What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Who asked for a sign? Who asked for a miracle? Those whose hearts were farthest from Him, the unbelieving, the hecklers, the critics. These people cared nothing for the real Jesus, so they occasionally became the objects of His scathing denunciations. He calls them "hypocrites" for asking for a sign.
Those who ask for signs or seek miracles, who put out the fleece like Gideon did (showing a glaring lack of faith), are actually casting insults on the Word of God. They are calling it into question. They are profaning His name, calling Him a liar because, if He says He will do something, and it is impossible for Him to lie, He will do it!
This can be very sobering. It brings to mind an advertisement that used to appear on television every once in awhile featuring a stern-looking woman dressed in a gown, who said, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!" and then thunder pealed! God, surely, takes our immaturity into account, but it is not nice to call Him into question. That is tempting Him. If He says He will do something, He will do it, according to His will. Therefore, calling for a miracle often characterizes carnality, not spirituality.
The next question, then, has to be, "Will not God work a miracle in answer to a prayer?" He makes a great many promises, such as healing, which is indeed a miracle. Will He perform a miracle for us? Yes, He will. But if we search His Word, we find more than a dozen qualifications for answered prayer, not just a couple. Some of them are of major importance, some of lesser importance, and He does not require that every qualification be met perfectly. Even so, divine healing in response to answered prayer is not automatic.
Whether or not God grants our request seems to boil down to three broad areas—four, actually, but three of them fall on us. One is the way we are living. A second is the understanding involved in the request. The third is the attitude in which the request is made. When those three are combined with God's will, the answer becomes clear: He will do it. However, He will do it in His time and in a way that will give credence to His Word, to His truth, to His purpose.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is God a Magician?
The various commentaries provide a wealth of additional information to help us better understand this event, as the Bible leaves out a great deal that its authors expected their contemporary readers to know. With many years and thousands of miles of geography between us and the area of Jerusalem in AD 31, it behooves us to seek out expert help in this matter. With these added pieces of information, we can understand that Jesus' cursing of the fig tree was reasonable and an example for us.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible explains that the tree that Jesus cursed was a peculiar fig tree among the many that could be found in the vicinity of the Mount of Olives. There were so many fig trees in that area that it was known as Bethpage—"House of Figs." This particular tree was unique because of the abundance of leaves—an indication of abundant fruit—but it had none. It was all show.
Adam Clarke's commentary on Mark 11:13 points out that the phrase "the time of figs was not yet" would be better translated to emphasize that the time for gathering figs had not yet come. Clarke cites a similar phrase in Psalm 1:3 as support. He also indicates that the climate in the area of Jerusalem was such that figs could be found throughout the year, especially in March and April, making it not unreasonable to expect to find fruit then. However, figs are not usually harvested until after Passover—all the more reason to expect to find some on this tree.
Clarke further contends that this fig tree was supposed to represent the state of the Jewish people—"that they professed the true religion and considered themselves the special people of God—but were only hypocrites having nothing of religion but the profession—an abundance of leaves but no fruit." Thus, he continues, "Jesus' cursing of the fig tree was intended as a warning of what was to come in the absence of repentance; the total destruction and final ruin of the Jewish state at the hands of the Romans."
Clarke concludes that Jesus did not curse the fig tree out of resentment for disappointing Him by not having any fruit, but to emphasize to His disciples just how devastating God's wrath would be on the Jews, "who had now nearly filled up the measure of their iniquity." Further, it is an object lesson to everyone that God expects us to bear the fruit of righteousness, showing us the consequences of failing in that task.
Matthew Henry echoes this last lesson in his comment on Mark 11:13:
Christ was willing to make an example of it, not to the trees, but to the men, of that generation, and therefore cursed it with that curse which is the reverse of the first blessing, Be fruitful; he said unto it, Never let any man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever!
These relevant facts inform us it was not a case that Jesus was annoyed and cursed the fig tree out of anger or disappointment as many have supposed. In fact, it was not an unreasonable act at all. No, the cursing of the fig tree turns out to be an act of God performed as a witness—like all the object lessons Jesus performed throughout His ministry. It was a stern warning to all who would fail to bear the fruit of righteousness, including—perhaps especially—us today!
The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:11, "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." Jesus was following this principle in giving us an illustration of His words in Matthew 7:19, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (see also John 15:6). The cursing of the fig tree is a pointed exhortation from our Savior not to be found fruitless at His appearing because the dreaded Lake of Fire awaits those who taste of "the heavenly gift" of God and failing to grow, fall away (see Hebrews 6:4-6; Revelation 20:15; 21:8).
Basil, a fourth-century theologian, wrote in part, "A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. . . ." The deeds—the fruit—that God wants to see are the expressions of His Spirit working in us as we interact with others (Galatians 5:22-23). As Christ Himself instructs us, "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (John 15:8).
This is what the Christian life is all about: growing and producing fruit that glorifies God. Thanks to that fig tree on the way to Jerusalem, we have a vivid example to keep us on the straight and narrow path to the Kingdom of God.
The Cursed Tree
In one chapter, Matthew 23, Jesus Christ rips the scribes and Pharisees to shreds. Eight times He pronounces on them woe—defined by Webster's Dictionary as "deep suffering, grief, affliction, ruinous trouble." He dubs them "hypocrites" seven times, "blind guides" twice, "fools and blind" twice, "blind" once, "whitewashed tombs" once, and finishes His name-calling tirade by designating them"brood of vipers"!
He then accuses them of being the children of those who had killed the prophets—a heavy-duty insult considering how proud they were of their ancestry. He predicts they would do the same themselves and declares that He would have nothing to do with them until they accept and bless the ones He sends.
Jesus was really worked up over this! Why? These people were extremely careful in keeping every minor article of the law. They even added many precise rules themselves to ensure they did not overlook the law's details.
Their lives, and the lives of those under their jurisdiction, consisted of endless, mindless details. Endless, for they continued to break branches of the law down to twigs down to leaves. Mindless, because this focus hampered their ability to think and properly weigh what was most important. They became so involved in making sure everyone else obeyed their demands that they no longer remembered the fundamental purpose of the law or kept it properly themselves. Even worse, they used the law against others and took advantage even to the point of "devouring widows' houses" (verse 14). Hence Christ's remonstrance: Hypocrites!
Yet they LOOKED good, publicly counting their mint, cummin and anise. It is not wrong or unlawful to count each seed; tithing should be done, as Christ pointed out (verse 23). But there are far more important issues of the law to consider than counting individual seeds—namely, JUDGMENT, MERCY AND FAITH.
Notice Christ's scathing indictment of the Pharisees' religion and it's effects:
♦ They set a horrid example by not following their own teaching (verse 3).
♦ They abused their office by burdening others with strict requirements while not requiring the same of themselves (verse 4).
♦ What they did do was only for vanity and show (verse 5).
♦ They were social climbers (verse 6).
♦ Their teaching had negative results, driving people farther from the Kingdom rather than closer to it (verse 13).
♦ Their twisted reasoning led them to steal even from the weak (verse 14).
♦ Their misguided zeal made their proselytes twice as bad as they were before they were even "converted" to Pharisaism (verse 16).
♦ Gold, money, and greed became their main focus and god (verses 16-18).
♦ Their perspective was so perverted that they would pay more attention to keep from swallowing a gnat than they would a camel (verses 23-24).
♦ How others saw them was far more important than moral values (verses 27-28).
♦ While they extolled the virtues of past men of God, they were so deeply hateful and murderous that they would kill Christ and any of His followers that they could (verses 29-37).
♦ Their religious house was utterly worthless and desolate, bereft of any contact with or influence of God, though they thought they were perfectly righteous. In a word, they were self-righteous.
We could easily break these attitudes down into many more categories of sin, but the point is obvious: The total of all their religious efforts was zero. Actually, Pharisaism had negative value, for the scribes and Pharisees took what people already had and made them even worse off than before!
The Weightier Matters (Part 1): Introduction
In this instance, Christ speaks of two individuals, both servants of God. God finds one to be wicked, the other wise. Note the fifty-fifty split in the context of judging. Christ judges the two servants, blessing the faithful one by setting him over His possessions, cursing the wicked one by cutting him in twain—the ultimate two-part division!
The wicked servant finds himself “with the hypocrites” because, all the while, he has led a double life, pretending to serve God while actually laboring at cross-purposes to God by abusing God's other servants. Like Satan, he has disguised himself as a minister of God (II Corinthians 11:12-15). As a result, he has scattered God's people rather than gathered them (Luke 11:23). Unlike the wise servant, “who walk[ed] not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4), the wicked servant walked according to his own desires (II Peter 3:3-4; Jude 16-19), all the while feigning faithfulness to God and His work. The wicked servant, like all hypocrites, has led a mock life, one of pretense.
Christ's teachings segue nicely into Matthew 25, where the central theme is the reality of God's judgment and how that reality should affect our thinking—and action. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the ten virgins represent the entirety of God's people as they go out to meet the bridegroom (verse 1). Their even-split is clear: “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise” (verse 2).
Their destinies were vastly different, though, as the wise were ready for the bridegroom, the foolish were not. Upon the latter “the door was shut” (verse 10). Here, the blessing and the curse is ever so poignantly expressed. We are left with the feeling that the five foolish ones were never true followers of Christ, having failed to renounce all (Luke 14:33). Christ tells them, “I do not know you” (verse 12).
Again, in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Christ mentions two (not three) groups, distinguished by their members' attitudes toward obedience. One group is comprised of those who fulfill their responsibilities by actively growing their talents, no matter how many (or few) God originally gave them. The other group contains those who refuse to grow their talents.
Considering these various examples in overview, we can identify a few commonalities. In them all, we recognize that God is judging, usually in an end-time context. Evaluating a unified group, He detects some type of essential disunion. The unity is superficial, more apparent than real in terms of the level of commitment and obedience He seeks. As a result of this evaluation, God divides the group into two parts—sometimes overtly a fifty-fifty split.
The destinies of individuals in these two new groups differ vastly. One part is blessed, the other cursed. The Scriptures bear no salient indication of a period of church unity at the end. All this is consistent with Paul's comments in I Corinthians 11:19 that “there must in fact be divisions among you, so that those of you who are approved may be evident.”
These examples also illustrate another commonality: More often than not, God's judgment involves an element of surprise, even bewilderment, catching us off-guard—sometimes tragically so. The line of division He creates may be unfamiliar to us, unexpected. His judgment is not what we might expect, or the lines of division are unfamiliar to us. The wicked servant was not looking for the return of the master. The foolish virgins did not expect to run low of oil.
That is all to say that God's judgment is usually athwart ours. His act of division is, in fact, one of reconfiguration along lines that can be quite different to what we are accustomed.
Unity and Division: The Blessing and a Curse (Part Two)
Find more Bible verses about Hypocrites:
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