It was April 1st A.D. 33, (just two days before the Crucifixion,) and what happened that day was no April fool. Jesus had spent the night with His friends at Bethany, and was now walking towards Jerusalem with His disciples. The long trudge caused hunger. In the distance a fig tree was sighted, with the hope of obtaining sustenance. However, on reaching the tree it was found to be barren. This brought forth the perplexing curse. “Let no one eat fruit from you hereafter for ever, (i.e. indefinitely)” But as Mark so poignantly said, “It was not the season for figs.”
Expositors have batted their wits against this strange pronouncement, and brought forth all manner of equally strange conclusions in their tenacity to absolve Jesus from either ridicule or cries of injustice. Even the venerable Dr.Edersheim (“Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”) couldn’t cope with the utterance without resorting to some device.
But think not for one moment that I wish to castigate all such in their attempt to grapple with this conundrum. I was one such myself until a few years ago, when I found out a few facts about the way fig trees grow. Let me explain.
In the spring a fig tree is normally showing its first green leaves, and amongst these leaves appear small round green knobs about the size of an almond. The Bible refers to these as “first ripe figs”. They are not the proper fruit at all, but are referred to in Israel as tagsh. Now here’s the important point. If the tree doesn’t produce its tagsh in April, then it will have no proper fruit later in the year. No tagsh means no fruit later.
Tagsh is good to eat, and Jesus sought some of these first-ripe fruits, but the tree had none. Therefore He enacted a living parable against the tree to teach His disciples a lesson. This particular tree would be barren of fruit in the harvest season because of its lack of tagsh. Equally, Judæa had shown no ‘tagsh-like faith’ during His three-year ministry, and therefore it would show no fruit in the later season when the Holy Spirit was sent.
Earlier in His ministry He had spoken a parable about another fig tree that had been barren for three years. The gardener had pleaded for a little more time after “digging it and dunging it about” after which time, if no fruit appeared, the tree was to be cut down. Those extra six months brought the time up to Passover in A.D. 33, hence the cursing of the fig tree in the later parable.
Jesus looked down on Jerusalem from Olivet, wishing to gather His people as a hen gathers her chicks, but they would not. Hence the curse. “The Kingdom shall be taken from you and given to a nation producing the fruit thereof.” And it happened nearly 40 years later when Titus destroyed the city and deported the people.
But this is not the end. From the human point of view a cursed, dead, dried-up fig tree is of no further use, and some say that this is the termination of Israel. But this is far from the truth. Jesus said, “Learn the parable of the fig tree. When her branch is tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is nigh. So, in like manner, when you see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.” He was speaking about the signs to precede His return.
The fig tree has always been a symbol of the nation of Israel. In 1948 Israel became a nation once again. By and large it is still a very anti-Christian nation. But “when the Deliverer comes from Zion, He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob (the symbol of natural Israel). This is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. . . . And so allIsrael shall be saved.” (Rom.11) “If the casting away of them results in the reconciliation of the world, what shall be the receiving of them but life from the dead?”
We shall yet see this miracle, the miracle of life being given to the dead fig tree, the cursed fig tree, the dried-up and withered fig tree. God will shortly bring life to the nation, And at that time He will “pour out upon Jerusalem the spirit of grace and supplications, and they shall look upon Him whom they pierced, and shall mourn for Him.” “A fountain shall be opened to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness.” (Zech.12-13)
At this present time “there remains the Vail upon their heart, blindness in the reading of the Old Testament, but when it (i.e. the heart of the nation) shall turn to the Lord, the Vail shall be taken away.” (2 Cor.3) Wherever one looks, in the O.T. or the N.T., the promise remains. That dried-up old skeleton, that useless looking lump of timber, that cursed fig tree will “put forth its leaves” to the surprise of all nations, and this will be His promise to them. And if to them, so also to all other disobedient nations and peoples, because God’s work to Israel is a type and a guarantee of His work to all others.
Thus far God has been taking out His remnant from Israel and all other nations. But there comes a time when the fullness is to be observed. Why not emulate the example of the Apostle Paul, and say, “Brethren, my heart’s desire andprayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved.” And “If the firstfruit is holy, so also is the lump.” The one is guarantee for the other. Let us not be small minded, but see the grand vista of the coming days, not just for Israel, but for the rest of the world as well. Not just the “fig tree” but “all the trees”.
Lord God, may the “King’s Fountain” soon be opened for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.