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Yeshua in Context » Aims of Yeshua, Applying the Gospels, Discipleship - Formation, Enactments and Symbolic Actions, Forgiveness of Sins, Kingdom Future, Kingdom Present, Temple and Torah » Discipleship and the Fig Tree

Discipleship and the Fig Tree

The following commentary is important for illustrating a key point of discipleship for Yeshua. To understand the basis for these comments on Mark 11:12-14 and 20-25, it is important for me to disclose what I think is the meaning of Yeshua’s resistance to the Temple state. I do not, as some commentators and historians, think Yeshua was against the Temple itself, but against the corrupt administration which turned the Temple state into an instrument of oppression of the lower classes and used it as an instrument for power and position for themselves.

After the commentary, I will suggest a few points of application for discipleship in our time.

MARK 11:12-14, 20-25
Yeshua curses a fig tree (vss. 12-14).
In between is Yeshua’s Temple protest action (vss. 15-19).
The next morning’s lesson from the fig tree (vss. 20-25).

This whole section in vss. 14-25 is a classic example of what some have called the Markan sandwich technique. He begins to tell a story, follows with another scene which may not seem to be related, and then returns to the story. So, here, Yeshua curses a fig tree and then the story of his Temple protest action is related. But the next morning, the story comes back to the fig tree.

The episode raises a number of questions. Is Yeshua’s cursing a fig tree rational or irrational? Does the fig tree symbolize something specific and should we try to find the exact reference? Which mountain does Yeshua have in mind for being moved by prayer? How does the fig tree lesson relate to the Temple protest action?

To begin, we need to understand the seasons for figs in Israel. By Passover (April) there would usually be leaves, but no figs. By Shavuot (June), the same time as the wheat harvest, would be the early crop of figs (there are two fig crops a year in Israel’s climate). Therefore, and as Mark is careful to point out, it is irrational for Yeshua to expect figs at Passover. This means his action with the fig tree is purely symbolic. His curious action, a prophetic enactment, is meant to make the disciples curious.

The next morning, after the Temple protest action, Peter remembers the fig tree as they pass it, now brown and withered. Does Yeshua now launch into a lesson about Israel being fruitless and unworthy, as we might expect? Not at all. He launches into a lesson about the power of prayer. What could it all mean?

First, it is helpful to know that the fig comes up as a symbol in the prophets several times for Israel’s faith and fruitfulness. Micah speaks of God’s disappointment at finding no fig to eat in Israel (7:1). Hosea describes Israel as a withered fig tree without fruit (9:10). Yet the promise of a great age of peace is that every man will sit under his vine and fig tree (Isa 36:16; Mic 4:4).

Second, we should forget about some specific symbolic meaning, since Yeshua gives no such clues. Neither should we read the mountain of vs. 23 with some specific reference (as if this is about the Mount of Olives and the Zechariah 14 imagery, as some interpreters do). Yeshua does not take the lesson in this direction. Note that Yeshua’s words about faith moving a mountain come up again in Paul in 1 Cor 13:2 (“faith so as to move mountains”).

What we have here is a potent contrast between the powerful Temple state and the humble disciple group. The Temple, though holy, has become corrupt through its leadership. It is a religious institution of vast wealth and power. But it is not effective at making Israel holy and fruitful. So, Yeshua, powerless and alone, makes an ineffective protest action, an irrational act which cannot succeed (like his irrational expectation of a fig tree to have early fruit). But while Yeshua’s protest does not bring the Temple to its knees, his curse does wither a fig tree.

This leads to a lesson about prayer. The humble disciple group has more power than all the Temple state. If they do God’s will and pray, nothing is beyond their ability. God will move mountains, shake empires, and change the world through them. Their power is not in wealth or position, but in prayer, forgiveness, and faith.

… The power of the Yeshua community is never going to be in money, position, and power over people to govern or coerce.
… The power of the Yeshua community comes from God and is based on faith and prayer.
… We should not read that we have the power to move mountains, but that God does. Thus we have no “blank check” from God here, but rather the promise that as we serve him he will move mountains and use us along the way.
… The Temple state and its leaders made the error of setting goals based on personal power and trying to make them come to pass.
… Yeshua, who has real power, does not use it to coerce. He could have smitten the Temple completely, but instead made a protest action which changed nothing. He stands for right even if his actions do not overthrow evil. So the Yeshua community stands for right even though we cannot change evil.
… Unlike the Temple state Yeshua protested, our calling as a disciple community is to understand and discern God’s purposes in healing people and the world and to stand praying for mountains to move as God wills. Our power is in togetherness, faith, and prayer centered on our wise understanding of God’s purposes, not agendas created to manipulate the process or establish power structures.
… The Jewish tradition of prayer with additional prayers and teachings by Yeshua is a good tradition which accomplishes these purposes for the disciple community as Yeshua taught us (note that Mark 11:25 is the closest Mark comes to echoing Yeshua’s prayer recorded in Matthew and Luke).

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Filed under: Aims of Yeshua, Applying the Gospels, Discipleship - Formation, Enactments and Symbolic Actions, Forgiveness of Sins, Kingdom Future, Kingdom Present, Temple and Torah

5 Responses to "Discipleship and the Fig Tree"

  1. Israel says:

    I wrote an article here about this as well:

    Understanding Matt 21:19, and Mark 11:14 (A Cursed Fig Tree)

    It takes the Torah understanding of fig fruit and leaves into account in understanding why Yeshua cursed the fruitless fig tree, even though it wasn’t the season for figs. I’d like your thoughts.

  2. How could the fig tree not perform its natural purpose in the presence of the Lord of Life? In His presence there is only one season and it is the season in which to bear fruit.

    Thanks for this thoughtful reflection on the Fig Tree.

  3. yashim zakka says:

    i think is an illustration for us disciples to produce fruit at all time and in all season by showing the power of Jesus at all times.

  4. Steve Boyd says:

    The larger matter (condemning the established order of the temple) starting with the fig tree doesn’t seem to come to rest as a subject until the end of ch. 13 with a brief alluding again to the fig tree and a national call for all to watch for the day that judgment on the established order comes to pass…
    -My 2 bits.

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