Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree?

March 24, 2010

"You tell'em Lego Jesus"

ReferenceMark 11:12-14

Question:
Was the cursing of the fig tree on the way to the anger exhibited in the temple throwing out the money changers a foreshadowing? Or a reference to Christ’s human frustration?

Answer:
The incident in Mark with Jesus and the fig tree has everything to do with the nation of Israel.  The fig tree, like the vineyard, was a common analogy for the nation of Israel.  Upon Jesus arrival in Jerusalem and at the Temple he encountered a sight that he despised, and it’s not what you think…

The anger that Jesus showed toward the fig tree, and the anger that he showed when he overturned the tables in the Temple area was a result of what the nation of Israel had become… exclusive.  In other words, it was a place of ethnic hierarchy and separation.  In the  verses following the curse of the fig tree Jesus says “it is written, ‘my house will be a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves” (Mark 11:17).  Jesus here is not expressing his frustration with buying and selling in the temple area, he is expressing his frustration that gentiles have been excluded from the Temple.

The Temple was THE place where worship of God happened in the Jewish faith.  But only Jews could go in, and only Jewish men could go into the inner courts.  This grieved God who had longed for it to be a place for all people to come to him.  Even when it was dedicated by King Solomon himself it was meant for all people (2 Chronicles 6:32-33).

Israel had failed to be the blessing to the nations God had created them to be (Genesis 12:1-3).  But now Jesus would be the one to take that promise and fulfill it.  Later in Mark 11, after they had left the Temple, Peter noticed that the fig tree that Jesus had cursed was now dead and withered.  Jesus answers Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.”  Contrary to the obvious this is not a verse about being able to do all things if we have faith.  The context suggests that it is much more specific.  Jesus is still talking about the Temple.  Notice that he says, “you can say to THIS mountain”.  He is talking about a specific mountain, the Temple mount.  Jesus is suggesting to his disciples that if they place their faith in God that the Temple will become obsolete.  In otherwords, Jesus will take the place of the Temple.  No longer will they need to go to the Temple to worship and be near God.  Instead, ALL people will be able to go to Jesus.

The fig tree is withered – Jesus has replaced Israel as the blessing; the mountain will be removed – Jesus has preplaced the Temple as the place of sacrifice and worship for ALL people.  In 70 A.D. the temple actually was destroyed as Jesus predicted (Mark 13:1-2, see other posts about the Temple).

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What does Jesus mean when he says “The first shall be last and the last shall be first?”

February 17, 2010

What does the adage "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first" have to do with the workers in the vineyard?

Reference: Matthew 20 Matthew 20:16

Question:

What does Jesus mean when he says “The first shall be last and the last shall be first?”  And what does it have to do with the parable of the vineyard workers?

Answer:

The meaning of Jesus’ curious statement about the first and last role reversal has everything to do with the parable that precedes it.  I have said in previous posts that parables should not be treated as strict allegories.  In other words, we should avoid assigning a specific meaning to every element of a parable.  However, there are some overwhelming first-century symbols that cannot be overlooked.  In this parable we find just such a symbol… the vineyard.  Remember, we need to hear this parable as the first century listeners would have heard it.  Considering that important interpretive note, the idea of the vineyard takes on a potent meaning that cannot be ignored.

The vineyard was an analogy for the people of Israel (see Isaiah 5 or Psalm 80). The vineyard was a symbol of Israel and its promised prosperity.  With this knowledge the message of the parable becomes much clearer.  Thus the workers who come late still get to take part in the reward of the vineyard and its owner. Jesus is communicating a radical message to the leaders and the people of Israel that says, ‘the Kingdom of God has been opened up to the Gentiles too’.  The nation of Israel may have been first, but that doesn’t mean that others cannot receive the blessing.

Thus, when Jesus says “those who are last now will be first, and those who are first will be last” we must interpret it in light of Jesus message about Jews and Gentiles.  This is more than just a comment on pride and humility.  Jesus is suggesting that the ones who show up later, the Gentiles, have just as prominent a place in the kingdom of God as the Jews.  The trouble is that this does not sit well with those who were already there.  In Verses 10 and 11 one can see the discontent of the workers who showed up first.  It is there that you get a sense of what it means for the first to be last.   For those who think they deserve more and they get less, it feels like losing.  But what Jesus is really saying is that there is no distinction between those who arrive early and those who arrive late (Jews and Gentiles respectively).

Today this message applies to the Church.  Sometimes the Church can be so closed off from the world.  The message for those of us who know Jesus already is that we should long for all people to partake in the same reward that we ourselves receive when we follow after Jesus.