Nothing but Leaves: the Fig-Tree Accursed: No. 1

Mark 11:12-21
"And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: and seeing a [or, one] fig-tree afar off, having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything 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 forever. And his disciples heard it".... " And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, calling to remembrance, saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig-tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus, answering, saith unto them, Have faith in God."
There is one striking peculiarity attached to this miracle of the Lord Jesus. It is the only one of judgment, or the curse. Every other miracle was of the character of blessing. What, then, can be the spiritual significance of this single exception? Let us look at it, both in itself, and in its connection with its context.
Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem, and He sees one fig-tree afar off. He desires fruit. See Him walking to this one tree, so fair, so full of leaf. But when He came to it, " he found nothing but leaves." For the time of figs, of fruit, was not yet. Surely He who saw Nathanael under another fig-tree knew that there was nothing but leaves on this. Yet He came to it, desiring fruit. He showed that desire, being hungry. And now He pronounced those remarkable words—"No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever." And He spake those words to be heard by His disciples. " And his disciples heard it." That was the last day of that fig-tree; judgment was passed upon it. The very next morning, " as they passed by, they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots.” How swift and complete the judgment! There can be no more fruit forever from that tree—it is withered from the very roots. Well might Peter exclaim, "Master, behold, the fig-tree which thou cursedst is withered away." What can this remarkable action of the Lord mean? What is its teaching to us?
Let us now notice the context Of this miracle, What a yesterday it had! Certainly, to all outward appearance, one of the brightest days of Israel. The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem—garments spread, and branches of trees cut down, and strewed in the way. " And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Loud: blessed be the kingdom of our father, David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest." Never had the leaves of profession shone with a fresher green. And then we find Jesus entered Jerusalem, and into the temple; and when He had looked round about on all things, He went out, and retired from it all to Bethany, the place of the family remnant.
Now, do you not begin to see the meaning of those remarkable words, "Nothing but leaves"?
Then what took place on the day that judgment was passed on the one fig-tree? See Him enter the temple again; see Him casting out the buyers and sellers, and overthrowing the tables of the money-changers, and suffering no man to carry a burden through the temple. Hear His words: "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." Is not this again, "Nothing but leaves"?
There is also another striking connection of o scripture with this miracle, here in Mark 11; 12, and also in Matt. 21 In both cases the parable of the vineyard follows, as it were as an explanation of the miracle of the one fig-tree. The two, taken together, become most deeply interesting. There can be no mistake as to the meaning of the parable. The Pharisees and scribes understood it to mean themselves. God had planted His one vineyard—He had separated one nation from all nations of the earth. It was the trial of what is called in scripture the flesh—the trial of man in his fallen nature. Men, they had placed themselves on this ground of probation, and engaged to keep the law. God had come, seeking fruit, but had found none. As the owner of the vineyard, He had a just right to look for fruit. The parable explains how Israel had treated the prophets and servants of Jehovah, and, as the last test of man, God had sent His own Son. Did He find fruit? Never were there more leaves, as we have seen, but " nothing but leaves." They said, " This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him." The more we study this parable, in dependence on the Holy Spirit, the more we see how it explains the meaning of the miracle—" Nothing but leaves."
The connection of scripture is still more striking in Matthew, as showing the connection between this miracle and the Jews, or Judaism.
First, there is the judgment on the one fig-tree that yields no fruit.
Secondly, the parable of the vineyard, which goes beyond all endurance, in the rejection and murder of the Son.
And, in the third place, the wedding feast. (Matt, xxii.) When they had done their utmost, in rejecting and murdering the Son of God, then it was proved there was no fruit to God in man, even in that one nation so highly privileged. God had come down, manifested in flesh, born of a woman, full of grace and truth; but there was no love of God in the nature of man. Never had there been such a tender, loving Neighbor to man as Jesus; but there was neither love to God, nor love to the neighbor, in man. The flesh was proved to be only fit for the curse, for it was sin, and only sin. Then, after all this, in the riches of His own infinite grace, God spread the feast for man as a lost sinner, and the servants were sent to call the guests—sent first to that very nation, yea, that very city of Jerusalem. And what took place then? "They would not come." (Matt. 22:33And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. (Matthew 22:3).) And. when other servants were sent, assuring them that all things were ready—all that man as a sinner could need in the presence of God—entreating them to come, " they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise." How terrible the sin of: rejecting the riches of the grace of God! How bitterly all this came to pass, and their city was destroyed.
Thus, as to Israel as a test of man in the flesh, the green-leaved one fig-tree of profession, there was no fruit for Christ. He came, seeking fruit, but found " nothing but leaves." No more fruit in this the brightest day of profession, than in the dark days of Elijah; yet, in both cases, and at all times, God has an election of grace. This is seen in all scripture, from Abel downwards. God has His remnant of Hannahs and Simeons. But religious man in the flesh is tested, weighed in the balances, and found utterly wanting:”nothing but leaves."
Let us now look at this remarkable miracle a little more closely: first, as to Jerusalem, or Judaism; and afterward as to Christendom.
Jerusalem was the center of religion—the one green fig-tree of profession—it looked upon all other nations as dogs. Its privileges were exceeding great. The flesh, or man in his natural state, had been tried now in every possible way; and the result, as seen in the last test, the sending of Jesus, the Son of God, had proved that there was only sin in man. This is a lesson that must be learned, and it is impossible to separate sin and the curse—sin and its curse. Thus, if the one fig-tree is the one nation tested in the flesh, and the flesh is found to yield no fruit—nothing but leaves, nothing but sin—its judgment, its curse, must come. But here we come to the most solemn part. The judgment on the fig-tree was terrible, and final. There was not only no fruit found then, when fully and finally tested, but it received its judgment, and there was to be no fruit from it hereafter forever. There is to be no fruit from Israel as in the flesh, as children of Adam, hereafter forever.
How little have they—yea, how little have we—understood this. It may be said, How can this be so, since we know from scripture that they will be the most highly-favored nation on earth, when the kingdom of God shall come on this earth? The instruction of the Lord to Nicodemus settles this apparent difficulty. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." When the Lord restores the house of Israel, He says: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes," &e. (Eze. 36:26, 2726A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26‑27).) No, the trial of man in the flesh, of sinful flesh, is over forever, withered from the root. "Now is the judgment of this world." (John 12:3131Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. (John 12:31).) This will take us beyond Jerusalem, or the Jews, to the whole world under judgment. Man in the flesh is like the one fig-tree, forever under the just judgment of God: nothing but leaves; hollow, heartless profession, but no fruit. The whole world is like a condemned prisoner; all are concluded guilty, under judgment, waiting for execution. It is there the glad tidings of mercy and pardon begin, and are so suited to us. Let us, then, next see how the teaching in this most singular miracle applies to us, or rather to Christendom.