The Signs of the Times

February 21, 1878

The Barren Fig Tree


Jesus spent the entire night in prayer, and in the morning, while returning again from Bethany, 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. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever. And his disciples heard it.” ST February 21, 1878, par. 1

It was not the season for ripe figs, except in certain localities; and on the elevated height of Olivet it might truly be said, “the time of figs was not yet.” It is the nature of the fig tree that before the leaves open the growing fruit appears; so it would follow that upon a tree covered with leaves one would expect to find well matured figs. The tree which Jesus saw was beautiful to look upon, but upon a thorough searching of its branches, he found that its appearance was deceitful, for it bore “nothing but leaves.” In order to teach his disciples an impressive lesson, he used the fig tree as a symbol, and invested it with moral qualities and made it the medium by which to teach a divine truth. ST February 21, 1878, par. 2

The Jews stood forth distinct from all other nations, professing perfect allegiance to the God of heaven. They had been specially favored by him, and they claimed a greater piety than any other people, while in reality they were sinful, corrupted by the love of the world and the greed of gain. Boasting of their godliness and knowledge, yet full of hypocrisy and cruelty, and ignorant of the requirements of God, they were like the barren fig tree that spread its pretentious branches aloft, luxuriant in appearance, and beautiful to the eye, but upon which Jesus found “nothing but leaves.” ST February 21, 1878, par. 3

The preceding day had been one of the highest importance, embracing the triumphal entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, and closing with the cleansing of the temple by the dispersion of the traffickers from its sacred precincts, and Christ's healing of the sick. The sentence pronounced and executed upon the fig tree was the last symbolic action relating to the future destruction of Jerusalem. As Christ on the mount overlooked the doomed city, his tender sympathetic tears flowed, and he uttered the yearning cry of a broken heart because of rejected love. He looked upon Jerusalem with suffering tenderness, and spoke these words with a voice of inexpressible sorrow, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold your house [no longer the house of the most high God] is left unto you desolate.” ST February 21, 1878, par. 4

The Jewish religion with its magnificent display of temple, sacred altars, sacrificial pomp, mitred priests and impressive ceremonies, were but a superficial covering under which pride, oppression and iniquity held sway. The leaves were abundant and beautiful, but the tree bore no goodly fruit. The next morning as they passed by the same orchard, the disciples saw that the fig tree which Jesus cursed was withered and blasted from root to branch. Jesus presented to his disciples the true condition of the Jews in this striking figure of the barren fig tree; and, as the tree withered beneath the Saviour's blighting curse, and stood forth sear and blasted, dried up by the roots, so should all pretentious hypocrites be brought low. ST February 21, 1878, par. 5

The other trees in the fig orchard were also destitute of fruit; but their boughs were leafless, therefore they raised no expectations and caused no disappointment. These leafless trees represented the Gentiles, who made no boasts of superior piety. In them the words of the scripture finds an application, “the time of figs was not yet.” But while the Jews in proud self-confidence stood forth assuming superiority to all others, the Gentiles were in a measure feeling their want and weakness, and longing for a better day, a clearer and more certain light to guide their wandering footsteps. ST February 21, 1878, par. 6

The Jews had listened to the voice of God, as he proclaimed his law from Sinai, and God had selected them, and claimed them as his people; but they had not made the most of their opportunities. He brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and delivered them from the oppression of the Egyptians; and when the children of Israel were camped before the Red sea, and the army of Pharaoh pursued them, he divided the waters and they passed through on dry land; While their enemies that followed after them, perished. And so they passed through Jordan at the taking of Jericho, when God miraculously opened the path for them through the waters, and how mightily he wrought for them at the city! They could never have repayed God for the blessings which he had given them had they done their best in his service; but there was an utter failure on their part. And when the very best gift that Heaven could give, was sent to them, the gift of Jesus Christ, they would not accept it. Pride and ambition, love of applause and display, had so hardened their hearts, and blinded their minds that they could not discern Jesus Christ in the Man of Nazareth. ST February 21, 1878, par. 7

The Jewish nation were outwardly religious, priding themselves upon their sacred temple, the pomp of priests and the imposing ceremonies of the morning and evening services, gorgeous synagogues and sacrificial offerings. Here were abundant leaves, beautiful and bright, to cover the hollow hypocrisy, malice, and oppression at the heart of all this vain display. The Jews were privileged with the presence of Christ manifested in the flesh. This inestimable blessing which God bestowed upon them should have called forth their devout acknowledgments. But in blind prejudice they refused the mercies offered them by Jesus. His love was lavished upon them in vain, and they regarded not his wondrous works. Sorrow fled at his approach; infirmity and deformity were healed; injustice and oppression shrunk ashamed from his rebuke; while death and the grave humbled themselves in his presence and obeyed his commands. Yet the people of his choice rejected him and his mighty miracles with scorn. The majesty of Heaven came unto his own, and his own received him not. ST February 21, 1878, par. 8

The judgment pronounced upon the barren fig tree not only symbolizes the sentence passed upon the Jews, but is also applicable to the professed Christians of our time, who have become formal, selfish, boasting and hypocritical. ST February 21, 1878, par. 9

The irrevocable sentence passed upon the Jewish nation, and its consequent downfall and ruin was symbolized by the doom of the barren fig tree. It is not always easy to detect the sincere, genuine Christian from the counterfeit. But when brought to the test like the barren fig tree they are found diverse in character although the external appearance may deceive the eye. False and true devotion bear so close a resemblance to each other that it may be difficult for human wisdom to distinguish the difference between them. But the eye of the Infinite looks beneath the external and discerns the pretenders from the real, unmasks the hypocrite and discovers the difference between the cumberers of the ground and the fruit bearers. Fruit bearing Christians who are making the most of their God-given opportunities and privileges, will imitate the example of Christ in good works and unselfish deeds. ST February 21, 1878, par. 10

The mass of professors are symbolized by the apparently flourishing fig tree making pretensions to godliness but blessing no one by their precious fruits. The pen of inspiration pictures before us this class. “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away.” ST February 21, 1878, par. 11

Just such a state of things exists in our day. There are many who make proud boasts of godliness, answering the description of the apostle, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof in their fruitless lives. Christ's search for fruit in them reveals nothing but leaves. Pride, display, vain glory, selfishness and oppression are concealed beneath the green foliage. Everything has been done for them that the Majesty of heaven in his wisdom can do, but like the Jews they pervert and abuse their sacred privileges, and are satisfied to be fruitless cumberers of the ground, no better than worldlings as far as good works are concerned. But the worldlings are in a more favorable condition before God because they make no pretension to true godliness. They are not hypocritical pretenders. They do not put on the outer foliage to screen and mask their utter absence of the sanctifying grace of God. It is sad to acknowledge that the daily lives of many who profess to be followers of Christ deny in their unsanctified words and actions the very religion they profess. The jewel of truth and integrity is not in them; therefore, they have not Christ formed in them the hope of glory. They have no connection with God. We are not required to exclude ourselves from the active duties of life and sever all connection or intercourse with the world in order to be Christians; for in thus doing we shall not follow the example of Christ. He was in the world and yet not of the world. He was a worker for the good of those in the world. He left the glory that he had with his Father and clothed his divinity with humanity, and humbled himself to meet the necessities of man to become personally acquainted with the temptations and frailties of man, that he might know how to succor those who should be tempted. ST February 21, 1878, par. 12

Christ in his sermon on the Mount represented the lives of Christians as the salt of the earth. Without the preserving, sanctifying influence of the Christian's words and actions the world would be altogether corrupt, and fit for the immediate sentence of justice that was pronounced upon the fruitless fig tree. True faith will have connected with it a working power. The Pharisees excluded themselves from the world exalted their own piety above every other people, and the world was no better for their living in it. But, and if the salt have lost its savor wherewith shall it be salted. Christ rebuked this exclusiveness in stating the true position of the Christian in the world: “Ye are the light of the world, a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid, neither do men light a candle and put in under a bushel but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” It is the good works of the Christian that contain the precious influence to preserve the world. It is good works which stand in marked contrast with the degenerate polluting influence of the world that it reveals the true enormity of sin. The moral power of good works is ever pointing the sinner upward to God and to heaven. It is not words and profession that the world need now as much as the savor of good works. Christians should have power to press back the moral darkness that threatens to enshroud the world like the pall of death. This they may do if they are connected with God. In the strength of the Lord we may do much in becoming channels of light. Jesus comes to each of us expecting fruit. Shall we disappoint his earnest search and will he find in our lives nothing but leaves? I earnestly plead with all professors of godliness to learn a lesson from the parable of the barren fig tree. Let the fruit appear in your lives in deeds of mercy to your fellow man, and in humble sincere devotion to God, showing the mark of distinction between you and the world by the fruit you bear unto righteousness. Said Christ, It is my Father's good pleasure that ye bear much fruit. ST February 21, 1878, par. 13

It is not enough for us to be merely in the attitude of waiting for our Lord, leaving sinners to be unwarned and unprepared for that great event. Christ requires of us to be vigilant workers while waiting for his appearing. Working and waiting is the attitude he would find us in. A life of quiet prayerful meditation is not all that Jesus expects of us. He expects fruit, exemplifying in our lives the virtues of true godliness, not only being good but doing good. The soul must be consecrated by its surrender to God in perfect obedience to his requirements, keeping all of his commandments. ST February 21, 1878, par. 14

The fruits which grow upon the Christian tree will be seen in letting the light of truth which God has caused to shine upon us sanctify our lives and thus shine forth in works of righteousness, having a saving influence upon the world. The fruit Jesus is searching to find in his professed followers is the graces of his spirit developed in our lives in unselfish acts of mercy, and disinterested benevolence, and love for those he came to the world to save. In this way we can best testify that we are working the works of Christ, and that we have the spirit of our divine Lord who went about doing good. The responsibilities of each Christian is proportionate to the talents entrusted. Christ's true followers will be fruit bearing trees. Very many professed Christians act as though they were in the world to do nothing but to please themselves. They do not consider that Jesus, their pattern, pleased not himself, that self-denial and self-sacrifice characterized his life, and it must characterize their lives, or they will in the day of God be found wanting. ST February 21, 1878, par. 15

In the doom of the fig tree, Christ demonstrated how hateful in his eyes are hypocrisy and hollow pretense. Ever pitiful to the truly penitent, ever ready to receive them and to heal their maladies, he thus evidenced that the open sinner is in a more favorable condition before God than professing Christians who bear no fruit to his glory. ST February 21, 1878, par. 16