaking, much fruit of righteousness might have been expected; but, alas! he found nothing but mere words, empty boasts, an outward show of religion, an external profession, and a bare performance of trifling ceremonies, and oral traditions; wherefore Christ rejected them, and in a little time after, the kingdom of God, the Gospel, was taken away from them, and their temple, city, and nation, entirely destroyed.” (2)
There is nothing in this teaching of Jesus in Matthew and Mark to indicate a double fulfillment of the judgment coming upon the Jewish nation’s unfaithfulness in the 1st Century and then repeat it at some point in the future with a re-built temple.
Jesus uses the example of the fig-tree as a warning to the unfaithful of that generation. The fig-tree was a symbol of the fate that would come upon the Old Testament covenantal people of God. At that time, the nation and the temple were destroyed, and the gentiles were graphed into God’s covenant (Romans 11:11-31). In the future, it is expected that many of God’s Old Testament covenant people will be graphed back into the covenant (Romans 11:11-24).
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)
1. Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary, Mark, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 1575.
2. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Matthew, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), p. 624-626.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
* See Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR9oI3mpKZM