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.
Enjoy this article? Why not sign up to our free email list and we’ll notify you about new articles as soon they come out. No spam, we promise.
Want to see these messages of radical love and grace reach more? Support E2R on Patreon.