The Fruitless Fig Tree
A parable is a story that communicates a deeper truth. Jesus isn’t teaching us about fruit trees and gardening. He’s talking about salvation and spiritual fruitfulness.
The fig tree is a standard image of the nation of Israel. So is the vineyard. So a fig tree in a vineyard would surely represent Israel. God is the owner of the vineyard and of the fig tree. Israel is God’s nation; the Jews are God’s people. God expects his nation to bear fruit. In particular, the nation ought to accept Jesus as their Messiah. Given the context (13:1-5—except you repent, you’ll perish), the nation should repent now, lest they be cut down. The only thing holding back judgment is God’s mercy and patience.
When interpreting parables, one of the most important rules is that we understand the main point. Generally, parables make only one or two main points. So the main point in this parable is virtually the same as 13:1-5—you’d better repent and bring forth fruit or you’ll be cut down.
Jesus has already spoken in the book of Luke about the importance of bearing fruit.
Luke 3:7–9 [Jesus said,] “Bear fruits worthy of repentance, … even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Jesus also taught in the Sermon on the Mount that good trees bear good fruit (6:43-45). So this is a fairly common theme in Jesus’ teaching.
We also learn here that God is patient with unfruitful trees. He threatens judgment but is willing to wait. The owner is ready to cut down the tree and replace it with a better tree. If the nation repents, God will withhold judgment. But if they fail to bear fruit, judgment will fall; the nation will be cut off.
How can we apply this parable to ourselves? Are there some parallels between God’s expectation of fruitfulness for Israel and his expectation of fruitfulness for us? I think we can make some meaningful applications of this parable to our situation today.