Why would Jesus opt to curse a fig tree; yet we find out that it was not its season? What message was He trying to put across to the disciples? What can we pick from this episode? These are basic yet fundamental questions we need to engage for a proper analysis of this scripture. Essentially, the story of the fig tree appears twice in the scripture that is in Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-14. While these scriptures capture a similar illustration, they come with slight differences in terms of context and order of events. In this particular article, we are going to look at the primary aspect of the fig. We need to respond to the question; why would Jesus subject judgment to a fig tree that was not in season? Was He exercising His authority judiciously? Is there something more we need to learn from these episodes?
The events leading to this episode take place during the week before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus comes into Jerusalem amid fan fare and excitement. Most notably, the fanfare was associated with the expectation that He was the Messiah or King that would deliver them from the strong arm of the Roman occupation. The following day, Jesus is on His was to Jerusalem from where He was staying in Bethany. However, on His way Matthew and Mark record that, He was hungry. In that state, He saw a fig tree from a distance that had many leaves and supposed that it had fruit.
Even though Peter reckons that it was not its season to bear fruit, it was duly expected to have some fruits. NT scholars note that fig trees produced little knobs eaten by a passerby even before their season. F.F Bruce, a renowned NT scholar notes that when fig leaves appear about the end of March, they are accompanied by a crop of small knobs, called taqsh by the Arabs, a sort of a forerunner of the real figs. Peasants and others when hungry eat the taqsh. They drop off before the real fig is formed. However, if the leaves appear unaccompanied by taqsh, there will be no figs that year.
What is the scriptural significance of this episode? Jesus was clearly denouncing Israel’s empty worship. We are living in an age where the same is happening. Christians speak great things about their faith, but their lives are empty. In a sense, we are seeing a generation of unfruitful Christians who fill the pews on Sunday, but come Monday and the rest of the week their lifestyles do not reflect their professed faith. Jesus pronouncing a curse is synonymous to declaring judgment on people who lead outwardly religious lives yet they are spiritually barren.
The primary lesson is that a fig tree should bear spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). God will always judge fruitfulness, and will expect is to have a meaningful and practical relationship with Him so that we can bear much fruit (John 15:5-8).