For this next section of the lesson series “The People of God Must Produce Fruit” I want to warn you to get ready, because at this point I am going to severely increase the level of intensity, seriousness, and importance of being fruitful for the kingdom of God for you. This lesson will unpack extremely important Biblical concepts that God deeply desires for us to grasp. If Lesson 1 did not instill a fear of the Lord within you, then this section most certainly will. It is extremely important that you grasp the entire scope of this lesson, so after reading this section I highly encourage you to continue on to Lesson 3, which explains how to produce good fruit for the kingdom, otherwise you could be at risk for misunderstanding the entirety of this lesson and fall into deep self-condemnation or religious legalism; neither of which are God’s will for you. Let us explore a very peculiar and often misunderstood recorded account in scripture: The account of Jesus cursing the fig tree.
At first glance this entire event seems like an extremely unusual addition to scripture. Why was this seemingly random act of judgment against a tree specifically recorded by Matthew and Mark at all? Why did God make sure this event was added to the Bible? What did Jesus have against a tree and did Jesus destroy someone else’s property by cursing the fig tree?
Truthfully, there are very many lessons that can be taught from this one, simple account recorded about Jesus cursing the fig tree, but this post will only cover a couple sub-topics. As you read, prepare to understand why this one event was so important to God that He made sure it would be included in His word. This event not only revealed the importance of God’s people producing kingdom fruit, but, amazingly, this event actually foretells of a climactic moment in history that God anticipated since the dawn of creation! Believe it or not but this single, symbolic event of cursing the fig tree can be connected to the Lord giving all of the Gentile nations of the earth access to the kingdom of heaven! Wow! Who would have thought that such a small passage in scripture could pack in so much meaning and prophetic significance?
A general truth is that oftentimes when seeking wisdom and understanding of scripture you will find that some of the strangest and seemingly most insignificant passages typically contain some of the most profound messages! I would encourage you to never pass by anything in scripture and shrug it off as incomprehensible or irrelevant. Truthfully, there is great treasure hidden within all passages in scripture and the diligent find it! This is because: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2) This proverb isn’t saying that kings of the earth are the only ones who search, but that those who search are considered to be kings by God! Seeking out hidden wisdom in the word of God is a privilege and an honor – so treat it like it is! The account of Jesus cursing the fig tree is one such concealed passage. Okay, let’s first take a look at the account from Matthew’s perspective, and then the parallel account from the synoptic Gospel of Mark.
Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?” –Matthew 21:18-20
Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” And His disciples heard it… Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” –Mark 11:12-14, 20-21
From these seemingly incomprehensible passages there is much understanding to gain. Even though there are many lessons that can be gleaned from this one, small, divinely planned moment in Biblical history, the scope of this post will only cover two topics: the people of God must produce fruit in season and out of season, and the prophetic implications of this seemingly insignificant event.
You are about to see that not only are we expected to produce fruit on a regular basis, but we are expected to produce fruit continually, all the time, without end. Do not be deceived into believing that Christianity is an on and off kind of lifestyle. Following Christ and producing good fruit is a lifelong, 52 week per year, 7 day a week, 24 hour per day, day and night, never-ending lifestyle. It does not take vacations or holidays, it does not relax, it does not take breaks, and it never stops going. When you are changed by Christ you need to realize that you are transformed completely and permanently, so how could ever you go back to the old life that you used to live in? We are like a light bulb that has been turned on and cannot (or should not) go out again!
The People of God Must Produce Fruit – In Season and Out of Season
The first, and most important lesson, is that God has an expectation that His people should produce fruit in season and out of season. Did you notice in the verses above that it didn’t matter that it was not the season for figs, but that Jesus expected to find fruit anyways, did not, and thus the tree was cursed? “When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.” The warning here is simple: Jesus will come at an hour we do not expect and we are instructed to always be ready for His arrival. Clearly, the fig tree was not ready for the arrival of Jesus, who was looking for good fruit and did not find some, therefore Jesus did not hesitate to make an example of this tree for our benefit, thus it was cursed and immediately withered away.
It is clear that it didn’t matter whether it was the season for fruit or not. Jesus came at an unexpected hour seeking fruit, and did not find any. Therefore Jesus, the righteous Judge, immediately cursed the fig tree due to its lack of fruit! In Matthew, Jesus is described using the words, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again,” and Mark records Him saying, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”
On a side note, before I continue with the explanation of this passage I want to quickly touch on an important topic. Many people see similar verses such as the two above and believe there is a contradiction in the Bible. So which is it: did Jesus command that fruit wouldn’t grow again or that no one would eat fruit from it again? Allow me to reveal something emphatically to you right now: There is no such thing as a contradiction in the Bible. Not even one exists. People are constantly looking for reasons to doubt. They doubt God, they doubt his word (or Word), and thus they remain in unbelief (doubt = unbelief). The reason we regularly fall into doubt is because we are constantly tempted to trust what our eyes see more than we trust God, and yet we are repeatedly told to “walk by faith and not by sight…” (2 Corinthians 5:7). What some people see with their eyes in these verses are two slightly differing messages, but truly it is one message declared in two different ways. From Matthew: the tree is not allowed to grow fruit, thus no one will ever eat fruit from it again; and from Mark: no one will ever eat fruit from it again, thus the tree will not grow fruit. Matthew and Mark are recording the same thing in slightly different ways. It is very typical in eyewitness testimonies for witnesses to report the same event with minor differences, and truthfully, these slightly different accounts add more credibility and information to the story rather than subtract from its accuracy. Think of it like this: different witnesses will always have slightly different perspectives of the same event. It doesn’t mean one or the other is lying or in error, but all it means is that they perceived the same moment from two different angles, therefore it must be slightly different for each of them. I hope this makes sense to you, but I will continue with the main topic of this post.
What is the central message of Jesus forbidding fruit from growing on this seemingly innocent tree again? The message is quite clear: do not, ever, be caught by God being unproductive, because He might come searching for fruit from YOU in an hour you do not expect and YOU will likewise be judged! If you are not found bearing fruit when God comes seeking it then what do you think will happen to you in that critical moment? Do you think that Jesus will treat you any differently than He did the fig tree? He absolutely will not treat you differently!
Has the idea of being unproductive instilled a fear of the Lord in you yet? I certainly hope so! Never forget that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), so embrace it because it is a good thing!
Thankfully, producing fruit for the kingdom is much easier than we tend to think it is, because very little is up to us, but I will get into that in part 3 of this lesson series. For now, let’s find some other scriptures that confirm the Biblical theme of being ready in season and out of season:
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. –2 Timothy 4:2
“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their masters, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?” And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” –Luke 12:35-48
“Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” –Matthew 24:44
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” –Matthew 25:1-13
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. –1 Peter 3:15
The most simple, all-encompassing reason that you are required to produce fruit nonstop, 24 hours a day, for the rest of your life after accepting Christ is because of the power of God within you which has transformed you. You must realize that you are fully and completely changed when Christ comes into your life and there is no going back again. You literally become a brand new tree, and the tree you become has never-ending fruit growing from it! This will be explained in greater detail in Lesson 3, but let’s move onto the second section of this lesson describing prophecy surrounding the cursed fig tree.
The Prophetic Picture
The prophetic implications of this passage are a completely other subject altogether, and they cause the inferences of this beautiful passage of scripture to become even more staggering. I had to include this section into the lesson, because it is so profound. We will start by recognizing the fact that the cursed tree was located outside of God’s holy city, Jerusalem, and as Jesus was getting ready to enter the city He saw this tree. There is no fruit found on the literal fig tree, it is cursed by God, and then immediately Jesus enters the city of God, Jerusalem. Prophetically, it is easy to recognize that there is a symbolic message hidden within this scene. Let’s look at the entire picture here: Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore He is the Master and Owner of the entire city of Jerusalem, including the fig tree outside it. How do I know that He is the Owner of the tree? Simple, because God is the creator of the entire universe and He owns absolutely everything in it. Not to mention the fact that the tree is located by the road near Jerusalem, which is undoubtedly proven in scripture to be God’s city and earthly property. People sometimes wonder if Jesus destroyed someone else’s property by cursing the fig tree, but the answer is definitely no because all property, and especially this particular property for that matter, belong to God.
Anyways, let’s get back on topic. Jesus is going to look for some good fruit on the Jerusalem fig tree and finds none, so therefore the tree is judged, and all of this occurs right outside His city that He left in charge of men. Immediately following this event, Jesus, the Master and Owner of both the tree and Jerusalem itself, is preparing to enter His city and do the exact same thing He did with the fig tree, which is to examine His city and the stewards of His city for fruit… Now, what do you think He discovers upon entering His holy city where He rightfully expects to find fruit?? He finds NONE!! From afar off it might seem like God’s servants (the chief priests and the Pharisees) who are in charge might have some fruit, but upon closer examination Jesus discovers the same issue as the fig tree – a complete lack of fruit. And what do you think Jesus did after that discovery…?
Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ “ –Mark 11:15-17
We immediately see judgment! Jesus doesn’t mess around, nor does He delay in acting upon the discovery of a lack of fruit – just like He did not delay in cursing the fig tree. Considering this very important section of scripture, we should be wise and assume that the same applies today, and that He will not mess around or delay if He discovers a lack of fruit in us. This is a very serious lesson from God and I pray that you take it seriously! I encourage you to continue reading into the context of this event, because what we see immediately following the cleansing of the temple is Jesus telling three very direct parables that all specifically warn of judgment (see below). Now are you starting to see how significant it was when Jesus cursed the fig tree outside Jerusalem? This event had very deep, symbolic meaning to God and its importance still very much applies to our lives today. Let’s read the three parables Jesus tells right after He overturns the tables in the temple to bring more contextual clarity into this event:
“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” [The chief priests and Pharisees] said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.“ –Matthew 21:28-31
The chief priests and Pharisees had a big problem that they were unwilling to address before God. They said they would do God’s will and did not, and Jesus directly points that out in this parable. Therefore, they are symbolic of the fig tree; they were designed to produce fruit, but when the Master came and discovered nothing of value they were rightfully judged! Just so you know, the tax collectors and harlots Jesus speaks about are representative of sinners or Gentiles who we see offered access to the kingdom as a result of the initial “tree of God” (i.e. the Jews) not being worthy of His kingdom.
“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” [The chief priests and Pharisees] said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. –Matthew 21:33-45
Again, Jesus illustrates how the vinedressers were leased the vineyard in order to produce fruit for the landowner, but when the landowner sends his servants and even his own son, those vinedressers horribly mistreat the servants and then even kill the son. And the judgment from the landowner is fitting for those vinedressers. They will be killed and the vineyard will be leased to other vinedressers who will render the fruit to the landowner. Just to be clear the “nation” that Jesus is referring to who will be given the kingdom of God is representative of the Gentiles.
And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.” ‘ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” –Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus is declaring that those initially invited to the wedding feast were not worthy to attend and so they were destroyed, and the king searched for other guests. Why weren’t they worthy? Because they made light of the invitation, didn’t take it seriously, and even treated the kings messengers terribly, killing them. This is the opposite of being fruitful – this is being unfruitful, unproductive, unwise, and evil. Their judgment was fitting, as was the judgment of the man who was caught in the wedding feast without a wedding garment, because he also took the invitation lightly and thought he could come to the wedding unprepared (consider the parable of the 10 virgins as well). This man was also unfruitful and thought he could sneak in later, but was cast out just as he deserved to be. Don’t ever make the mistake of taking God’s invitation to His wedding feast lightly – you’ll regret it deeply if you do. Also notice that the king made sure that his wedding feast was filled with guests, and so he sent his servants to the highways to fill the hall with guests (both good and bad). This is another representation of God extending His grace to the Gentiles (who are both good and bad, but are redeemed and transformed), because His own people were found unworthy.
Was the event of Jesus cursing the fig tree symbolically representative of the spiritual state of Israel at the time? Yes. Was the event also a direct warning to us to not fall in a similar way that Israel fell at that time? Absolutely, Yes! If Israel, the original tree (or branch) of the Lord, was found unworthy, did not produce fruit, and was broken off, then you, who were grafted into the tree of the Lord should consider both His goodness and His severity, lest you also be cut off! Don’t ever stop being thankful that God was good enough to graft you into His kingdom, and also make sure to never stop fearing Him either, or else you will be at risk for taking His invitation into the kingdom lightly and you likewise will be cut off as well!
For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became partakers of the root and the fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and the severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? –Romans 11:16-24
To summarize this lesson:
Always produce fruit for the kingdom. Always be ready. Fear the Lord.
To continue with this lesson series, click here to proceed to Lesson 3…
If you enjoy these lessons, please consider buying the book: Are Christians Sinners?