Jesus Curses the Fig Tree - Mark 11:12-14

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Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
Greetings friends,

I guess by now you figured out that I am working through the gospel of Mark. This morning I had a question.

What do you make of Mark's relation of Jesus' cursing the fig tree? Only Mark tells us that "it was not the season for figs." Why would Jesus find fault with the fig tree when it was not time for it to bear figs?

Mark 11:12‭-‬14 ESV​
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 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. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

Although Matthew Poole asks the same question, he does not offer any solid answers. I've always thought the fig tree represented Israel. I am puzzled over the not the season of figs meaning.

Any thoughts?
J. C. Ryle has a footnote on this in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Mark:

It is a difficulty with some persons that the account of St. Mark contains the words, “the time of figs was not yet.” They ask to be told why our Lord should have gone to the tree seeking fruit, when the season for figs had not yet arrived?​
The answers to this difficulty are various. The simplest of them appears to be as follows. “The time of figs, as a general rule, had not yet come. But our Lord seeing a fig tree covered with leaves, unlike the other fig trees, had a right to suppose that figs were to be found on it, and therefore came to it.”—It is no small recommendation of this view that it supplies an exact illustration of the state of the Jewish Church, when our Lord was upon earth. The time of figs was not yet, that is, the nations of the earth were all in darkness, and bore no fruit to the glory of God.—But among the nations, there was one covered with leaves, that is the Jewish Church, full of light, knowledge, privileges and high profession.—Seeing this fig tree full of leaves, our Lord came to it seeking fruit, that is, He came to the Jews justly expecting them to have fruit according to their outward profession.—But when our Lord came to this leafy Jewish fig tree, He found it utterly destitute of fruit, faithless, and unbelieving.—And the end was that He pronounced sentence on it, gave it over to be destroyed by the Romans, and scattered the Jews over the earth.​
—John Charles Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. Mark (Wertheim, Macintosh, & Hunt, 1859), 232; emphasis original.​
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My take: The tree was in leaf but fruitless, like the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who looked so godly but were actually spending the whole week plotting against Jesus. The fact that it was not the season for figs makes it clear that Jesus cursed the tree to make a spiritual point about fruitlessness, not because he was upset about getting no physical figs to eat.

Most likely, there's also a connection to the coming age of greater spiritual fruitfulness (note the second fig-tree illustration in Mark 13:28-30). Remember that Jesus is eager for the time when the faithlessness of the current generation will be past (Mark 9:19) and ultimately for the age when full fruitfulness, even in trees, is a year-round joy (Revelation 22:2).
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