I wish I could have been there on that momentous day when Jesus finally made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was a Messianic event that announced to the world that Christ was the coming Promised One. Several centuries before, the prophet Zechariah had foretold, “Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Even the hosannas and blessings that were heralded by the throngs surrounding Him were taken from the Psalmist as echoes of long-awaited expectations (Psalm 118:25-26). Jerusalem would finally meet her Messiah.
But in Mark’s version of this story, recorded in chapter 11, an interesting progression takes place that is easy to miss. The expectation of the people is only part of the story; the Messiah Himself had a heavy set of long-awaited expectations. After the noise settles, Jesus makes His way into the temple to look “around at all things” (Mark 11:11). What did He see? What was He inspecting? We are not told any more details. After inspecting the temple until evening, He retires for the night to nearby Bethany with His disciples.
Jesus longs to find the fruit of righteousness and love
The next day, on their way back to Jerusalem to visit the temple again, Jesus, who was “hungry,” saw a fig tree and “went to see if perhaps He would find something on it.” But after inspecting the tree for some fruit, “He found nothing but leaves” (Mark 11:12-13). The expectation of finding fruit was reasonable because the green figs appear first, followed by the opening of the leaves. By the display of its leaves, the fig tree had falsely advertised its fruit. To the shock of His disciples, Jesus responds by pronouncing a curse on the tree, which eventually withers. Then Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem and creates quite a scene by cleansing the temple.
So what does all this mean? The composition of Mark 11 is profound. The episode of the fruitless fig tree is sandwiched between the two visits to the temple. The connection is provocative and suggests that the fig tree is an acted parable representing the temple, or the church. Jesus was hungry, looking for fruit. But not physical fruit, rather the fruits of righteousness. It was His church that had been elected to bear the fruit of the beauty of God and feed a languishing world. Yet the temple offered “nothing but leaves,” neglecting not only a hungry world, but a hungry Messiah.
Today, Jesus longs to find the fruit of righteousness and love in every one of His followers. The Promise is certain: “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).