“For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” Luke 23:31.
To understand Bible symbols they first must be looked at in context. In this passage of Scripture Jesus is being led to Calvary to be crucified. Following Him was a wailing crowd. Turning to them He bid them to weep for themselves, predicting the days ahead and their own future. In verse 30 it says, “Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.” Then the next verse Jesus calls Himself a “green tree.” The following gives us an insight as to what Jesus meant:
“The innocent were represented by the green tree. If God suffered his wrath because of the sins of the world to fall upon the Redeemer, in that He was permitted to suffer death by crucifixion, what might be expected to come upon the impenitent and unbelieving, who had slighted the mercies of God, purchased for them by the death of his Son? The mind of Jesus wandered from the destruction of Jerusalem to a wider judgment, when all the impenitent would suffer condemnation for their sins; when the Son of man should come, attended not by a murderous mob, but by the mighty hosts of God.” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 3, 152.
The green tree represents innocence, the dry tree guilt, ripe for the fire of judgment. Another way to explain this is that if an innocent person suffers in this way, what will become of the wicked person? The wicked are like dry wood for the fire.
In commenting on this verse, Ellen Write wrote, “As Christ told them the things He must suffer at the hands of wicked men, He said, ‘If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry’ [Luke 23:31]? If they do these wicked acts to your divine Lord, what will they do to those that bear the testimony that He came from God, that He was God in human flesh?” Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, 393.
Green wood is still alive. It has the sap in it and is capable of bearing fruit. This moisture also prevents it from burning well. Dry wood has been cut and is dead, which means it bears no fruit. It burns very easily. If the Romans were willing to put to death an innocent man, what would they do later to the Jews who were not innocent? History reveals the devastation.
“By the green tree, Jesus represented Himself, the innocent Redeemer. God suffered His wrath against transgression to fall on His beloved Son. Jesus was to be crucified for the sins of men. What suffering, then, would the sinner bear who continued in sin? All the impenitent and unbelieving would know a sorrow and misery that language would fail to express.” The Desire of Ages, 743.