When He came to [the fig tree], 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.”
There are two accounts of Jesus cursing the fig tree in the Bible. The one in Matthew has a different context than this one in Mark. Just as in Mark, the Matthew 21:18-22 version has Jesus declaring that the fig tree will not be productive for eating fruit ever again, and then it withers before Him. But when asked by His disciples how the fig tree could wither so quickly, Jesus gives them a lesson on faith; that faith is an act of one's will with persistence and perseverance ... "If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen". He is showing them that faith is being steadfast (or unwavering) in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
But here in Mark, the story of the fig tree has a different meaning. Here Jesus sees a fig tree in the distance, and being hungry, He goes to see if He can find anything on it. But when He arrives at the tree, all He finds are leaves -- no fruit. The Bible tells us it's because it is not the season for figs. And then Jesus curses the fig tree with a declaration that no one would ever eat fruit from it again.
So what's up with this fig tree? And why did it's absence of fruit result in such condemnation from Jesus? First of all, we need to take a look at the significance of figs and fig trees in the Bible. Remember, God doesn't do anything without a purpose. Figs are actually throughout Scripture, beginning in the Garden of Eden, where fig leaves covered the shame of Adam and Eve when they discovered they were naked. Throughout the Bible, the plant becomes a symbol of prosperity, well-being, and security. Along with the vine, to sit under the plentiful shade of your own fig tree is the epitome of safety, peace and good fortune in many Biblical passages. Specifically, Micah 4:4 says, Each of them will sit under his vine, and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
These plants don’t grow overnight, and it takes time to culture and nurture them – their maturity indicates that the gardener has been continuously and steadfastly there, tending to their growth over the years. And since Jesus states in John 15:1 that He is the True Vine, and my Father is the Vinedresser (Gardener), the point of these verses in Mark comes into focus. Actually, I believe there is a dual significance to Jesus's curse.
First of all, the fig tree points to the nation of Israel, which had been planted by God and nurtured for so long as His chosen people. He had remained steadfastly beside them, tending to their growth down through the centuries. The fact that this fig tree did not have any fruit on it at all, despite the fact that it wasn't the season for figs, showed Jesus's [and the Father's] disappointment and frustration. After all the tender-loving care the Father had put into the nation of Israel, there should have been some evidence of fruit remaining on the tree. Since Jesus only said or did what He heard from the Father, we can surmise that God was nearing the time when Israel would be blinded and ineffective in spreading the Gospel.
But there is a second aspect in view ... If we look at these verses from the context that the fig tree represents Believers, Jesus has the right to demand and expect fruit from us at all times -- both in and out of season. And when we recall that there is actually a Fig Tree Generation spoken of in Revelation 6:13 -- that generation that is alive when the Sixth Seal is torn open and terror reigns on the earth -- it is important that we be bearing fruit in this season, regardless of whether it is time to harvest or not. We should be doing the miraculous works of Jesus at all times, not just when it is practical and in season.
To be honest, the meaning behind the cursing of the fig tree can only be surmised, and must be looked at through a supernatural lens. But there is much symbolism attached to the fig tree throughout Scripture, and anytime Jesus is looking at the fruit being produced, we know it has significance for us. May we all seek to be fruitful and prosperous for the Kingdom, so that when our Lord measures what we have yielded for Him, we will not be found lacking, and suffer condemnation.