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.  There 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?

13 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.

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  2. It’s safe to say that this is a huge warning sign to the Jews because of the way they have adopted religion instead of a deep relationship with God. Instead of embracing a heart after God’s (like David), they have embraced a list of strict rules and haughty hearts. I do not, however, think that this action is God’s proclamation that Israel has been cut off already and is past the point of no-return. Looking at the fig tree as a warning, leads us to also look at the Temple action as an equal warning of the coming destruction to the Jews, if they do not choose the way of life found in Jesus. Israel would be restored as God’s chosen people like Strauss says, “the restoration of Israel is the inauguration of a greater plan to defeat Satan, sin, and death and to bring restoration and reconciliation to a fallen creation” (479). The important part is that Israel must choose to believe in Jesus and not their set of strict laws and rules. They must embrace grace, not law-following. The fig tree presented Jesus with the opportunity to openly present this warning to the Jews, but even more brazenly warned them through the Temple Action that follows. Mark does a good job of aligning these events in order to portray the deep caution Jesus was giving to the Jews to change their hearts focus in order to be saved.

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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)!

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  5. 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?

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  6. 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!

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  7. 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”

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    • 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.

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