The story of Jesus cursing the fig tree is a fairly minor event, relatively speaking, compared to the other events of Holy Week, but still it is a significant event in the overall picture of salvation. We read in Mark 11: “When they came from Bethany, Jesus 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.” The next day Jesus’ disciples saw that the fig tree had withered away to its roots.
First, we puzzle over the fact that Jesus came looking for figs when it was not the season for figs. As all-knowing God, he would know that figs were not in season.
Second, why curse a tree? Trees are not rebellious sinners like us. There were plenty of wicked people that Jesus could have cursed instead of the fig tree.
There is, in fact, a good explanation why Jesus cursed the fig tree. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned Scripture says that their eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked so they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3)
When God came to visit with Adam and Eve they realized how inadequate their fig leaf clothing was. Maybe, as is often the case still today, Adam and Eve thought their sin was a minor thing that would sting for a while and then go away and they could get rid of the fig leaves and go back to being naked and at peace with God.
But in the presence of God Adam and Eve realized their attempt to cover themselves with fig leaves was completely inadequate. So God had mercy on them and made them a new set of clothing from the skins of animals, the first instance of blood being shed on account of human sin.
So in cursing the fig tree Jesus is showing that any human attempt to cover sin is fruitless. Only God can provide the remedy for our sins, which he has done through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We poor sinners can stand boldly in God’s presence only when we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus.
As we ponder and celebrate this great good news about our salvation through Jesus, the Holy Spirit motivates us to bear fruit for his kingdom at all times.
As a bonus feature in the fig tree story we get a glimpse into who Jesus is; he is true God and true man. The hunger that drove him to look for figs to eat points to his human nature. The fact that Jesus could wither a fig tree just by cursing it points to his divine nature. There is no one else like Jesus, and no one else through whom we are saved.