The treatment of the barren fig-tree by the Saviour of the world, shows how all pretenders to godliness will be treated. He pronounced upon it His withering curse, and left it seared and sapless, rejected by God (Matthew 21:19). This tree represents the Jews, who refused to respond to the love of Christ. Despite all the privileges and opportunities granted them, they brought forth only briers and thorns—no fruit to the glory of God. This blighted tree was a parable to the house of Israel—a most impressive lesson. It is also a lesson to the professed followers of Christ in every age. Reaching through all time, it speaks in unmistakable language to all formalists and boasters of godliness who stand forth to the world with high profession, but are utterly devoid of that vital piety which alone God recognizes as fruit.
There is a decided lack of piety among us as a people. The true burden of the work for the salvation of souls does not rest upon us as it should. Like the barren fig-tree, many flaunt their foliage-covered branches before the Lord, proudly claiming to be his commandment-keeping people, while the heart-searching God finds them destitute of fruit.
We boast of our advancement in the truth; but our works do not correspond with our profession. We are sadly deficient in spirit, energy, and life. Leaf-covered trees are plenty, but they are destitute of fruit. The fearful condition of lukewarmness and unfaithfulness which would exist in the last days was described by the great apostle in these words:
“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, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away” (II Timothy 3:1–4).
We learn from the Sacred Record that this tree, upon which hung not a redeeming cluster of fruit, was clothed with green foliage. Notice the words. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” The doom of the fruitless fig-tree has an application to individual professors who manifest the natural tendencies of the unrenewed heart, and contradict their faith by their daily life. They do not represent to the world the character of Christ, because they have not Christ in them.
Our Saviour never turned away from the truly penitent, no matter how great their guilt. But He hates all hypocrisy and vain display. He addressed with the most severe and unqualified reproof the Pharisees and hypocrites represented by the fig-tree covered with green foliage, but destitute of fruit.
Fruitless professors, sad indeed is your fate; for the open sinner stands in a more favorable position in the sight of God. The blight of God’s curse is upon that class who hide the deformity of their lives under a profession of godliness. John, that bold, undaunted reprover of sin, who came to prepare the way for Christ’s first advent, thus addressed the multitude that flocked to hear him: “Therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). Terrible words! And as we see the many who profess to be God’s commandment-keeping people, whose lives show that they do not the will of our Father which is in Heaven, we can come to only one conclusion—that in the doom of the fig-tree which bore no fruit, and upon which fell the withering curse of God, they may read their own fate.
The compassion and tender love of Jesus for those for whom He died, is without parallel. But when His love and mercy are insulted, when His life and example are misrepresented by those professing to be His followers, severe retribution will surely follow. Christ has bought man with an infinite price. Soul, body, and spirit—all that constitutes the man—is the rightful property of our Saviour; and when He sees the body, the temple of the soul, defiled and degraded by indulgence of appetite and lustful passion, and the heart polluted and defiled by sin—when He sees the soul which was the purchase of His blood, proving a curse rather than a blessing to the world, He dooms it as He did the fig-tree, and it becomes a fearful monument of His righteousness and avenging wrath.
Jesus is wounded and insulted by His professed follower whose unconsecrated lives disgrace their profession. He would purify the temple courts of the soul; but if His efforts to warn and reprove are not heeded, his forbearance and compassion will be changed to severity and judgment.
The Review and Herald, January 11, 1881.