Mark 11:12–14 (ESV) On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
Sometimes, a little background information can go a long way. If Bishop Lightfoot is correct (along with a number of other commentators) part of the enigma of this account of Jesus approaching and subsequently cursing this fig tree would not have been such to Jesus’ contemporaries.
In Lightfoot’s “A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica”, he notes that there were several different kinds of fig trees common there and then. One kind – bore leaves all year round. And, it produced fruit which took 3 years to mature. Thus it would have been normal to expect some fruit on this kind of fig tree – even as Mark reminds us that it was not the season for figs – the regular cultivated figs that is.
So what’s the problem? If Bishop Lightfoot is correct in identifying this particular fig tree as one which bear its leaves every season, and has fruit on it which takes 3 years to ripen – then it is easy to see that Jesus’ pronouncement has more to do with the wicked generation which stripped this tree bare of its fruit. They could not and would not wait for it to serve its design, and robbed it bare. It is not a pronouncement against the tree, as much as it is against Israel’s leadership who in their greed and lust, took Israel’s glory to themselves, and left nothing for the Messiah. See Mark 12:1-11.
So it is, immediately after, He casts the money changers out of the Temple. Those picking the “fig tree” bare and leaving the people destitute and bearing the name of God only, and nothing of His substance in their traditions. In about 40 years – they will no longer be able to strip the “tree” any more.
Mark 12:38–40 (ESV) And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
It is a frightening thing to take what belongs to God.