Toward the beginning of Mark 11, Jesus goes to eat from a fig tree. However, the fig tree has not bore any fruit and he curses it. Then, after clearing out the temple, Peter sees that the cursed fig tree is now withered. But why did Jesus curse the fig tree? Walter W. Wessel and Mark L. Strauss examined this passage in the revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary. They have some insight to bring, and we’ve shared the excerpt below.

OVERVIEW

The first three verses of this section form the second part of the story of the fig tree (11:12–14), which sandwiches the account of the cleansing of the temple. (For the theological significance of this “intercalation,” see Overview, 11:15–19.)

SCRIPTURE: MARK 11:20-25

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself 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, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’”

COMMENTARY ON WHY JESUS CURSED THE FIG TREE

Mark 11:20-21

The next morning (presumably Tuesday of Passion Week) Jesus and his disciples, on returning to Jerusalem from Bethany, again passed the fig tree. It was totally destroyed (“withered from the roots”). Jesus had predicted that no one would ever eat fruit from it again (v.14); and Peter, remembering what Jesus had said, called his attention to the withered tree (v.21). Jesus does not explicitly interpret the event, yet the meaning seems clear: Jesus’ predicted judgment on the temple will come to pass as surely as did his prediction that the fig tree would wither.

NOTE: Matthew refers to the cursing of the fig tree only after the cleansing of the temple and says the tree withered “at once” (Mt 21:19). These differences fit his tendency to abbreviate and condense episodes (cf. Mt 8:5–13; 9:18–26).

Mark 11:22

We have noted that Jesus cursing the fig tree is closely related to the cleansing of the temple, with both symbolizing God’s judgment against Israel. Yet oddly, Jesus does not make this connection explicit. Instead, in this verse and in the teaching that follows, he links the miracle of the fig tree’s destruction to the power of faith and prayer.

This feature suggests to some commentators that the sayings of vv.22–25 have no historical connection with what precedes and that Mark (or the tradition before them) has added them out of a misunderstanding of the symbolism of the fig tree’s destruction. While this is possible, it is more likely that Jesus took this opportunity to draw a second application from the miracle and that Mark (and Matthew, who follows him) has retained this application.

Jesus uses the incident of the fig tree to teach critical lessons on faith and prayer. The source of the power for performing the miracle is God. He must be the object of our faith.

NOTE: The variant reading that inserts εἰ (ei, “if”) before ἔχετε (echete, “you have”) has rather strong MS support. But it is probably not original, for (1) the solemn “I tell you the truth” is never preceded by a conditional clause, and (2) the introductory “if” probably arose by assimilation to the saying in Luke 17:6 (cf. Mt 21:21).

Mark 11:23

As with previous pronouncements of Jesus, this one is preceded by the solemn introductory formula “I tell you the truth” — a way of indicating its importance. Since Jesus was standing on the Mount of Olives, from which the Dead Sea can be seen on a clear day, he may have been referring specifically to that mountain. Of course, the image of throwing a mountain into the sea is figurative for something that is humanly impossible (Zec 4:7). Jesus is saying that the greatest possible difficulties can be removed when a person has faith (cf. Jas 1:6). A similar image of the power of faith to move mountains appears in the saying concerning the mustard seed in Matthew 17:20 (cf. Lk 17:6).

Mark 11:24

There is a close connection between the kind of faith Jesus speaks of here and prayer. E. Stauffer (New Testament Theology [London: SCM, 1955], 169) clearly brings out this connection: “The ‘faith’ of Mark 11:23f. is a faith that prays. . . . Prayer is the source of its power, and the means of its strength — God’s omnipotence is its sole assurance, and God’s sovereignty its only restriction.” Jesus elsewhere affirms the unlimited power of prayer to accomplish results (Mt 7:7; 18:19; Lk 11:9).

Mark 11:25

Admittedly the transition between v.24 and v.25 is abrupt (with v.24 speaking of faith, v.25 of forgiveness). Still there is a connection. To be effective, prayer must be offered in faith — faith in the all-powerful God, who works miracles. But it must be offered in the spirit of forgiveness. Faith and the willingness to forgive are the two conditions of efficacious prayer. Matthew omits this verse, perhaps because of the abrupt change in subject or because he has provided a parallel saying in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6:14), immediately following the Lord’s Prayer.

Mark 11:26

This verse does not occur in the NIV or most other modern versions because it is not found in the best and most ancient MSS of the NT. It represents an insertion from Matthew 6:15.

EXPOSITOR’S BIBLE COMMENTARY – REVISED

Expositor's Bible Commentary Revised Edition Jesus curse fig tree

In 2012, Zondervan released an update to the Expositor’s Bible Commentary. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Revised Series now includes the work of 56 different authors – 30 of whom are new. Scholarly and accessible, EBC-R reflects the best work from world-class scholars including D. A. Carson, George Guthrie, John Walton, and Andreas Köstenberger. This series contains 13 volumes.

Take a look inside the Expositor’s Bible Commentary or see which version is best for you. Then, add it to your Olive Tree library and start learning!

9 Comments

  1. Please I want to ask this question, was it the season for the fig tree to produce it own fruit? .If it was not the right time for the fig tree to bear fruit, then why did He curse the tree?
    Please send the answer via Email

  2. Okoro Sunday Reply

    Please remember that is our Lord Jesus Christ we are talking about here. God Himself, He knows that it was the fig tree season to produse. God bless you.

  3. Nobody Atoll Reply

    The answer is clearly obvious. Despite the differences in the Gospels, one thing is clear. God hates figs.

    • Actually, people have assumed left and right, but I think your joke is actually the truth…sort of. He doesn’t hate figs, but what the fig tree stands for, man’s covering up of his sin in the Garden. Fig trees represent SHAME and God does hate shame.

    • Michael G Griesmer Reply

      What we need to see specifically (besides the Word on faith and prayer) is that Jesus is about to bring in The New Covenant. There is going to come in through the Cross, the righteousness of GOD. Self righteousness is what Jesus cursed. The righteousness of the law (which was really non-existent) is what Jesus cursed. For by the works of the law is no flesh justified! And Adam’s fig leaves could never cover our nakedness. We must put our trust only in the Grace Of Our Lord Jesus Christ and fulfill Zechariah 4:6-7 Through Christ we have the Spirit Of Faith that believes & speaks that His Grace is the only way.

  4. David Parsons Reply

    In Mark 11:13-14, Jesus was hungry and looking for some early crop or Breba figs which are poor in quality and usually inedible. Finding none, He easily could have caused the tree to produce some immediately or healed it so it would produce them in the future. Instead He appeared to curse it by saying, “No one will ever eat fruit from you again!” The word, “again” implies that the tree had produced some fruit in the past, but would not produce any fruit ever again. The tree did not have to die in order to obey Christ, but would simply not need to bear fruit, but instead it shriveled up and appeared to die. This was not an elimination of a genetically inferior tree that did not produce an early crop of figs, but was a symbolic gesture similar to the cleansing of the temple which occurred later that same day. The fig tree, which symbolized Israel, had failed to “bear” fruit in the form of righteousness and witness to God’s nature and truth and the way to be reconciled to Him. The fig tree withered as Israel did in 70 AD when Rome defeated them and scattered them around the world in fulfillment of the curse spoken of by Moses in Deuteronomy 28:64. That fig tree would “bud” again in 1948, when Israel became a nation again, but in the intervening time, God had a grape plant in mind, as spoken of by Christ who said He was the vine and we are the branches, which the Vine Dresser pruned to cause greater fruit production and propagation of the Gospel of the new covenant throughout the world, sometimes through suffering and persecution. That same day, Christ also cleared the Jewish temple of pretentious worship, and Jewish profiteering, in preparation for those who would worship God in spirit and in truth, as He told the woman at the well in John 4:23. God was done using Israel as an instrument of communication and witness to the world and would recall the nation into existence at the end of the Church Age just before He removed the Church and it’s witness from the world in the Rapture, after which He would resume using Israel as a witness to the world as He delivers them from many varied attacks by Arabs and Communists and atheists around the world, culminating in the war of Armageddon where Christ personally defeats the Anti-Christ leading the remaining armies of the world against Jerusalem. Read further about the fig tree below:

    https://homeguides.sfgate.com/fig-tree-bear-fruit-49324.html

    Time to First Crop
    Fruiting fig trees have a long juvenile period compared to other fruit trees. Most figs will not produce a crop for the first four to five years, notes Rutgers University. If the fig is severely injured by over-pruning or an unusual frost, it may take longer to fruit for the first time.

    Crops Per Year
    Fig trees produce two crops every year, but only one of them may be edible. The first crop, called the breba crop, occurs relatively early in the year on the previous year’s growth. These fruits are frequently small, acidic and inferior in texture, but may be useful for preservation. The second crop occurs later in the year on the current year’s growth and these figs should be edible. Caprifigs, a variation of the common fig that can be used to pollinate some varieties, produce no edible fruit in either crop.

    Harvest Time
    The exact timing of the main crop depends on your climate and conditions. For example, growers in cooler coastal areas usually harvest their figs during October and November. For warmer and inland climates, the usual harvest time is between June and September. In some tropical locations, fig trees may bear some fruit throughout the year, with increased production in early summer and midwinter.

    Environmental Considerations
    Even healthy, mature fig trees may not bear fruit on schedule if the right environmental conditions are missing. Figs may not pollinate properly in hot, dry weather. This can cause a poor crop or no fruit at all. You may also have problems with figs if you over-prune during the winter or if you prune improperly. Figs that suffer from root knot nematodes may also have trouble fruiting correctly.

    Fruit Drop
    In some cases, a young, healthy fig tree undergoes proper pollination and fruit set, then drops all its fruit suddenly. This phenomenon is usually caused by overfeeding. Stop fertilizing the plant immediately. It may take three to four years for the fig to recover from over-fertilization and produce a crop that ripens and stays on the tree. Figs grown in the ground only require an application of fertilizer in spring, while container grown figs require an application in summer. Some fig varieties, including “Celeste,” drop fruit in hot weather regardless of their fertilizer regimen.

    • Michael Potter Reply

      David, thank you for your comment! I totally agree that the fig tree was an analogy for Israel. I’m constantly amazed by Jesus’ storytelling and illustration. Confusing yet clear.

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