The Barren Fig Tree
A Parable of Repentance


The parable of the barren fig tree brings to mind another illustration. 

We know that every snowflake is unique as there are no two snowflakes alike.  But did you know that every snowflake has several attributes in common.  Among the commonalities is this:  Every snowflake has within it a small speck of dirt.

We are very much like a snowflake.  From our fingerprints to the inflections of our voice to the unique experiences that shape our identity, we are all very unique individuals.  But we have something in common.  Every one of us has or had a little dirt on the inside.  The apostle Paul put it this way. 

Romans 3.23:  “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”


We approach that little bit of dirt on the inside in different ways.

  • Some refuse to see the sin in their lives.  They refuse to look at their actions and attitudes in the light of scripture and instead say, “I have no sin”  (1 John 1.8-10).
  • Some have been disturbed by their sin and have turned to God who is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins if we submit to His conditions.
  • To be a person whose dirt on the inside has been washed away, whose sins God has blotted out, you need to be a person who repents.  You need to acknowledge that sin is present, and you need to be filled with godly sorrow and change your actions by changing your mind.


The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree emphasizes the need to repent.

Luke 13.1-9:  “He also spoke this parable: ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?'  But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.  And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.'”

Let’s first give some thought to the setting of the parable of the barren fig tree.  What was going on that caused Jesus to tell this parable?



The Setting of the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree

Luke 13.1:  There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”


The parable is brought about when there were those who came to Jesus and told Him about two incidents:  The Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with the sacrifices, and the fall of the tower of Siloam.


The Slaughter of the Galileans

As far as the Jews were concerned, Galilee was not the best part of Palestine.  Those who came from Galilee were typically looked upon with disdain.

  • In John 1.46, Nathanael learned that Jesus came from Nazareth and said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  (a city in Galilee)             

  • Later in John 7.52, Nicodemus was so impressed by Jesus that he told his fellow Pharisees who responded, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.”

Supposedly, according to secular history, in Galilee there resided a group of terrorists called the Zealots.  The Zealots were passionate about proper worship in the temple and had resorted to violence and assassinations to get their message across.  It is even suggested that Simon was a member of this group before He was called to be one of the original twelve.  (Luke 6.15)

According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Pilate was a ruthless dictator who had no respect for the worship of the Jews.  He was building up the region of Judea and planned on building a large aqueduct to bring water to Jerusalem.  He was going to use the money from the temple treasury to fund it.

Josephus recounts that the Jews were outraged, and some of the Jews from Galilee came down to Jerusalem to violently protest.  When Pilate uncovered their plans to protest, he sent some of his military to Jerusalem in disguise.  While these Jews were in the temple offering sacrifices, these soldiers leaped out and slaughtered the protesters.  Most historians speculate that this slaughtering was what was brought to Jesus’ attention in Luke 13.1.  


Jesus responded with a question and an observation.

Luke 13.2:  "And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.’”

In those times, the Jews equated suffering with sin.  If someone was suffering, it was because they had been guilty of sin and were being punished by God.  In fact, we read in John 9 that the disciples passed by one who was blind.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  (John 9.2).   Jesus replied that neither the man who was blind nor his parents had sinned  (John 9.3).

So it was likely that many believed that the slaughtering of these Galileans were the result of their being guilty of sin.  So Jesus asked if they thought these Galileans who were slaughtered were worse sinners than all the others because of what happened to them.  


Jesus answered His own question…

Luke 13.3:  “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”


Those Galileans who had perished being slaughtered by Pilate were not any worse sinners than any other Galilean.  Jesus then made a point.  “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  Jesus is calling for repentance.


The Tower of Siloam

Luke 13.4:  “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?”  

In the Old Testament we read that Hezekiah built a large aqueduct from the spring of Gihon through the valley of Kidron that brought water into the city and collected into a pool  (2 Kings 20.20).  This pool had become later known as the pool of Siloam.  (John 9.7) 

Near the pool there was erected a large tower known as the tower of Siloam.  It is speculated that this tower was attached to the wall of Jerusalem for the purpose of defense. 

For reasons that have not been recorded, at some point the tower fell.  It may have been because of age and disrepair.  It could have been due to an attack.  But for some reason, it fell, and when it did it resulted in the death of 18 individuals.

Jesus then asked a question very similar to his previous question.  Were these eighteen men who died worse sinners than anyone else because of what they suffered?  Notice His answer…

Luke 13.5:  “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Again, Jesus calls on them to repent.  That is the setting for this parable.  We now come to the story that is told, the parable itself.  Jesus tells this story about a fig tree that needed to change or else it would be cut down.  


The Story of the Barren Fig Tree

The parable of the barren fig tree begins in Luke 13.6:

Luke 13.6:  “He also spoke this parable: ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.’”


The word “also” connects the parable with the setting.  Jesus has twice made His point.  Two times Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  (Luke 13.3,5).  Now, as He begins this parable we find that this barren fig tree is connected to His point in verses 3 and 5. 

Here is His point:  If you do not change your behavior by changing the way you think, that is, repent, you will perish!  Based on this point, Jesus also spoke this parable.  The purpose of the parable is to emphasize the significance of repentance! 


Scene One:  The Inspection of the Barren Fig Tree

Luke 13.6,7:  “He also spoke this parable:  ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?'"


The ground of Palestine was particularly fertile, and it was not uncommon for one to come across a nice fertile piece of land and plant all kinds of trees and plants, including fig trees.

There is history behind this story.   In the book of Leviticus we find that there was a certain responsibility given to those who planted trees.  According to Leviticus 19.23-25, the first three years you could not eat the fruit of the tree.  The fourth year you could not eat the fruit because it was to be given to God.  It was not until the fifth year that the fruit could be eaten.

Here is one who comes to this fig tree looking for fruit to eat, and he has been doing this for three years.  He was not allowed to eat of the fruit until year five.  That means that he started in the fifth year to gather fruit and found none.  He then came back in the sixth year to gather fruit and still found none.  He then came back in the seventh year to gather fruit and still found no fruit.  This fig tree was seven years old.

We often use this parable to promote the need to be productive in our lives, and that application is certainly true.  But do you also see that this was a barren fig tree, and the owner had come to this fig tree one year and saw that it had no fruit.  He then came back the second year and again the third year.  Why?  He was inspecting the tree in hopes of finding change – that this fruitless tree is now producing fruit.


Scene Two:  The Intercession for the Barren Fig Tree

Luke 13.8:  "But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.’”


In verse 7, the owner of the vineyard told the gardener, “Cut it down”  (Luke 13.7).  The owner viewed the tree as being useless and wasting space.  That’s why he told the gardener, “Why does it use up the ground”  (Luke 13.7)?   The gardener interceded on behalf of this barren fig tree. 


Scene Three:  The Expectation of the Barren Fig Tree

Luke 13.9:  “And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.”

The owner and the gardener were going to wait one more year and see what happens.  If there is a change and it started producing fruit, then that was good.  But if it did not, there was going to be a consequence.  It would be cut down.   

That is the story of the parable of the barren fig tree.  The barren fig tree was given time to change.  It was a lesson about the need to repent. 

Now let’s consider the significance of the barren fig tree. 



The Significance of the Barren Fig Tree

There are two points of interest concerning the story of the barren fig tree.  The first point that we will consider is that this was an open ended story.  The second observation that we will give attention to is the lessons to be learned from this story.

 

The Story of the Barren Fig Tree is Open-Ended

Did you notice that this is a parable that does not have a conclusion?  There is no conclusion given.  We do not know if this fig tree bore fruit or not.  We do not know if the owner cut it down or not. 

The fact of the matter is that the story is not yet finished.  The Lord, even today, is still waiting to see if people will repent.  That is precisely the point that was made by the apostle Peter…

2 Peter 3.9:  “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”


The Lord is longsuffering.  He is patience with us because He does not want anyone to perish but for everyone to repent.  Although He waits and waits for us to make a change to turn from sin and be faithful and productive Christians, He will not wait forever.  

He warned Jezebel in Revelation 2.21, “And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.”  God gives us time, but the time is going to come sooner or later when He will wait no longer and will say like He did to that barren fig tree, “Chop it down”  (Luke 13.9).  Will we yield ourselves to the will of God before that time?


Three Important Lessons to be Learned

The lessons from the barren fig tree center around the need for you and I to make a change.  We need to change our behavior, our attitude, and be more productive in the works of God.  God demands change from our lives.  That will mean a variety of things for us.


1)  Repentance may require a change in my religion.

The Jews had to change.  In Acts 2 we read, “Now when the day of Pentecost had fully come…”  (Acts 2.1).  Pentecost was a day of worship that took place in Jerusalem.  Jews traveled from all over the world to come to Jerusalem for this day of worship.  In fact, we read in Acts 2.5, “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.” 

Jews from all over the world had come to Jerusalem to observe the day of Pentecost.  That indicates that they were very religious people.  In spite of their being religious, they were still lost and needed salvation. 

In Acts 2.38, they were told to “repent and let every one of you be baptized for the remission of sins”  They needed to repent.  They needed to change.  And that change involved a change in their religion -- a change from the Jewish religion to Christianity. 

They were no longer going to be expected to adhere to the commands of Moses under the laws of the Old Testament.  They were expected to serve God under the New covenant of Christ.

The Samaritans had to change.  Another example of those who had to change their religion include the Samaritans who gave their lives and their goods to Simon the Sorcerer, whom they believed had some connection to the spirit world.  They had to convert from their superstition to Christianity  (Acts 8.9-12)

The Athenians had to change.  Another example comes to mind in the city of Athens.  The people worshiped idols and even had an idol erected to the unknown God  (Acts 17.22,23).  Paul preached Jesus to them and called for their repentance.  They were required to change from paganism to Christianity.  (Acts 17.30).

God expects me to change.  God expects change in your life and it might mean a change in religion.  On that note, can you find the name of your church in the Bible?  Can you find the major tenets of your doctrine supported in the Bible?  These are questions that need to be answered.


2)  Repentance may require a change in my behavior.

You cannot be pleasing to God unless you change the way you act.  Notice what Paul wrote by the direction of the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 4.22.

Ephesians 4.22:  “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.”


You are to turn away from your former conduct.  You are not to conform yourself to your former lusts, but instead, you are to be holy even as God is holy. You have the grace of God.  You have been saved by that grace, but you cannot continue to live in sin.  You must change your former conduct.

When I was going to school, I got my report card, and at the bottom of it there was a section labeled conduct.  My conduct was graded.  Suppose God graded your conduct every day.  What would that grade be?  Would it read, “Unsatisfactory”?  Would it read, “Needs Improvement”?  We need to work on our conduct.


3)  Repentance may require a change in my values.

Simon the Sorcerer duped a lot of people by his magic, and he gained quite a name for himself.  Many in Samaria were converted, and Simon the Sorcerer was also converted. (Acts 8.13).

When Peter and John came and laid hands on the people and gave them the ability of the Holy Spirit, Simon was astonished and tried to purchase that ability with money.  (Acts 8.18-22)

Notice how Peter responded to Simon’s request...

Acts 8.20-23:  But Peter said to him, ‘Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!  You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.  Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.  For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.’”

Peter told him that he needed to repent of his wickedness.  He had to change his values.  What was important to him was receiving the praise of men and being elevated in their site.  That value system had to change. 

What is important to you?  Is money more important to you than God?  That needs to change.  Are social engagements more important to God?  Is it more important to make social connections with people than spiritual connections?  That needs to change.  Is your career more important than your family relationships and your commitment to God?  That needs to change.  You may be required to change your values.

The lessons from the barren fig tree are clear.  When our lives, our religion, our values, our behavior is in conflict with God, we are expected to change.  God is patient and hoping that change will occur.  But He will not wait forever.  We must strive to make the needed changes in our lives before God comes along and says, “cut it down.”



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