Are we BEARING FRUIT or, LIVING on BORROWED TIME? He (Jesus) 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.’” (Luke 13:6-9)
The above passage is a parable told by Jesus Christ to His disciples that is found only in the Gospel of Luke. A fig tree often represents God’s blessing, or a people who have a special relationship with God (see Micah 7:1, 2). This fig tree that was planted in the vineyard may stand for Israel, and is similar to another fig tree that was cursed by Jesus (see Matt. 21:18–21). There are four parables of Jesus Christ that emphasize God looking for fruit from His vineyard (see Matt. 20:1–15; 21:28–32, 33–46; John 15:1–11). John the Baptist also preached about this near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (see Luke 3:8–9).
A simple interpretation of this parable is as follows: God has planted a fig tree (Israel) in His vineyard (world). During the time of the fruit-bearing season, God has been looking for fruit for the last three years. A vineyard is a fertile soil for a fig tree, and three years points to a time for a fig tree to grow, mature and bear fruit. This may also refer to the first three years of the public ministry of Jesus Christ. Thus a period of three years is sufficient time for any fig tree to produce fruit. If no fruit appeared in three years, then it was reasonable to conclude that no fruit would ever appear. Due to its fruitlessness, God the Father ordered to cut it to be down as it was only occupying ground that could be used more productively. However, the vinedresser (Jesus) interceded on behalf of the fig tree, asking that it be given another chance and one more year to bear fruit. If at the end of that time, it was still fruitless, then He could cut it down.
In reality, this is exactly what happened to Israel. Right after the third year of Jesus’ ministry, Israel totally rejected and crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. So, Jerusalem and God’s Temple was completely destroyed in A.D. 70 and the Jews were scattered as a result of God’s judgment (19:41–44; 20:9–19). G. H. Lang in his classic book 'Parabolic Teaching' has given the following insight into this parable: “The Son of God knew the mind of His Father, the Owner of the vineyard, and that the dread order “Cut it down“ had been issued; Israel had again exhausted the Divine forbearance. Neither a nation nor a person has reason to enjoy the care of God if not bringing forth the fruits of righteousness unto the glory and praise of God. Man exists for the honor and pleasure of the Creator: when he does not serve this just end why should not the sentence of death follow his sinful failure, and he be removed from his place of privilege?”
Thus, this parable reveals the failure of Israel (symbolized by the fig tree) to bear fruit for God. Sadly, the fig tree would be cut down and replaced by other trees that would bear fruit. The lesson to be learned is that when God gives spiritual privileges to anyone, He also expects fruit. There is an imminent danger of not producing any fruit. Even though God was merciful with Israel, He still had to judge that nation later when it still failed to produce any spiritual fruit.
As a spiritual application, our Lord Jesus Christ has chosen us with a purpose, as He stated: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you." (John 15:16) Even though this parable speaks of God’s patience and forbearance, but it also reveals God’s eventual severity in judgment on those who are continually fruitless. We must pay attention to what Apostle Paul has written concerning this matter: "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off." (Romans 11:22)