Branches and Leaves But No Fruit

The 21st chapter of Matthew begins the last week of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem. During that time, two things are uppermost in His ministry: (1) His teachings of the Kingdom of heaven and (2) His confrontation with the Jewish religion. Everything He did during that week had to do with the destruction of Judaism and the establishing of His Kingdom. In a real sense the fulfillment of the ministry of Jeremiah took place (and continues to take place) through Him. I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build and to plant. Jeremiah 1:10. The commission given to Jeremiah was to have its ultimate fulfillment through Jesus Christ. The ministry of Jesus Christ at that time marked the end of Judaism and the beginnings of His kingdom.

A breakdown of Matthew chapter 21 is as follows: Verses 1-11 – the triumphal entry; verses 12-17 – Jesus clears the temple area; verses 18-22 – Jesus and the fig tree; verses 23-27 – His authority questioned; verses 28-32 – the parable of the two sons; verses 33-46 – the parable of the vineyard. For this message we are going to look at “the fig tree” and “the parable of the vineyard.”

Matthew 21:18-20 Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry.
19 And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, Let no fruit grow on you ever again. Immediately the fig tree withered away.
20 And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, How did the fig tree wither away so soon?

The account of the fig tree should be understood in the light of all that is taking place in this chapter. The fig tree represents Judaism. And Judaism with its rigid religiosity had the branches and leaves, but there was no fruit on its tree. The religion of the Jews was not producing the fruit God wanted. Judaism was like the “wicked and lazy servant” who hid his talent in the ground (Matthew 25:18, 26). At the Word of the Lord, the Judaism fig tree withered never to be fruitful again. Then in the year 70 A.D. (some 40 years later) Judaism breathed its last. The Lord visited her in judgment, using the Roman army to crush her completely. Is it too late for the Jews? No, it’s too late for Judaism, but it is not too late for the Jews.

Matthew 21:33 Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.

The landowner is God and the vineyard is Israel. The hedge around it, the wine press and tower represents all that God did in establishing Israel as His own people. The vinedressers would represent the priesthood and the kings. This parable is a take-off from the parable of Isaiah. My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; so He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes…For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help. Isaiah 5:1b-3,7. The scribes and Pharisees would be very familiar with the parable of Isaiah, so they should not have any problem understanding this parable of Jesus.

Matthew 21:34-36 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.
35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another.
36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them.

Time and time again the Lord had sent His servants the prophets to turn Israel back to God and they would not listen. Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you, to heed the words of My servants the prophets whom I sent to you, both rising up early and sending them (but you have not heeded), then I will make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth. Jeremiah 26:4-6.

Reckoning time is coming. In Jesus’ confrontation with the Jews He is reminding them of all that God had done to make them His chosen people, but they had not hearkened to His Word. Now Jesus sets the stage for the judgment and destruction of the Jewish religion.

Matthew 21:37-39 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, They will respect my son.
38 But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.
39 So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.

God has now sent His Son Jesus Christ to the Jewish religion and they shall, in just a few short days, kill Him.

Matthew 21:40 Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?

Jesus now asks the Pharisees, “What do you think should be done to these wicked vinedressers?”

Matthew 21:41 They said to Him, He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their season.

Unwittingly, the Pharisees proclaimed their own fate.

Matthew 21:43 Therefore I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.

The Jews had become an Esau. They lost their birthright and their blessing. Very soon the Apostle Paul will lead the way in ministering the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles.

Matthew 21:45-46 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them.
46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.

When the Pharisees realized Jesus was referring to them in His parable, their religious hatred rose up and they wanted to kill Him – and this they did in a few short days. Judaism was corrupt. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment. Isaiah 1:5-6.

Israel had been warned over and over about the way they had corrupted their religion, but they did not listen. The purpose of the Law that God gave Israel was to lead them to Christ that they might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24). Instead, they corrupted it by making it a religion of man. Thus, it became a curse. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them. Galatians 3:10. The Jewish religion became a curse when they took over the rule of it. And Jesus cursing the fig tree was in effect the cursing of a corrupt Jewish religion.

In 70 A.D. the judgment of God upon Judaism was carried out by the Roman army. Jesus predicted it that same week in Matthew 24. Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down. Matthew 24:1-2. The temple was completely destroyed. The Romans did not leave one stone upon another. This marked the end of Judaism, never again to arise as the center of what God was doing in the earth. From this point on Jesus Christ was the center of what God has for the earth. Israel would never become a Messiah-nation. Instead, people from every nation will be drawn to the Lord Jesus Christ and He becomes the Head of a many-membered Messiah. But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation. But Isaiah is very bold and says: I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me. But to Israel he says: All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people. Romans 10:19-21.

What we are speaking of in this message is not new; it is history. It is also a historical fact that Christianity has taken the place of Judaism. Now, could the same thing happen to Christianity that befell Judaism? If Christians corrupted Christianity as the Jews did Judaism, could the same thing happen to them? Listen to what Paul had to say about that.

Romans 11:18-22 Do not boast against the branches (Paul speaks of the Jews as the broken-off branches of an olive tree and Christians as branches grafted into the olive tree.). But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. (The Lord Jesus Christ is the Root.)
19 You will say then, Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.
20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.
21 For if God did not spear the natural branches, He may not spare you either. (The same thing could happen to Christianity.)
22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.

I don’t need to describe the state of Christianity today. It is obvious to anyone who has eyes to see, and those who do not have eyes to see wouldn’t accept the truth if you told them. Unless something happens to drastically change the state of things, Christianity will also experience a like fate. Nevertheless, a remnant will be saved.

Now, let’s talk about this remnant a little. What happened to Israel and what will happen to Christianity is mystically happening to them even now. You see, it was the human nature of man that was the cause of Israel’s religious corruption. The corrupt human nature of man was the little bit of leaven placed in the lump of dough and the whole was leavened. The same thing is happening to Christianity. The leaven of human nature is corrupting it. So what is God doing with the remnant He is saving? He is dealing with their human nature! In a mystical sense the Lord of host is entering His people, making war upon their human nature (Revelation 6:2). He is bringing down the giants of the land, the kings of our earthen nature. Have you felt like you were being assaulted by a jack-hammer lately? Well, you have. God is breaking up the concrete of your human nature. It is your salvation. God destroyed the existing religion of the Jews because He wished to save some. Had it been allowed to continue, none would have been saved. If Christianity is allowed to continue as it is, none would be saved. They both have branches and leaves, but no fruit. They look good but there is no life in them. If God was to allow you to continue as you are, you would not be saved either. God loves you! So He is warring against your self-centered human nature. Be thankful; you are going to bear fruit unto God.

Copyright © 2005 by Henry DuBose