Mark 11:12-14 (NKJV), “Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 In response Jesus said to it, ‘Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.’ And His disciples heard it.”
1) We were made to bear fruit
In many ways, the Bible uses the metaphor of trees to represent us as humans. In the passage from Mark 11, Christ goes to a fig tree that is not in season and seeks to eat fruit from it. Despite its show of leaves, Jesus is disappointed by the tree--because it doesn’t have any fruit at all. In response, Christ curses the tree, and later in the chapter, we see that the tree has withered and died. What is going on here?
Christ’s purpose in coming down to Earth and dying for us on the cross was to reconcile man to God. The outcome of this reconciliation offered in Christ is the kingdom of God; God’s kingdom is His Spirit dwelling within us, and His power flowing out from our hearts. In this way, we bring the kingdom of God to earth, and He establishes His will through us because of the indwelling of Christ. And what are some identifiable characteristics in which we can identify God’s kingdom? We are told in Galatians 5:22-23 (NKJV), “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” When the Spirit of God dwells within our hearts, the fruit that we bear will inevitably match His. Thus, referencing the metaphor of trees, God designed us to bear fruit.
But, according to the passage from Mark, not all trees bear fruit. Christ found a fig tree that demonstrated a show of leaves yet lacked figs entirely. One may ask, “But why is Jesus looking for figs on a tree that is not in its season?” A factor we must address in the passage from Mark is the presence of brevas on fig trees, or taqsh in Arabic. A taqsh is a little fruit that blooms on the fig tree before the main-crop figs bloom in season--it’s a predecessor of the fig that peasants and others would eat from the tree. The taqsh appears in the spring with the leaves and is a sign that the tree will bear main-crop figs in its season--an edible sign that the tree will bear fruit. Therefore, Jesus was doing something very common and not strange at all when He was looking for brevas to eat from the fig tree. Unfortunately, the fig tree provided nothing and, at the same time, demonstrated that it would produce nothing.
2) Produce fruit in keeping with repentance
Enlighten me: if we maintain the metaphor of us humans as trees, we find ourselves in a place of comparison; how do we know if we have fruit? Who has fruit, and who does not? Is Jesus going to curse me, and I am going to wither and die because I lack fruit? When we look through a lens that identifies the fig tree as ourselves, I believe God’s message to us all becomes clearer. If we attribute ourselves to the fig tree that Jesus curses, then we establish the truth that we do not bear Godly fruit by our own power and goodness. We see this in John 15:5 (NKJV), “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” The interesting thing is, all of us are the fig tree that Jesus curses--that is, if our sin is not put to death (Romans 8:13).
Christ did not outright destroy the fig tree that didn’t bear any fruit; He merely says, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” Jesus simply gave the tree over to its own nature. The fig tree was already not producing any fruit, and no one could eat figs from it because the tree already didn’t have fruit. This brings to light Luke 6:43-45 (NKJV), “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.” Christ is saying that one cannot change their own true nature. And, as previously established, if we are all the barren fig tree, then we are all unable to bear fruit on our own--which aligns with John 15:5. So, then, who can be saved?
The message that God gives loudly and clearly throughout the whole Gospel narrative is that we all can be saved. Has God not said, “Turn to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22 NIV)? Let us never forget that--though it may be impossible for us to change our own innate nature--God tells us, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27 NIV). When we believe in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God does the impossible and begins changing our very nature through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. We see in Matthew 3:8-10 (NIV) how this process is begun and what will happen if it never comes to fruition: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
3) Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a tree
What I believe will provide further edification is the account provided to us in Daniel 4. King Nebuchadnezzar--who was the ruler of Babylon at the time--has just shared his vision with Daniel, which consists of a mighty tree that has grown to the heavens and is bountiful in every way. Daniel interprets the dream and says that the tree represents king Nebuchadnezzar. Nonetheless, the dream showed the tree getting chopped down by “a holy one,” leaving only a stump and its roots--foretelling what would happen to Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom (because of his pride). The king eventually loses his power and ends up roaming the fields eating grass like a cow. But it’s in the fulfillment of these things that Nebuchadnezzar has his understanding “return to him.” He writes:
“And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.” (Daniel 4:34-37 NKJV).
What does this have anything to do with what I am writing about? In many ways, Nebuchadnezzar provides us with a picture of the work that God does within us. Nebuchadnezzar had lifted himself in pride and did not honor God but instead honored himself. And in honoring himself, Nebuchadnezzar was then humbled by God by being figuratively chopped down: “Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches” (Daniel 4:14 NIV). But what is interesting is that God purposefully leaves the stump. Daniel gives us the reason:
“The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” (Daniel 4:26-27 NIV)
As we saw earlier in the passage from Daniel 4:34-37, Nebuchadnezzar has his understanding return to him while in the state of the stump. Nebuchadnezzar received his whole kingdom and majesty back by honoring God, but he now lived with a new heart, a heart that honored God first.
4) From the stump, a Branch will bear fruit
In many ways, the story of Nebuchadnezzar fits well into the lens that we are using within this blog. Although we are provided with some different imagery from Nebuchadnezzar’s vision (his tree had fruit, birds, and stuff in it), the tree that was in his dream was used to represent himself nonetheless. And what had to happen to the tree for Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding to return? It had to be chopped down. And, though Nebuchadnezzar’s tree was thriving, it clearly was not thriving in the way God wanted it to. Nebuchadnezzar lacked the right fruit; he lacked God’s fruit. But it was in the process of being chopped down that Nebuchadnezzar could then grow Godly fruit.
We see the same parallel with what must happen to us in Jesus. If we are all trees that do not bear good fruit, then--like Nebuchadnezzar--we are all needing to be chopped down. And while that may sound harsh, it is just half of the process. When trees are cut down, the root system below remains intact. What happens with many trees (fig trees included)--if provided sufficient nourishment and soil--is that new life grows back from the stump. We are provided this picture Biblically: “A Shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1 NIV). In this verse, we see that Jesse, the father of king David, is attributed to the stump (either him or David), but a Branch will grow out of it and bear fruit. Jesus is the Branch that this verse speaks of. Once again, we see a picture of a chopped-down tree, and out of its stump, a new tree begins to grow.
Just like what Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, the Apostle John tells us: “If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.” (1 John 1:9-10 NIV). Repentance is humbling, but it was Christ who took on all of our sins and was humbled to the point of death. God is simply asking us to acknowledge and honor what He has already done for us so that we can find new life in Him.
The tree of our sin must be cut down, just as Christ became sin and gave up His life. But, just like how new branches can grow out of a stump, Christ rose on the third day and returned to the glory He had from eternity and sits at the right hand of the Father. Christ is the One who took our sin--God, the Tree of Life, became our barren tree. And for the joy that was set before Him, Jesus was cut down so that sin and death could be defeated forever in our lives. By believing in the sacrifice provided in Jesus, God will grow a new Branch within us--One that bears Godly fruit. This new branch, as we have seen, is Jesus. When God lives within our hearts, a new tree grows that bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit, we will continually grow deeper in love with God throughout our lives, and from His love, we love others even more.