In this “passion-week” miracle, Jesus did something unique. Jesus cursed a fig tree.
Earlier in His ministry, when Jesus sent the heard of pigs to their death in the Sea of Galilee (Mark 5:13), His actions seemed harsh, maybe even unfair. However, the act clearly demonstrated the Lord’s absolute authority over Satan and his demonic powers. So it is with the withering fig tree. Jesus’ actions seem uncharacteristically severe, but there was a purpose, a lesson for His disciples.
It was Monday. The “Triumphal Entry” had occurred on Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, Resurrection Sunday. It was the “next day” (Mark 11:12), when Jesus was returning to Jerusalem from his overnight stay in Bethany. “The next day when they went out from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, he went to find out if there was anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again!’ And his disciples heard it” (Mark 11:12–14).
It was springtime. The weather was warming. Flowers were blooming. The deep green leaves on the fig trees were fluttering in the breeze. Jesus knew that it “was not the season for figs.” But examining the tree closely, the One who had created the first tree, “found nothing but leaves.” Did Jesus find the buds that promised to become fruit? No. He “found nothing but leaves.” This tree was barren. These were no buds. Jesus condemned its hypocrisy. The tree looked like a fruit tree, but it was fruitless. Worthless.
After a busy Monday in Jerusalem, Jesus returned to Bethany. On Tuesday “morning, as they were passing by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered’ ”(Mark 11:20-21). Miraculously, “the fig tree withered from the roots up.” The tree had lost its gleaming green. It had yellowed, cast off most of its leaves, and drooped in death.
On Monday, Jesus had cursed the barren tree. On Tuesday, Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled. So, what did Jesus do on Monday that was made clearer by this dramatized parable of the withered fig tree? Jesus cleansed the temple! He condemned the fruitless religiosity of those buying and selling in His Father’s house of prayer (Mark 11:15-19). Israel’s fruitless, hypocritical religion was drooping in death. Jesus condemned it.
A day or two later, “as he was going out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Teacher, look! What massive stones! What impressive buildings!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another—all will be thrown down’ ” (Mark 13:1–2). Much like the withered fig tree, the temple complex was destroyed in 70 A.D. and left in utter ruin. The prophetic parable was fulfilled.
The withered fig tree also revealed Jesus’ power! This prompted Jesus to invite His followers to pray God-sized prayers! “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, everything you pray and ask for—believe that you have received it and it will be yours” (Mark 11:22-24).
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.