“In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again.’ And the fig tree withered at once” (Matthew 21:18-19).
Reading the account of Jesus’ final days on earth this last week reminded me of the authority Jesus demonstrated. As Jesus rode in on a donkey, he showed off the fact that he was King. He then strolled into the temple, and showed off his authority by overturning the money changers in order to purify the temple. But then, the next morning, as he returned to Jerusalem, we read that he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree in the distance that bore leaves, he expected to find figs, but was left disappointed. As a result, he showed off his authority by cursing the fig tree in its place. Later we read that the disciples were walking by this same tree and were stunned to find it withered and dead. (Relax all you tree-huggers, there is a deeper purpose behind Jesus’ action.)
In Matthew 24, Jesus taught the disciples one of the lessons of the fig tree. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Matthew 24:32-33). The first lesson is clear: When the fig tree shows its leaves, fruit should quickly follow. Jesus had just told the disciples of a number of signs to look for that would evidence Christ’s imminent return. The leaves are the signs that point to imminent fruit.
The second lesson is incredibly practical for us. When Jesus saw the fig tree in season, he expected to find figs. If there are leaves, there should be fruit. This particular fig tree was showing no fruit, and was therefore worthless. Jesus is condemning the religious leaders and the Jews that would reject him and put him on the cross. They have the outward signs of being ripe and ready to show outward fruit, but when you come to know them, you realize that they are in fact fake. When Jesus cursed the fig tree, he was cursing Israel for rejecting him.
Christians around this nation bear the name “Christian” like the fig tree bore the leaves. Yet many Christians around this nation fail to bear the true fruit a true Christian should bear. Jesus’ condemnation is clear for those so-called Christians: if you call yourself a Christ-follower but you don’t bear fruit, then you don’t really know Jesus. You are a false disciple of Jesus. One day, if you do not repent, you will be cursed just like this fig tree.
The damage that is being done by those who bear the name of Christ but do not truly know Jesus is significant. Many people say they love Jesus, but hate his followers because many that they are seeing as “his followers” are not genuine followers. They are doing damage to the name of Jesus in this nation.
If you find yourself bearing the name of Jesus, but not showing fruit, repent and turn to Jesus. If you find yourself in the place of knowing more false followers of Jesus to the point that it turns you away from Jesus himself, my prayer for you is that you would be able to see the difference between the true followers and the false followers. I pray that you would experience the real transformation and the real fruit that Jesus brings when we believe in Him and submit to him as our Lord.