The Parable of the Fig Tree (Luke 13:6–9)

A man had a fig tree, which had been planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, “Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?” And he answered and said to him, “Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.” (Luke 13:6–9)

John, the last of the old covenant prophets, urged the religious Jews to “Bear the fruit of repentance” (Matt. 3:8), but they didn’t listen. “The axe is already at the root of the tree,” warned John (Matthew 3:10). Still nothing. Then for three years Jesus searched Israel in vain for the fruit of faith.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem at the start of his final week, the people waved branches without fruit. The next morning, Jesus cursed a fruitless fig tree (Mark 11:14).

Oh, the symbolism!

But what does the parable of the fig tree mean?

Mr. Preterist: “The parable foreshadowed God cutting down Israel in AD70.”

Except the cursed fig tree withered straight away (Matthew 21:19), not 40 years later, and God didn’t cut down Israel; the Israelites cut themselves off through unbelief (see Rom. 11:2, 20).

The parable is about how unbelief can kill you. If your neighbor wakes you in the middle of the night shouting, “Your house is on fire,” but you don’t believe him, you could die. For three years Jesus warned the Jews with tears that they were on course for destruction, yet they didn’t listen.

So Jesus cursed a fig tree.

As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Being reminded, Peter said to him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God.” (Mark 11:20–22)

Look again at the last four words in that passage. The punch line of the parable is not produce fruit or else, but have faith in God. The religious Jews trusted in themselves. Their source was self and their root was their downfall. Just as the fig tree withered from the roots up, the religious Jews rotted from the inside-out.

What should they have done? They should have listened to Jesus. They should have abandoned their quest for self-improvement and put their faith in God. Had they been grafted into the living Vine they would have been saved from sin and Romans.

And the takeaway for us?

The lesson of the fig tree is not “God will smite you if you don’t perform,” but “Jesus is the life.” To reject the Author of Life is to reject life itself.

Those who trust in Jesus have nothing to fear. The believer need not fear the axe at the root because Jesus is our Root and the root sustains us (Rev. 22:16).

The believer feels no pressure to produce fruit because Jesus is the Vine and it is his fruit we bear.

The believer does not strive to become holy, because “as the root is holy, so are the branches” (Rom. 11:16).

Those connected to the living Vine have nothing in common with the barren fig tree.

Extracted and adapted from chapter 21 of Paul Ellis’ book AD70 and the End of the World.

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17 Comments on The Parable of the Fig Tree (Luke 13:6–9)

  1. Isn’t it sad that many do not see and believe all the positive messages that Jesus proclaims throughout the scriptures? Jesus is THE ETERNAL LIFE (1 Jn 1:2; 5:20). When we have Him we have The Life.

    Thank you for an excellent exposition.

  2. Marlon Sparks // October 4, 2018 at 1:29 am // Reply

    SOOO GOOD!! 👍

  3. This is Good News! Thanks!

  4. The problem is that the vast majority of Christian churches in the USA use this and many others to perpetuate fear in the hearts of believers. I was taught from childhood that I must obey God’s laws or suffer eternal conscious torment. I developed severe depression and OCD as a result. Now, over 50 years later, good people are teaching the truth. No one is justified by self effort but the Son of God has reconciled the world to the Father, not counting our sins against us and giving us His perfect righteousness. The churches have failed to teach the truth and are losing whatever influence they had as a result.

    • David it is hard to express the amount of damage the doctrine we have believed in has done to us. It makes me sad to think that 7 years ago I felt God wanted me to know I had one more year to get myself sorted out, to make myself worthy of His saving me! I had read this particular parable, and thought this is my last chance, God has had it up to ‘here’ with me! Thank God he lead me to find some Grace preachers, and I dared to believe that God just plain loved me and He had qualified me, Jesus had done it all. I remember speaking out loud ‘God loves me’ and it made me smile! It is now such a joy to see scripture in a different light… and know that Jesus is the only true picture of God.
      This post is great, thank you Paul.

      • What an amazing change for you! It is beyond maddening that the churches have put so many in bondage to fear and insecurity when – if they only taught the truth the results would be people living joyful, pure, abundant lives. Instead they produce and endless cycle of self-effort, failure, bitter regret and sadness, repentence and back to self-effort (with mega doses of hypocrisy, pride and judgementalism).
        Jesus took away all our sins, carried all our griefs, renews us with His mind, teaches us with His Spirit and tells us He has given us His abundant life. We are to rest and walk in His life. Every day He pours out an abundant provision of grace for anyone who will receive it. If churches refuse to teach the truth, we are much better off without them.

  5. Jenny Beauchamp // October 4, 2018 at 7:31 am // Reply

    wonderful words of encouragement…thank you!
    Question: Are works and fruit of the Spirit the same?

    • What do you think?

    • Gerald Owens // October 5, 2018 at 10:04 pm // Reply

      Fruit, of the non-aboreal sort that we as believers are expected to bear, is defined only once in the New Testament, in Galatians 5:22-23. In the vast majority of the N.T. passages, “works” are specified as the works of the Mosaic Law. Even The two greatest commandments Jesus cited for the lawyer of the Law were specifically cited to be of the Law. Read 2 Corinthians 3, where the letter that kills is specified twice as written in stone. Glorious, to be sure, but not as Glorious as the Spirit that supercedes it.

    • Yes, yes and yes! You can’t separate one from the other! 😉

  6. Another masterpiece of a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
    Well done, Paul. I thank the Lord for you. 🙌

  7. Gerald Owens // October 5, 2018 at 9:39 pm // Reply

    Good interpretation. Two points. First, fruit is defined in the New Testament only once, in Galatians 5:22-23. Secondly, even the abusive mis-users of this passage don’t follow it: if the fig tree is a believer, they should wait 4 YEARS (not four minutes) to see fruit, AND work harder WITH the believer during the fourth year before dismissing them as unfruitful (it’s the gardener, not the fig tree, who does the extra tilling and fertilizing).

  8. Understand how you feel David most churches don’t have clue about grace, they have a blindness so it is just about impossible to explain anything to the leadership in those religious institutions. Hope this is alright to recommend a book called clash of the covenants by mike kapler they have escape to reality by Paul in their links on their website I’ve read most of Paul’s books and they are all very helpful.Thank God for the teaching of these guys to open our understanding of the scriptures

  9. Good stuff!

  10. beautiful

  11. Yay! 🙂

  12. Every time I receive your article am always refreshed and my faith pumped.
    Thank you man of God.

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