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There are lessons from Jesus and the fig tree that we can extract and apply in our own lives. But first we have to ask the question, ‘Why did Jesus curse the fig tree?’ Why did He cause this tree to never produce fruit again simply because it had no figs?
The answer is both fascinating and thought-provoking!
Jesus Curses the Fig Tree – A Bit Extreme?
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. NIV
When reading about Jesus and the fig tree, these verses sometimes leave people confused! I mean, after all, why did Jesus curse the fig tree simply because He was hungry and it had no fruit to give Him even though it says it wasn’t even the season for figs? Seems a bit extreme at first glance, doesn’t it, especially seeing that it wasn’t even the season for them? But only at first glance!
Let’s examine this a bit further!
Why Did Jesus Curse the Fig Tree? – The Answer Starts With Understanding Fig Trees in Israel
In Israel, there are anywhere from two to three crops of figs per year. Each crop cycle goes through the same process.
The tree first produces its fruit and then leaves form. So if you see a fig tree with its leaves, one can assume its figs have already grown.
So Jesus, in verse 12, sees the fig tree at a distance and he spots that it has its leaves. He had every reason to believe it also possessed the fruit. However, upon reaching the tree, He saw only leaves.
It had no figs.
Jesus cursed the fig tree because it had the appearance of fruitfulness, but it was deceptive. It lacked fruit.
It was a false appearance of bearing figs that caused Jesus to become irate with this tree!
Because the Bible is pretty clear that it was not yet even the season for figs, it made itself appear to be more advanced than the others and it made it seem at a distance to offer something substantial, but it offered nothing but leaves.
It was all pretense. This false appearance, in essence, was hypocrisy.
Jesus and the Fig Tree – A Picture of Biblical Hypocrisy!
There are many times in scripture where Jesus addressed the topic of hypocrisy. He witnessed it so often and this tree was a vivid depiction of it!
One of these is Matthew 23:27-28:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. NIV
Like the whitewashed tombs Jesus references in these verses, the fig tree looked beautiful on the outside. It looked like it was ripe with fruit! But upon closer examination, it was a lie. It had nothing.
The parable of Jesus and the fig tree makes a point to tell us it was not the season for figs. So this tree gave the false appearance of being more advanced, more fruitful, than those around it. It appeared to have figs when all others around it did not! It made itself out to be something it wasn’t.
One of the lessons from the cursed fig tree we can take from this is Jesus has no tolerance for hypocrisy!
A Fruitful Life
This is a cautionary example for us from Jesus Himself. We must be careful we don’t give the world an appearance of having the fruit of the Spirit, of living a fruitful life, but, upon closer examination, we are no different than the world.
We can give off the appearance of having a fruitful life but, when people look more closely, there is nothing but leaves!
The Fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Are we walking in the fruit of the Spirit? Are we truly living a fruitful life or are we living a life of hypocrisy?
Fruitfulness in the Bible
John 15:1-11 says:
I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch which is part of me but fails to bear fruit, he cuts off; and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit. Right now, because of the word which I have spoken to you, you are pruned. Stay united with me, as I will with you — for just as the branch can’t put forth fruit by itself apart from the vine, so you can’t bear fruit apart from me.
Jesus the Vine:
I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who stay united with me, and I with them, are the ones who bear much fruit; because apart from me you can’t do a thing. Unless a person remains united with me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Such branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, where they are burned up.
If you remain united with me, and my words with you, then ask whatever you want, and it will happen for you. This is how my Father is glorified — in your bearing much fruit; this is how you will prove to be my talmidim (disciples).
Just as my Father has loved me, I too have loved you; so stay in my love. If you keep my commands, you will stay in my love — just as I have kept my Father’s commands and stay in his love. I have said this to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy be complete.” (CJB)
The key to the fruitfulness in the Bible? Abide in Him!
What Does It Mean to Abide?
The Greek word for “abide” is menō. It means (according to Strong’s Concordance):
to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy):—abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, tarry (Strong)
And as we continue to bear fruit, He will prune is so that we bear even more!
Like a tree draws its nourishment from the root, we draw our spiritual nourishment from Him and then, like the tree, we bring forth good fruit!
Pruning in the Bible
And, as a good gardener, God prunes us. And as God prunes us, the old, dead things are removed to promote the growth of the new. The dead things are removed so fruit can grow in more abundance.
The definition of prune is:
cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth
How Does God Prune Us?
God removes our guilt, our shame. He removes our old habits, our old ways of doing things and heals our emotional wounds. He replaces the old recordings that we play over and over again in our minds, things people spoke over us, with what HE says about us.
As pruning a tree makes it grow more full and vibrant, producing more and better fruit, we too will grow in Him and produce more fruit!
And as we allow this pruning and allow that new fruit to grow in abundance, we never have to be concerned with only displaying leaves!