A Doomed People
[This chapter is based on Mark 11:11-14, 20, 21;
The triumphal ride of Christ into Jerusalem was the dim foreshadowing
of His coming in the clouds of heaven with power and glory, amid the
triumph of angels and the rejoicing of the saints. Then will be
fulfilled the words of Christ to the priests and Pharisees: "Ye
shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that
cometh in the name of the Lord." Matt. 23:39. In prophetic vision
Zechariah was shown that day of final triumph; and he beheld also the
doom of those who at the first advent had rejected Christ: "They
shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him,
as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as
one that is in bitterness for his first-born." Zech. 12:10. This
scene Christ foresaw when He beheld the city and wept over it. In the
temporal ruin of Jerusalem He saw the final destruction of that people
who were guilty of the blood of the Son of God.
The disciples saw the hatred of the Jews to Christ, but they did not
yet see to what it would lead. They did not yet understand the true
condition of Israel, nor comprehend the retribution that was to fall
upon Jerusalem. This Christ opened to them by a significant object
The last appeal to Jerusalem had been in vain. The priests and rulers
had heard the prophetic voice of the past echoed by the multitude, in
answer to the question, "Who is this?" but they did not accept
it as the voice of Inspiration. In anger and amazement they tried to
silence the people. There were Roman officers in the throng, and to them
His enemies denounced Jesus as the leader of a rebellion. They
represented that He was about to take possession of the temple, and
reign as king in Jerusalem.
But the calm voice of Jesus hushed for a moment the clamorous throng
as He again declared that He had not come to establish a temporal rule;
He should soon ascend to His Father, and His accusers would see Him no
more until He should come again in glory. Then, too late for their
salvation, they would acknowledge Him. These words Jesus spoke with
sadness and with singular power. The Roman officers were silenced and
subdued. Their hearts, though strangers to divine influence, were moved
as they had never been moved before. In the calm, solemn face of Jesus
they read love, benevolence, and quiet dignity. They were stirred by a
sympathy they could not understand. Instead of arresting Jesus, they
were more inclined to pay Him homage. Turning upon the priests and
rulers, they charged them with creating the disturbance. These leaders,
chagrined and defeated, turned to the people with their complaints, and
disputed angrily among themselves.
Meanwhile Jesus passed unnoticed to the temple. All was quiet there,
for the scene upon Olivet had called away the people. For a short time
Jesus remained at the temple, looking upon it with sorrowful eyes. Then
He withdrew with His disciples, and returned to Bethany. When the people
sought for Him to place Him on the throne, He was not to be found.
The entire night Jesus spent in prayer, and in the morning He came
again to the temple. On the way He passed a fig orchard. He was hungry,
"and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He
might find anything thereon: and when He came to it, He found nothing
but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet."
It was not the season for ripe figs, except in certain localities;
and on the highlands about Jerusalem it might truly be said, "The
time of figs was not yet." But in the orchard to which Jesus came,
one tree appeared to be in advance of all the others. It was already
covered with leaves. It is the nature of the fig tree that before the
leaves open, the growing fruit appears. Therefore this tree in full leaf
gave promise of well-developed fruit. But its appearance was deceptive.
Upon searching its branches, from the lowest bough to the topmost twig,
Jesus found "nothing but leaves." It was a mass of pretentious
foliage, nothing more.
Christ uttered against it a withering curse. "No man eat fruit
of thee hereafter forever," He said. The next morning, as the
Saviour and His disciples were again on their way to the city, the
blasted branches and drooping leaves attracted their attention.
"Master," said Peter, "behold, the fig tree which Thou
cursedst is withered away."
Christ's act in cursing the fig tree had astonished the disciples. It
seemed to them unlike His ways and works. Often they had heard Him
declare that He came not to condemn the world, but that the world
through Him might be saved. They remembered His words, "The Son of
man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." Luke
9:56. His wonderful works had been done to restore, never to destroy.
The disciples had known Him only as the Restorer, the Healer. This act
stood alone. What was its purpose? they questioned.
God "delighteth in mercy." "As I live, saith the Lord
God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." Micah 7:18;
Ezek. 33:11. To Him the work of destruction and the denunciation of
judgment is a "strange work." Isa. 28:21. But it is in mercy
and love that He lifts the veil from the future, and reveals to men the
results of a course of sin.
The cursing of the fig tree was an acted parable. That barren tree,
flaunting its pretentious foliage in the very face of Christ, was a
symbol of the Jewish nation. The Saviour desired to make plain to His
disciples the cause and the certainty of Israel's doom. For this purpose
He invested the tree with moral qualities, and made it the expositor of
divine truth. The Jews stood forth distinct from all other nations,
professing allegiance to God. They had been specially favored by Him,
and they laid claim to righteousness above every other people. But they
were corrupted by the love of the world and the greed of gain. They
boasted of their knowledge, but they were ignorant of the requirements
of God, and were full of hypocrisy. Like the barren tree, they spread
their pretentious branches aloft, luxuriant in appearance, and beautiful
to the eye, but they yielded "nothing but leaves." The Jewish
religion, with its magnificent temple, its sacred altars, its mitered
priests and impressive ceremonies, was indeed fair in outward
appearance, but humility, love, and benevolence were lacking.
All the trees in the fig orchard were destitute of fruit; but the
leafless trees raised no expectation, and caused no disappointment. By
these trees the Gentiles were represented. They were as destitute as
were the Jews of godliness; but they had not professed to serve God.
They made no boastful pretensions to goodness. They were blind to the
works and ways of God. With them the time of figs was not yet. They were
still waiting for a day which would bring them light and hope. The Jews,
who had received greater blessings from God, were held accountable for
their abuse of these gifts. The privileges of which they boasted only
increased their guilt.
Jesus had come to the fig tree hungry, to find food. So He had come
to Israel, hungering to find in them the fruits of righteousness. He had
lavished on them His gifts, that they might bear fruit for the blessing
of the world. Every opportunity and privilege had been granted them, and
in return He sought their sympathy and co-operation in His work of
grace. He longed to see in them self-sacrifice and compassion, zeal for
God, and a deep yearning of soul for the salvation of their fellow men.
Had they kept the law of God, they would have done the same unselfish
work that Christ did. But love to God and man was eclipsed by pride and
self-sufficiency. They brought ruin upon themselves by refusing to
minister to others. The treasures of truth which God had committed to
them, they did not give to the world. In the barren tree they might read
both their sin and its punishment. Withered beneath the Saviour's curse,
standing forth sere and blasted, dried up by the roots, the fig tree
showed what the Jewish people would be when the grace of God was removed
from them. Refusing to impart blessing, they would no longer receive it.
"O Israel," the Lord says, "thou hast destroyed
thyself." Hosea 13:9.
The warning is for all time. Christ's act in cursing the tree which
His own power had created stands as a warning to all churches and to all
Christians. No one can live the law of God without ministering to
others. But there are many who do not live out Christ's merciful,
unselfish life. Some who think themselves excellent Christians do not
understand what constitutes service for God. They plan and study to
please themselves. They act only in reference to self. Time is of value
to them only as they can gather for themselves. In all the affairs of
life this is their object. Not for others but for themselves do they
minister. God created them to live in a world where unselfish service
must be performed. He designed them to help their fellow men in every
possible way. But self is so large that they cannot see anything else.
They are not in touch with humanity. Those who thus live for self are
like the fig tree, which made every pretension but was fruitless. They
observe the forms of worship, but without repentance or faith. In
profession they honor the law of God, but obedience is lacking. They
say, but do not. In the sentence pronounced on the fig tree Christ
demonstrates how hateful in His eyes is this vain pretense. He declares
that the open sinner is less guilty than is he who professes to serve
God, but who bears no fruit to His glory.
The parable of the fig tree, spoken before Christ's visit to
Jerusalem, had a direct connection with the lesson He taught in cursing
the fruitless tree. For the barren tree of the parable the gardener
pleaded, Let it alone this year, until I shall dig about it and dress
it; and if it bear fruit, well; but if not, then after that thou shalt
cut it down. Increased care was to be given the unfruitful tree. It was
to have every advantage. But if it remained fruitless, nothing could
save it from destruction. In the parable the result of the gardener's
work was not foretold. It depended upon that people to whom Christ's
words were spoken. They were represented by the fruitless tree, and it
rested with them to decide their own destiny. Every advantage that
Heaven could bestow was given them, but they did not profit by their
increased blessings. By Christ's act in cursing the barren fig tree, the
result was shown. They had determined their own destruction.
For more than a thousand years the Jewish nation had abused God's
mercy and invited His judgments. They had rejected His warnings and
slain His prophets. For these sins the people of Christ's day made
themselves responsible by following the same course. In the rejection of
their present mercies and warnings lay the guilt of that generation. The
fetters which the nation had for centuries been forging, the people of
Christ's day were fastening upon themselves.
In every age there is given to men their day of light and privilege,
a probationary time in which they may become reconciled to God. But
there is a limit to this grace. Mercy may plead for years and be
slighted and rejected; but there comes a time when mercy makes her last
plea. The heart becomes so hardened that it ceases to respond to the
Spirit of God. Then the sweet, winning voice entreats the sinner no
longer, and reproofs and warnings cease.
That day had come to Jerusalem. Jesus wept in anguish over the doomed
city, but He could not deliver her. He had exhausted every resource. In
rejecting the warnings of God's Spirit, Israel had rejected the only
means of help. There was no other power by which they could be
The Jewish nation was a symbol of the people of all ages who scorn
the pleadings of Infinite Love. The tears of Christ when He wept over
Jerusalem were for the sins of all time. In the judgments pronounced
upon Israel, those who reject the reproofs and warnings of God's Holy
Spirit, may read their own condemnation.
In this generation there are many who are treading on the same ground
as were the unbelieving Jews. They have witnessed the manifestation of
the power of God; the Holy Spirit has spoken to their hearts; but they
cling to their unbelief and resistance. God sends them warnings and
reproof, but they are not willing to confess their errors, and they
reject His message and His messenger. The very means He uses for their
recovery becomes to them a stone of stumbling.
The prophets of God were hated by apostate Israel because through
them their hidden sins were brought to light. Ahab regarded Elijah as
his enemy because the prophet was faithful to rebuke the king's secret
iniquities. So today the servant of Christ,the reprover of sin, meets
with scorn and rebuffs. Bible truth, the religion of Christ, struggles
against a strong current of moral impurity. Prejudice is even stronger
in the hearts of men now than in Christ's day. Christ did not fulfill
men's expectations; His life was a rebuke to their sins, and they
rejected Him. So now the truth of God's word does not harmonize with
men's practices and their natural inclination, and thousands reject its
light. Men prompted by Satan cast doubt upon God's word, and choose to
exercise their independent judgment. They choose darkness rather than
light, but they do it at the peril of their souls. Those who caviled at
the words of Christ, found ever-increased cause for cavil, until they
turned from the Truth and the Life. So it is now. God does not propose
to remove every objection which the carnal heart may bring against His
truth. To those who refuse the precious rays of light which would
illuminate the darkness, the mysteries of God's word remain such
forever. From them the truth is hidden. They walk blindly, and know not
the ruin before them.
Christ overlooked the world and all ages from the height of Olivet;
and His words are applicable to every soul who slights the pleadings of
divine mercy. Scorner of His love, He addresses you today. It is
"thou, even thou," who shouldest know the things that belong
to thy peace. Christ is shedding bitter tears for you, who have no tears
to shed for yourself. Already that fatal hardness of heart which
destroyed the Pharisees is manifest in you. And every evidence of the
grace of God, every ray of divine light, is either melting and subduing
the soul, or confirming it in hopeless impenitence.
Christ foresaw that Jerusalem would remain obdurate and impenitent;
yet all the guilt, all the consequences of rejected mercy, lay at her
own door. Thus it will be with every soul who is following the same
course. The Lord declares, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed
thyself." "Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this
people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not
hearkened unto My words, nor to My law, but rejected it." Hosea
13:9; Jer. 6:19.
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