Figuring Out the Fig Tree
by Ryan Duncan
“Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." – John 2:19
Have you ever read the story of Jesus and the fig tree? It’s a curious moment in the New Testament, and for a long time, I had no idea what to make of it. It all begins in Mark 11, when Jesus grows hungry and approaches a fig tree looking for food.
“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.” – Mark 11:12-14
Now, everyone experiences low blood-sugar from time to time, but for Jesus this seems remarkably out of character. After all, didn’t he fast in the desert for forty days? Surely he could handle the disappointment of not finding a fig. Even then, why not just make the tree bloom? If he could turn water into wine, why didn’t he command the tree to bear fruit?
Later, I learned it was because figs had very little to do with this story. You see, after his run-in with the unfortunate shrub, Jesus made his way to the temple where the money changers were cheating worshipers (Mark 11:20-25). By driving them out, Jesus incurred the anger of the chief priests, and the next morning he and his disciples leave the city again. This is where Jesus encounters the fig tree a second time,
“In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!’ ‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’" – Mark 11:20-24
Like the fig tree, the Jewish faith looked good on the outside, but despite its appearance it wasn’t producing any fruit. Because it wasn’t providing for his people, Jesus decreed that he would let it fade, and raise up something new in its place: the Church. We are the new creation God planted for those hungry to know God; let's make sure we yield a bountiful harvest.
Intersecting Faith and Life: Are you producing spiritual fruit, or simply maintaining appearances?