INTRODUCTION. A study in two parts from the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. This first post examines this parable as it applies to the nation of Israel and their rejection of Jesus the Messiah.
After His clear teaching on the necessity of repentance in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus goes on to tell a parable that illustrates the urgency of repentance. We would be wise to carefully consider the Lord’s message so that we do not get cut down like this fig tree.
THE PASSAGE, LUKE 13:6-9
6 And He (Jesus) began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. 7 And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; 9 and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9
The action in this parable is simple enough to understand. The owner of the vineyard (or garden) has come to harvest some fruit he expected to find on the fig tree, but once again, there is no fruit on that tree. He tells the keeper of the vineyard that this fig tree is useless and needs to be cut down so another tree can take its place. But the vineyard keeper suggests that they should wait one more year for fruit. Then, if still there is no fruit, cut the tree down.
As with any parable, the key is to interpret the meaning of the parable. The meaning of this parable will be determined by understanding its intent in its context. It turns out that this parable can be understood on two levels.
THE MEANING OF THE PARABLE – BIG PICTURE
First, then, we will consider the “big picture” meaning of the parable. The big picture has to do with the nation of Israel and their rejection of Jesus, their promised Messiah. The fig tree is a symbol for Israel. Ever since the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, the Lord has been calling national Israel to obedience of His commandments, to forsaking their idols and to stopping their rebellion against Him. And Israel and Judah have persisted in their stiff-necked disobedience. God is the vineyard owner looking for fruit, and now His patience has run out. Cut down the tree (the nation of Israel) and plant another one in its place (the Gentiles) that will bear the fruit of repentance (Matthew 21:40-43; Luke 3:8-9)! The vineyard-keeper symbolizes Jesus. He is Israel’s promised Messiah, and His coming to the vineyard represents Israel’s “last chance.” “Wait one more year. If they reject Me and continue in their rebellion even when their promised Messiah is in their midst, then go ahead and cut them down.”
Of course, we know that Israel did reject Jesus the Messiah. They despised Him and opposed Him and finally crucified Him. And the details of this parable were fulfilled in AD 70 when, as a result of Israel never bearing the fruit of repentance, “the fig tree was cut down” when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. This is the “big picture” understanding of this parable.
Before we move on to another way to view this parable, we should consider how this parable applies to us. Consider that the nation of Israel had free access to God’s word. In fact, Israel was unique among the nations because they “were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). The LORD had given His Word, the Old Testament, to the nation of Israel. But despite having the Scriptures and having true prophets who called the people to obey the LORD, Israel continued in their rebellion and their disobedience. Finally, when their promised Messiah appeared in the flesh, instead of receiving Him with joy they rejected Him. So, most of the people perished in their sins.
But can you see the parallel with any person living in America? Like the nation of Israel, we have free access to God’s word, the Bible any time we want. Unlike countries where even reading a Bible is a capital offense, the people in this country can read and own the Bible without any risk of punishment or persecution. Preachers in America freely preach the Bible, bookstores sell Bibles, radio and TV programs teach the Bible, seminaries dissect the Bible. But despite an abundance of Bible resources and an immense number of proclaimers of the gospel message, most people ignore and reject all these opportunities and continue in their disobedience and rebellion. In the midst of easy access to the message of the gospel of salvation, most people run headlong toward destruction. So, most of the people perish in their sins. If you are one of those people who have ignored God’s word and have remained willfully deaf to the call to Jesus, I beg you to turn to Jesus Christ in faith before the Lord says, “Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?”
So, one way to see this parable is to see Jesus giving a final warning to national Israel that they needed to receive their Messiah. But there is another way to understand this parable that has application to every single person who ever hears the gospel. We will explore that in our next article.
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