(Find pt.1 HERE)
1 And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,
2 And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him.
3 And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.
4 And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him.
5 And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt?
6 And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.
This is a fairly straightforward story that we often overlook due to its apparent simplicity. It reveals Jesus’ operation in the Spirit of prophecy, which is he main point we generally derive. However, the story has a far deeper significance to the following events than we see at first glance.
The story setting is this: Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:41-45). Because of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the Sanhedrin has officially decided to find a way to put Jesus to death (John 11:46-53). Jesus has been ‘laying low’ with His disciples in a city in the wilderness called Ephraim (John 11:54), which is North of Jerusalem.
Six days before the passover, Jesus made his way south toward Bethany. Coming into the village of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives (just northwest of Bethany), where Jesus sent two of his disciples before him into the larger village of Bethany in order to find a colt for Him to ride into Jerusalem the following day. After sending the two disciples, Christ also entered the city and went to dinner at the house of Lazarous whom He had raised from the dead.
The following morning, Jesus would ride the colt into Jerusalem, prophetically declaring Himself the judge of Israel.
This story as a parable is a precursor to the proverbial meaning of His cursing the fig tree a few verses later, and everything that happens tells the parable of the new era.
First interesting point about the story that I will draw out is this:
Jesus sent two disciples from Bethphage – the meaning of the word Bethphage is ‘House of un-ripe figs;’ the disciples were to enter Bethany. Bethany means ‘house of figs.’
In the context of the following story about the fig tree, this is not without prophetic significance: Jesus is LEAVING the house of unripe figs to find a colt in the house of figs. There is also signifigance in the fact that He sent TWO disciples. According to the law, every testimony had to be established in the mouth of two, or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).
The third important element of the prophetic drama unfolding here is the location of the colt, and a the fourth is the colt, itself.
Let’s look at where the disciples found the colt: ‘And they went their way and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him.’ (v.4)
Now, the language here is somewhat ambiguous if you are trying to understand the actual location, but as a parable the directions given have great signifigance. They found the colt tied by a door – presumably a gate to the city; but it was OUTSIDE. Also, the colt was quote: ‘in a place where two ways met;’ it was at a crossroads: an intersection.
Interesting thing about an intersection in two roads is that they form the shape of a cross. The location, itself, is a prophecy of Jesus’ death on a cross without the gates of the city of Jerusalem which will happen in a short period of time. The two disciples are the testimony of the Gospel.
But there’s more than that; a crossroads is not only the shape of a cross, but an intersection between two ways. Jesus is coming at an intersection of human history, no AS the intersection of human history; Jesus is the Way, and when He came it was the intersection between the Old, and New Covenants. He is coming from Bethphage: the house of unripe figs – just as He will later curse the fig tree because it bore no fruit, so the old way is being left behind as Jesus seeks for a colt – the foal of a donkey on which no man has ever sat. The illustration in whole is the Church: Jesus is looking for a body on which He can ride into Jerusalem as the Messiah – He has to find a colt on which no man has ever sat: a people holy, and undefiled.
There were people who – presumably – owned the colt; but at Jesus word; at the testimony of the Gospel these released the colt because they honored the Christ of God. Typologically, these two preached the Gospel ‘outside the door,’ that is: outside the congregation of the people of God, and those without honored the Word of Messiah.
Not only is it a prophecy, and parable of the crucifixion, it is also a prophecy, and parable that Gentiles will accept the testimony of Christ, and that the church will be born with Christ ‘outside the camp’ (see also Heb 13:13), and will be His body, through which He can reign as Messiah.
(Judges 5:10; 10:4; 12:14) In the days of the judges of Israel, the judges were known to ride white colts. Jesus’ riding a colt into Jerusalem was a visual prophecy declaring His position as the judge of Israel.
This act was also a direct fulfillment of Zecheriah 9:9, which says: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
Particularly notice that staatement: ‘he is just and having salvation;’
Notice that His reception as He rode into the city as a fulfillment of Zecheriah’s prophecy was not lost on the people, who proclaimed loudly, and in broad daylight that Jesus was bringing salvation – wherefore they cried: ‘HOSANNA,’ meaning, ‘salvation,’ or ‘victory.’ They also outright proclimed Him to be the Messiah in their statement that He brought the kingdom of David (v. 10).
Notice, then verse 11:
11 And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.
After all the day’s fanfare and excitement, people proclaiming that the kingdom of David had come, the prophecies were literally being fulfilled in front of them, yet all Jesus did the first day was ‘look round upon all things.’
This seems rather quaint and simplistic, why is that verse in the bible? His first work as the reigning Messiah was to look around. Actually this is the most important thing He did. As the judge of Israel, He would do nothing until had carefully observed, and assessed the city, and the people. Of course He had been to Jerusalem before; He already knew many of the people – including the religious rulers – there, yet He would take no action as the Messiah until He had made a full assessment of the situation.
12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:
13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
Here, again we have a short set of verses with great prophetic signifigance. Remember, Bethphage means house of unripe figs; Jesus had left Bethphage for Bethany: the ‘house of figs,’ the meaning of which was that Jesus was leaving the old and unfruitful system behind, and coming into His fruitful reign as Messiah, with a new, never-before used body to carry Him. Now Jesus comes to a literal fig tree (doubtless the names of the cities there were given originally for the fig-orchards that were in the area), and He is hungry. That is to say, the Lord has a need which must be ministered to – understand He is now operating fully and offficially in the capacity of the Messiah, having entered the Jerusalem the day before with the drama of prophetic declaration, announcing Himself to be the Judge of Israel.
But when He came to the fig tree, which ought to have supplied the needs of the Messiah, it had no fruit to offer Him.
Interesting thing about fig trees: Once a fig tree is mature enough to produce fruit, it should always produce twice a year; the first crop of figs comes in the spring when the leaves grow. Because the first crop of figs grows in with. The figs are still edible and are sometimes harvested today to be used in baked goods, or are canned and preserved; more often than not, however, the fruit is left unharvested because as an unripe fruit they just don’t taste very good. In Israel, because of the law of Moses, which commanded farmers to leave fuits and grains for poor starving wanderers who may pass through their orchards or vineyards, the first crop of figs would almost always be left unharvested so that the poor could eat it. This is why the verse mentions that ‘the time of figs was not yet,’ the harvestable figs wouldn’t come until late in the year.
Though He was the Messiah, Jesus came to the fig tree as a poor wayfarer to eat the unripe fruit that would surely be on the tree because its leaves had grown in. The tree SHOULD have a full crop of unripe, yet edible figs.
But the fig tree, which advertized itself as alive, and mature with its full set of leaves had produced no early crop of figs. To use a later biblical expression: it had a reputation that it was alive, but it was for all intents and purposes, dead. This phenomenon strikes me of another verse of scripture:
Revelation 3:1b-3 Speaking to the church in Sardis, Jesus said:
…I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
This passage is actually very relevant to the story of the fig tree. The fig tree represents the order of the Old Covenant, which was supposed to be mature, and produce fruit in its season. While the time of harvest had not yet come, still the tree ought to have produced unripe fruits to feed the poor of the people. But the leaders of Israel were not caring for the poor when Jesus came; they were oppressing them, and laying upon them heavy burdens.
Israel pronounced itelf to be the fruitful people of God; Herod had built a temple that was a wonder to whole world – according to historians Roman officers, and the emporer, himself would send animals to sacrifice to the God of heaven at the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem. Yet when Jesus came as a poor wayfarer, there was no ministry for Him; the religious rulers with all their pomp and spectacle, belittled, and oppressed the poor.
The fig tree represents the nation of Israel in the state in which Jesus found it: despising, and oppressing the poor, when it should be faithfully producing fruit to care for, and nuture them.
Remember how I pointed out verse 11, that the first work of Christ as Messiah was to enter the temple and look around on all things? In the same way, Jesus inspected the fig tree to see if it would provide for the poor, to see if it was worthy.
On the basis of His assessment, he found what Isaiah described He would find:
13 The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people.
14 The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts.
Just as Jesus said He would do to the city of Sardis if they did not repent, He came upon Israel in a time they did not expect Him. He had sent them John the Baptist, and given them the opportunity by his ministry to repent, but they did not, and even after John’s ministry they continued to fill the land so they could oppress the people.
So Jesus spoke to the fig tree – just as He would speak to the nation of Israel and declared: ‘No man eat fruit of thee hereafter FOREVER.’ And His disciples heard it. This verse correlates specifically with Jesus’ pronouncement of judgment upon Jerusalem, and the sanhedrin in Matthew 23, where He said:
37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
We shall see what happened to the fig tree, and history shows the judgment that came upon tthe nation of Israel.
(I wrote a post about this from Matthew’s account, here.)
But here’s one thing I’ll point out that I’ve never heard pointed out before: did you know that the buying and selling of sacrifices in the temple was not only NOT forbidden, but was actually perscribed by Moses? (See Deut 14:24 & 25)
Some have referenced this passage about regarding the treatment of the poor – that the poor were being fleeced for sacrifices. However, this part of the passage is not about the poor at all, in fact, the reason that Moses prescribed the buying and selling of sacrifices in the law was so that the poor, who had no livestock could sell something they did have of value, and still be able to make sacrifices to the Lord.
Jesus wasn’t upset about the poor in this instance – in the case of the fig tree, the principal object was the treatment of the poor, but this is another judgment entirely that the Messiah is making on Israel. If you think about it, this would be akin to the Lord storming into the church and attacking the finance committee during a church fundraiser – again, this was perscribed by Moses; was Jesus off His rocker?
No, the issue here is that the people were coming into the temple for the church service, and instead of acting like priests, the religious rulers had turned the church service into a marketplace. They were supposed to be worshipping God! They were supposed to be praying for the sick. In fact an interesting cross reference of this passage from the other Gospels show that after Jesus drove out the money-changers, He spent the rest of the day praying for the sick. Why did Jesus have to do that? Shouldn’t the priests be doing their jobs?
Jesus cursed the fig tree because it would not supply for the poor, but that wasn’t the only problem in the nation, in fact it was only a symptom of the real problem. They weren’t honoring God, even in His own house; they had taken the command of Moses which allowed the poor to buy sacrificial offerings, and made it the principle ministry in the temple. They had made the finance meeting – rather than prayer and worship – the main event of the church service. This, really, is the root of the issue with their treatment of the poor. If they had properly prioritized the Lord, and valued Him first, surely their other priorities would be in place, but God had become second place to money, not the other way around. If they had put God in His proper place, and loved Him first, they would have cared for the poor as well.
As they came back to the temple the third day they passed the same place they had passed the day before, and Peter saw that the fig tree, which the day prior had been green with leaves – the promise of fruit – was now dried and withered clear through to the roots in only 24 hours time. He pointed this out to Jesus and the other disciples.
This is an evidence that Jesus was a True prophet of God, in fact that he was the prophet which Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Moses gave the evidence of that prophet that if he spoke in the name of the Lord, and the thing he said did not come to pass, that such a prophet had spoken presumptiously (see also: The Prophet Moses Predicted pt.1 Pt. 2). But the thing which Jesus had said: ‘No man eat fruit from thee hereafter forever’ had surely come to pass in that the tree died from the roots. Jesus pronouncement upon Israel also took place exactly as He had said it would; He declared in Matthew 24:2 that not one stone of the temple would be left upon another, and it was true for after the temple was burned to the ground, the Romans took apart all off the remaining stones so that they could retrieve bits of gold which had melted into the crevaces.
But Jesus lowly, and mild, and coming to us on the colt of a donkey did not revel in the fact that His word was fulfilled, rather, He said something interesting. Though He had pronounced judgment on the nation of Israel, and thus also prophetically upon the fig tree, He now spoke life into the church of God which He was building.
Remember that Jesus told Peter: ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church’ (Matt 16:16) here, just as the fiig tree was a tyopological illustration of Israel, so Peter is the typological illustration of the church.
So Christ says to His church: ‘Have faith in God.’ (In fact, in the Greek, this phrase could also be rendered: ‘have the faith of God.’) For I say unto you that whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, annd be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye recieve [them], and ye shall have [them].
Let me point out that as I have rendered from the KJV above, the word ‘them’ in the second two usages are not present in the original text, but are added for English readability. Read it again with those two omitted:
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye recieve, and ye shall have.
Believe that ye recieve, and ye shall have. This is the principle of faith in Jesus Christ, and the principle of the church era; just as Jesus declared judgment upon Israel, so He spoke living faith into the church that was to be built in His name.
Where Jerusalem had failed in faith – for they entered not into the kingdom of God because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:19-4:3), and this was shown clearly by Christ when He drove out the money changers, the church of God stands on faith, for our salvation is from faith to faith (Rom 1:17).
But Jesus, as He prophesied to the future church did not stop there, He lays out another important principle foundtion of Christianity, the way that we recieve forgiveness of sins:
25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
Notice that Jesus’ chief concern when He addresses the future church is prayer. What did He say of the temple when He rebukeed the priests there? ‘Is it noot written, my house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer?’
Jesus was going to build a temple made without hands, which would be the house of God, and would be called of all nations the house of prayer: the church, His body, as a colt that had never been riden.
Believe on Jesus Christ; believe that ye shall receive [Him] and ye shall have [Him].
BUT when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
This is the way into the kingdom of God; the True Israel, where Jesus Christ reigns eternally in heavenly Jerusalem.