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The Fruitless Fig Tree




   PART VIII: THE MISCELLANEOUS PARABLES

                              CHAPTER 39
 

                         Introduction
 
  The Parable of the Fruitless Fig Tree is found only in
         Luke 13:6-9.  The passage in Luke 13:1-5 is important because
         it tells the background that precipitates Jesus telling the parable,
         so it is included.
 
The Story
  Now there were some present at that
                   time who told Jesus about the Galileans
                   whose blood Pilate had mixed  with their
                   sacrifices.   Jesus answered,  "Do  you
                   think that  these Galileans were worse
                   sinners than all the other Galileans
                   because they suffered this way?  I  tell,
                   you, no!  But unless you repent, you  too
                   will  all  perish.  Or those eighteen who
                   died when the tower  in  Siloam  fell  on
                   them--do  you think they were more guilty
                   that all the others living in  Jerusalem?
                   I  tell  you, no!  But unless you repent,
                   you too will all perish."

  Then he told this parable: "A man
                   had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard,
                   and he went to look for fruit on it,  but
                   did not find any.  So he said to the man
                   who took care of the vineyard, `For three
                   years now I've  been coming to look for
                   fruit on this fig tree and haven't  found
                   any.   Cut it down!  Why should it use up
                   the soil?'

   "`Sir, the man replied, ` leave it
                   alone for one more year,  and I'll dig
                   around it and fertilize it.  If it bears
                   fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut
                   it down.'"  (Luke  13:1-9,  New Inter-
                   national Version).
   Some people reported to Jesus that Pilate had mixed some
         Galileans' blood with their sacrifices.  That  is,  they  had
         been killed in the Temple while  offering  animal  sacrifices
         there.  (Turnbull,  Gen.  ed., PROCLAIMING THE NEW TESTAMENT,
         THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, by Ralph Earle,  p. 59).  Galileans  were
         noted  for  their  fierce nationalism.  (Trench, NOTES ON THE
         PARABLES  OF  OUR  LORD,  p. 121).    Pilate  may  have  been
         crushing a potential insurrection.

  Then Jesus mentioned the tragedy of the tower falling in
         Siloam  and  killing  eighteen  people.    Siloam is built on
         sloping ground where earth tremors and bad construction could
         have  combined  to  cause the tower to fall.  (Turnbull, Gen.
         ed., PROCLAIMING THE NEW TESTAMENT, THE GOSPEL
         OF  LUKE,  by  Ralph Earle,  p. 59).

  The man who took care of the vineyard is literally,  a  "vine-worker"
         in the Greek text.  (Turnbull,  Gen. ed.,  PROCLAIMING THE NEW
         TESTAMENT, THE GOSPEL OF LUKE,  by  Ralph  Earle,  p.  59).
         We would call him a gardener or a farmer today.

                    The Interpretation
   The characters and symbols of the story and the persons and
         things that they represent in reality are interpreted by Childers:

              1.  Owner of Vineyard      God
              2.  Gardener                     Jesus or Holy Spirit
              3.  Fig Tree                      Israel
              4.  Vineyard                     Inhabited Earth

         (BEACON BIBLE COMMENTARY, LUKE, By Charles Childers,  p. ?).

  The following outline is adapted from Earle's excellent outline
         (Turnbull,  Gen. ed., PROCLAIMING THE NEW TESTAMENT,
         THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, by Ralph Earle,  pp. 60-62):

         1.  THE CONDITION OF THE TREE.
         "...he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any."
         It had leaves of empty profession, but no fruit.
         This fig tree represented  Israel.

  Israel had been carefully cultivated by the Holy Spirit's
         working through the Old Testament priests and prophets,
         through Moses and the Law, and including the ministries of
         Jesus and John the Baptist.  However, at the time of Jesus,
         Israel lacked the true fruit of inward character.  They only
         had the leaves of outward appearance.  They were hypocrites!

         2.  THE CONDEMNATION OF THE TREE.
         "Cut it down!  Why should it use up the soil?"
         The fig tree had not born figs for three years, so
         the owner told the gardener to cut it down.  It
         just so happened that Jesus had been preaching
         repentance to Israel:

  From that time on Jesus began to preach,
                   "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
                   (Matthew  4:17, New International Version)

                    John the Baptist had the same message:

                   "The ax is already at  the  root  of  the
                   trees,  and  every  tree  that  does  not
                   produce good fruit will be cut  down  and
                   thrown  into  the  fire."  (Matthew 3:10,
                   New International Version).

                   Still, Israel as a whole did not repent. Israel
                   rejected their Messiah and his message.

         3.  THE CONSIDERATION FOR THE TREE.
         "Sir...leave it alone for one more year...."
         The Gardener pled for the life of the tree, but in
         order to be fair, he added that if it did not bear fruit,
         then it was to be cut down.  Jesus knew that Israel
         would continue to reject him and not repent.  A little
         later he lamented over the people whom he loved:

                        "O  Jerusalem,  Jerusalem,  you  who
                   kill the prophets  and  stone  those sent
                   to you, how often I have longed to gather
                   your  children together, as a hen gathers
                   her chicks under her wings, but you  were
                   not willing!  Look, your house is left to
                   you  desolate,  I tell you, you will  not
                   see  me  again until you say, `Blessed is
                   he who comes in the name of  the  Lord.'"
                   (Luke 13:34-35,  New International
                   Version).

The cutting down of the fig tree (Israel) could refer to
         the Church taking the place of Israel as God's people  or  it
         could refer to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in
         AD 70.

              There is also a personal application of this parable as
         well as a national or group application.  Trench quotes
         Olshausen:

   Olshausen observes:--"The discourse of Jesus,
              severe and full of rebuke, is closed by a  parable,
              in  which  the  merciful  Son of man appears as the
              Intercessor for men before the righteousness of the
              Heavenly  Father;  as He who obtains for them space
              for   repentance.   This idea of deferring the
              judgment of men, runs all through the  Holy
              Scriptures  (Gen.  vi.  3;  Gen.  xviii  24);  the
              destruction of Jerusalem was not until forty  years
              after the ascension  of our Lord (see also 2 Pet.
              iii 9)."  THIS PARABLE, THEN IS AT ONCE  CONCERNING
              [BOTH]  THE    LONG-SUFFERING  AND SEVERITY OF GOD.
              [italics mine].  (Trench, NOTES ON THE  PARABLES OF
              OUR LORD, p. 122).

             Barclay gives five salient points:

              1.  The fig tree occupied A SPECIALLY FAVORED
              POSITION.  Jesus reminded men repeatedly that they
              would be  judged  according to the opportunities
              that they had.

              2.  USELESSNESS INVITES DISASTER.

              3.  NOTHING WHICH ONLY TAKES OUT CAN SURVIVE.

              4.  This parable tells us of  THE GOSPEL OF THE
              SECOND CHANCE.    A fig tree normally takes three
              years to reach maturity--it is not likely to bear
              fruit after that.  "It is always Jesus' way to give
              a man chance after chance.  God is infinitely  kind
              to the man who falls and rises again."

              5.  THERE IS A FINAL CHANCE.  (Barclay, DAILY STUDY
              BIBLE SERIES, LUKE, pp. 179 ff.).

  Also implied in this parable is that there is no moral
         vacuum in the human heart: we either gather or scatter, build
         or  tear  down.    The tree was using up the soil and not
         producing figs--Israel was taking up God's time, spurning his
         love,  destroying his messengers and through them the name of
         God was blasphemed among the  Gentiles  (Rom  ii.  24;  Matt.
         xxiii 13, 15).  (Trench, NOTES ON THE  PARABLES OF  OUR LORD,
         p.  123).  Likewise, the individual who makes a profession of
         faith in Christ and has an evil heart is taking the  Name  of
         God  in  vain.    He is claiming to be a part of the Father's
         family without having the  nature of the Heavenly  Father.
         This  is  much worse that speaking the name of God in a loose
         or vain way.  He  has become a stumbling stone for true
         seekers of God instead of a stepping stone to help them to
         God.  Now is the time to change:

  As God's fellow workers we urge  you
                   not to receive God's grace in vain.  For
                   he says,

                   "In the time of my favor I heard you,
                    and in the day of salvation I helped you."
                   I tell you, now is the time of God's
                    favor,  now  is the day of salvation.
                   (2 Corinthians 6:1-2,  New  International Version)

                                 Central Truth

    GOD IS MERCIFUL. HE GIVES US TIME 
         TO REPENT.  GOD IS ALSO JUST HE WILL
         BRING JUDGMENT TO REPROBATES.
                                   Conclusion

   Let us invite the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts, and
       pray with David this prayer from our hearts:

      Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know
       my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in
       me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
       (Psalm 139:23-24) (New International Version).  END.