Lessons from the Fig Tree

Day 41

Holy Week – Monday

Matthew 21:18-46
Mark 11:20-33
John 12:20-50

Jesus is on an inevitable collision course with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus was always merciful toward the tax collectors and harlots who came to Him; He was their friend. But Jesus was always harsh with the religious hypocrites and hucksters who oppressed and manipulated people with their legalism and corrupted the sacred ideals of worship with the base motives of profit; He was their enemy.

The Cleansing of the Temple

It appears that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice. John records Jesus cleansing the Temple at the beginning of His ministry. Matthew, Mark and Luke record Jesus cleansing the Temple during the final week of His ministry. Matthew and Luke simply report that Jesus cleansed the Temple following His triumphal entry, but Mark makes it clear that is was on the following day — Monday.

During the week leading up to the crucifixion, Jesus was staying in Bethany (probably with Mary, Martha and Lazarus) and would journey each day into the city of Jerusalem to minister. It’s a walk of no more than thirty minutes. On Sunday Jesus arrived in Bethany from Jericho, it was probably in the afternoon. That day He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem; then He returned to Bethany to spend the night. On Monday morning Jesus and His disciples headed back into the city. On His way to the city Jesus saw a fig tree. (There are still fig trees on this road today!) Jesus looked for fruit, found none, cursed the fig tree and soon it withered away. Jesus then continued into Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple spoke some very pointed parables directed at the Pharisees. The Pharisees knew that Jesus had spoken against them and they wanted to arrest Him on the spot, but they had to bide their time. They didn’t dare attempt to arrest Jesus in the temple during the day lest there be a riot.

The fruitless fig tree which Jesus cursed and subsequently withered away is a picture of the corrupted religion of the temple worship controlled by the Pharisees and Sadducees. What had once contained the life of God, no longer bore spiritual fruit and within forty years the temple itself would be destroyed (as Jesus will prophecy the next day on the Mount of Olives). Instead Jesus said to the chief priests, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” This kingdom nation is not a political entity, but the community of committed followers of Jesus Christ from ever nation, tribe and tongue.

On this Monday of the final week, some Greeks who were in Jerusalem for the Passover sought an audience with Jesus. When Philip and Andrew informed Jesus of their request, Jesus at first seemed to ignore it and spoke of His impending death as a grain of wheat falling into the ground that it might produce much grain. But a little bit later Jesus says, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”

Here’s what’s happening: Greeks (Gentiles) want to meet with Jesus, but Jesus is focused on His impending death in less than four days. He knows that if He is lifted on the cross (and in the subsequent preaching of the message of cross), not only will these Greeks become the salvation fruit of death, but millions and millions of Gentiles wherever the gospel is preached will be saved. Jesus was focused on the big picture. The big picture of saving the world. That’s as big as the picture gets.


“The Gospel of Judas”

Some people have asked me about the documentary on “The Gospel of Judas” which was shown on the National Geographic Channel Sunday night and has been endlessly hyped in the media. So, a few comments…

First of all, this late second century document is neither a gospel nor written by Judas. It is a Gnostic text written about 150 years after the resurrection which attempts to cast Judas in a new light by asserting, contrary to the canonical gospels, that Judas was Jesus’ closest disciple and the only one who really understood His teaching. Furthermore, this Gnostic document claims that Jesus asked Judas to betray Him and Judas did so out of loyalty to Jesus. The so-called “Gospel of Judas” gives us a “new and improved” Judas and presents Jesus as somewhat manipulative and a teacher of Gnostic thought.

OK. A little bit on the Gnostics. They were early Christian era heretics who taught that Jesus did not come in the flesh and that the way to salvation was through secret knowledge, not the redemptive work of Christ. The Gnostics were fond of recasting Biblical “villains” in a positive light; e.g. Cain, Esau, the Sodomites, and, now we learn, Judas.

The Apostle John, who lived long enough to see the rise of the Gnostic heresy, directed much of his apostolic writings against Gnosticism. John specifically called the Gnostics antichrists (see 1 John 2:18-23, 1 John 4:3 and 2 John 1:7). Later the early church fathers (notably Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian) waged a great theological war with the Gnostics to rescue Christianity from the influence of the Gnostic heretics.

The importance of the so-called “Gospel of Judas” (discovered some 50 years ago in Egypt) is that it sheds light on the Gnostics and their heresies. But it has nothing to do with the historical Jesus. As Collin Hansen of Christianity Today put it, “This new text tells us nothing more about Jesus’ relationship with Judas than does Jesus Christ Superstar.”

The media hype of the “Gospel of Judas” and the popularity of Dan Brown’s book and soon to be movie, The Da Vinci Code is absolutely the spirit of antichrist at work in the 21st Century. In recent years there has been a resurgence of Gnostic ideas in both popular culture and the pseudo-academic world. The first century apostles and the early church father’s had to contend diligently for the faith during the first five centuries of Christianity. Now in the 21st century we must do the same.

For those of you who would be interested in a serious academic critique of Elain Pagels’ Beyond Belief (the book that the NGC program was based on), I would refer you to this critical response by Matthew Goss. Print this out for the know-it-all at work who thinks “The Gospel of Judas” somehow reveals a grand conspiracy to conceal the “truth.” Intellectual attacks on Christianity usually aren’t intellectual. That is a secret most academic skeptics don’t want you to know…but I’m letting the cat out of the bag.

Jesus is Lord!