Mark 11:12-14 – Jesus Curses a Fig Tree

When Jesus is walking to Jerusalem, he is hungry and finds a fig tree by the side of the road. He expects to find a bit of fruit, but there is none. Remarkably Jesus pronounces a curse on the tree, saying it will not bear fruit again “until the end of the age.”

God Hates FigsWhat is the meaning of the cursing of the fig tree?  This is a symbolic action, dealing with more than a tree that doesn’t bear fruit.  The context is important since this is an example of a “Markan Sandwich.” Mark often begins a story, then drops it and tells another longer story, returning to his original story at the end. The material inside this sandwich is the Temple Incident. Jesus condemns the Temple as a “den of thieves” and overturns the tables in order to disrupt business. There are several “conflict stories” following this section of Mark in which Jesus teaches in the temple.

If it is not the time of year for the fig tree to have fruit, what did Jesus expect to find? Some think “winter figs” which are left over from the previous harvest,” or “early figs,” which were hard, immature figs. But the tree has leaves since it is mid-April, therefore Jesus approaches it with the expectation that it will have fruit, but it does not.  It has leaves, but no figs, ripe or not.  If the tree was barren, then perhaps the regular metaphor from the Hebrew Bible of a barren tree is in mind. A barren tree is used for Israel’s unfaithfulness (Isa 28:4; Jer 8:13; 24:1–10; 29:17; Hos 9:10; Mic 7:1; Nah 3:12; Prov 27:18) or God’s judgment (Jer 7:20, Ho 9:15-16). These are not unrelated metaphors and both are appropriate here.

Jesus is looking for fruit in a place he has every right to find fruit, but does not find it. In the same way, he came to the nation looking for fruit, but did not find any.  The religious establishment is a barren fig tree that is about to be cut off.  Where did Jesus have every right to find a fruitful religious heart in Israel – the temple.

The curse is that the tree will not produce fruit until the end of the age.  Some take this to mean that Jesus expects the end of the age before the next fig-harvest, but the phrase “end of the age” always has an eschatological sense.  Craig Evans, suggests this means that the tree is cursed “forever” although in the light of Romans 11 and the probability of future of national Israel.

After the events in the temple, the third after the curse is pronounced, the disciples see the tree and note that it is dead – withered from the roots up.  here are a number of Old Testament allusions here (Ho 9:16, Job 18:16, 28:9, 31:12, Ezek 19:9). The nation has gone past the point of no-return, they have rejected the Messiah.

If this is a legitimate way to read this parabolic action, how would it effect the way we read the “Temple action”? Perhaps thinking beyond the Gospel of Mark and Paul’s comments in Romans 11:11-32, does this fig-tree parable make a difference for understanding Israel as the people of God in the present age?

22 thoughts on “Mark 11:12-14 – Jesus Curses a Fig Tree

  1. I the present age can learn a lot about God’s relationship with Israel from the fig tree parable. We all know that Israel did not display what an ideal God fearing heart looks like…we see that in Jeremiah 3:20, Deuteronomy 4:25-27, Leviticus 26:1, and so on. The fig tree did not produce figs, like Israel did not bear fruit. However, what’ intriguing was Jesus’s expectation when he saw the fig tree. He expected it to bear figs, since that is a fig tree’s main purpose. Likewise, God expected Israel to bear fruit. Why? Because that was the main purpose; God chose them as His people. Deut. 7:6 says, “For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” This parable portrays God’s expectation for his people no matter what era…to bear fruit and glorify Him in all that we do.

    • In addition, we are to bear fruit no matter what season it is in our life.

  2. It is interesting to read Romans 11:11-32 along with the Fig Tree Parable. When reading just the parable I would have to say that it was a warning to Israel, that if they do not turn the ship around and start bearing fruit again that they would be curse and wouldn’t be able to bear fruit for God. Then jumping ahead to when Paul talks about it in Romans 11, especially in verse 30 it says, “Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience” It does seem like back when Jesus cursed the fig tree that Israel was actually cursed, but because God is so merciful that Israel were able to be back in God’s good graciousness. So understanding that even though Israel was cursed, but then was able to get back into God’s good side, we could see that Israel in today’s world could still get a warning from Jesus to start bearing fruit again and still be God’s choice.

  3. Wow, great read professor Long. To be honest it was hard for me to understand the story of the fig tree in the Bible and what Jesus may have been trying to teach us through it. This post gave great insight and feet to the background of this teaching. It was also interesting to read Romans 11:11-32 along with it. The first few verses struck me in relation to the question that asked was Jesus done with the fig tree/Israel at His proclamation of it bearing not fruit? In verse 11 it says, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Of course not!” When putting these references together we build a greater understanding that no, God was not condemning it/them to bear no fruit forever, but God is full of mercy (Ephesians 2:4-5). And through that mercy He enabled the gospel to come through the gentiles! It all comes together; as gentiles we are grafted within (Romans 11:17-21)!

  4. Reading the Mark 11:12-24 I don’t see a mention of Israel. So, my question is, are we allegorizing this if there is no actual mention of Israel? Why are we comparing the fig tree with Israel? Does reading it with the Romans passage talking about olive shoots make sense? I’m not sure about any of these questions but if these two passages do represent Israel they tell us a lot about the nation. The Romans passage gives a lot of interesting thoughts but I’m not sure how it fits with the fig tree. Is this actually a parable to because it’s actually happening and isn’t a story or does it combine with Mark 13:28 where Jesus actually says something about the parable of the fig?

  5. Does anyone really believe that when Jesus cursed this specific fig tree, he meant for it to be a curse on all fig trees?

    Come on people, seriously?!

    I grow hundreds of fig trees, and they are like people, two exact varieties can be planted right next to each other, you will pamper and treat them exactly the same, water/fertilize them together, prune them and watch them grow. Yet, when they reach the 3rd, 4th or 5th year, you will notice that the one bears fruit in abundance and the other is mereley covered in leaves. Is this what also happens to people? One bears lots of fruit, the other none (or very few), some just die without even producing leaves. What went wrong?

    Figs formed a major part of peoples diets back then and I believe that Jesus went on eating figs (fresh and dried) untill he was crucified, resurected and now sitting at the right hand of God.

    No, this parabel showed us what we ( made in the image of the Almighty God) can do, if we do not doubt but have faith as small as a mustard seed.

    Figs are beautiful, tasty and very healthy – just the way God intended it when He made it.

    Go and buy a tree or two today – set the fig tree free!

    • Nice response, perhaps you should read the article since it does not say what you think it does.

      I like figs, but mostly in the form of a newton.

  6. some scholar !… the passage does NOT say that it was the season for figs and Jesus looking for them there and response cannot be therefore extrapolated in the way this has been done… sloppy hermeneutics with crappy connections made … mark 11: 13b “But when he came to it, he found only leaves, because it was not the right time for figs”

    • We you seem to be a mean-spirited person! Re-read that original post: even if it is not the time for figs to be ripe, a tree in mid-April may have some early fruit. The analogy works even better since since at best Israel was producing bitter, unripe fruit.

      I am not sloppy or crappy at all.

  7. I find it weird that Jesus curses the fig tree. The fig tree was barren and wasn’t producing any fruit so I do not see why it would not be healed into of cursed. However, I do note that this may be apart of the cleansing. In the cleansing, Jesus denounced Israel as a nation. In cursing the fig Jesus was effectively denouncing Israel again. A presence of a fruitful fig tree is usually considered a blessing whereas that of an unfruitful fig tree is that of judgement or a curse. The cursing of the fig tree was a foreshadowing of the upcoming judgment of Israel. John 15:5 also supports this saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” In this verse it shows that God judges fruitlessness and those who are fruitful in spirit have a good relationship with him. Therefore, those who are good in spirit bear much fruit while those who are not in good spirit are fruitless. God judges us on the content of our character and the goodness or our actions, also the thoughts behind those actions. If we want to remain fruitful we must remain a level head that keeps the fruits of the spirit.

  8. Honestly, when I first read this passage I thought, “How could God cursing a fig tree be important?”. This was due to the fact that I am so trained to read the Bible at face value, and to dig deeper into the meaning of messages as “necessary”. In Mark 11, Jesus was with his 12 disciples on the way to Jerusalem when He saw the barren tree. When Jesus said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again”, the disciples were probably just as confused with this as I was initially with the passage (Mark 11:14). The unfaithfulness of the Israelites was not revealed until later in the passage when Jesus and His disciples passed the withered, cursed fig tree on the way out of Jerusalem (Mark 11: 20-25). It was in the temple in Jerusalem, that His disciples witnessed Jesus’ anger with the unfaithfulness of the Israelite people. When they passed through the temple in Jerusalem, the Israelites had turned the temple into a marketplace, disrespecting and honoring the Lord’s house.

    Throughout the Bible, the fig tree is used as a symbol to represent a barren Israel. The tree itself is the collective people of Israel while the figs represent the fruit produced – in this case, unfaithfulness. The withered fig tree represented how far the Israelites were from God. In the Bible, “fruit” is typically in reference or relevance to the fruits of the spirit. In Galatians 5:22, the Scripture clearly mentions that “faithfulness” is a fruit of the spirit amongst others. Even though Israel was a terrible example for demonstrating and experiencing faithfulness, this story of the withered/cursed fig tree is a great example of how unfaithfulness works. While this might not be the most ideal of examples to demonstrate the fruit of faithfulness, it is still a modern day, applicable encouragement to glorify God through the adaptation of any/all of the fruits of the spirit.

  9. Markan sandwiches are intriguing to look at as we see deeper meanings in Marks’s stories. When Jesus comes to the fig tree and sees it has no fruit, so He is rightfully ashamed of the tree. It can be easy to look at this short passage and think, oh it is like a Christian life if it does not bear fruit. This, however, is not Jesus’ point, He is looking bigger to the nation itself. We see this as we go into the in-between story. Here Jesus is the temple situation as He tips over tables and calls them a “den of thieves.” Jesus expected to find fruit on the tree, just like he expected to find a fruitful religious heart in Israel, specifically the temple. When Jesus went and did not find that, He was disappointed, and cursed the tree. This is interesting to look at what this means for the nation of Israel. Again, context is key to this story, especially the Markan sandwich.

  10. “Jesus is looking for fruit in a place that He has every right to find fruit, but He doesn’t find it” (Phillip Long). I think that this sentence really drives home an important point. Israel was supposed to be the light to the world, but they were not. There was supposed to be fruit on the fig tree, but there was not. I definitely think that you could legitimately think about this parable in the way that the post is presenting because the nation of Israel has been given multiple opportunities to repent, but as Stephen says before he is stoned, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” (Acts 7:51-52, ESV). Not only did the house of Israel kill the messengers of God, but they even rejected His own son. However, this does not mean that God has fully rejected His people. As said by the Apostle Paul in Romans 11:1, “I ask, then, has God rejected His people? By no means!” (ESV). God is still keeping a remnant of Israel, despite their continual rejection and despite their continual blindness, He still loves them. What a great God we have…

  11. As stated in class the fig tree is expected to have fruit. Whether that be last year’s fruit leftover or this year’s fruit that’s not ripe yet. Jesus’ disciples say that it is not the season for figs but that doesn’t mean that the tree won’t have fruit. It was not uncommon for the fig trees to have some fruit leftover that dried up. If Jesus is using the tree to symbolize the people of Israel not having fruit to bear I wonder if this could also be seen as Jesus saying the fruit didn’t even have to be “ripe” or “current fruit”. He could even be alluding to there being no past harvest or future harvest for the land of Israel. While I don’t think this affects the main point of the story it is at least interesting to consider what Jesus might have been alluding to.

  12. The symbolism within this parable seems to be very clear. I could not help but notice that Jesus almost shows a reverse of this parable when he meets Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and considered a “sinner” by others. He was a thief and cheated those out of their money as he admits to. Where Jesus would not have come expecting a fruitful religious heart in a tax collector he found fruit and repentance. As Jesus as walking through the town Zacchaeus was too short to see Jesus. Luke 19:4 says, “So he [Zacchaeus] ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way” If the fig tree was a noticeable reference to Israel’s heart the people watching and later hearing the story may have noticed this (Luke 19:4). As Luke 19 goes on, Jesus tells Zacchaeus to come down because he is going to his house which would have been shocking considering how dirty and sinful tax collectors were deemed to be. Zacchaeus “came down at once and welcomed him gladly” and said, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19). Zacchaeus’s response to Jesus shows his faith and the genuine fruit that came from his faith in Jesus was his repentance even as people were mumbling about him. Then Jesus exclaims, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19). Jesus blesses Zacchaeus an unsuspected source of faith and fruit and cursed the fig tree (temple) which was supposed to have it. I cannot help but think that the subtle mention of the sycamore-fig that Zacchaeus climbed may have more meaning. Perhaps the sycamore-fig was mentioned to bring the parable and the way Jesus interacted with broken people full circle and show both sides to the story of condemnation for the refusal of repentance and grace for the broken with great faith in Jesus.

  13. The parallel I see here is that you could appear to be doing everything right, but if at the heart of the action there is no deeper understanding or desire, the appearance does not matter if there is nothing being produced. What is the point of going through the motions if you are going to fail to reach the goal. Jesus’ anger towards the fig tree exemplifies his anger at his people when they only care about the image and not the product.

  14. In the story of the fruitless fig tree, there are a number of lessons modern Christians can take away and use to strengthen their spiritual lives. Firstly, it should be noted that Jesus is not teaching that those who are not currently bearing fruit are cursed for the remainder of their time on earth. Instead, Jesus is teaching that – if he finds a person to be fruitless at judgment day – they will be cursed and separated from God until the end of the age, meaning the end of time (Strauss 464). Essentially, Jesus is using the fig tree to describe the fruitlessness of the first-century Jews and to describe what happens to one who lives their life without bearing good fruit that helps the kingdom (Strauss 464). If the fig tree had been fruitful, Jesus would have been nourished, revitalized, energized, and possibly able to teach more people. However, he was left hungry and without proper energy. Similarly, if a person bears good fruit by living a holy and helpful life, they will increase the scope and effectiveness of the Kingdom. But, if they do not bear good fruit by living sinfully, then they will hinder the Kingdom and be justly cursed by God at the end of days.

    It is also worth mentioning that Jesus could have performed a much different miracle which would have described the Kingdom in a much different way… just as easily as Jesus cursed the fig tree, he could have caused the fig tree to grow fruit immediately before the disciple’s eyes. He also could have left the tree alone, and then cursed it later on after coming back to find that it still bore no fruit. He also could have expressed anger toward the tree’s fruitlessness, but still blessed the tree rather than cursing it. However, he does not do any of this, revealing several things about the Kingdom of God. Firstly, there are no second chances on judgment day. The fig tree had all the chances in the world to bear fruit prior to Jesus’ appearance. There could have been ripe figs, or winter figs, or even figs that were not yet ripe (Long, 2014). However, because there were none he curses the tree immediately. He doesn’t give a warning, he doesn’t grow figs himself, but instead, he curses the tree right then and there due to its fruitlessness. This also proves that “Love Wins” is just a silly bumper sticker with no real theological basis. The tree is withered, and that is final. Jesus does not walk by and say, “you silly tree, I asked you to bear fruit but you didn’t. Well, it’s ok because you will be strong and prosperous anyway.” Instead, he establishes that the fruitless will be cursed until the end of the age. No ifs, ands, ors, or buts.

  15. Quick preface: I love this class because I had not taken biblical classes before coming to Grace… ever! So learning about the “Synoptic Gospels”, and what the heck a “Markan-sandwich” is, really has helped me understand the gospel writers so much better thanks a lot P. Long. This particular Markan-sandwich is so interestingly referring to God’s people, his church. The way Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem before the Passover, as millions are coming to Jerusalem to do “churchy” things to maintain their religion and practices, he sees all these people just performing on the outside and showing this image of being a people who bear good fruit for God. Yet, Jesus is far more concerned with issues of the heart of worship, and by Mark including in his story sandwich we see that Jesus was quite unhappy with the “worship” (buying and selling) happening in the temple. Jesus curses the fig tree, comparing it to the nation of Israel, explaining for the readers that pretending to bear fruit when you are not, is much worse than living and being as you are, striving to bear fruit and do good works but not faking it.

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