Remember my preference

About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI


Part II: Three Trees and Israel's History

Chapter 4

The Fig Tree and Israel's Religious History

     AS WITH THE vine and the olive, so with the fig: it is a symbol. There is a peculiar suitability in the use of the fig tree to symbolize Israel's religious history.
     Unlike all other trees, the fig has this unique feature about it, that its fruit appears before its leaves. It is as though the clothing of the tree, the outward show of religious observance, the ceremony and the regalia of formal worship, is really the aftermath only of the bearing of a real fruit. Earlier in this Paper we proposed that all religion is descended from an earlier true spiritual understanding. Many people reverse this, enamoured as they are with evolutionary philosophy, holding the view that religion gives rise to spiritual life. James says otherwise: "Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries?" (3:12). Religion is a vestige of the real thing. This circumstance lies behind the symbolic action of the Lord when He saw a fig tree in the distance with leaves, but upon approaching it found no fruit upon it -- and cursed it (Matthew 21:18-20).
     In a somewhat similar way, the Lord meant more than His actual words are usually taken to mean when He said of Nathanael, "Behold, an Israelite indeed": and to Nathanael, "When thou wast under the fig tree I saw thee" (John 1:48). Within the framework of Israel's religious life -- involving as it did the whole complex of education, religious orders, temple worship, and so forth -- there were those here and there who were truly spiritual. Under the fig tree one might now and then discover an olive.
     Remembering what was said about the first occurrence of some subject or object to receive particular attention later on in Scripture, we may remind ourselves that Adam and Eve sought to cover their nakedness in the presence of God and one another with fig leaves. So long ago the spiritual light which covered them was replaced by the poor substitute of the outward form of religion. To the Lord Jesus --

   pg 1 of 3     

if one may speak for a moment by accommodation to our own limitations of perception -- the Jewish people must have presented the outward appearance of a very flourishing fig tree, heavily foliaged. But in fact when seen at close quarters, as the Lord could see only too clearly, the tree which ought certainly to have fruit upon it had none. In a peculiar sense, the Temple signified the fig tree. It appears from Scripture that Jesus probably visited it three years in succession, each time "expecting" to find fruit upon it in view of its verdure: three times He found none. This led to His telling a parable of deep significance.
     The story opens (in Luke 13:6): "A certain man had a fig tree planted in a vineyard. . . . " It is hardly necessary at this juncture to point out the significance here of the position of this particular fig tree. Nor perhaps need one underscore the statement of the husbandman who visited it three years in succession and, finding no fruit upon it, said: "Cut it down."
     But someone stood in the breach and asked that it might be given one more year and then if it still bore no fruit, the axe should be laid to the root of it. Perhaps the "year" was up when Stephen presented the claims of the Lord as their Messiah to officialdom (the Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem -- and became by their rejection of his message the first Christian martyr. The die was cast, the fig tree was doomed, and in due course the axe was indeed laid so closely to the root of the tree that it is doubtful if any single stone of Herod's temple was left in position. If any of the disciples lived to see this, they must surely have marvelled, as they did in Matthew 21:20, that such an impressive "fig tree" could wither away so quickly.
     Finally, the Lord had a promise for us who look for His coming again, a sign which is to mark the end of the age. He said, "Behold the fig tree . . . when his branch is yet tender and putteth forth leaves, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand" (Luke 21:29,30 and Matthew 24:32). This was the sign of the end, the sign of the fig tree -- not the sign of the vineyard nor yet the sign of the olive. The promise of national renewal with the coming of the Lord is in the Old Testament. Joel 2:18-32 is a prophetic statement dealing with the end of the present age: in verse 22 the fig tree and the vine both are to bear their fruit again, and there will follow a time (verse 28) when the Lord will pour out His Spirit upon the sons and daughters of Israel. This was the time of blessing which Peter in Acts 2:17 ff assured the people could follow only when Israel as a nation accepted Jesus Christ as their Messiah.
     Long ago it was predicted that Israel would return to their Holy

     pg.2 of 3     

Land, and we Christians have been stirred to see such things taking place before our eyes and are assured that the coming of the Lord draws nigh. But I think a much more important sign that we should look for is, not this revival of Israel's national life, nor a revival of her spiritual life, but a revival of her religious life taking place in the Holy Land: the fig tree flourishing in the vineyard.
     When we begin to hear, as even now we do hear occasionally, of a concern on the part of the Israeli government for the re-building of the Temple, the re-establishment of the priesthood, and the restoration of their ceremonial worship in Jerusalem -- then I think we may indeed say, "The coming of the Lord draweth nigh."

     pg.3 of  3    

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

Previous Chapter                                                                      Next Chapter

Home | Biography | The Books | Search | Order Books | Contact Us