In this section of Mark’s Gospel we find Jesus condemning both the fig tree and the Temple of Jerusalem. These two events speak not only of the Jewish religion of that day, but also of the Christian church of the present.
“And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry” (Mark 11:12).
The body of the Lord Jesus Christ was flesh just like ours. He would weep, rejoice, suffer pain, and become tired and hungry as we do. The wonder of this is that the eternal God was willing to dwell in a human body for thirty-three years. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This in reality was the only way He could come “into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
The sinner’s Friend (Matthew 11:19) sympathises with His believing people on earth. He knows all about our sorrows, infirmities and sufferings, because He experienced the same Himself. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He is no stranger to our daily life and trials. The Saviour and Friend of our souls is able to strengthen us with His power, “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). We should never tire hearing of His humanity.
“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. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it” (Mark 11:13-14).
When Jesus came to the fig tree He found nothing but leaves. Because it bore the signs of something it did not have, the tree was cursed by the Lord and was “dried up from the roots” (Mark 11:20). This story is an emblem of spiritual things.
Firstly, the barren fig tree speaks of the spiritual condition of the Jewish religion of that day. It was rich with formalism and tradition, but was void of any kind of spiritual fruit. They became the “very naughty figs” mentioned by Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 24:1-6).
Secondly, it speaks of the spiritual condition of the Christian church of today. There is a great deal of ‘show’ in the church but it is unaccompanied by sound doctrine and holy living. The church appears to be alive with entertainment and worldliness, but in fact it is dead at the roots because of its carnality, hypocrisy and lukewarmness. A church might be vibrant and famous, but it is dead if Christ is not there. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17) … “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:5).
Lastly, the barren fig tree has a message to individual believers too. Baptism, partaking of the Lord ’s Table, church membership and outward conformity to Christianity are not sufficient to save the soul. All these things are “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) if Christ is not truly the Lord of our lives. They are the same fig leaves which Adam and Eve tried to cover their spiritual nakedness with (Genesis 3:7). Self-righteous and religious righteousness cannot hide sin from the all-seeing God. We must bear fruit, or be lost forever. There must be fruit in our hearts and lives. There must be true holiness in those who profess Christ as Saviour. Do we have profession without reality? Do we have a high talk but a low walk? The Lord expects to find fruit in us.
“And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city” (Mark 11:15-19).
The House of God, no matter how humble it might be, must always be honoured and reverenced. Many places of worship today have become a den of thieves and stand in need of a radical cleansing by the Lord. The church building is the place we meet together to fellowship with the Living God, “Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people” (Isaiah 56:7) … “Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 7:11). Disrespect of the church building is a sign of irreverence towards God. While the church building is not an example of heavenly things as was the Temple, it does not follow that we can be careless in it. The building is set apart (sanctified) by us for prayer, worship, preaching, and ought to be free of everything profane and unholy.
When we attend a place of worship we must know that we are in the House of God, and make sure we do not offer the sacrifice of fools, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil” (Ecclesiastes 5:1).
We ought to beware of giving God mere formal service either in the church building or in our daily lives. The One who cast out the hypocrites from the Temple still watches over His House. Does our conduct displease Him in anyway? “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Isaiah 29:13).