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The Barren Fig Tree

Aug 25, 2006

The Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem (604-534 B.C.) did not end when the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon and allowed the people of Judah to return to their land in Canaan. What ended was the iron yoke (Deut. 28:48), in which they were divinely judged with deportation (Deut. 28:64).

If the people in Jeremiah's day had submitted to the wooden yoke of Babylon (Jer. 28:13), they would have been allowed to remain in their land as Babylonian subjects. But in their fierce nationalism and religious fanaticism, they refused to be obedient to the words of Jeremiah (Jer. 27:12). This type of thinking, says the prophet, is the fruit of the evil fig tree, and such people not only become a curse to the nations (Jer. 24:9), but are also divinely cursed (Jer. 26:6).

The captivity of Judah and Jerusalem continued under the Medes and Persians, though under the more moderate wooden yoke. The divine authority to rule Jerusalem passed to the Greeks under Alexander the Great two centuries later, and they, in turn, were replaced by the Romans in 63 B.C. This is called the Babylonian Succession of Empires, because the captivity spanned more than a single empire, as was prophesied in Daniel 2 and 7.

Meanwhile, there continued to be two types of Judean "fig trees," people with different attitudes toward this divine judgment. A few submitted to the yoke; but most chafed under it and did all they could to regain their independence. Instead of agreeing with Jeremiah that God had placed the nation under the authority of these ungodly nations, they disagreed with him, saying, "God wants us to be free." That is the essence of evil fig thinking.

By the time Jesus was born, there had been many revolts against Rome, which Rome had crushed. The people thought that the Messiah was to come and set them free from Rome, and so they longed for His coming. When Jesus did come, the people rejoiced at His miracles, but they wondered why He did not attempt to raise an army against Rome. He was a Prince of Peace and treated the Romans with respect.

Jesus did not fit their view of the Messiah. One reason He was rejected was because He believed the words of Jeremiah and submitted Himself to divine authority.

Toward the end of His ministry on earth, as He was walking to Jerusalem, He drew near to a fig tree that was full of leaves. Matt. 21:19 says,

"And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, 'No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.' And at once the fig tree withered."

In Mark 11:13, where the story is repeated, it tells us, "He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs." Nonetheless, He said to it in the next verse, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" Later, in Mark 11:20, 21 we read,

" (20) And as they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. (21) And being reminded, Peter said to Him, "Rabbi, behold, the fig tree which You CURSED has withered."

One may argue that it was unreasonable for Jesus to curse a fig tree when it was not yet the time for figs. But Jesus did this as a prophetic act. The fig tree was a symbol of the evil fig tree of Judea that had rejected Him. In fact, the very day that He cursed the fig tree, He went to the temple and cast out the money-changers, saying in Mark 11:17,

". . . Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?' But you have made it a robbers' den."

This was the pronouncement of judgment upon Solomon's temple 600 years earlier in the days of Jeremiah (7:11). Essentially, Jesus was pronouncing divine judgment upon that temple, even as He had cursed the fig tree (nation) earlier in the day.

The fig tree dried up from the roots. There was no way that it would ever again bear fruit, even as Jesus said. Yet a few days later, as recorded in Matt. 24:32, 33, we read:

" (32) Now learn the parable from the fig tree; when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; (33) even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door."

I heard many sermons about this as a child. They said that the Israeli state was fulfilling this prophecy, and that the fig tree that Jesus cursed was now coming back to life again. "Bible prophecy is being fulfilled right before our eyes!" they thundered enthusiastically.

Well, yes, of course that is true. But they always forgot to tell us that the verse says nothing about this fig tree bearing FRUIT. The fact that it puts forth more leaves does not mean it is bearing fruit. In fact, did not Jesus prophesy that this fig tree would never again bear fruit? Jesus is not looking for more leaves; He is looking for fruit.

Fig leaves have been the problem since the days of Adam (Gen. 3:7), when they were used to cover up the evidence of their sin. Fig leaves are a bloodless covering for sin, a rationalization and self-justification to make one look righteous in the eyes of men. This is what the Israeli state has been doing since its inception. It has brought forth an abundance of leaves and is thus fulfilling Jesus' prophecy perfectly.

But it will never bring forth the fruits of the Kingdom or the fruit of the Spirit. Not as a nation. There are individuals, of course, who even now bring forth fruit. But such people are of a different fig tree, for as Jesus said in Matt. 7:18,

"A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit."

If a Zionist is converted to Jesus Christ, then let him produce good fruit. But if his conversion simply motivates him to perpetrate more violence upon the Palestinians, or to be a more zealous Zionist, I have to question his love and therefore his relationship with Christ. If such a man remains part of the evil fig tree that Jesus cursed, attempting to add Jesus to his Judaism and Zionism, I have to question his Christianity.

Yet I leave it in God's hands to judge. Even Jesus' disciples did not understand this same issue until after the day of Pentecost. Many did not understand it until God destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. They attempted to remain in Judaism, sacrificing animals, keeping feasts in an Old Testament manner, and having confidence in Levitical priests to represent them before God--until God sent His armies to destroy the city (Matt. 22:7).

Somewhere around that time, the book of Hebrews was written to drive that final wedge between the Christians and the old system of Judaism. It spoke of a better covenant, better promises, a better priesthood, and better sacrifices that no longer depended upon Jerusalem, its temple, or its old priesthood. This is what finally made Christianity independent from Judaism.

This was done by a divine act and by inspired writing. Yet we see today among evangelicals and pentecostals a new move to bring Christians back into Judaism. Christians are told to go to Jerusalem to keep feast days. They are told that this is where the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit will take place. They are told to wear the talith (prayer scarf). They are told that in the coming age the Jews will be chosen and that Levitical priests will again perform animal sacrifices in a rebuilt temple.

These views cause well-meaning Christians to leave the good fig tree and attempt to be re-attached to the evil fig tree that Jesus cursed. But you who read these web logs regularly have eyes to see and ears to hear. You are the ones God will use to set up His true Kingdom.

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones