Mark 11:13
And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
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(13) For the time of figs was not yet.—It has been sometimes urged that this gives the reason for our Lord’s coming to seek “if haply he might find” fruit. The fig season had not come, and therefore the fruit, if any had been borne, would not have been gathered. There is nothing, however, against taking the words in their more natural sequence. The precocious foliage had suggested the thought that some of the early ripe figs might be already formed; but it was no exception, as far as fruit was concerned, to others of its kind. For it, as for them, the season, even of the earliest fruit, had not come. The seeing the fig-tree “afar off,” is a touch peculiar to St. Mark, and adds force to the narrative, as implying a keener pressure of hunger than St. Matthew’s description.



Mark 11:13 - Mark 11:14

The date of this miracle has an important bearing on its meaning and purpose. It occurred on the Monday morning of the last week of Christ’s ministry. That week saw His last coming to Israel, ‘if haply He might find any thing thereon.’ And if you remember the foot-to-foot duel with the rulers and representatives of the nation, and the words, weighty with coming doom, which He spoke in the Temple on the subsequent days, you will not doubt that the explanation of this strange and anomalous miracle is that it is an acted parable, a symbol of Israel in its fruitlessness and in its consequent barrenness to all coming time.

This is the only point of view, as it seems to me, from which the peculiarities of the miracle can either be warranted or explained. It is our Lord’s only destructive act. The fig-tree grew by the wayside; probably, therefore, it belonged to nobody, and there was no right of property affected by its loss. He saw it from afar, ‘having leaves,’ and that was why, three months before the time, He went to look if there were figs on it. For experts tell us that in the fig-tree the leaves accompany, and do not precede, the fruit. And so this one tree, brave in its show of foliage amidst leafless companions, was a hypocrite unless there were figs below the leaves. Therefore Jesus came, if haply He might find anything thereon, and finding nothing, perpetuated the condition which He found, and made the sin its own punishment.

Now all that is plain symbol, and so I ask you to look with me, for a few moments, at these three things-{1} What Christ sought and seeks; {2} What He found and often finds; {3} What He did when He found it.

I. What Christ sought and seeks.

He came ‘seeking fruit.’ Now I may just notice, in passing, how pathetically and beautifully this incident suggests to us the true, dependent, weak manhood of that great Lord. In all probability He had just come from the home of Mary and Martha, and it is strange that having left their hospitable abode He should be ‘an hungered.’ But so it was. And even with all the weight of the coming crisis pressing upon His soul, He was conscious of physical necessities, as one of us might have been, and perhaps felt the more need for sustenance because so terrible a conflict was waiting Him. Nor, I think, need we shrink from recognising another of the characteristics of humanity here, in the limitations of His knowledge and in the real expectation, which was disappointed, that He might find fruit where there were leaves. I do not want to plunge into depths far too deep for any man to find sure footing in, nor seek to define the undefinable, nor to explain how the divine inosculates with the human, but sure I am that Jesus Christ was not getting up a scene in order to make a parable out of His miracle; and that the hunger and the expectancy and the disappointment were all real, however they afterwards may have been turned by Him to a symbolical purpose. And so here we may see the weak Christ, the limited Christ, the true human Christ. But side by side, as is ever the case, with this manifestation of weakness, there comes an apocalypse of power. Wherever you have, in the history of our Lord, some signal exemplification of human infirmity, you have flashed out through ‘the veil, that is, His flesh,’ some beam of His glory. Thus this hungry Man could say, ‘No fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever’; and His bare word, the mere forth-putting and manifestation of His will, had power on material things. That is the sign and impress of divinity.

But I pass from that, which is not my special point now. What did Christ seek? ‘Fruit.’ And what is fruit in contradistinction to leaves? Character and conduct like His. That is our fruit. All else is leafage. As the Apostle says, ‘Love, joy, hope, peace, righteousness in the Holy Ghost’; or, to put it into one word, Christ-likeness in our inmost heart and nature, and Christ-likeness, so far as it may be possible for us, in our daily life, that is the one thing that our Lord seeks from us.

O brethren! we do not realise enough for ourselves, day by day, that it was for this end that Jesus Christ came. The cradle in Bethlehem, the weary life, the gracious words, the mighty deeds, the Cross on Calvary, the open grave, Olivet with His last footprints; His place on the throne, Pentecost, they were all meant for this, to make you and me good men, righteous people, bearing the fruits of holy living and conduct corresponding to His own pattern. Emotions of the selectest kind, religious experience of the profoundest and truest nature, these are blessed and good. They are the blossom which sets into fruit. And they come for this end, that by the help of them we may be made like Jesus Christ. He has yet to learn what is the purpose and the meaning of the Gospel who fixes upon anything else as its ultimate design than the production in us, as the results of the life of Christ dwelling in our hearts, of character and conduct like to His.

I suppose I ought to apologise for talking such commonplace platitudes as these, but, brethren, the most commonplace truths are usually the most important and the most impotent. And no ‘platitude’ is a platitude until you have brought it so completely into your lives that there is no room for a fuller working of it out. So I come to you, Christian men and women, real and nominal, now with this for my message, that Jesus Christ seeks from you this first and foremost, that you shall be good men and women ‘according to the pattern that has been showed us in the Mount,’ according to the likeness of His own stainless perfection.

And do not forget that Jesus Christ hungers for that goodness. That is a strange, and infinitely touching, and absolutely true thing. He is only ‘satisfied,’ and the hunger of His heart appeased, when ‘He sees of the travail of His soul’ in the righteousness of His servants. I passed a day or two ago, in a country place, a great field on which there was stuck up a board that said, ‘--’s trial ground for seeds.’ This world is Christ’s trial ground for seeds, where He is testing you and me to see whether it is worth while cultivating us any more, and whether we can bring forth any ‘fruit to perfection’ fit for the lips and the refreshment of the Owner and Lord of the vineyard Christ longs for fruit from us. And-strange and wonderful, and yet true-the ‘bread’ that He eats is the service of His servants. That, amongst other things, is what is meant by the ancient institution of sacrifice, ‘the food of the gods.’ Christ’s food is the holiness and obedience of His children. He comes to us, as He came to that fig-tree, seeking from us this fruit which He delights in receiving. Brethren, we cannot think too much of Christ’s unspeakable gift in itself and in its consequences; but we may easily think too little, and I am sure that a great many of us do think too little, of Christ’s demands. He is not an austere man, ‘reaping where He did not sow’; but having sowed so much, He does look for the harvest. He comes to us with the heart-moving appeal, ‘I have given all to thee; what givest thou to Me?’ ‘My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill; and he fenced it and planted it, and built a tower and a wine-press in it’-and what then?-’and he looked that it should bring forth grapes.’ Christ comes to each of you professing Christians, and asks, ‘What fruit hast thou borne after all My sedulous husbandry?’

II. Now note, in the next place, what Christ found.

‘Nothing but leaves.’ I have already said that we are told that the habit of growth of these trees is that the fruit accompanies, and sometimes precedes, the leaves. Whether it is so or no, let me remind you that leaves are an outcome of the life as well as fruit, and that they benefit the tree, and assist in the production of the fruit which it ought to bear. And so the symbol suggests things that are good in themselves, ancillary and subsidiary to the production of fruit, but which sometimes tend to such disproportionate exuberance of growth as that all the life of the tree runs to leaf, and there is riot a berry to be found on it.

And if you want to know what such things are, remember the condition of the rulers of Israel at that time. They prided themselves upon their nominal, external, hereditary connection with a system of revelation, they trusted in mere ritualisms, they had ossified religion into theology, and degraded morality into casuistry. They thought that because they had been born Jews, and circumcised, and because there was a daily sacrifice going on in the Temple, and because they had Rabbis who could split hairs ad infinitum, therefore they were the ‘temple of the Lord,’ and God’s chosen.

And that is exactly what hosts of pagans, masquerading as Christians, are doing in all our so-called Christian lands, and in all our so-called Christian congregations. In any community of so-called Christian people there is a little nucleus of real, earnest, God-fearing folk, and a great fringe of people whose Christianity is mostly from the teeth outward, who have a nominal and external connection with religion, who have been ‘baptized’ and are ‘communicants,’ who think that religion lies mainly in coming on a Sunday, and with more or less toleration and interest listening to a preacher’s words and joining in external worship, and all the while the ‘weightier matters of the law’-righteousness, justice, and the love of God-they leave untouched. What describes such a type of religion with more piercing accuracy than ‘nothing but leaves’? External connection with God’s Church is a good thing. It is meant to make us better men and women. If it does not, it is a bad thing. Acts of worship, more or less elaborate-for it is not the elaboration of ceremonial, but the mistaken view of it, that does the harm-acts of worship may be helpful, or may be absolute barriers to real religious life. They are becoming so largely to-day. The drift and trend of opinion in some parts of so-called Christendom is in the direction of outward ceremonial. And I, for one, believe that there are few things doing more harm to the Christian character of England to-day than the preposterous recurrence to a reliance on the mere externals of worship. Of course we Dissenters pride ourselves on having no complicity with the sacramentarian errors which underlie these. But there may be quite as much of a barrier between the soul and Christ, reared by the bare worship of Nonconformists, or by the no-worship of the Society of Friends. If the absence of form be converted into a form, as it often is, there may be as lofty and wide a barrier raised by these as by the most elaborate ritual of the highest ceremonial that exists in Christendom. And so I say to you, dear brethren, seeing that we are all in danger of cleaving to externals and substituting these which are intended to be helps to the production of godly life and character, it becomes us all to listen to the solemn word of exhortation that comes out of my text, and to beware lest our religion runs to leaf instead of setting into fruit.

It does so with many of us; that is a certainty. I am thinking about no individual, about no individuals, but I am only speaking common sense when I say that amongst as many people as I am now addressing there will be an appreciable proportion who have no notion of religion as anything beyond a more or less imperative and more or less unwelcome set of external observances.

III. And so, lastly, let me ask you to notice what Christ did.

I do not need to trouble myself nor you with vindicating the morality of this miracle against the fantastic objections that often have been made against it; nor need I say a word more than I have already said about its symbolical meaning. Israel was in that week being asked for the last time to ‘bring forth fruit’ to the Lord of the vineyard. The refusal bound barrenness on the synagogue and on the nation, if not absolutely for ever, at all events until ‘it shall turn to the Lord,’ and partake again of ‘the root and fatness’ from which it has been broken off. What thirsty lips since that week have ever got any good out of Rabbinism and Judaism? No ‘figs’ have grown on that ‘thistle.’ The world has passed it by, and left all its subtle casuistries and painfully microscopic studies of the letter of Scripture-with utter oblivion of its spirit-left them all severely and wisely alone. Judaism is a dead tree.

And is there nothing else in this incident? ‘No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever’; the punishment of that fruitlessness was confirmed and eternal barrenness. There is the lesson that the punishment of any Bin is to bind the sin upon the doer of it.

But, further, the church or the individual whose religion runs to leaf is useless to the world. What does the world care about the ceremonials and the externals of worship, and a painful orthodoxy, and the study of the letter of Scripture? Nothing. A useless church or a Christian, from whom no man gets any fruit to cool a thirsty, parched lip, is only fit for what comes after the barrenness, and that is, that every tree that bringeth ‘not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.’ The churches of England, and we, as integral parts of these, have solemn duties lying upon us to-day; and if we cannot help our brethren, and feed and nourish the hungry and thirsty hearts and souls of mankind, then-then! the sooner we are plucked up and pitched over the vineyard wall, which is the fate of the barren vine, the better for the world and the better for the vineyard.

The fate of Judaism teaches, to all of us professing Christians, very solemn lessons. ‘If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee.’ What has become of the seven churches of Asia Minor? They hardened into chattering theological ‘orthodoxy,’ and all the blood of them went to the surface, so to speak. And so down came the Mohammedan power-which was strong then because it did believe in a God, and not in its own belief about a God-and wiped them off the face of the earth. And so, brethren, we have, in this miracle, a warning and a prophecy which it becomes all the Christian communities of this day, and the individual members of such, to lay very earnestly to heart.

But do not let us forget that the Evangelist who does not tell us the story of the blasted fig-tree does tell us its analogue, the parable of the barren fig-tree, and that in it we read that when the fiat of destruction had gone forth, there was one who said, ‘Let it alone this year also that I may dig about it, . . . and if it bear fruit, well! If not, after that thou shalt cut it down.’ So the barren tree may become a fruitful tree, though it has hitherto borne nothing but leaves. Your religion may have been all on the surface and in form, but you can come into touch with Him in whom is our life and from whom comes our fruitfulness. He has said to each of us, ‘As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.’

11:12-18 Christ looked to find some fruit, for the time of gathering figs, though it was near, was not yet come; but he found none. He made this fig-tree an example, not to the trees, but to the men of that generation. It was a figure of the doom upon the Jewish church, to which he came seeking fruit, but found none. Christ went to the temple, and began to reform the abuses in its courts, to show that when the Redeemer came to Zion, it was to turn away ungodliness from Jacob. The scribes and the chief priests sought, not how they might make their peace with him, but how they might destroy him. A desperate attempt, which they could not but fear was fighting against God.Afar off - See the notes at Matthew 21:19.13. And seeing a fig tree—(In Mt 21:19, it is "one fig tree," but the sense is the same as here, "a certain fig tree," as in Mt 8:19, &c.). Bethphage, which adjoined Bethany, derives its name from its being a fig region—"House of figs."

afar off having leaves—and therefore promising fruit, which in the case of figs come before the leaves.

he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet—What the precise import of this explanation is, interpreters are not agreed. Perhaps all that is meant is, that as the proper fig season had not arrived, no fruit would have been expected even of this tree but for the leaves which it had, which were in this case prematurely and unnaturally developed.

See Poole on "Mark 11:11"

And seeing a fig tree afar off,.... By the wayside, at some distance from him:

having leaves; very large and spreading, which made a great show, as if there might be fruit on it:

he came; unto it; either he went out of his way to it, or having seen it before him a good way off, at length came up to it

if haply he might find any thing thereon; that is, any fruit; for he saw at a distance, there were leaves upon it; and which was the more remarkable, since it was the time of the fig tree just putting forth its tender branches, leaves, and fruit:

and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; no fruit at all upon it, contrary to his expectation as man, and the promising appearance the tree made:

for the time of figs was not yet; or, "for it was not the time of figs"; for the word "yet", is not in the text: and the words seem rather to be a reason, why Christ should not have expected fruit on it, than that he should: but the sense is, either because the time of gathering figs was not come; and since therefore they were not gathered, he might the rather hope to find some on it; or because it was not a kind season for figs, a good fig year; and this tree appearing in such a flourishing condition, might raise his expectation of finding fruit, yet he found none but leaves only; because it was so bad a season for figs, that even the most promising trees had none upon them: or this, tree being of an uncommon sort, though Christ expected to find no fruit on other trees, because the time of common: figs was not come, yet he might hope to, find some on this. Some critics neglecting the accents, render the words, "where he was, it was the season of figs"; See Gill on Matthew 21:19.

{2} And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.

(2) An example of that vengeance which hangs over the heads of hypocrites.

Mark 11:13. εἰ ἄρα, if in the circumstances; leaves there, creating expectation.—εὑρήσει: future indicative; subjunctive, more regular.—ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς, etc., for it was not the season of figs. This in Mk. only. The proper season was June for the first-ripe figs. One may wonder, then, how Jesus could have any expectations. But had He? Victor Ant. and Euthy. viewed the hunger as feigned. It is more reasonable to suppose that the hope of finding figs on the tree was, if not feigned, at least extremely faint. He might have a shrewd guess how the fact was, and yet go up to the tree as one who had a right to expect figs where there was a rich foliage, with intent to utilise it for a parable, if He could not find fruit on it. In those last days the prophetic mood was on Jesus in a high degree, and His action would be only very partially understood by the Twelve.

13. seeing a fig tree] The very name Bethany means “the place for dates,” while Bethphage is “the place for the green or winter fig,” a variety which remains on the trees through the winter, having ripened only after the leaves had fallen.

having leaves] It stood alone, a single fig-tree, by the wayside (Matthew 21:19), and presented an unusual show of leaves for the season.

if haply] Rather, if therefore, if, as was reasonable to expect under such circumstances, fruit was to be found.

for the time of figs was not yet] that is, the ordinary fig-season had not yet arrived. The rich verdure of this tree seemed to shew that it was fruitful, and there was “every probability of finding upon it either the late violet-coloured autumn figs, which often hung upon the trees all through the winter, and even until the new spring leaves had come, or the first-ripe figs (Isaiah 28:4; Jeremiah 24:2; Hosea 9:10; Nahum 3:12), of which Orientals are particularly fond.” Farrar, Life, II. 213. But this tree had nothing but leaves. It was the very type of a fair profession without performance; a very parable of the nation, which, with all its professions, brought forth no “fruit to perfection.” Comp. Luke 19:42.

Mark 11:13. Ἔχουσαν φύλλα, having leaves) And on this account promising fruit.—εἰ ἄρα, whether accordingly [if haply] The whole question as to the kinds of fig-trees may be set aside [dispensed with]. The leaves, which were on it, gave promise ostensibly of an abundance of fruit: accordingly the Lord approached to see, whether He would find anything more than leaves; but He found nothing but leaves, and not also figs: for it was not the time of figs. A nearer view of the tree showed that the tree was not such, as the leaves peculiarly [extraordinarily] promised it would be; but just such as was to be expected from the ordinary season, which was not the time of figs (comp. Matthew 24:32); that time either refers to the part of the year, a very few days after the vernal equinox, ch. Mark 13:28, or, independently of the time of year, it is denoted that trees of that kind were not then fruit-bearing. Therefore every fig-tree ought either to have not even leaves; or else, having leaves, to have had fruit also. Other fig-trees, which were clad neither with leaves nor fruits, were exempted from blame: this fig-tree, laden as it was with leaves, though promising, yet in fact refused the fruit which it promised. Therefore it was made to suffer the penalty.—γὰρ, for) This particle intimates the reason for which, both on a tree, though laden with leaves, yet the Lord sought fruit in particular, namely, because it was not the time of fruits: and why He found on it nothing save leaves. [It had seemed likely that at least unripe fruits would be found on it: what use these would have been made to serve by our Lord, it is needless to inquire. He may have been impelled, by the promptings of hunger, to seek for fruits, even though not wishing to eat such food. Nay, even unripe eatables relieve at times, when hunger is pressing. And He who had turned the water into wine, and a very few loaves into a banquet, sufficient for thousands of men,—with what ease may we suppose that HE would have been likely to impart instantaneous ripeness to the fruit.—Harm., p. 453]. This clause [for the time of figs was not yet] applies [is intended] for the explanation of the whole period, as the γὰρ, for, ch. Mark 16:4, where see note.

Verse 13. - And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon. St. Matthew (Matthew 21:19) says he saw "one fig tree" (μὶαν συκῆν), and therefore more conspicuous. Fig trees were no doubt plentiful in the neighborhood of Bethphage, "the house of figs." Dean Stanley ('Sinai and Palestine,' p. 418) says that "Mount Olivet is still sprinkled with fig trees." This fig tree had leaves, but no fruit; for it was not the season of figs (ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς οὐκ ῆν σύκων). Other trees would all be bare at this early season, but the fig trees would be putting forth their broad green leaves. It is possible that this tree, standing by itself as it would seem, was more forward than the other fig trees around. It was seen "from afar," and therefore it must have had the full benefit of the sun. Our Lord says (St. Luke 21:29), "Behold the fig tree, and all the trees: when they now shoot forth, ye see it, and know of your own selves that the summer is now nigh." He puts the fig tree first, as being of its own nature the most forward to put forth its buds. But then it is peculiar to the fig tree that its fruit begins to appear before its leaves. It was, therefore, a natural supposition that on this tree, with its leaves fully developed, there might be found at least some ripened fruit. Our Lord, therefore, approaches the tree in his hunger, with the expectation of finding fruit. But as he draws near to it, and realizes the fact that the tree, though full of leaf, is absolutely fruitless, he forgets his natural hunger in the thought of the spiritual figure which this tree began to present to his mind. The accident of his hunger as a man, brought him into contact with a great parable of spiritual things, presented to him as God; and as he approached this fig tree full of leaf, but destitute of fruit, there stood before him the striking but awful image of the Jewish nation, having indeed the leaves of a great profession, but yielding no fruit. The leaves of this fig tree deceived the passer-by, who, from seeing them, would naturally expect the fruit. And so the fig tree was cursed, not for being barren, but for being false. When our Lord, being hungry, sought figs on the fig tree, he signified that he hungered after something which he did not find. The Jews were this unprofitable fig tree, full of the leaves of profession, but fruitless. Our Lord never did anything without reason; and, therefore, when he seemed to do anything without reason, he was setting forth in a figure some great reality. Nothing but his Divine yearning after the Jewish people, his spiritual hunger for their salvation, can explain this typical action with regard to the fig tree, and indeed he whole mystery of his life and death. Mark 11:13Afar off

Peculiar to Mark.

Having leaves

An unusual thing at that early season.

If haply (εἰ ἄρα)

If, such being the case, i.e., the tree having leaves - he might find fruit, which, in the fig, precedes the leaf. Mark alone adds, "for the time of figs was not yet."

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