Mark 11: 12-14: On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening.
Now, there is so much that has been written on these three short verses which speak about the fig tree. You might be familiar with the Hebrew word for figs; it is tehinah, (תְּאֵנָה), like that great tasting sauce you put in a falafel sandwich.
Concerning this passage in Mark 11, we read of some commentators who accused Yeshua of being unreasonable for cursing the fig tree since it was not the season for figs. One author wrote that “in His humanity He did not know everything”. Is it fair to say that Yeshua’s lack of knowledge extended as far as not knowing the seasons?
Others, have accused Jesus of cursing Israel, for the fig tree they say, represents national Israel. Let’s clear up and clean out everything that clutters the facts in order to appreciate the profound message we find in this passage.
First, when it comes to understanding a difficult text, it is always good to go and ask what the people of that day had to say concerning fig trees. When one reads texts written around this epoch, we discover that it was natural for fig trees to produce fruit at any time during the year. The Tosefta, which is a compilation of Jewish teachings from the 2nd century, has a section on trees and when it comes to the fig tree, it speaks of a fruit yield before the 15th of Shebat, which is around February. This falls at least 45 days before the 1st of Nisan. So, figs can be found on fig trees during Passover, and this is what Yeshua was seeking.
There is beautiful story in the Talmud about the fig tree which is compared to the Torah. This is what is written: Whenever a person searches a fig tree, for figs to eat, he finds figs in it, as the figs on a tree do not ripen all at once. [Similarly] one can always find a recently ripened fig [when it comes to] matters of Torah. Whenever a person meditates upon them, he finds in them new meaning. Eruvin 54b
Like it is with the Torah which has no season and bears fruits for anyone who is hungry, so is the fruit tree. And even in the N.T., fig trees are connected to the Scriptures. Remember when Yeshua met Nathanael. He told him in John 1:48, Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. Perhaps Nathanael was reading his Scriptures under a fig tree, as the rabbis often did.
But now, how are we to read the words, For it was not the season for figs. Vs.13b. It is in the word season, which is the Greek kairos where we will get an answer. In the greater majority of cases kairos is translated by the word time, designating a specific time as to when the prophecy will be fulfilled. Of the 85 times it appears, it is translated 5 times for season but over 50 times for the word time, epoch, and the like. And so, it was not time in the prophetic calendar, for the fig tree (representing religious factions) to produce fruits.
FIGuring Things Out
Let us now dig deeper into this great illustration of the fig tree and its fruit and see what they represent in the Scriptures. See, if you will, what Jesus saw, a fig tree with leaves, and as He approached, He found nothing but leaves. What do the leaves represent?
For this we need to go back to just after the creation of man. When Adam and Eve first sinned, what was the first thing they did? This is what we read in Genesis 3:7, Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
Once sin set in, a new thing invaded their minds: guilt, unreasonable fear which brought them to do an unreasonable thing. They covered themselves with fig leaves; a new invention. These fig leaves then, represented man’s first attempt to deal with sin. It was a first try to form a man-made way to circumvent the law of God. It was like a new religion to appease the effects of sin on one’s mind.
Both Adam and Eve hid from God and sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings; man’s first religion, which eventually led to blindness when the Messiah came. Yes, beautiful from the outside, but internally devoid of fruit.
That was man’s first reaction to the knowledge of sin but what was God’s response? We find it in Genesis 3:21. See with what God covered the two first humans. He made tunics of skin and clothed them. Man used fig leaves and God used animal skin. Do we see the difference?
And here in the first century, we find the final sacrifice, the Messiah who is being rejected. So instead, the religious leaders are holding onto the fig leaves. The story in Genesis is similar to that in Mark. Man hides behind some false belief, yet God still provides salvation.
The fig, being the first fruit ever mentioned in the Bible, had some rabbis conclude that the forbidden fruit must have been a fig. (Gen. Rab. 19) And since then, they speak of fig leaves as leaves that brought lamentation into the world. (R. Simeon b. Yohai ). However, in all its symbolism, it indeed brought lamentation on the nation and the world itself.
The fruitless and leafy fig tree was then an illustration of the false religion Israel was under up to and including today. It is not Israel as a nation which is cursed, but the false religion which brought it down. It is this system which Yeshua will clearly and vividly condemn later on in Mark when we read in Mark 12:38-40, Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.
These are the beautiful leaves on a fruitless tree which from Isaiah to Malachi, always ignited God’s anger.