Mark 11:13


1. Not an outcome of petulance or disappointment. The idea of Christ being "in a temper" is preposterous! The difficulty as to the phrases, "if haply he might find anything thereon," and "he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season of figs," is for the most part factitious and artificial. Our Lord was not mistaken - first expectant and then disappointed. "He came to the tree, not for the sake of eating, but for the sake of performing an adumbrative action (sed aliquid praefigurandi causa)" (Zuiugli). "His hunger, too, was the occasion that gave shape to his adumbrative action, when he went to the leafy tree to see if there was fruit on it" (Morison).

2. But neither was it an action symbolizing the penalty of spiritual barrenness. Its proximity in spirit and time to the cleansing of the temple inclines the mind to a parabolic meaning in that direction; so also Peter's strong word "cursedst," which seems at first to convey an impression of moral displeasure. As a merely natural incident, it is hard to reduce the disproportion it exhibits between the apparently judicial sentence and its occasion. On the other hand, it is harder still to explain Christ's total silence as to the reference to spiritual barrenness and its penalty, if such a reference had ever been intended. The circumstance that a day intervened between the sentence of Christ and Peter's noting the result, would seem to demand that the Master should have "pointed the moral" in some more manifest way. Again, what he did teach concerning the occurrence, so far as it has been preserved, suggests that the action was "adumbrative" in a simpler and more direct sense, of that, namely, of which he spoke - the power of God commanded through faith. "The significance of this event is different from that of the parable given by St. Luke (Luke 13:6), to show the doom of impenitence. In that, the fig tree was planted in a vineyard; everything was done for its culture that could be done; and not till after years of barrenness was it cut down. Here the fig tree was growing by the road; it belonged to no one, and nothing had been done for its improvement; and it was destroyed when its uselessness was made manifest. It was fruitless, because the fruit season had not come, and no old fruit remained on the branches. It was, therefore, not a fit emblem of the impenitent Jews. But the destruction of a senseless and worthless thing made known the power of Christ, as sufficient to destroy, though used only to restore" (Godwin, 'Matthew'). As illustrative of Divine power it was splendidly significant. To wither was within the power of any one, but to wither by a word was a supernatural act only possible to one in closest fellowship with God.


1. Greater results than it are attained by his servants if they will but believe.

(1) In doing. The words "shall say unto this mountain," etc., are figurative. A magnificent promise! Not only such an act as the withering of the fig tree, but one comparable to the uprooting of the Mount of Olives on which it grew (against which, by the way, there could surely be no "judicial resentment" even in the most metaphorical sense). It is spoken of moral and spiritual difficulties met with in fulfilling the great commission, or in individual spiritual growth.

(2) In receiving. Here the whole doctrine of prayer came up again for review. The answer was not to be merely looked forward to as coming, or even imminent, but was to be realized as already fulfilling itself in present experience. A secret of intense and successful devotion.

2. The ground of all such power is moral and spiritual oneness with God. The general conditions of prayer being answered, viz. agreeableness to the Divine will, advantage of the kingdom of God, etc., are all supposed. But, in addition, the boon of forgiveness is chiefly referred to as of greatest moment; and, in connection with it, the necessity of a forgiving disposition in the petitioner, as a condition of his being answered. This is one of the highest phases of spiritual or moral power, and is only possible through partaking of the Divine Spirit, in other words, through oneness with God. - M.

And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves.

1. Those who follow the sign and know nothing of the substance.

2. Those who have opinion but not faith, creed but not credence.

3. Those who have talk without feeling.

4. Those who have regrets without repentance.

5. Those who have resolves without action.

II. THERE WERE OTHER TREES WITH NEITHER LEAVES NOR FRUIT AND NONE OF THESE WERE CURSED. There are many characters who are destitute of both religion and profession.

III. WE HAVE BEFORE US A SPECIAL CASE begin with the explanation of this special case.

1. In a fig tree fruit comes before leaves.

2. Where we see the leaves we have a right to expect the fruit.

3. Our Lord hungers for fruit.

4. There are some who make unusual profession and yet disappoint the Saviour in His just expectations.

IV. SUCH A TREE MIGHT WELL BE WITHERED. Deception is abhorred of God. It is deceptive to man. It committed sacrilege upon Christ. It condemned itself.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

As if to show that Jesus the Saviour is also Jesus the Judge, one gleam of justice must dart forth. Where shall mercy direct its fall? The curse, if we may call it a curse at all, did not fall on man or beast, or even the smallest insect; its bolt falls harmlessly upon a fig tree by the wayside. It bore upon itself the signs of barrenness, and perhaps was no one's property; little, therefore, was the loss which any man sustained by the withering of that verdant mockery, while instruction more precious than a thousand acres of fig trees has been left for the benefit of all ages.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

I am sick of those cries of "the truth," "the truth," "the truth," from men of rotten lives and unholy tempers. There is an orthodox as well as a heterodox road to hell, and the devil knows how to handle Calvinists quite as well as Armenians. No pale of any Church can insure salvation, no form of doctrine can guarantee to us eternal life. "Ye must be born again." "Ye must bring forth fruits meet for repentance."

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

When Christ came it was not the time of figs. The time for great holiness was after the coming of Christ, and the pouring out of the Spirit. All the other nations were without leaves. Greece, Rome, all these showed no signs of progress; but there was the Jewish nation covered with leaves. You know the curse that fell on Israel.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Like Jezebel with her paint, which made her all the uglier, they would seem to be what they are not. As old Adam says, "They are candles with big wicks but no tallow, and when they go out they make a foul and nauseous smell," "and they have summer sweating on their brow, and winter freezing in their hearts." You would think them the land of Goshen, but prove them the wilderness of sin.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Most readers of the Pilgrim's Progress will remember that the Interpreter took Christiana and her family into his "significant rooms," and showed them the wonders he had formerly exhibited to Christian; and then the story runs on thus: "When he had done, he takes them out into his garden again and had them to a tree whose inside was all rotten and gone, and yet it grew and had leaves." Then said Mercy, "What means this? This tree," said he, "whose outside is fair, and whose inside is all rotten, is that to which many may be compared that are in the garden of God; who with their mouths speak high in behalf of God, but indeed will do nothing for Him; whose leaves are fair, but their heart good for nothing but to be tinder for the devil's tinder box." This was John Bunyan's way of putting into an allegory what he had preached in his famous sermon on the "Barren Fig tree." It shows the force with which the narrative now coming under our study fastens itself in the popular imagination.

I. Let us begin with the observation THAT GOD CHERISHES A REASONABLE EXPECTATION OF FRUITFULNESS FROM ALL HIS CREATURES. Christ once told His disciples that He had chosen them and ordained them that they should go and bring forth fruit, and that their fruit should remain (John 15:16).

1. This story teaches that what the Almighty expects is only what is befitting and appropriate to the nature of the being He has made and endowed with a soul.

2. Then, next to this, the story suggests that what God expects is that every individual shall bring forth his own fruit. It is not vineyards that bear clusters, but vines. It is not orchards that produce figs, but trees. The all-wise One does not anticipate that one man or one woman, or that a few women and a few men, shall do the whole work in each community or in each parish. For there is nothing clearer in the Scripture than the declaration that every Christian is held accountable personally, and cannot be lost in a crowd.

3. The story also teaches that God expects a proportionate quantity of fruit from each person. And this would have to be reckoned according to circumstances. Suppose one fig tree is standing a little better in the sunshine than another; suppose one receives somewhat more of refreshing moisture than another; suppose one has deeper soil for its roots than another; the rule will be, — the higher the favour, the richer must be the fruit. The principle of the gospel is all in a single formula: "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." Superior advantages extend the measure of our responsibility for usefulness.

4. Once more: the story teaches that the Master looks for fruit in the proper time for fruit. In the case of this tree, "the time was not yet." Figs come before leaves on that kind of tree. So the appearance of leaves assumed the presence of fruit underneath them; but none was there. For some phenomenal reason this fig tree was a hypocrite. Hence, Jesus caught it for a parable with which to teach His disciples, and warn them off from mere profession without performance. God does not in any case come precipitously demanding fruit, as soon as trees are planted; He seems to respect the laws of growth and ripening. He never hurries any creature of His hand. But He gives help to the end He proposes. He certainly puts realities before shows; figs previous to leaves. And He has no patience or complacency for those who are always making ready, and preparing, and getting started, and setting about things, without any accomplishments or successes.

II. This leads to a second observation suggested by an analysis of the narrative: GOD IS SOMETIMES MOCKED BY THE PROFFER OF MERE PROFESSIONS INSTEAD OF FRUITFULNESS. He comes for figs, but He finds "leaves only" (Matthew 21:19).

1. It is possible to put all one's religious experience into mere show. That is to say, it is possible to feign, or to imitate, or to counterfeit, all the common tokens of a genuine Christian life, and yet possess no realities underneath the pretence. Men may be traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. All this is predicted of these latter times (2 Timothy 3:1-7). Professors of religion may appear to love the Church of the Redeemer, and be nothing but sectarians. They may pray lengthily for a pretence, and devour widows' houses meanwhile. They may "repent" like King Saul, and "believe" like Simon Magus. They may speak "with the tongues of men and angels," and be no better in charity than a cymbal that tinkles. They may cry "Lord, Lord," and yet not do a single thing which the Lord has commanded. And with all this amount of loathsome hypocrisy in the world, the patient God forbears.

2. The sin of fruitlessness is always aggravated by the bold imposture of hypocritical cant. The Scriptures startle a timid student sometimes with their daring demand for clear issues, no matter where they will lead. Christ Himself is represented as saying, "I would thou wert cold or hot" (Revelation 3:15-16). Elijah cries out, "If Baal be God, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). It is the temporizing, compromising spirit of Naaman which destroys the historic picture of him (2 Kings 5:17-18). And the higher up into conspicuous assumption of sainthood one rises, when his heart is bad, the more offensive are his character and public professions in the sight of a truth-loving God.

"For sweetest things turn sourest by their deed;

Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds."

III. Thus we reach our third observation: GOD WILL IN THE END ASSERT HIMSELF AND VISIT ON ALL FALSE PROFESSORS A FITTING RETRIBUTION (Mark 11:21). At last the retribution is sure to come. The settled, calm, solemn decision is pronounced, from which there is no appeal.

(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

The verdict against the tree is, "nothing but leaves."

1. It is a remarkable description. It is the least offensive way of describing barrenness. Nothing but words, forms, profession.

2. It is an expression of disappointment. Leaves are promises. Christian profession is a promise to God and man.

3. It is a declaration of uselessness. There is

(1)nothing to do credit to anyone — to the garden, owner, soil, root;

(2)nothing to be of use to anyone.

4. It is a sentence of doom. "Nothing but leaves."

1. Then our creed is vain.

2. Our religion is vain.

3. Our Bible reading is vain.

4. Our churchmanship is vain.

5. Our faith and hope are vain.

6. Our life is vain.

(H. Bonar, D. D.)

The incident, is full of instruction.

I. AS TO OUR LORD'S BEING. It reminds us of the inseparable union between His humanity and His Divinity.

1. He was hungry, and came looking for something which did not exist; it bespeaks His liability to that which was common to man.

2. He cursed the tree by the fist of an irresistible will, and nature was arrested, and the fountain of life dried up. It marks the possession of a power which is shared by no mortal creature, but is the sole prerogative of Almighty God.

II. AS TO THE JEWISH NATION. Jesus had often taught by word. Here He arrests attention by a parable in action. It was the sequel of the parable of the barren fig tree (St. Luke 13:6); a rehearsal, as it were, of the execution of the judgment then denounced upon the Jewish nation if they continued to bear no fruit. This tree had been refreshed by the dews of heaven; the sunshine had warmer it with genial rays; the sheltering hill, perhaps, had warded off the chilling blasts, and all the seasonable influences of Providence had ministered to its growth, but only to bring forth an ostentatious show of unproductive leaves. And, as with that hapless tree, so with the nation. All the care and culture of the Great Vine dresser had been bestowed in vain; there was nothing but a deceptive and pretentious display; they were forever giving promise of fruit, but yielding none; there was no return for unremitting attention; they cumbered the soil, their end was to be burned, they were nigh to cursing.

(H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

Yesterday Christ wept over the fate of Israel, today He will warn them of it. And at once accordingly He utters His warning on barrenness. It takes the form of a parabolic action. Deeds speak louder than words, and, therefore, for the sake of a greater impression, Christ places before everyone's eyes the penalty of barrenness, especially of barrenness concealed by hypocritical profession. He pronounces a curse on the tree, which at once, in all its greenness and glory, begins to wither away.

1. BARRENNESS IS A VERY COMMON AND GRIEVOUS SIN. It is very common, because we think there is no particular harm in it. If we avoid committing actual wrong, we think it no great matter if we neglect the discharge of duty. Accordingly, many who would be shocked at being "sinful" are quite unconcerned at being useless. There may, however, be the greatest guilt in uselessness. "Ye gave Me no meat," "ye gave Me no drink," "ye took Me not in," are words which accuse of nothing but neglect, yet are followed by the doom, "Depart from Me, ye cursed." Sins of commission slay their thousands, but sins of omission their tens of thousands.

2. THE SIN OF BARRENNESS IS OFTEN ACCOMPANIED AND GREATLY AGGRAVATED BY GREAT PROFESSIONS. Performance and profession are apt to be in the inverse ratio of each other, for performance comes from a high standard, and a high standard never permits complacency or boasting; while a low standard permits poor performance, and sanctions complacency along with it. In human trees the combination is very frequent of pretentious foliage and poor fruitage.

3. ALL BARRENNESS LEADS TO DESTRUCTION. Nothing is permitted to exist except on condition that it employs its powers. Unused faculties decay; and unemployed opportunities are withdrawn.

4. THE PENALTY OF WILFUL BARRENNESS IS JUDICIAL BARRENNESS. The punishment of uselessness which is voluntary, is such withdrawal of grace as makes it fixed and absolute. Wrong is wrong's penalty. Going further astray is the penal result of going astray.

(R. Glover.)


1. Reasons for regarding it in a symbolic sense.(1) Neither its fruitlessness nor its leafiness was a thing of its own volition, therefore the tree was not blameworthy.(2) But as a symbol it was full of instruction.(a) As a correct representation of the heirarchical party in Jerusalem, adorned with the leaves of a pretentious piety, but utterly barren of the real fruit of a holy life, or reverence for God's Son.(b) As a correct representation of all pretension to piety.


1. There was neither conscience nor heart in the tree to be hurt by its withering.

2. Fall of significance, however, as the type of the doom that awaits all those whom its fruitlessness represented.


1. As a fig tree in good situation and covered with leaves, fruit was reasonably expected.(1) So with the Jewish people, as taught in the parable of the wicked husbandmen.(2) The fruitlessness of those whom the tree represented was blameworthy, and their guilt enhanced by their pretension.

(D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

Christ's miracles were unspoken sermons. Here He sees a fig tree growing by the wayside, and full of leaves; He draws near looking for fruit, but finds none — only leaves. It was not indeed the time for figs, but neither was it the time for leaves. The tree was making a false pretence. Jesus cursed the fruitless tree, and it withered away. It was a symbolic act.

I. A LESSON FOR THE JEWS. They were full of the leaves of profession: proud of their religious ordinances, frequent fasts, long prayers, sacrifices; but they bore no fruit of holiness, meekness, gentleness, love. Nothing but leaves.

II. A LESSON FOR ALL, WARNING US OF THE DOOM OF A FRUITLESS LIFE. Our blessings — what have we done to deserve them? We all remember what we have done for ourselves, how we have made our way in the world; but what have we done for God? Our religious professions — are they sincere, or are they kept for Sunday use only? Our talents-how are we employing them? Our time, intellect, bodily strength, wealth, influence?

(H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)

Trees have their seasons at certain times of the year, when they bring forth fruit; but a Christian is for all seasons — like the tree of life, which bringeth forth fruit every mouth Christ looked for fruit on the fig tree when the time of fruit was not yet. Why? Did He not know the season for fruit? or, did He it "altogether for our sakes?" For our sakes, no doubt, He did it, to teach us that Christians must always be fruitful; the whole time of our life is the season for fruitfulness.

(Bp. Brownrig.)

Cowper, speaking of his distressing convictions, says, "One moment I thought myself shut out from mercy by one chapter, and the next by another.. The sword of the Spirit seemed to guard the tree of life from my touch, and to flame against me in every avenue by which I attempted to approach it. I particularly remember that the parable of the barren fig tree was to me an inconceivable source of anguish; and I applied it to myself, with a strong persuasion in my mind, that when our Saviour pronounced a curse upon it, He had me in His eye, and pointed that curse directly at me."

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