Fruitless

And Mountain Moving

Matthew 21:17-22

“And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there​.”

“Now in the morning, when He returned to the city, He became hungry. 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. And seeing this, the disciples marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it shall happen. “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”

After ascending from Jericho to the outskirts of Jerusalem, riding triumphantly into Jerusalem to a people unprepared, Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and those selling doves. He also healed many people and was praised by the children but the scribes and priests verbally attacked him. It had been a long day, Jesus retired to Bethany for the night and now we read that he, with the disciples, based on the context, is returning to Jerusalem in the morning.

“Now in the morning, when He returned to the city, He became hungry. 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.”

Context is king, therefore we must consider the context concerning this event. What has happened previously for Jesus to condemn a fig tree that is alive but bears no fruit? What is Matthew’s aspiration to his audience concerning the telling of this tale? What does our Old Testament tutor reveal about today’s text? How does the genre tell us to interpret this tale? What did Matthew’s first-century, Jewish audience see? What is the sublime string and theological thread? Context is King!

Jesus arrived in Jerusalem humble and victorious, and Jesus was praised by the children but confronted by the scribes–the ones who were to have studied the Scriptures. With all of the Old Testament sources, they should have recognized Jesus for who he was but they​ accosted him. Now, the very next day, we find Jesus looking for figs on a fruitless tree. It can’t be a coincidence.

Notice the context, “Now in the morning, when He returned to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it, and found nothing on it except leaves only;” no fruit, just leaves. Many secular “scholars​” and even some pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, are quick to point out that this was during the spring, just before Passover and therefore Jesus shouldn’t have found any figs because they were out of season. Problem; he found leaves, therefore one would expect to find the fruit of figs as well. Problem 2; it doesn’t matter in the least, it’s symbolism.

Here’s what really gets under my skin about the “out-of-season” argument, notice the following: “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.” If the fig tree withered out of season, why would we not expect it to have figs out of season? We’re seeing a teachable, gospel moment, with Jesus and his disciples, immediately following the Triumphal Entry To Typically Tragic Times. The fig tree can represent nothing else besides what was promised in Zechariah. The context of Matthew continues to show this as well–we will get to that. However, here is a teaser; a taste​ of what’s to come.

Jesus is responding to a question from ​the scribes about his authority; “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude; for they all hold John to be a prophet.” And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Do you see it, Jesus is not including them–they have been cut off?

And if we still need more contextual proof, we will soon read three parables stating the same thing. The context is crystal clear, like the golden streets in heaven, their way, their house, is being left to them desolate. Jesus is the true, new, better, replacement of Israel–this is what Zechariah 9 states if we carefully consider the context. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I have set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; This very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you.”

We notice, through figurative language, that Jesus is not only the king of Israel, but of the entire earth, to those who have the hope. Of course, some mega-church pastors will only see the restoring of double and rip that passage out of context. But now we know the context and see the figurative language found in prophecy. It’s not that believers who have lost homes will get new ones that are double in size. Nor is it that the divorced man who hopes, will get double the wives, or more literally, that prisoners who hope will live in freedom for double their lives. Could it be that those who’s hope is in the humble king, will have eternal life?

One thing that is undeniable, even with difficult literary language, Jesus is the King. And when he arrives he sees that the old way wasn’t working. Which, by the way, Joshua, a type of Jesus, already knew and said, “’You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve the LORD.’ And Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the LORD, to serve Him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’”

Joshua also said, “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed. And it shall come about that just as all the good words which the LORD your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the threats, until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you. When you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods, and bow down to them, then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.”

I could make a really good argument for Replacement Theology. I could clearly show that the church supersedes Israel. The only problem that I would have is that it doesn’t, Jesus does. This is mere speculation on my part but offered to get or minds moving: reverse the roles. Imagine the church was Israel and Israel was the church. Would we still not need Jesus? It’s not the people but the Savior. If Jesus came to us on a donkey, would we recognize him? This is why there is no allowance for anti-Semitism. They are a type of us. We are the same, sinners in need of a savior. Jesus was not condemning all of Israel, he was descended from Israel as were the disciples. He came to replace them and their temple but many were unwilling, just like from the rest of the nations.

Out With the Old and in With the Nucleus

Whether or not Israel has been supplanted by the church is a matter of debate, that I believe, can be easily solved. The problem is that we bring our presuppositions and preconceived notions to the table. We have been taught that God has 2 distinct peoples with two distinct plans. Or perhaps we have been taught that God has caused the church to replace Israel. This is why I write; unless you are learning for yourself you only know what you have been taught. Read the Bible for all of its worth and I believe that you’ll find what I have found, Jesus is the true Israel and his people, who have the faith of Abraham, are all partakers in the true Israel. Jesus is the greater Abraham, Moses and Joshua. The Law and prophets, the temple and the showbread, were all shadows and “the substance is Christ.” Romans 4, Galatians 3 and all of Colossians, et al. Jesus tore down the dividing wall, but we’ll get to that. Jesus is the nucleus that holds us all together as a cell. Whether Greek, Chinese or Scandinavian, Red, Brown, Yellow, Black or White, all are Israel in his sight, if we have the faith of Abraham. God is not racist, he judges people not by their culture or color, but by what they’ve done with his son, the true Israel. As an aside, the true Israel means the true Israel, not the way he’s portrayed in many context-killing mega-churches. The scribes of Israel couldn’t rely on their Law for salvation, be wary of relying on just a simple prayer one prayed after hearing that Jesus will give you the desires of your heart. Salvation is by grace, through faith, it’s not a simple prayer but believing and having faith in the true God.

And apparently, that faith can move mountains. After Jesus uses the visual aid of the fig tree, the disciples, who still don’t quite get it, get distracted, notice; “‘No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.’ And at once the fig tree withered. And seeing this, the disciples marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” it shall happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.’”

They missed the metaphor and couldn’t sense the symbolism. It’s no wonder then, that we also miss it–the distracted​ disciples, in turn, distract us. They were not at all concerned with the why, but with the how? Yes, these same disciples that saw a myriad of miracles, including Jesus calming the storm and sea, to his walking on water and the lame walking, the blind seeing and the deaf hearing.

“‘No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.’ And at once the fig tree withered.” Wow, how’d you do that? We get the walking on water but this, this is most impressive! Wait until he is raised from the dead! It seems to the mega-church pastor that Jesus has acquiesced to the disciples’ wandering minds and has changed the subject. Now Jesus is preaching a name-it-and-claim-it theology. If you have faith, without any doubt, you can have anything. Problem; someone prayed for a bigger house and didn’t get it. Their answer; it’s just not your “season.” And the catch-all, you must have doubted, shout it to the Lord and command him to fulfill his promise because he really wants to give it to you, you just lack faith.

But consider the context and the sublime string; Jesus has cursed the fig tree and now he is talking about faith–faith to move the metaphorical mountain. Faith like Abraham, consider: “without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore also IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Now not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.”

 

 

 

 

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