Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH God):
Why Did the Messiah Curse the Figtree?
Yeshua's enigmatic cursing of the fig tree on the road from Bethany has baffled students of the Bible for centuries! WHY did the tree have leaves when it was "out of season" and not yet time for new growth? And why did the Messiah curse the fig tree when he FULLY REALIZED -- before he even approached it -- that it would have NO fruit? The WITHERING of that fig tree was an IMPORTANT HIGHLIGHT in the stream of events being fulfilled during our Savior's last days before being crucified, and stoned, on the Mount of Olives -- probably within a very few yards of the fig tree itself!
by John D. Keyser
In the 21st chapter of Matthew, we read of a very unusual event in the last days of our Savior's life here on this earth:
"Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city [Jerusalem], he was hungry. Seeing a FIG TREE by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, 'May you NEVER bear fruit again!' Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. 'How did the fig tree wither so quickly?' they asked. Jesus replied, 'I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain [Olivet], "Go, throw yourself into the sea," and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer'" (Matthew 21:18-22).
Was this highly unusual occurrence just a lesson in faith, or was there more to it than that? And why did the Messiah pick a FIG TREE for this lesson? Before answering these questions, let's look at Mark's account of the event:
"The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because IT WAS NOT THE SEASON FOR FIGS. Then he said to the tree, 'May no one EVER eat fruit from you again.' AND HIS DISCIPLES HEARD HIM SAY IT...In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree WITHERED from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!' 'Have faith in God,' Jesus answered. 'I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, "Go, throw yourself into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours'" (Mark 11:12-14, 20-24).
In verse 14 Mark makes a POINT of explaining that the Messiah's disciples actually heard him curse the fig tree, the implication being that the Messiah did not necessarily intend for those with him to hear or understand what he was doing. When Peter brought the event to Yeshua's attention the next day, as they were passing by the scene, the Messiah gave an explanation that, in retrospect, could not have really satisfied the disciples. Why?
The cursing of this particular fig tree has baffled theologians down through the centuries. In fact, Mark even said that "it was not the season for figs" (verse 13). On top of that, we should realize that it was barely time for the tree to have leaves! This event occurred four days before the Messiah's crucifixion in the spring of 31 A.D. and, according to the Aid to Bible Understanding, "Along about February, the first fruit buds appear on the branches of the previous season and precede the leaves by about two months, SINCE THESE [THE LEAVES] DO NOT APPEAR UNTIL THE FINAL PART OF APRIL OR IN MAY" (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. 1971, p. 580).
A Puzzling Event!
It has puzzled people for centuries why the Messiah was so upset with a fig tree that BY NATURE should not have had much in the way of leaves, and no figs! Notice what The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible has to say:
"The most difficult passage to interpret is the story of Jesus' cursing the fig tree (Mark 11:13-14, 20-21; and its parallel in Matt. 21:18-21), which seems so OUT OF CHARACTER. Many explanations have been offered, but without any permanent solution. That it may have been a dramatic illustration of the parable in Luke 13:6-9, pointing to the tragic end of those who produce no fruit from their lives, seems possible. The absence of the early spring green figs (Song of S. 2:13), which normally precede the leaves and indicate that the tree would bear fruit that season may have been the basis of the story, though it WOULD NOT EXPLAIN THE IMPULSIVE ACTION OF JESUS. Perhaps the story was originally intended as an apocalyptic symbol. That the original context and meaning of the story HAVE BEEN OBSCURED OR LOST is clear" (Abingdon Press, N.Y. & Nashville. 1962, p. 267).
Harper's Bible Dictionary advances this theory:
"A fig tree that failed to bear figs was cursed by Jesus (Matt. 21:18-19) PERHAPS as a metaphor for the destruction of the Temple that similarly failed to bear proper religious fruit" (Edited by Paul J. Achtemeier. Harper & Row, San Francisco. 1985, p. 308.
The Interpreter's Bible, Volume VII, provides us with these additional thoughts:
"The DIFFICULTIES of the story should be frankly faced. To propose that Jesus saw the tree was already diseased, and said so, DOES NO JUSTICE to the undeniable curse in vs. 19. It also OVERLOOKS the fact that men then believed that a righteous man's curse has POWER. To propose that Christ would blast a tree, but not a human life, is SIMPLY UNCONVINCING. Would Christ deal thus even with a tree, especially if -- as Mark's Gospel says -- it was NOT the season for fruit? It is better to ASSUME that this is a rewriting of the parable of the Jewish nation recorded in Luke 13:6-9. It is significant that Luke does not record this story except as a parable.
"A tree, standing alone where all men could see it, having promise of fruit but no fruit -- a fitting symbol of Jewry in the time of Christ" (Abingdon Cokesbury Press, N.Y. & Nashville. 1951, pp. 507-508).
James Hastings, in his Dictionary of the Bible, attempts to interpret Yeshua's actions that day on the road from Bethany:
"When our Lord came to the fig tree near Bethany (Mk. 11:13), just before the passover, i.e. from late in March to the middle of April, 'the time of figs was not yet,' that is, the season for ripe figs had not come. Among the VARIOUS EXPLANATIONS of Christ's action which may be given, the only ones which seem to us worthy of consideration are the following:
"(1) That being hungry, and seeing from a distance that the tree had leaves, and therefore was not dead, he came, not to find new figs, but to find and eat any figs of the last season which might have remained over on the tree. The expression 'if haply he might find anything thereon' implies that he did NOT expect to find much. One or two figs will often stay an empty stomach marvelously. According to this OPINION, the offence of the fig tree was the fact of not having what must have been a very exceptional relic of a former harvest.
"(2) That, finding leaves, he knew that there should be young fruit, and hoped that there might, even at that EARLY PERIOD, be 'the first ripe figs,' bikkurah. According to this interpretation, the fault of the fig tree was in not having a precocious fig or two before the time, 'for the time of figs was not yet.' We will not dispute the possibility of finding a winter fig or two on a tree (ALTHOUGH DURING A RESIDENCE OF THIRTY-THREE YEARS IN SYRIA WE HAVE SEARCHED AND INQUIRED IN VAIN FOR THEM), or of the exceptionally early maturing of some variety of figs, perhaps not now cultivated. Neither of these theories, however, ACCORDS WITH OUR CONCEPTION OF CHRIST'S JUSTICE. In neither case would the fig tree be blameworthy. We are not accountable for extraordinary attainments in religion.
"(3) Christ was at the moment hungry. Orientals do not eat early in the morning. Labourers and artificers come fasting to their work, and often toil an hour or two before eating. So it is presumable that our Saviour, in his morning walk of two miles from Bethany to Jerus., had not broken his fast. The physical sensation of hunger as a basis gave direction to his thoughts, as he happened to see a most familiar spectacle, a fig tree, at a distance, with fresh, young foliage. The fact that it is mentioned that 'the time of figs was not yet' (RV), WOULD SEEM TO PROVE THAT CHRIST WOULD NOT HAVE THOUGHT IT STRANGE HAD HE NOT FOUND WINTER FIGS OR PRECOCIOUS FIRST FRUITS. It is hardly conceivable that he could have condemned the tree for that. But, when he arrived, he found no fruit at all. Immediately the disappointment of unsatisfied hunger was lost in the moral lesson which flashed across his mind. A fig tree with leaves should have at least green fruit. This one had none. There was pretension, which, in the moral sphere, is hypocrisy. Having leaves and no fruit, it was a deceiver. The ripeness of the fruit is not the point. If it had unripe fruit, it would not have been condemned. It was condemned because it had nothing but leaves" (Vol. II, 1958, page 5-6).
The bottom line here is CONFUSION! There are as many interpretations of this event as there are interpreters! All because they have not SOUGHT OUT the real significance, origin, and symbolism of the fig tree.
A Miracle With Great Symbolic Importance
Looking at the cursing of the fig tree with an open mind, it is without a doubt that the whole event was a MIRACLE from start to finish. Why would the Messiah go to all this trouble with a nondescript fig tree growing alongside the road into Jerusalem? For the Messiah to go to all this trouble to produce a sign of this nature, there must have been some great, symbolic importance and meaning to it. If there was no symbolic importance to this event, then it simply makes NO SENSE at all and has no RELEVANCE to the last days of the Messiah on this earth! But it does, as we shall see, have GREAT symbolic importance in understanding the tremendous sacrifice of our Lord and Savior.
Ernest L. Martin, in his book Secrets of Golgotha, has this observation:
"The fact that the fig tree had leaves was in itself a miracle because leaves would not have naturally been on the fig tree for at least a month later. Also, there should not have been any figs on the tree. Since the tree was located on a main thoroughfare into Jerusalem and with the heavy population around the city at that Passover season, it is not to be imagined that Christ expected to find a few dried figs of last year's crop on the branches. The tree would surely have been stripped clean of its fruit. Christ MUST HAVE KNOWN that he would NOT find any figs on this unusual fig tree. The truth is, however, the lack of figs and the abundance of leaves were important FACTORS in a miraculous occurrence. In this scene we are provided with a most important symbolic teaching by Christ with his actions" (ASK Publications, Alhambra, CA 1988, p. 259-260).
Since it is obvious that some great, symbolic importance IS attached to this unusual event, let us now examine the fig tree itself in greater detail, and see whether it also has any symbolic significance.
Identifying the Tree!
The first mention of the fig tree, in the Bible, is found in Genesis 3:
"And when the woman [Eve] saw that the tree [of the knowledge of good and evil] was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, AND A TREE TO BE DESIRED TO MAKE ONE WISE, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband [Adam] with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed FIG LEAVES together, and made themselves aprons" (Verses 6-7).
Although the Genesis account does not DIRECTLY say that the fig tree is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it alludes to it by having Adam and Eve sew fig leaves together to hide their shame RIGHT AFTER describing the eating of the tree's fruit.
Harold N. Moldenke and Alma L. Moldenke, in their book Plants of the Bible, make this association:
"While tradition usually holds that it was the 'apple' (that is, apricot) which was the 'tree of knowledge' in the garden of Eden, OTHER LEGENDS say that this mythical tree WAS THE FIG. The latter claim is doubtless based on the statement in Genesis that Adam and Eve took FIG LEAVES with which to clothe themselves IMMEDIATELY after eating of the forbidden fruit" (Chronica Botanica Co., Waltham, Mass. 1952, page 105).
W. R. Paton suggests that the story of Adam and Eve and their aprons is reminiscent of an ancient custom of fertilizing fig trees BY A PAIR OF HUMAN SCAPEGOATS who, like the victims of the Thargelia, associated themselves WITH THE TREE by wearing its foliage or fruit (ibid, page 104 -- footnote).
Is this, then, a CORRECT association to make? Should we rightfully associate the sewing together of fig leaves with the eating of the fruit? Let's see what Jewish tradition has to say:
"What was the tree of which Adam and Eve ate? Rabbi Yosi says:
"It was the FIG TREE...the FIG whereof he ate the fruit opened its doors and took him in (Midrash, Bereshith Raba, 15,7).
"The FIG LEAF which brought remorse to the world" (ibid., 19,6).
We also find (Berahot 40a) the following:
"The tree of which the first man ate...Rabbi Nehemiah says: It was the FIG, the thing wherewith they were spoilt, yet were they redressed by it. As it is said: And they stitched a FIG-LEAF."
In the non-canonical Book of Adam and Eve, we find further confirmation of this viewpoint:
"After these things the Word of God came to Adam, and said unto him -- 'O Adam, as to the fruit of the Tree of Life, for which thou askest, I will not give it thee now, but when the 5500 years are fulfilled...O Adam, I gave thee to eat of the fig-tree in which thou didst hide thyself. Go and eat of it, thou and Eve'" (Chapter XXXVIII:1-2, 4).
It is quite apparent, then, that the Jews consider the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to have been the FIG; but what about the traditions of OTHER nations or religions?
Evidence from Other Nations
There is, it turns out, ABUNDANT EVIDENCE from many peoples of the Middle East and Asia to support this viewpoint. Notice, now, the traditions of India:
"The tree more particularly revered by Buddhists is the Bo-tree, or Tree of Buddha. Often it is used as a symbol of Buddha. It belongs as close to Buddha as the Cross does to Jesus Christ. Legend states that Buddha attained his great ENLIGHTENMENT after six year's meditation under the Bo-tree. Bo is a contraction of Bodhi, WHICH MEANS WISDOM THROUGH A TREE. Here again we are confronted with THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE" (Tree Worship, by Charles Alldritt. Strong & Ready Ltd., Auckland. 1965, p. 60).
And what TYPE of tree was the Bo-tree? A book published by the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York answers:
"Deciding that the answer was to be found in his [Buddha's] own consciousness, he sat in meditation under a PIPAL, OR INDIAN FIG TREE. Resisting attacks and temptations by the DEVIL MARA, he continued steadfast in his meditation...until he supposedly transcended all KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING and reached enlightenment" (Mankind's Search For God, 1990, p. 137).
The Encyclopedia Britannica (1943) confirms this:
"The SACRED FIG, peepul or bo (F. religiosa), a large tree with heart-shaped, long-pointed leaves on slender footstalks, is much grown in southern Asia....in India it is chiefly planted with a religious object, being regarded as sacred by both Brahmans and Buddhists. A gigantic bo, growing near Anarajapoora, in Ceylon, is, if tradition may be trusted, one of the oldest trees in the world. It is said to have been a branch of the tree under which Gautama Buddha became ENDUED WITH HIS DIVINE POWERS, and has always been held in the greatest veneration" (Vol. 9, p. 229).
The same encyclopedia, under the heading Bo-Tree or Bodhi-Tree, has this to say: "The name given by the Buddhists of India and Ceylon to the Pipal or SACRED WILD FIG (Ficus religiosa). It was a tree of this species beneath which the Buddha is traditionally supposed to have attained PERFECT KNOWLEDGE" (Vol. 3, p. 951).
The identity of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is further proven by Alexander Porteous in his intriguing book, Forest Folklore, Mythology, and Romance:
"In the town of Calicut, in Madras [India], there is a SACRED GROVE OF WILD FIG TREES, the scarlet berries of which were said to have been the CAUSE OF THE FALL OF MAN. The largest of these trees was surrounded by a wall or terrace, on which the SACRED SERPENTS (COBRAS) sunned themselves, and they reared their young in the recesses of the stately SACRED TREE" (London, 1928, p. 220).
How much PLAINER can that be?
The traditions of the Brahmas are very similar to those of the Buddhists. Notice the following quote from the same volume by Alexander Porteous:
"The Pippala [FIG TREE] was one of those trees SACRED TO VISHNU, who is often depicted as sitting on its heart-shaped leaves [just like Buddha?]. He was born under one of these trees, and when Brahma APPOINTED RULERS OVER BEASTS, BIRDS, AND PLANTS [reminiscent of Adam in the Garden of Eden] the HOLY FIG TREE became the sovereign over all trees. A SILK-WORM, which feeds on its leaves, is called DEVA, OR DIVINE, AND SHARES IN THE SANCTITY OF THE TREE" (pg. 221).
In the Upanishads -- part of the sacred writings of Hinduism -- we find the story of the two birds:
"Two birds always united, OF THE SAME NAME, occupy the same TREE.
"One of them enjoys the sweet FRUIT OF THE FIG, the other looks on as a witness. Living on the same tree, the DELUDED SOUL is grieved by the WANT OF POWER, and when it perceives the Ruler, and his glory, then its grief ceases. When the BEHOLDER sees the golden-coloured maker, the Lord, the Soul, the source of Brahma, THEN HAVING BECOME WISE, shaking off virtue and vice, without taint of any kind, he obtains the highest identity" (Mundaka Upanishad, III. 1,1-3).
If we examine the traditions of Iran or ancient Persia, we find very similar vestiges of the Garden of Eden scenario: "The legend concerning the birth and the first exploits of Mithra runs thus. He was BORN OF A ROCK [dust of the ground -- Adam] ON THE BANKS OF A RIVER under the shade of a SACRED FIG TREE...When he had clothed himself with the LEAVES OF THE FIG-TREE, DETACHING THE FRUIT [TO EAT?] and stripping the tree of its leaves by means of his knife, he undertook to subjugate the beings ALREADY CREATED in the world" (The Mythology of All Races, vol. VI., p. 287).
Charles Alldritt clarifies this Mithras legend:
"Mithras was said to have been born of a rock, and gifts were brought to him by wise men and shepherds who had witnessed the miracle. But of course we must again HAVE OUR TREE [of the Knowledge of Good and Evil]; and the new born babe, to relieve cold and hunger WENT IMMEDIATELY TO A LARGE FIG TREE AND ATE THE FRUIT AND CLOTHED HIMSELF WITH FIG LEAVES" (Tree Worship, page 60).
What about the ancient Egyptians? With one of the oldest civilizations this side of the flood, we should expect to find evidence of legends built up around the tree in the Garden of Eden. We are not disappointed! Returning to the work Forest Folklore, Mythology, and Romance, we find this evidence:
"In the great hall of the temple at Heliopolis in Egypt there once stood a VERY ANCIENT SYCOMORE TREE OR SYCOMORE FIG (Ficus Sycomorus), of which it is said that THOTH AND THE GODDESS SEFCHET, 'the lady of writing, the ruler of books,' wrote the name of the Pharaoh on its leaves, and that the god Atum, following her example, 'wrote the name on the NOBLE TREE with the writing of his own fingers'" (page 220).
And who was Thoth? None other than the Egyptian GOD OF WISDOM! Notice what J.E. Manchip White writes about this Thoth:
"Thoth, the Greek Hermes [Cush]...was vizier and scribe of the gods and controller of the seasons, the moon and the stars. He invented hieroglyphic writing, mathematics, the keeping of accounts, languages, magic, the legal system and even the game of draughts. He was married to the heavenly librarian Seshat [Sefchet], who inscribed on the leaves of the Tree of Heaven [fig] the record of every man's life" (Ancient Egypt: Its Culture and History, Dover Publications, N.Y. 1970, p. 24).
Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson underscores the importance of the FIG TREE to the ancient Egyptians:
"Of FIGS and grapes they [the Egyptians] were particularly fond, which is shown by their CONSTANT introduction, even among the CHOICE OFFERING PRESENTED TO THE GODS; and figs of the sycamore must have been HIGHLY ESTEEMED, since they were selected as the HEAVENLY FRUIT, given by the goddess Netpe to those who were judged worthy of admission to the regions of eternal happiness" (The Ancient Egyptians: Their Life and Customs, vol. 1, Crescent Books, N.Y. 1988, p. 181).
On page 259 of this same volume, the author reveals this incredible piece of information:
"Of fruits, the SYCAMORE FIG, and grapes were the MOST ESTEEMED for the service of the altar. They were presented on baskets or trays, frequently covered with leaves to keep them fresh; and sometimes the FORMER [SYCAMORE FIGS] were represented placed in such a manner, on an open basket, AS TO RESEMBLE THE HIEROGLYPHIC SIGNIFYING 'WIFE'"
Isn't that amazing? Here we see the figs linked with "wife" -- ADAM'S "WIFE," EVE!!
It is interesting to note that in the Andaman Islands (lying between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea) the most dignified form of burial is on an elevated platform (much like some of the North American Indians) IN A FICU (FIG) TREE. These people also believed that if a baby dies, its soul returns to the tree (fig) from whence it originally came. Also, even to this day, in Palestine, the Sycamore Fig tree is believed to be inhabited by devils!
Now let's not leave ancient Rome out of the picture! In Latin myths the FIG TREE plays a very important role. Held sacred to Bacchus, it was employed in religious ceremonies; and the fig tree that OVERSHADOWED the twin founders of Rome -- Romulus and Remus -- in the wolf's cave, AS AN EMBLEM OF THE FUTURE PROSPERITY OF THE RACE, testified to the high value set upon the fruit by the nations of antiquity. In fact, the fig tree was so important to ancient Rome that the following incident was recorded by Alexander Porteous:
"There was once a famous Fig tree in Rome which, so it was said, had sheltered the infants Romulus and Remus while they were being suckled by the wolf. The tree was thus known as the Ruminalis, or the RUMINAL FIG, and on one occasion, so tradition avers, when it began to show signs of decay, the UTMOST CONSTERNATION prevailed in the City of Rome at such an AWFUL OMEN. Fortunately, however, for the tranquillity of the inhabitants, the tree eventually put forth new shoots and regained its verdure" (Forest Folklore, Mythology, and Romance, p. 227).
There is another intriguing legend out of the Middle East that narrates that "Eve, in absence of mind, carried away with her from Eden a BRANCH OF THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE, which she planted; while another tells that the Archangel Michael handed to Eve a branch bearing three leaves, detached from that tree, with instructions to plant it on the GRAVE OF ADAM. She did so, and it grew into a tree, which was REPLANTED AS AN ORNAMENTAL TREE BY KING SOLOMON IN THE TEMPLE..." And what was this tree? None other than the fig tree!! (Ibid., p. 211).
The Biblical Evidence
Last, but certainly not least in authority, is the Bible! Notice, now, Jeremiah 24:
"The Lord shewed me, and, behold, TWO BASKETS OF FIGS were set before the temple of the Lord, after that Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, with the carpenters and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon. ONE BASKET HAD VERY GOOD FIGS, even like the figs that are FIRST RIPE: and the other basket had VERY NAUGHTY [EVIL] FIGS, which could not be eaten, THEY WERE SO BAD. Then said the Lord unto me, What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, FIGS; THE GOOD FIGS, VERY GOOD; AND THE EVIL, VERY EVIL, THAT CANNOT BE EATEN, THEY ARE SO EVIL" (Verses 1-3, KJV).
Here we see the two baskets of figs, representing the two fig harvests, called GOOD AND EVIL, HENCE THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL! How plain and evident that is! Why have we not seen that before?
YEHOVAH God continues, in verse 8, "And as the EVIL FIGS, which cannot be eaten, THEY ARE SO EVIL; surely thus saith the Lord, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes...And I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt..."
There it is, as PLAIN as daylight -- THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL IS NONE OTHER THAN THE FIG!
Now that we have clearly established the fig tree was indeed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we can approach the question of the Messiah's enigmatic action in cursing the fig tree of Mark 11.
Resolving the Enigma!
Recall that the next day after the Messiah cursed the fig tree alongside the road from Bethany, the disciples found it COMPLETELY WITHERED (Mark 11:20, 22; Matt.19:19, 20)! Now what was so significant about that? Since the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a fig tree, and this tree, when Adam And Eve first ate the fruit thereof, brought SIN AND DEATH to them (and, of course, in an extended sense to ALL of humanity), then this tree (of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) is NOW WITHERED AND DEAD, as pictured by the tree alongside the Jerusalem-Bethany road!!
According to Jewish tradition, the only tree under Adam's care in the Garden of Eden that did not shed its leaves after the progenitors of the human race partook of the fruit, WAS THE FIG TREE. It was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But with our Savior's miracle on the Mount of Olives during that last week of His life, it meant THAT THIS SYMBOLIC TREE WAS NOW WITHERED AND DEAD! Do you understand that? Let Ernest Martin explain:
"It [the withered and dead fig tree] signified that NO LONGER would that symbolic tree be in the midst of humanity TO ENCOURAGE MANKIND TO SIN IN THE MANNER OF OUR FIRST PARENTS. But there is even more teaching. It meant that when Christ went to that miraculous tree looking for some figs to eat (like Eve did), CHRIST WOULD NOT FIND ANY WHATSOEVER! This signified that there was NOT going to be a REPETITION of what Eve (and later Adam) did in regard to the fig tree that they partook of. One fig tree [in the Garden of Eden] was the instrument to bring 'sin' into the world, BUT THE SON OF GOD COULD NOT FIND ANY FIGS ON HIS FIG TREE (the miraculous tree on the Mount of Olives that was typical of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). Christ cursed THAT symbolic tree at the top of Olivet SO THAT NO MAN WOULD EAT OF IT AGAIN. And to COMPLETE his victory over sin, four days later Christ was going to be SACRIFICED FOR THE SINS OF THE WORLD JUST A FEW YARDS AWAY FROM THIS WITHERED AND DEAD TREE" (Secrets of Golgotha, p. 260).
Isn't that awe-inspiring?
What the Messiah (the second Adam) was actually doing during the last week of his life on planet Earth was ACTING OUT A SYMBOLIC VICTORY over the very factors in the Garden of Eden around which Adam and Eve failed! Do you grasp that? The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was now WITHERED AND DEAD, and the TREE OF LIFE, a short distance away on the spot where Shem buried the skull of Adam (Golgotha -- Place of "THE" Skull), became the very tree on which the Messiah was put to death! THE TWO TREES -- THE FIG TREE ALONGSIDE THE ROAD AND THE TREE YESHUA DIED ON -- SYMBOLIZED THE TWO TREES IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN!!
The Fig Tree and the Church of YEHOVAH God!
The symbolism doesn't end here! The FIG TREE also represents the Church of YEHOVAH God; and the lessons we have already learned can equally be applied to YEHOVAH's church in the last days! The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, found in the thirteenth chapter of Luke, is a POWERFUL WARNING to a church NOT bearing fruit -- an apostate church that has left a state of much truth and plunged into a state of luke-warm theology and rampant compromise.
Leading up to this parable, Luke records the warning words of the Messiah, as he rails against a church blinded by lethargy and corruption.
That the Messiah is talking about the Laodicean Church of Revelation 3:14 is quite apparent in Luke 12:35-36: "Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who WAIT FOR THEIR MASTER, when he will return from the wedding, that when HE COMES AND KNOCKS they may open to him immediately." This parallels Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and KNOCK. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me."
Yeshua then explains that he came to bring DIVISION to this earth: "Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, NOT AT ALL, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."
Why would "the Prince of Peace" bring division to a home and, in the greater sense, to his church? Because not everyone will accept the TRUTH of YEHOVAH God! Those of the "Laodicean" spirit will not accept "new truth" from YEHOVAH, nor accept His warning message without rancor. Some in the Church of YEHOVAH God become angry when the FACTS of their spiritual barrenness are laid out before them, and DIVISION ensues. The TRUTH of YEHOVAH God has always brought division, because it sorts out the men from the boys -- those who are luke-warm and compromising from those who have a burning desire to get as close to YEHOVAH God and His way of life as possible.
Further proof that the Messiah is talking about the Laodicean Church is found in the next verses from Luke 12:
"Then He also said to the multitudes, 'When you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, "A shower is coming"; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, "There will be hot weather"; and there is. HYPOCRITES! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it YOU DO NOT DISCERN THIS TIME?'" (Verses 54-56).
How PERFECTLY this describes the Churches of YEHOVAH God today! The Worldwide Church of God, under the apostate leadership of Joseph Tkach, has derisively thrown prophecy out the window -- a full ONE THIRD of the Bible! They say the Messiah probably wont return for another twenty or thirty years, and that we should be more concerned with our "spiritual temperature" than excitedly anticipating and waiting for the return of our Lord and Savior -- and "counting down" to that much prophesied event. No wonder they are BLIND to the correct day of Pentecost and the true Sabbath-day! This culmination to the Passover season was EXCITEDLY anticipated by the Jews -- to such an extent that they COUNTED THE DAYS and crossed them off as they passed -- until the "day of Lawgiving" was nigh. This takes devotion and spiritual ZEAL, something that the Worldwide Church of God and her sister congregations have lost.
The Messiah continues this condemnation by exhorting his people to REPENT -- repent or perish. "There were present at that season some who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Yeshua 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." Unless those of the LAODICEAN SPIRIT come to their senses and WAKE UP AND REPENT, they will certainly perish in the approaching great tribulation.
Now to the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree:
"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"'" (Luke 13:6-9).
The SPECIAL WARNING conveyed by this parable is obvious from the context. We have just seen the Messiah CORRECTING his church for not discerning the times, and warning his people that unless they repent they will perish. This parable offers not merely an exemplification of these predictions of the Messiah, but sets before us what underlies it -- THE CHURCH IN ITS RELATIONSHIP TO YEHOVAH GOD; the need of REPENTANCE; the church's DANGER; the nature of repentance and its URGENCY; the relationship of the Messiah to his church; the Gospel; and the FINAL JUDGMENT on those who refuse to repent.
As we read this parable we can see that the fig tree has been specially planted by the owner in his vineyard, which occupies the choicest of the land. Alfred Edersheim notes that this was not unusual:
"Fig-trees, as well as palm and olive-trees, were regarded as SO VALUABLE [like the people of God], that to cut them down if they YIELDED EVEN A SMALL MEASURE OF FRUIT, was popularly deemed to deserve DEATH at the Hand of God. Ancient Jewish writings supply interesting particulars of this tree and its culture. According to Josephus, in favoured localities the ripe fruit hung on the tree for ten months of the year, the two barren months being probably APRIL AND MAY, before the first of the THREE CROPS which it bore had ripened. The FIRST FIGS ripened towards the end of June, sometimes earlier. The SECOND, which are those now dried and exported, ripened in August; the THIRD, which were small and of comparatively little value, in September, and often hung all winter on the trees. A species (the Benoth Shuach) is mentioned, of which the fruit required THREE YEARS for ripening. The fig-tree was regarded as the MOST FRUITFUL of all trees [as the Church of God should be]. On account of its repeated crops, it was declared not subject to the ordinance which enjoined that fruit should be left in the corners for the poor. Its artificial inoculation was known. The practice mentioned in the Parable, of digging about the tree, and dunging it,is frequently mentioned in Rabbinic writings, and by the same designations. Curiously, Maimonides mentions THREE YEARS AS THE UTMOST LIMIT which a tree should bear fruit in the land of Israel. Lastly, as trees were regarded as by their roots undermining and deteriorating the land, a BARREN TREE would be of THREEFOLD DISADVANTAGE: it would yield no fruit; it would fill VALUABLE SPACE, which a fruit-bearer might occupy; and it would needlessly DETERIORATE THE LAND. Accordingly, while it was forbidden to destroy FRUIT-BEARING trees, it would, on the grounds above stated, be DUTY to cut down a 'barren' or 'empty' tree (Ilan seraq)" (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI. 1990, pp. 246-247 (B. II)).
These informative particulars will help us to more FULLY understand the details of the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree. Allegorically speaking, the FIG TREE served as an emblem of YEHOVAH GOD'S CHURCH -- of the leaders and the church in general. The VINEYARD is, in the New testament, the symbol of the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God; and we thus see that YEHOVAH called His church as a nation -- a SPECIAL PEOPLE -- and planted it in the most FAVORED spot: as a fig tree in the vineyard of His own Kingdom. And He "[came] seeking fruit," as He had every right to do, "and [found] none." It was the third year that He had VAINLY looked for fruit, when He turned to the keeper of the vineyard -- the Messiah, to whom the vineyard [Kingdom of YEHOVAH God] is committed as its King -- with this direction: "Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?" Not only does this barren tree [Church of YEHOVAH God] occupy the best location, it also uses up [deteriorates] the ground -- when it should be bearing the BEST of fruit. Its THREE YEARS of barrenness has established its UTTERLY HOPELESS CHARACTER. Then we see the keeper of the vineyard [the Messiah], in his infinite compassion, plead for the fig tree [Church of YEHOVAH God] which he himself had planted and tended, that it should be spared "this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it."
This is parallel to the Messiah knocking on the door of the Laodicean Church with the hope that someone would open the door and let him in. "And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, AFTER THAT [at the return of the Messiah] you can cut it down." In the words of an author of the last century: "Between the tree and the axe nothing intervenes but the INTERCESSION of the Gardener [the Messiah], Who would make A LAST EFFORT, and even His petition applies only to a SHORT AND DEFINITE PERIOD, and, in case it pass WITHOUT RESULT [ no fruit of the spirit of YEHOVAH God], this petition itself merges in the proposal, "But if not, then CUT IT DOWN."'
This warning should have us shaking in our very boots! YEHOVAH God's people must bear fruit and, if not, the future is a grim prospect indeed. It's time the LAODICEAN CHURCH woke up to their spiritual decadence and lethargy; its time the Worldwide Church of God, Church of God International, the so-called "Philadelphia" Church of God and all the little splinter groups came to their senses and HEEDED the warnings from YEHOVAH God! The Messiah is knocking on the door -- WAKE UP AND LET HIM IN, for your very existence is at stake!
The withering of the fig tree along the Bethany road can also be applied to the Church of YEHOVAH God. When the Messiah returns -- WHATEVER THE SEASON -- he expects to find fruit in his church; and if disappointed, he will have the tree [church] wither away to a state of utter uselessness. The very fact that the Messiah said "Let no fruit grow on you ever again" clearly implies that the fig tree ONCE HAD FRUIT! So, too, did the Laodicean Church! In the early years of Herbert Armstrong the church bore much fruit and had much truth; but in the declining years of its leader and, after his death, in the years of Joseph Tkach, the fruit of the fig tree has fallen to the ground and rotted; and the tree has become BARREN. WAKE UP AND DUNG YOURSELF BEFORE ITS TOO LATE!
The Trees of Life
The identification of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has enabled us to draw back the veiling curtain that has obscured the TRUE understanding, and significance, of that baffling event that occurred on the road to Jerusalem just a few days before the the Messiah, the Lamb of YEHOVAH God, sacrificed himself for ALL humankind that ever lived! The cursing of the fig tree was a CRUCIAL HIGHLIGHT in the stream of events that had to occur as our Lord and Savior Yeshua the Messiah closed out the final chapter of his first presence on this earth.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is now withered and dead -- NO LONGER WILL MANKIND PARTAKE OF THIS TREE AND HAVE TO SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR ACTIONS WITHOUT HOPE OF FORGIVENESS AND RESTORATION UPON REPENTANCE AND ADHERENCE TO THE LAWS OF OUR GRACIOUS GOD!
When YEHOVAH God returns to the Mount of Olives and enters the Temple through the eastern gate, a river will flow out from the Temple to the Dead Sea. Along the banks of this river will grow trees just like those to be in the New Jerusalem:
"Then the angel showed me the RIVER OF LIFE, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the TREE[S] OF LIFE bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its [their] fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree[s] are for the HEALING OF THE NATIONS. NO LONGER WILL THERE BE ANY CURSE" (Rev. 22:1-3).
In a direct reference to the WITHERING of the fig tree, we find this in Ezekiel 47:
"Along the banks of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees [of life] used for food; THEIR LEAVES WILL NOT WITHER, AND THEIR FRUIT WILL NOT FAIL. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for HEALING" (Verse 12).
The symbol of the Church of YEHOVAH God will now be the ALMOND TREE -- the tree of life -- and YEHOVAH's ecclesia will be nourished by the spirit of YEHOVAH God and will continually BEAR FRUIT in ALL seasons; and YEHOVAH's people will heal the nations. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil [the fig tree] is now WITHERED AND DEAD. No longer will this tree be in the midst of humanity to encourage mankind to sin in the manner of Adam and Eve. No longer will good and evil be in YEHOVAH God's ecclesia. The Tree of Life will then nourish and heal the nations -- the very tree that the Messiah was sacrificed on!
How breathtaking is the truth of YEHOVAH God when "rightly divided" and understood! How mind-boggling is the plan of YEHOVAH God in all its intricacies and details! Thank the Eternal God for His infinite mercy in revealing these truths to us.
Hope of Israel Ministries -- Taking a Lead in the Search for Truth!
P.O. Box 853
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