The Gospel According to Luke: Part 33 :: By Dr. Donald Whitchard

An Exposition

Luke 13:6-9: “The Tragedy of a Fruitless Nation”

“And He began telling this parable: a certain 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. 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? And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer, and if it bears fruit next year, fine, but if not, cut it down” (Luke 13:6-9, NASB).

This parable can be placed in the category, “He who has ears to hear, listen!” The reason I am making this assumption is that it applies to the spiritual state of Israel at that time, which was dead for all practical purposes. Ritualism and legal adherence to manmade traditions had been put into place by the Pharisees and Sadducees, who had been more attentive to the many interpretations of Scripture by rabbinical scholars than the Scriptures themselves.

True worship of the living God had become formality with no sense of sorrow or repentance, save by a few who still had a high regard for Him, like Zacharias and Elizabeth. They were told by the angel Gabriel that they would be the parents of John the Baptist, who would be the forerunner of the coming Messiah. True devotion to God was also seen in the aged Simeon and Anna when they encountered Jesus as He was being brought into the Temple as an infant for dedication to God by Mary and Joseph.

The evangelistic call to repentance by John the Baptist was the freshness and renewal of spirit that the nation so desperately needed. Jesus’ own ministry was one of a call for national and personal repentance and to listen to the authority of God’s Holy Word and its direct yet simple call to live a life that is pleasing to God and shows trust in Him as well, coming to Him for true eternal peace that the formal religious system could never provide. The work of Jesus in the renewing of authentic faith in God was a source of infuriation to the Pharisees and other groups who wished to maintain control over the populace and keep what peace there was between themselves and the powers of Imperial Rome.

In presenting this parable, the Lord Jesus is issuing a warning to His people that mere national identity and assumed favoritism from God, despite their spiritual condition, were not enough to avoid judgment for the coming national rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and their deliberate spiritual blindness to the move of God in their lives.

He uses the illustration of an unfruitful fig tree to represent the unregenerate state of Israel at that time. The vineyard owner in the story sees that this one fig tree in his acreage is barren of any fruit, and he notices that this has been the situation for some time, specifically three years. Something was not right, and he saw the tree as a waste of land and space. He told the keeper of the vineyard to cut it down because it is wasting valuable space. The keeper, in turn, informs the owner that he will give more attention to this tree and give it fertilizer and clear the ground around it to give it room to blossom and produce the necessary crop of figs. If after some time, nothing comes forth from the tree, the keeper will cut it down.

Jesus is clearly teaching His listeners that this tree is not just an unfruitful product, but it represents apostate Israel, who was under the delusion that all was well in terms of their status before God, and were resting on their past achievements and glory, believing that the current way of life was all they needed. This is not unlike the state of a lot of churches today who rely on their past traditions and “glory days” to show God what they had accomplished for Him then and expect to be blessed now, even though little fruit comes from them. Too many churches are dying from the words that kill any potential means of true growth and productivity, namely that “We never did it that way before!”

I have also seen and heard of churches with a handful of members who will not join with other struggling congregations because “My granddaddy built this church and we are not moving for nobody!” or some such excuse. Church splits occur because of a clash of ideas and direction that God is showing members, and others do not like any sort of change. There are too many people who tend to forget that it is not “their” church, but is the blood-bought property of the Lord Jesus Christ who will demand an accounting from all of us for what we have done and said that either brought fruit or dust as far as spiritual development is concerned.

Like ancient Israel, most churches rely on ceremony disguised as worship and believe they are the only ones who have a real relationship with God, and that Jesus dotes on them the most because they dress a certain way, or abstain from certain activities, or use a particular version of Scripture, or prevent “undesirable” people from coming in and having the nerve to sit in their pew. We can deny this, but it is the unfortunate and inexcusable image we project in front of a skeptical world all too often.

The Scriptures clearly tell us that apostate and reprobate behavior and teachings will plague the end-times church, and that Jesus Himself would not be welcome in some structures that have turned into glorified social clubs with a cross on the top of the building for image. Some pastors have thrown the Bible out all together and have substituted experiences, feelings, emotions, and personal revelations as a form of worship and faith.

There have been wonderful and glorious times in the history of God’s people when true revival and a renewal of love and dedication for the LORD became a reality in their church and community. God was at work and performing miracles of salvation, healing, and cleansing.

This was certainly present and witnessed by the people when the Lord Jesus was ministering throughout the land, performing miracles, teaching the truths of God to the masses, healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, and proclaiming the glory of God to those bound to religiosity and dull traditions. You would think that all of this would have had a profound effect on the people of Israel. Sadly, it was not so. There were visible and unmistakable miracles seen by them but produced no change of heart. There were teachings meant to be understood and applied by the people, but their minds were closed instead.

They held on to the belief in the God of past national glory but were deliberately blind to the obvious work of the Sovereign LORD at that precise moment and time. Only a remnant of Israel believed in the work and ministry of the Lord Jesus. This has not really changed over the past two thousand years. Jesus’ own frightening words in Matthew 7:21-23 confirms that fact. Are you truly in the faith, or is it an act? After you are dead, there is no opportunity to make it right (Hebrews 9:27). The leaders of Israel should have been the first to recognize the work of God in their presence, but they ended up blaspheming Jesus and putting Him on the cross as a criminal in order to make themselves look good before the pagan Caesars and a fickle crowd.

The end result is that God judged Israel for their unbelief and rejection of their true Messiah when the forces of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, crucifying over a million Jewish citizens and wiping out Judea as a province to the point where it was not recognizable, and the nation was scattered and would remain so until the birth of the state of Israel in 1948. There is coming a day where the people of Israel will welcome Jesus Christ as their Messiah and lament over what could have been a long, fruitful, and loving relationship with Him over the centuries. He still loves His people and will save them according to Scripture. They have not been cast aside or forgotten, and they are the apple of His eye.

The fig tree will bear fruit when the Lord Jesus returns to rule and reign as the rightful King of Israel and the entirety of creation. That day is coming sooner than you think. Be ready.