The day after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem this curious event unfolds. 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” (Mark 11:12-14). Later, Jesus and His followers returned, and the tree was “withered from the roots up” (Mark 11:20). At this point, Jesus used the dead tree as a lesson about prayers of faith. This was indeed an opportunity for insight concerning the dimensions and the power of prayer. But before that, when He first confronted the tree, the issue at hand was something else. The issue at hand was a tree failing as a tree.
For Jesus, this was not a simple outburst of frustration. Fueled by anger, Jesus would soon enter the temple and carry out some extreme renovation in order to make a point (Mark 11:15). His displeasure toward the tree also had a purpose. When He first approached the fig tree, He was not pleased when He discovered it was missing a key element — figs. There is often established a parallel between mankind and plants. Jesus referred to a fig tree in one of His parables. And He began telling this parable: “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). There were certain expectations concerning this tree. If expectations were not met, there was a limit to the time allowed for it to produce fruit. So, when Jesus confronted the tree, He was not merely expressing His anger. There was a lesson right then and right there. Anyone who followed Christ would be expected to live a life that produced fruit. “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit” (Matt. 7:16-18). The lesson here is that people are defined in the same way, and the ultimate fate of a person is determined by what is produced by his life. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:19). Being known by our fruits can be both liberating or the most scary thought, depending on your fruit.