Leafy Belief vs. Fruit-Bearing Faith
When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? Luke 18:8
Jesus was hungry. When He saw a fig tree full of leaves, He expected to find figs. Even though it was not yet the season for figs, leaves usually signaled the presence of figs. But this tree had no fruit. Jesus cursed the tree and it withered all the way down to its roots (Mark 11:12-14; 20-21).
At first glance, the curse might be difficult to understand. One clue to its significance is the Old Testament use of the fig tree as an image. The first use occurred when Adam and Eve sinned. “They realized they were naked, so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:7).
But God knew the leaves would soon wither and would not sufficiently cover them. He also knew Adam and Eve’s nakedness was related to sin. Only an animal sacrifice could provide the spiritual covering needed (Genesis 3:21).
Another Old Testament use of the fig tree as an image is the nation of Israel. The animal sacrifices continued under the Mosaic Law. They needed to be done continually for thousands of years. Israel did no better than Adam and Eve had. They sinned and turned away from God.
To settle the sin problem and its curse, a perfect sacrifice was needed. In Mark 11, Jesus, the Son of God, was journeying to Jerusalem to die. Because of His sinless life, death, and resurrection, His righteousness would be imputed to all who would believe.
When Jesus explained the cursing of the fig tree to His disciples, He spoke of having faith to speak to mountains and see them move—God-given faith.
Jesus had found little fruit of faith in Israel. Some Jews believed He was the Son of God, but the nation as a whole rejected Him. Instead, Jesus found “leaves”— the appearance of belief, outward legalistic ritual, and religious people busy doing good deeds—but little fruit-bearing faith.
Could this also be a description of the people of God today? Is our faith just leaves—outward religion—but no figs, no God-given, fruit-bearing faith?
Jesus expects His servants to bear fruit. Do others see fruit-bearing faith in your life? Do you have the kind of faith in God that moves mountains?
The fig tree Jesus cursed was in Bethphage, a hamlet between Jericho and Jerusalem, close to Bethany where He had spent the night. Bethphage means “house of unripe figs.”* Was Jesus wrong to expect figs at this spot? Why or why not?
Jesus’ parable about the fig tree recorded in Luke 13:6-9 might shed some light on the cursing of the fig tree in Mark 11. Jesus’ three years of ministry compares to that of the man in the parable who was looking for fruit. How would you explain the other details in the parable? Who were the two men? What is the significance of waiting another year? How many years later did judgment come to Israel, specifically Jerusalem?
Intertwined with this event is the cleansing of the temple (see Mark 11:15-19 and 22-33). How could these events be related in light of Jesus’ impending death?
Do you think this cleansing of the temple was a second one or the same one as described in John 2:13-17? If different, why do you think Jesus would do this both at the beginning and at the end of His ministry?
Nancy J. Baker
*”Greek Lexicon: G967 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 17 March, 2014. http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G967