The Parable Of The Fig Tree


“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’ Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So, he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ Luke 13:1-9

‘The Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices’

The Galileans were people who lived in Galilee and it’s important to remember that they weren’t under the jurisdiction of Pilate, but of Herod. The Galileans, in the time of Christ, were very wicked. While the Galileans were sacrificing at Jerusalem, Pilate came suddenly upon them and killed them, and ‘their’ blood was mingled with the blood of the animals that they were killing for sacrifice.

This doesn’t mean that Pilate ‘offered’ their blood in sacrifice, but only that as they were sacrificing he killed them.

This event isn’t mentioned by Josephus, and nothing more is known of it than what is here recorded. We learn, however, from Josephus that the Galileans were very wicked, and that they were much liable to brawls and treasons. It appears, also, that Pilate and Herod quarrelled with each other Luke 23:8-12

‘When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.’

It’s not improbable that Pilate might feel a particular enmity toward the subjects of Herod. It’s likely that the Galileans excited a tumult in the temple, and that Pilate took occasion to come suddenly upon them, and show his opposition to them and Herod by slaying them.

A thought about Pilate

From out of remote Glen Lyon, the longest glen in Scotland has come an intriguing oral tradition that Pontius Pilate was born in the hamlet of Fortingall, which lies at the entrance to this dramatic and picturesque highland glen.

This ancient tradition also claims that Pontius Pilate was related to the Scots King, Metallanus, whose royal seat was located on a hill fort called Dun Geal, the White Fort, at Fortingall.

According to the ancient Scots Chronicles, Metallanus was on good terms with the government of Caesar in Rome. Local tradition records a Roman camp at Fortingall and perhaps a clue as to its presence there may be found in the Latinised name of the Scots King, Metallanus.

For it’s known that the mining of metal ores, such as iron, took place in this area in past times and no doubt the Romans would have been particularly interested in accessing these metals. In nearby Glen Lyon is to be found an old bridge which traditionally has been known as the Roman Bridge.

Could Pontius Pilate have eventually come to Rome as a result of this Scottish Roman connection?

Later being appointed the Roman Procurator of Judea at the time of the crucifixion of Christ. Curiously, one of the oldest military regiments in the British Army is the Royal Scots, who claim to be descended from Pontius Pilate’s bodyguard, thus providing another Scoto-Roman link with the Pilate Scottish enigma.

At Caesarea in Palestine is to be found an ancient stone slab which is called the Pilate Stone due to a Latin inscription inscribed upon it which appears to read ‘Hiberieum Pontius Pilatus’.

At the time of Pilate the Gaelic northerly regions of the British Isles, including Ireland, were known to the Romans as Hibernia. Does this Latin inscription reinforce the story that Pontius Pilate originally came from Scotland according to the old Glen Lyon oral tradition?

As an aside, could it be that Pontius Pilate was schooled in the Celtic Druid tradition so prevalent in Scotland at that time? The Druid motto was ‘Truth against the world’.

Does this explain Pilate asking Jesus ‘What is truth?’, possibly a Druidic password given by one initiate to another? John 18:38. With His possible association with the Druids during His legendary visits to Britain, perhaps Jesus responded with a secret sign, hence His apparent nonverbal reply as indicated in the Gospel of John.

Jesus’ reply to them shows us what they actually thought, they were prejudiced. They hadn’t suffered such a terrible fate as the Galileans, they were glorifying the misassumption that they didn’t deserve punishment.

In that deep human prejudice to the effect that great sufferers are receiving only what they deserve lies a germ of truth, namely, that all human sorrow and suffering derive, in the last analysis, from human sin, but it’s a gross lie that all disasters that happen upon people must be attributed to their immediate, specific sins. Many suffer through the sins of others, and some for no apparent reason at all.

The great truth spoken of here, and repeated in the same words two verses later, was for the purpose of removing the false security of His hearers, both Galileans and those who live in Jerusalem. Israel had rejected God’s call to repentance as delivered, first by John the Baptist and again by Jesus Christ and the impact of this verse is that God rejects the human device of supposing that some are righteous in a relative sense, because they aren’t like such notorious sinners as the Galileans and that the Almighty demands repentance of all men.

The perishing focuses on the fact that Israel is the primary target of this commandment, although, of course, in the general sense it applies to every man on earth. These words mean that Israel would perish in the same way that the Galileans did, that is, by the Roman sword.

The tower of Siloam

Jesus speaking about some construction with the pool of that same name, and having to do with the aqueduct that brought water into it, and perhaps also with the Roman fortifications of the city. Josephus wrote that ‘Pilate expended the sacred treasure which is called corban upon the aqueducts, whereby he brought water from a distance of four hundred furlongs.’

Upon the presumption that the eighteen men were workers on the construction when the tower fell, it’s easy to see how the Jews would have accounted them especially sinful, for not only were they working for the hated Romans, but they were being paid with money that Pilate had robbed from the temple treasure. However, Jesus rejected the notion that such conduct was the reason they were killed.

Significantly, this terrible accident was introduced into the conversation, not by His hearers, but by Christ himself; but He used it in exactly the same manner as He used the other incident, demanding of all people, and specifically including Israel, that they should repent or perish.

Repentance stands between every man and the merit which is in Christ Jesus. Christ’s call to repentance was next extended to include a third warning, that of the parable of the barren fig tree.

The Fig tree

The fig tree would produce fruit for 10 months of the year, April and May but this one had no fruit. It had leaves on it but produces fruit before leaves, there should have been fruit on that tree. But why one fig tree in a vineyard?

Well, the fig tree got affection whilst the vineyard got attention.

The fig tree parable

Before breaking this parable down, let’s look at who’s who and what each part stands for.

1. The owner of the vineyard is the heavenly Father.

2. The vinedresser is the Lord Jesus Christ.

3. The vineyard is the world.

4. The fig tree is the Jewish nation.

5. Three years stands for the first three years of Jesus’ ministry.

6. Fruitlessness is Israel’s rejection of Jesus.

7. This year also is Jesus’ final year of preaching.

8. Cut it down stands for God’s judgment against Israel.

There is nothing in this parable that requires us to consider that fig tree as being only three years old. The Greek text in this place uses the past perfect ‘having been planted,’ that is, having been planted long ago in the call of Abraham, Genesis 12:1-3.

The axe was laid at the root of national Israel, Matthew 3:10 ‘The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’ The nation was soon to be cut down. The meaning of this parable is that Israel, the fig tree, was planted years before the coming of Jesus who came to receive its fruit.

However, Israel was unfruitful in that many in Israel strayed from God to follow after their own traditional religion, Mark 7:1-9.

Nevertheless, Jesus, the vinedresser, pleaded to God on behalf of Israel, Matthew 23:37 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.’

But Israel wouldn’t repent, and thus, the tree was cut down in A.D. 70.

Here was a man who had a vineyard, in which he had planted a fig tree. Just one fig tree in a garden of vines. The owner came looking for fruit on the fig tree, and, when he was disappointed, he would have destroyed the unfruitful tree had not the Vinedresser pleaded with him to spare it for one more year. The Vinedresser said that He would give the tree every opportunity of producing fruit and then, if it failed, it would be cut down.

Remember this significant detail. The parable concerns one fig tree in a vineyard. Now, this is in itself remarkable, because it was unusual for a fig tree to be planted in a vineyard. Notice that the tree wasn’t there by accident. It had been planted there quite deliberately.

Furthermore, we must bear in mind that the vineyard wasn’t cultivated as a hobby or pastime. Nor was it kept for its beauty, or as a garden for relaxation. It existed for the value of the fruit it produced.

The solitary fig tree, on the other hand, wasn’t planted in the vineyard because it was a viable business proposition. The Lord’s parable highlights a very important difference between that one fig tree and all the other trees, the vines, in that garden. The vines received attention. The fig tree received affection!

In other words, the fig tree wasn’t meant for the market, but for the owner’s personal pleasure.

The lesson of this parable is that God expects fruit. He expects fruit because fruit is the indication of an obedient heart. If there is no fruit, then there is no active faith. And without an active faith, no one can be saved, James 2:14-16.