A Doomed People
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 lesson.
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
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
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
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
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.