A parable is a spiritual lesson Jesus taught using everyday objects. In the case of the parable of the fig tree, Jesus is instructing his people to be watchful, to understand the times, and to be ready.
I can’t think of a time that this parable is more applicable for us than today.
We are going to answer all of the following questions in this post and hopefully align our hearts and minds with God’s purpose and plan for the time in which we live.
What lessons does the parable of the fig tree hold for you? Why is the fig tree important in Hebrew culture? What other verses mention the fig tree? We are going to answer these questions and more, so grab a cup of your favorite drink and let’s get started.
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What is the Parable of the Fig Tree?
The parable of the fig tree is included in three of the four gospels and worded almost exactly the same. Jesus tells us this parable just after prophesying of end-time events.
Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Matthew 24:32-33 NIV
- The sun and moon shall be darkened
- The stars will fall from the skies
- The Son of Man will appear from Heaven
- The angels will give a trumpet call
- False messiah’s will come
- There will be great distress
Not a whole lot of positivity going on here!
Now, everyone has different thoughts on end-time events and this post isn’t about summing them up. What I do want to emphasize though is that we are instructed to beware and watchful.
What are we watching for?
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42-44)
One thing we are watching for is Jesus’s return. When I watch too much news and get caught up in the pain and suffering of the world around me, my heart longs for a home in a way it never has before.
Another thing we are watching for is truth. We are warned that there will be false messiahs and false prophets. We do NOT want to be following the wrong man!
What Does the Fig Tree Symbolize?
So, why is the fig tree important in the Bible? What does the fig tree represent?
The fig tree is an important tree in the Middle East and is mentioned over 50 times in scripture. It has held an agricultural significance since ancient times.
Fig trees give two harvests. One in spring around Passover and one in fall just before the fall feasts.
Some think that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was actually a fig tree as it was believed in ancient times to make one wise.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)
God often uses the fig tree to represent wealth, abundance, and blessings. He also compares Israel to a fig tree.
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil, and honey; (Deuteronomy 8:7-8)
“When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your ancestors, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. (Hosea 9:10)
It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees. It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, leaving their branches white. (Joel 1:7)
Jesus has an experience with a fig tree which we are going to talk about in just a minute in which Israel is again represented. James also mentions the fig tree.
My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:12)
It is clear that figs were a common staple in Israel.
Why Did Jesus Curse the Fig Tree?
There is another story of Jesus and a fig tree that is worth discussing. It is found in Mark 11.
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:13-14)
Jesus continues onto the temple where he is frustrated by the money makers and the complete lack of sincerity and respect for God’s temple and His laws. This is the most aggressive we see Jesus as he throws over tables and chases out the business owners.
The next morning Jesus and his disciples pass by the fig tree again and just as you would expect, it is dead. Peter exclaims, “Rabbi look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24)
So, why did Jesus curse the fig tree? Notice these two things:
- Jesus immediately makes this a lesson about faith.
- This occurred on Jesus’s way to the temple where he makes a point of showing his fellow Jews that they had fallen from obedience to the law and their worship of the true God was merely ceremonial and not from their hearts.
Less than a week later Jesus stands before the people as they shout “Crucify him!” He has been rejected by the people he came to save. He came to them as the promised Messiah and they hung him on a cross and left him to die.
The fig tree bore no fruit, rejecting God and His son.
Lessons from the Cursed Fig Tree
What can we learn from our fig tree?
It’s all about our hearts. The Jewish people were going through the motions, performing the sacrifices, but they meant little. Their hearts were not in it. How often do we check all the boxes, but forget to give God our hearts? We go to church, sing praises, participate in activities, but are we taking up our cross and following Jesus? Are we following Jesus’s words from Matthew 16:25?
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
Samuel tells King Saul that obedience is better than sacrifice.
Recognize the times. If we go back to the parable of the fig tree in which Jesus tells us to be aware of the times, we can see that the same lesson is to be learned in the cursed fig tree. The people missed Jesus as their promised Messiah because they were not looking at the times.
What is Jesus trying to show you? What doors is He opening that you have not considered because they do not line up with what you have planned or “think” God has planned for you. Which prayers are you considering unanswered because you have not received the answer you are looking for.
Never underestimate the power of prayer. The fig tree was simply doing what it was created to do. Growing along the side of the road. Jesus turns the dead tree into a lesson about faith, reminding us if we pray in faith believing and do not doubt, God will grant us our request.
The fig tree in Jesus’s parable teaches us to be ready. How are we to be ready? In part, by nurturing our prayer life. This keeps us looking on spiritual things, connects us to God, and allows us to hear directly from the only one who knows what is coming our way.
Always be ready. Now, it wasn’t entirely the fault of the fig tree that it had no fruit because as scripture tells us, it was not the time for figs. Israel was not ready to accept Jesus as their Messiah.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-26)
What about you? Are you ready to be Jesus’s disciple?
Peter instructs us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Are you ready to take to heart the parable of the fig tree?
Be sure to read more from our Parables Series!