1. A MOTIVE FOR A PARABLE
a. What event, that had just taken place in Jerusalem, was a motive for the presentation of the parable of the fig tree? Luke 13:1.
“The hearers told Jesus of an event which had just caused great excitement. Some of the measures of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, had given offense to the people. There had been a popular tumult in Jerusalem, and Pilate had attempted to quell this by violence. On one occasion his soldiers had even invaded the precincts of the temple, and had cut down some Galilean pilgrims in the very act of slaying their sacrifices.”—Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 212, 213.
b. What shows that the Jews regarded misfortune as a punishment for sin? Luke 13:2, 4.
“The Jews regarded calamity as a judgment on account of the sufferer’s sin, and those who told of this act of violence did so with secret satisfaction. In their view their own good fortune proved them to be much better, and therefore more favored by God, than were these Galileans.”—Ibid., p. 213.
2. A WARNING AND AN APPEAL
a. What warning and appeal did Jesus make in connection with His answer? Luke 13:3–5.
“As Jesus talked with the disciples and the multitude, He looked forward with prophetic glance and saw Jerusalem besieged with armies. He heard the tramp of the aliens marching against the chosen city and saw the thousands upon thousands perishing in the siege. Many of the Jews were, like those Galileans, slain in the temple courts, in the very act of offering sacrifice. The calamities that had fallen upon individuals were warnings from God to a nation equally guilty. ‘Except ye repent,’ said Jesus, ‘ye shall all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:5). For a little time the day of probation lingered for them. There was still time for them to know the things that belonged to their peace.”—Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 213, 214.
b. In His teachings, what did Jesus link with the warning of judgment? Luke 9:56; John 3:17.
“Christ in His teaching linked with the warning of judgment the invitation of mercy.”—Ibid., p. 212.
c. What appeal does God make to us today? Ezekiel 18:31; 33:11.
“Regeneration is the only path by which we can reach the holy city. It is narrow and the gate by which we enter is strait, but along it we are to lead men and women and children, teaching them that in order to be saved, they must have a new heart and a new spirit. The old hereditary traits of character are to be overcome. The natural desires of the soul must be changed. All deception, all falsifying, all evil-speaking must be put away. The new life, which makes men and women Christlike, is to be lived. We are, as it were, to swim against the current of evil.”—This Day With God, p. 108.
“The Lord seeks to save, not to destroy. He delights in the rescue of sinners. ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked’ (Ezekiel 33:11). By warnings and entreaties He calls the wayward to cease from their evildoing and to turn to Him and live.”—Prophets and Kings, p. 105.
3. A SYMBOLIC TREE
a. To confirm His warning and appeal, what parable did Jesus tell His hearers? Luke 13:6, 7. In what sense was the unfruitful fig tree a fit representation of the Jewish nation? Hosea 10:1.
“The people of Christ’s day made a greater show of piety than did the Jews of earlier ages, but they were even more destitute of the sweet graces of the Spirit of God. . . .
“God in His Son had been seeking fruit and had found none. Israel was a cumberer of the ground. Its very existence was a curse; for it filled the place in the vineyard that a fruitful tree might fill. It robbed the world of the blessings that God designed to give. The Israelites had misrepresented God among the nations. They were not merely useless, but a decided hindrance. To a great degree their religion was misleading, and wrought ruin instead of salvation.”—Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 215.
b. What shows that the blame for their failure lay at their own doors? Acts 7:51–53.
c. How can we also be like the unfruitful fig tree? John 15:4, 5.
“Like the pretentious fig tree, we may be covered with leaves but be destitute of fruit. While we know that the truth we hold is as firm as the everlasting hills, how many of us are ready to settle down upon the theory of that truth, without having evidence that Christ is in them, and they in Christ? How many are content to pass on from day to day without experiencing its sanctifying influence upon the heart, which leads to good works. . . .
“We should not only take hold of the truth, but let it take hold of us; and thus have the truth in us and we in the truth. And if this is the case, our lives and characters will reveal the fact that the truth is accomplishing something for us; that it is sanctifying us and is giving us a moral fitness for the society of heavenly angels in the kingdom of glory. The truth we hold is from heaven; and when that religion finds a lodgement in the heart, it commences its work of refining and purifying.”—The Signs of the Times, May 9, 1878.
4. A PERIOD OF ADDED PROBATION
a. How did the dresser of the vineyard plead with the owner? Luke 13:8.
b. What parallel can be drawn between the days before the destruction of Jerusalem and the days before the end of human history? 2 Peter 3:9, 10.
“O the precious long-suffering of our merciful Saviour! O that each of the dear youth would appreciate the value of the soul that has been purchased at infinite cost on Calvary! O that each one would place a proper estimate upon the capabilities that have been given him of God! Through Christ you may climb the ladder of progress and bring every power under the control of Jesus. . . . In spirit, in thought, in word, and in action, you may make manifest that you are moved by the Spirit of Christ, and your life may wield a power of influence over others.
“We are living in altogether too solemn a period of the world’s history to be careless and negligent. . . . You must pray, believe, and obey. In your own strength you can do nothing; but in the grace of Jesus Christ, you can employ your powers in such a way as to bring the greatest good to your own soul, and the greatest blessing to the souls of others. Lay hold of Jesus, and you will diligently work the works of Christ and will finally receive the eternal reward.”—Sons and Daughters of God, p. 118.
c. How did Jesus, in conclusion, show that they themselves as a nation had to decide their own fate? Luke 13:9.
“Jesus did not in the parable tell the result of the gardener’s work. At that point His story was cut short. Its conclusion rested with the generation that heard His words. To them the solemn warning was given. ‘If not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.’ Upon them it depended whether the irrevocable words should be spoken. The day of wrath was near. In the calamities that had already befallen Israel, the owner of the vineyard was mercifully forewarning them of the destruction of the unfruitful tree.”—Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 216.
5. A WARNING FOR US TODAY
a. What warning should believers in the threefold message take from this parable? What efforts is the Lord still making in our behalf? Isaiah 27:2–4; Hosea 11:8 (first part).
“The warning sounds down along the line to us in this generation. Are you, O careless heart, a fruitless tree in the Lord’s vineyard? Shall the words of doom erelong be spoken of you? How long have you received His gifts? How long has He watched and waited for a return of love? Planted in His vineyard, under the watchful care of the gardener, what privileges are yours! How often has the tender gospel message thrilled your heart! You have taken the name of Christ, you are outwardly a member of the church which is His body, and yet you are conscious of no living connection with the great heart of love. The tide of His life does not flow through you. The sweet graces of His character, ‘the fruits of the Spirit,’ are not seen in your life.”—Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 216.
b. What sentence must finally be passed upon those who do not respond to God’s care and labor for them? Hosea 4:17; Revelation 3:16.
“The heart that does not respond to divine agencies becomes hardened until it is no longer susceptible to the influence of the Holy Spirit. Then it is that the word is spoken, ‘Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?’ (Luke 13:7).”—Ibid., p. 218.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. Why did the Jews speak of calamity with secret satisfaction?
2. How must we change in order to be regenerated, fruitful trees in God’s garden?
3. When we fail to bear fruit in our life, how does this affect the world around us? What reflection does this have upon our religion?
4. How does the manner in which we use the powers given to us by God affect the fruit we bear in our life?
5. Even though we may be a member of the church, how can we be a fruitless tree in the Lord’s vineyard?