“Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive”(Matt.21:18-22).
The parallel account in Mark reads:
“And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing 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 for ever. And his disciples heard it”(Mk.11:12-14).
If the fig tree were a symbol of Israel, it would mean that Christ cursed Israel, that Israel would not be fruitful for ever. It would also mean that Israel withered away and died. Though Israel was exiled for nearly two millennia, the Jewish people live on, and Israel stands in the comity of nations today. It would mean that God contradicted Himself. “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed”(Gen. 12:1-3).
It would also mean that God cursed Himself, because whoever curses Israel will be cursed by God. It would also mean that all the families of the Earth would not be blessed. It would mean also that no man would eat any fruit from Israel and the Jewish people from thence forward and for ever. False you would say, and you are right. Israel invented drip irrigation which has revolutionised farming in some arid and poverty striken African nations.
All these negative inferences would be right were the fig tree to symbolize Israel. But we know they are all wrong. For starters, salvation is of the Jews.
“Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews”(Jon. 4:22).
Apostle Paul wrote:
“What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God”(Roms.3:1-2).
“To them also partaineth the covenant, the glory, the giving of the law, and the promises etc….”Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen”(Roms.9:4-5).
Shortly after this imprecatory invocation on the fig tree, Jesus went to the execution stake where He procured salvation for all humanity. Jesus is Israel’s greatest blessing to humanity. Would Jesus curse Israel when He, the greatest of the sons of Jacob, was about to hang on the cross to secure God’s greatest gift to humanity? One of His seven words on the execution stake was “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luk.23:24). One cannot curse whom God had blessed. The prophet Balaam could not curse whom God had not cursed; he could not defy whom God had not defied (Num.23:8). Jesus could not curse Israel because the Father had already Blessed Israel. As matter of fact, Jesus is God’s greatest blessing on Israel. Jesus never invoked any imprecations on the whole nation of Israel.
The ones He invoked woes on were the hypocrites: the Pharisees, Saddusees, the Herodians, the corrupt religious and political leaders of the nation.
“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers” (Matt.23:13-16, 23-32; Luk.11:42-52).
Jesus also invoked woes on the impenitent cities in which he ministered: Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum: “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (Matt.11:21-24; cf. Luk.10:13).
Jesus invoked woe on the world because of offences. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matt.18:7; cp. Luk.17:1).
Jesus invoked woe on him by whom He was betrayed, Judas, the man from Iscara.
“The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born. Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said” (Matt.26:24-25; cf. Mk.14:21; Luk.22:22).
Jesus also invoked woes on pregnant women, and nursing mothers, those who give suck to children during the Great Tribulation.
“And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!” (Matthew 24:19; cp. Mk.13:17; Luk.21:23).
This would be so because of increased death toll due to exposure to the elements and inability to move away quickly from Jerusalem and it’s environs which are being surrounded by the armies of the Beast. “Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (Luk.21:21-22).
This event shall occur precisely at the midpoint of the 70th week when the antiChrist shall relocate his headquarters to Jerusalem, violate the secret precincts of the rebuilt Third Jewish Temple on Moriah in Jerusalem, declare himself God in the midst therefore, and demand worship of all mortals.
“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:'(Matt.24:15-16; cf.Mk.13:14-16).
The antiChrist shall declare himself God in the Temple of God.
“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God”(2 Thess.2:3-4).
Jesus invoked woe on the rich who do not known Him, for they have received their consolation.
“But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation”(Luk.6:24).
Jesus invokes woe on those who are full who do not know Him, for they shall hunger. He also invoked woe on those who laugh now in defiance to God, for they shall mourn and weep.
“Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep”(Luk.6:25).
Jesus invoked woe on those who love to be well spoken of by men without caring about their standing before God. This is the portion of the false prophets. “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets”(Luk.6:26).
In the parable of the vineyard, Jesus again indicted the chief priests and the Pharisees.
“Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, 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. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.”(Matt.21:33-46).
The chief priests and the Pharisees were wise enough to perceive that Jesus spoke the parable against them. There would be a change of leadership within the framework of new religious and national order. The leaders of this new order would come from all nations, so also the members of this new order. The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and given to a nation bearing the fruits thereof. This new nation no doubt is the Church. This is the mystery and invisible form of the kingdom. This assertion however, does not mean that God was finished with Israel as some affirm. It has no national boundaries; it is a nation within nations; a kingdom within kingdoms. It consists of Jews and Gentiles. Jesus had a grouse with the leadership of Israel, not the whole nation. He had nothing against the ordinary people of the land, the common man in the street. Jesus never invoked any imprecatory woes on the nation of Israel as whole. His grouse was with the nation’s religious and political leaderships as represented by the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians. He warned His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Herodians.
“And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.”(Matt.16:5-12).
The Pharisees were hypocritical(Luk.12:1). They sat in Moses’ seat.
“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”(Matt.23:1-12).
They said the right things but did not do them. They loved greetings in the market places, and the best seats in the synagogues. They would rob a widow’s house, and for pretense, make long prayers. They loved to wear long robes and phylacteries, and they loved greetings in the marketplace. They coverted the best seats in the synagogues. They went about establishing rules to prevent breaking the Torah, which in turn lead the people away from the Torah. Over time, their traditions became more valuable to them than the Torah. Even till this day, the Jewish rabbis and their disciples study more of the Talmud and the writings and sayings of their sages and rabbis than the Torah. They engaged in hair-splitting arguments that were not understood by the ordinary people of the land, and had no practical relevance to their lives. They said if one swore by the Temple, it was nothing, but if one swore by the gold of the Temple, it was binding. They said if one swore by the altar, it was not binding: but if one swore by the gift at the altar, it was binding(Matt.23:16-22). Which was more important, the gift at the altar, or the altar that sanctified the gift? They taught the people to say to their parents, corban; it is a gift whatever you may be profited by me. And so, neglect to care for their parents and were therefore exonerated from their responsibilities to their parents to requite them(Mk.7:11). They led the people astray. They were blind leaders of the blind. They strained at a gnat, but swallowed a camel. They paid tithe to the minutest detail, but failed to deal with the weightier matters of the Torah: faith, love, justice, and mercy. Jesus never condemned them for tithing to the minutest details, but for neglecting faith, love, justice and mercy.
The Sadducees on the other hand were sceptics. Jesus warned His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Sadducees which was the unbelief of the Sadducees(Matt.16:6,12). The high priests came from this religious sect(Acts 5:17). They were also corrupt. There was a lot of infighting for the position of the high priest. Some families would bribe the Roman authorities to be favored with the position of high priest. They controlled the Temple tax and treasures which they used to enrich themselves. They commercialized Temple worship into a bureau de change. The Roman coin imprinted with the Roman eagle, a symbol of idolatry was unacceptable in the Temple. They were permitted by the Romans to mint their own coin. Jews and Gentiles converts to Judaism who came from all over the Roman Empire to pay Temple tax and to worship had to exchange the Roman coins with the Temple coin. The priests charged high rates. They sold animal and birds for Temple sacrifices; the prices were astronomical. It became a very big business. People who came to worship God were defrauded to the enrichment of the priesthood. They turned the house of prayer for all people into a den of thieves and robbers(Matt.21:13; Mk.11:17; Luk.19:46). Jesus made a whip and chased them out of the Temple, overturning the tables of the money changers and those that sold pigeons. They did not believe in the existence of spirits and angels, nor in the resurrection(Matt.22:23; Mk.12:18; Luk.20:27; Acts 4:1-3, 23:8).
Their teachings were earth-bound, mundane. To sum it up, it was like let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die(1Cor.15:32c). They were the ones who came to Jesus with a fabricated story of one woman married to seven brothers; a parody and a travesty of levitate marriage. They erred not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. Jesus demolished their false doctrine of no resurrection by invoking Moses’ vision of the burning bush from which He inferred that God is God of the living and not the dead.
“The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”(Matt.22:23-32).
What a miserable woman ? There was no such woman anyway. The story was a sadducean fabrication and concoction. She was hypothetical.
They were at loggerheads with the Pharisees(Acts 23:6,8). However, they collaborated with the Pharisees to demand of Jesus a sign from heaven(Matt.16:1). One of the accusations leveled against Jesus before Pontius Pilate was treasonable felony(Luk.23:1-5). Jesus made no claims to the kingship of Rome; His kingdom was not of this age.“Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. What Jesus meant was that His kingdom is not of this age. Jesus will still reign on Earth but in the Millennium. So, the accusation of treasonable felony was unsubstantiated and therefore null and void. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”(Jon.18:33-37).
Do you see Jesus’ kingdom? It is not of this age. It is not the Roman Empire. It is of the age to come where TRUTH is supreme, where love reigns, where fairness and justice prevail, where Heaven and Earth are in a holy embrace. If it were of this age, his disciples would have had to fight to bring it to fruition, and to establish it.
The Herodians were worldly. These were Jews who supported the party of Herod the Great and his family. One would not get any political appointments unless one belonged to this party. The publicans were members of this party who took the contract to collect taxes for Herod and the Roman government. They collaborated with the Roman authorities to oppress the people of the land. They were the tax collectors, the publicans. They collected more than was appointed them, and thereby defrauded the people(Luk.3:12,13). John the Baptist told the tax collectors: “collect no more than is appointed you(Luk.3:13).” Herod himself, of whom this party was named, was an oppressive ruler, an evil genius. He lavishly refurbished the Second Temple. He built hepodromes(horse racing tracts), amphitheaters, and fortresses and palaces like the Herodium, Masada, Alexandrium, Hyrcania, and Machaerus. These extravagant building projects were funded by a Hasmonean taxation system that weighed heavily on the Jewish people. To safeguard his throne, he executed his sons, Aristobulus and Alexander on suspicion of treason, and his wife, Mariamne I on suspicion of adultery. When he ascertained from the Magi that Jesus was born king of the Jews, he sent his soldiers and killed all male children up to two years old and under in the town of Bethlehem and its environs(Matt.2:1-18). Herod’s father was Antipater, an Idumean, whose ancestors were originally Philistines. After Idumea was conquered and destroyed by the Maccabean priest and king John Hyrcanus II around 135 BC, the Idumeans were forced to convert to Judaism. They resettled in south of Judah after been ransacked by the Nabateans. Herod ingratiated himself to the Roman senate which appointed him king of the Jews in 39 BC. In 30 BC he was confirmed king of Judea by Octavian at Rhodes.
The Herodians and publicans were at loggerheads with the Pharisees. The Pharisees looked down on them as extortioners and sinners(Matt.9:10,11). The publicans loved and saluted only their kind(Matt.5:46,47). The publicans were rich. Their wealth made them vulnerable to foolish and hurtful lusts that drown men in destructio(1 Tim.6:9).
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”(Luk.18:10-14).
The publicans were looked down on like the prostitutes. The publicans were not religious at all. They were quick to repent like the harlots(Matt.21:31). They repented at the preaching of John the Baptist(Matt.21:32; Luk.3:12, 7:29,30). Because Jesus ate and drank with the publicans, He was called a friend of tax collectors and sinners by the Pharisees(Matt.11:19; Mk.2:15-17; Luk.7:33-35, 15:1,2).
Some Publicans were hospitable to Jesus like Levi who Jesus called while he was at the tax office. Levi who was also named Matthew became one of the twelve apostles(Matt.9:9, 10:3; Mk..3:18; Luk.6:15; Acts 1:13).
“And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But the scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”(Luk.5:27-32).
Zacchaeus, a publican, a man of small stature, climbed into a sycamore tree to see Jesus whom he later hosted in his house. He too became a disciple of Jesus. He promised to give away half of his wealth to the poor and to repay fourfold anyone he had defrauded.
“And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”(Luk.19:1-10).
So, the Pharisees did not naturally agree with the publicans. But in order to undo Jesus, they entered into a marriage of convenience with the Publicans.
“And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.”(Mk.3:6).
The Herodians also collaborated with the Pharisees to entrap Him in treasonable felony.
“Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.”(Matt.22:15-22; cp. Mk.12:13-17; Luk.20:19-26).
The ordinary people of the land had to contend with opposing doctrines and practices of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the oppression of the worldly Herodians and publicans. If the head was sick, the whole body also would be sick.
“From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.”(Isaiah 1:6 KJV).
The rottenness of the leadership also reflected on the ordinary people of Israel.
Let us look at the parable of the barren fig tree.
“He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.”(Luk.13:6-9).
Can the barren fig tree be a figure of the whole nation of Israel? No doubt, the three years were the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Father is the owner of the fig tree. The dresser is Jesus who requested an extension of time for the fig tree to bear fruits. In the book of Acts, God re-offered the kingdom to Israel which She had earlier rejected in the gospel. The barren fig tree cannot represent the whole house of Israel. It is a figure of the individual Jew who would not accept the ministry of Jesus. More also like in all the other instances we have examined, the weight of evidence is in favour of the leadership of Israel. After it was dunged for another year and remained unfruitful, it was cut down. The year is the 38-year interim between the crucifixion of Christ and the destruction of the Temple on Mount Moriah in 70 AD. If the barren fig tree were the whole nation of Israel, that would mean that Israel as a people ceased to exist, which is historically false. So, my conclusion is the barren fig tree symbolizes the individual Israelite who rejected Jesus, was unfruitful, and was therefore cut down in unbelief. The motif fits more into that of the hypothetical and scornful leaders of Israel who in the eyes of God were unproductive whilst they flagrantly displayed their religious costume and paraphernalia. No doubt, the nation of Israel suffered a sever setback, lost its independence following the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD and the scattering of Jews amongst the nations, it never ceased to exist. The wrath of God was on the leadership and the Temple, the center and object of their hypocritical worship.
In this parable, a case could be made that Israel is the barren fig tree. But one of the principles of biblical hermeneutics is that there should be not antinomies. A common denominator must be found that harmonizes all seemingly apparent contradictions. The common denominator is the corrupt leadership of Israel. This is clearly borne out by the parable of the wicked tenants.
“Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time. And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid. And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” ( Luk.20:9-18 ).
The vineyard is the house of Israel, and the landlord is the God of Israel. The wicked tenants are the religious and political heads of the people of Israel. His servants are the prophets of Israel whom they molested, assaulted, and killed. The son is Jesus, the heir of the Father, whom they crucified on the execution stake outside the city of Jerusalem. The vineyard was never destroyed. What was destroyed was the wicked husbandmen. A new leadership was reconstituted under the framework of the new covenant. Once again this fits into the motif of Jesus’ invocation of imprecations on the hypocritical leaders of the nation of Israel.
The twelve apostles were Jewish. His disciples were mainly Jewish. Would Jesus had cursed Israel when He was about to hand over the baton in the heavenly relay race to His Jewish disciples who would take the message of salvation in His name to the rest of humanity? The new covenant was instituted by Jesus with His disciples all of whom were Jewish. They were representative of Israel. The New Covenant was enacted with Israel. It was not enacted with the Church. The Church was not in existence then. One cannot make a covenant with non existent body. The Church is the product of the New Covenant not its precursor. The Church was not instituted until the day of pentecost.
The Jews have been of tremendous blessing to humanity. Jews built the first cell phone, and developed text messaging. Jews built the first Intel mother board which is used in computers all over the World. Jews founded Google and Facebook. They have revolutionalized technology and communication. Jews were involved in the Manhattan Project that built the first nuclear bombs which were dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for the US, which brought an end to WWII. They were also responsible for the passage of information on the making of nuclear bomb to the Soviet Union, in order to maintain balance of power between the West and the East. Am not advocating treason; Snowden is a traitor. The Rosenbergs were executed on the orders of Eisenhower. Salk developed the polio vaccine that has saved millions of lives the world over. The contributions of the sons of Jacob to the betterment of human condition are too numerous to enumerate. A detailed and comprehensive list is beyond the scope of this article. In agriculture, civil engineering, science and technology, medicine, philosophy, psychology, indeed all fields of human endeavours, Jews have left their indelible imprints on the canvass of history. The contributions of the sons of Jacob to humanity are out of proportion to the paucity of their number, a mere less than 1% of the world population. Per capita, Israel and the Jewish people have worn more Nobel Prizes than any other nation or people. Young and little is the start-up nation. US, China, India, and many other nations are in partnership with Israel, and coöperate in various areas all because of Jewish ingenuity. Jewish ingenuity rules the world 🌎 in all fields of human endeavours.
Had it been Israel were cursed as was the fig tree, Israel would not be a blessing to humanity. We must take heed to be consistent with our hermeneutics(interpretation) less we contradict and condemn ourselves in those things which we allow or permit. The fig tree cannot symbolize Israel in Matt.24:32 and something else in Matt.21:19. Who and what then determine when it represents Israel and when it does not? There are many good bible teachers who teach that the fig tree signifies Israel. I beg to differ.
We can see that Jesus was using what His words did to the fig tree to illustrate what power His disciples could weald if they exercised their faith in God. If the fig tree were Israel, it would be wrong for Jesus to demand fruits of it when it was not the time for Israel to bear fruit. It was a practical lesson in Faith. The fig tree was just the fig tree. In the account in Matt.21, the application could be made to any situation that contradicts the word of God. We must understand however, that an application is different from primary interpretation. There could be hundreds of applications, but only one correct primary interpretation. If anything, Israel symbolizes a fruitful fig tree and not a barren one. It may not be as fruitful as it ought to be, but fruitful nonetheless.
The Lesson Of The Fig Tree
“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”(Matt.24:32-36).
“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.” (Mk.13:28-30).
Our Lord Jesus being the good teacher that He is illustrates His teachings with simple observable natural exemplary phenomenon. What prompted the Olivet Discourse was the question His disciples posed to Him with regards to His comments on the destruction of the Temple and the time of His parousia.
“And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”(Matt.24:3).
Jesus did not answer their question directly by telling them the time of His coming and of the end of the ages. Instead He enumerated in sequential order a series of events that shall unfold beginning from the emergence of false Christs at the commencement of the 70th week through the Great Tribulation that begins at the midpoint of it to the cosmic disturbances which shall interrupt the Great Tribulation and usher in His appearance in the heavens, the rapture of the Church and then the wrath of God which occurs at the end of the ages.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”(Matt.24:29-31).
After enumerating the sequence of events, He then illustrated His teaching with a simple observable natural seasonal occurrence. The parable of The Fig Tree was very apt; it was an object lesson that drove home to His disciples’ memory the essence of His teaching on the Olivet Discourse. He told His disciples to learn a parable of the fig tree. The fig tree was very common in Israel. A lot of it grew wild. It was also cultivated. It was ubiquitous. It was apt for an illustration. He told His disciples to learn a parable of the fig tree. It was observable. The disciples saw it all the times, in all the seasons. So, they could know what Christ was talking about by observing it. What is a parable? It is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. It illustrated a central truth; all parts of it need not be interpreted.
In Israel as in all temperate climate, trees are denuded of their leaves in Autumn or what the Americans call Fall. They remain so throughout Winter. This is a process of conservation. It is similar to hibernation practiced by some amphibians like the toad during the Dry Season and Harmattan in the Tropics. All activities are slowed down to zero in order to conserve energy. The toad burrows into a hole in the ground, and remains there throughout the dry and hot weather, its only activity being respiration. In spring, as the temperature rises and rain begins to fall, the trees will begin to sprout new leaves. The toad emerges from hibernation. It is life again after a period of dormancy. It bears some semblance to regeneration and resurrected from the dead. When this happens, everyone knows Summer is at the corner. I have heard Americans say this at the beginning of Spring, “Summer will soon be here.” This seasonal observation is not peculiar to the fig tree; in fact, it is common to all the trees. The fig tree was singled out, mentioned, and given prominence because it was very common, perhaps the commonest. In the Lukan account of this parable, Christ referred not only to the fig tree, but indeed to all the trees.
“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.”(Luk.21:29-32).
The fact that the Lukan account refers to all the trees is enough to indicate that Our Lord Jesus did not intend to use the fig tree as the figure or symbol of Israel in His illustration; for indeed all the trees cannot symbolize Israel. What He was trying to say to His disciples was that there would be a period of seeming inactivity when it would look like these thing would not come to pass. Then comes a period when these events would begin to unfold. And this lesson can be learned by observing the fig tree. Then learn a lesson of the fig tree, and indeed all the trees, when the branches soften and begin to bud, you know that Summer is near. In like manner, when these events begin to unfold, then know that the time of my coming and Of the end of the ages is near. When the fig is denuded of its leaves, and lies dormant does it mean it is dead? No. Spring will come, and then it will begin to sprout and grow again.
“This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.” The generation of believers that shall enter into the 70th week, witness the unfolding of the events enumerated by Christ in the Olivet Discourse, including the Great Tribulation by the antiChrist, shall be the generation that shall witness the coming of Christ, and the end of the ages. It is this generation that shall be raptured alive without passing through the intermediate process of death.
Do these events relate to Israel? Certainly. It is Israel that shall sign a 7-year peace agreement with the antiChrist.
“And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”(Dan.9:27).
It is the scornful leaders of Israel that will initiate the covenant of apostasy.
“Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it. From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.”(Is.28:14-15, 18-19).
It is Israel that will build the Third Temple on Mount Moriah, and resume animal sacrifice, grain, and drink offerings.
“And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.”(Rev.11:1-2; cp. Dan.9:27).
Daniel’s prophecy of 70 sevens concerns Israel and its Holy City, Jerusalem.
“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.”(Dan.9:24).
It is Jerusalem, the Holy City of Israel that the antiChrist will make his headquarters beginning from the midpoint of the 70th week.
“And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.”(Dan.11:45).
The abomination of desolation spoken by Daniel the prophet will be set up in the rebuilt Jewish Third Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.
“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)”(Matt.24:15). It is Jerusalem, the Holy City of Israel that shall be surrounded by the armies of the antiChrist at the midpoint of the 70th week.
“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.”(Luk.21:20).
The Great Tribulation shall be hottest in Jerusalem. The worst persecution by the antiChrist shall take place in Jerusalem.
“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”(Matt.24:15-21).
The reference to Judaea and the Sabbath day relates it to Israel and the Jewish people. Though the Great Tribulation by the antiChrist shall be worldwide, its epicenter shall be the land of Israel, and its Holy City, Jerusalem. It is unfortunate that some Jews, both orthodox and secular label us theological antisemites because we teach that a worse antisemite than Adolf Hitler will show up on the world stage in the last days, and make war upon the sons of Jacob, and the followers of Jesus the Messiah, the seed of the woman that keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus the Christ(Rev.12:17). It is regrettable and very dismal that some churches in Israel, and indeed Jerusalem, the epicenter of the antiChrist persecution of Jews and Christians preach pretribulational Rapture.
Obviously there are similarities between this natural seasonal observation and the history of Israel as a nation. Are these facts, in and of themselves, sufficient to make the fig tree, the figure and symbol of Israel? Certainly not. For that would mean that the generation that witnessed Israel’s independence in 1948 would not pass before Christ returns, raptures the Church, and initiates the wrath of God at the end of the ages. A generation is reckoned variously in different dispensations in the Bible. Now, it is more or less reckoned to be 40 years. Between the 1960s and now, we have seen three generations: the Baby boomers, the Millennials, and Generation X. Israel has been independent for almost 70 years, and yet we have not entered into the 70th week let alone witness any of the events enumerated by Our Lord in the Olivet Discourse. Is the word of God of none effect? No. Is Christ then a liar? No. We conclude therefore that the fig tree is not a symbol of Israel, at least, in the parable of the fig tree.
Jesus added that
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”(Matt.24:35-36).
This establishes the inviolability of His teaching on the Olivet Discourse. The fig tree is therefore a sign of approximation that Summer is near. Likewise the unfolding of these events signal the nearness of the time of His Coming and of the End Of The Ages. The budding of figs and all the trees in the Spring does not tell us the Day and the Hour Summer will begin, but the general time period. So, also all these events do not tell us the Day and the Hour of our Lord’s Coming, but the general time period. Jesus did not say that we the saints cannot know the time of His Parousia, but the Day and the Hour. The Day and the Hour of His Coming constitute a divine secret.
“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”(Deut.29:29).
Jesus is God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”(Jon.1:1-5).
He knows all things. But as the Son Of God, He has ceded certain decisions to the Father. So, it is the Father that decides on which Day, and in what Hour that Jesus will Come.