The Fig Tree and the Temple

An Extemporaneous Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. MAR 11:18

The center of the Jewish Church at the time of the Lord’s Advent, was the temple in Jerusalem.  

Although it was later used for many different things, its main function was to be the home and earthly containant of the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Commandments from the mouth of God on the stones hewn by the hand of Moses.

The two tables of stone, on which were carved the Ten Commandments, are a symbol of the two essential doctrines that form the basis of any true church that worships the Lord:  Love to the Lord, and love of the neighbor.

Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

The two essentials are reflected in how the commandments are placed on the two stone tables.

First table

No other Gods; Name in Vain; Sabbath; Honor Father and Mother

Second table

Honor Father and Mother; Murder; Adultery; Steal; False Witness; Covet neighbor’s house; Covet neighbor’s possessions.

We can see that this is also a New Testament concept for the Christian Church in the teaching in the book of Revelation concerning the two witnesses described in the book of Revelation as a pair of Olive trees and Lampstands.

As we think about the Church in its may forms adapted to many different cultures and needs throughout the world, we find comfort in the clear teaching that any people who have these two at the heart of their worship, no matter what the forms of their ritual, or the way they express their doctrines, are at heart, brothers.

The Fig represents the Jewish Church as to charity

As we read in the lesson, the gospel of Mark tells us that He came upon the tree when He was hungry, He found that it had no figs, so He cursed the tree.

Why did He curse the tree?  Because of what a tree that bears no fruit represents: “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.”.

Everywhere in the Word a tree represents a Man

This particular fig tree represented the Man of the Jewish Church and the fact that the Lord had come to that church to examine it for good, to look for some reason why He should not destroy it and replace it with another church.

Remember how He examined Sodom and Gomorrah before destroying them in the fullness of their wickedness?

The fact that there was no fruit on this tree represents the spiritual state of the men of the Jewish church at that time:  that there was nothing of good with them, that there was no effort on their part to do the things of charity that are the essential of the church, they were not following those things enjoined upon them by the Lord by the commands of the second table of the Decalogue.

Having seen the fig tree as a symbol of the failure of the man of the church, the Lord then proceeds to the temple where He finds a marketplace instead of a house of prayer.

The Temple as a market represents the Jewish view of the Lord.

The first temple was the tabernacle. Built by craftsmen trained in Egypt according to specific instructions provided to them by Jehovah Himself. The Tabernacle, in every detail of design, in the materials, and even in the measurements, was a perfect representation of the human mind.

Later, when the land of Canaan was conquered the Lord permitted Solomon to build a temple in Jerusalem. This temple was not built according to God’s plan, but was only a suggestion of the design and plan originated by God, thus showing how self-intelligence was taking over the church; how they wished to be lead by themselves instead of by God.

This was not the temple in Jerusalem that Jesus knew, for Solomon’s temple was destroyed in one of the many conquests of Jerusalem in the dark days of the Jewish church after the Babylonian captivity.

The temple of the Lord’s time Had been built by Herod the great. Herod was not even a Jew, but an Edomite (descended from Esau), and he had been trained in Rome to be a Roman governor. He tried to earn the love of the Jews by a fabulous building program, including a new and glorious temple for them. It didn’t work.

More to the point, Herod’s temple was built for cynical and selfish reasons:  its purpose was to consolidate Herod’s enforced rule over the Jews. It was less of a temple than a market place as many different merchants set up shop within the temple walls to cater to the pilgrims who traveled to Jerusalem from all over Israel to fulfill their various ritual obligations.

Rather than being a place to worship the Lord, a place for the faithful to gather together, it had become a place dedicated to money and power, the loves of self and the world, self-interest and self-intelligence

Those who should have been looking forward to His coming, and receiving Him with joy, the scribes and the chief priests, were afraid of Him and planned to kill Him

Because He revealed the truth to the people they were afraid that they would come to understand how they had been manipulated by the scribes and chief priests, and either turn away from them or take revenge upon them.

This was the final symbol confirming the death of that church and the need for a new one. That the very ones who should have welcomed the Lord, listened to Him, carried His message to others in the church, were so intent upon themselves, their own positions of power and authority, that they would rather murder their Messiah than accept the changes that believing in Him would make in their lives.

As we approach this Easter season, let us try to have a balanced view of the role of the Jewish Church.  Rather than feeling superior because our doctrine or life may seem to be on a higher level, let us remember that He allowed them to become His “chosen people” because they could serve to represent human states of the church that would reoccur throughout human history

The Lord was born into that church because He wanted to save it – just as He comes to us in the New Testament because we too desperately need His power to save us.

The Christian Church was established only when it was clear that there was no life remaining in the Jewish Church, that the two essentials of love to the Lord and love to the neighbor were absent.

In the Word, the Church stands for the man of the church as well.

All those things that are said of the Jewish Church can just as well apply to us today as individuals.

Do we have the two essentials of the Church?  

Is our tree fruitful, or barren?

Is our temple, our concept of the Lord, actually looking to Him or is it thinly veiled self-interest and self-intelligence?

How do we find the answers to these critically important questions?  

What is the state of the temple of our minds?

Through prayerful reading of the Word, followed by honest self-examination where we ask ourselves if we are walking the paths that the Lord has provided for us, or have we taken some other course.

What is the state of our Fig Tree?

Do the things that we do benefit others, or are they simply ways of pleasing ourselves?  Can we honestly say that our lives have born fruit?  And if not, what can we do to change things?

And we realize, as we surely will, that we have not yet done enough, we can take comfort in the Lord’s Words, and His teaching that it is the effort to begin the journey, not the distance traveled, that counts the most towards our eventual spiritual success, because He will be with us, upholding our efforts in secret ways, all the days of our lives.

Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly. … He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. (PSA 1:1, 3)


1st Lesson:  Mark 11:12-19

Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. {13} And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. {14} In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” And His disciples heard it. {15} So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. {16} And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. {17} Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” {18} And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. {19} When evening had come, He went out of the city. Amen.

2nd Lesson:  AR 49

And I will give unto My two witnesses signifies those who confess and acknowledge from the heart that the Lord is the God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine, and who are conjoined to Him by a life according to the precepts of the Decalogue.

The reason why these are here meant by “the two witnesses,” is, because these two are the two essentials of the New Church.

The first essential, that the Lord is the God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine, is “a testimony,” and consequently, that they are “witnesses” who confess and acknowledge it in the heart. … These are they who acknowledged the Lord. This is called “the testimony of Jesus,” because the Lord testifies it from His Word, thus from Himself.

The second essential of the New Church, which is conjunction with the Lord by a life according to the precepts of the Decalogue, is “a Testimony,” can be seen from the fact that the Decalogue is often called “the Testimony” in scripture.

There are two tables upon which those precepts are written, one for the Lord, the other for mankind. The first table teaches that many gods are not to be worshiped, but one; the second table that evils are not to be done; therefore, when on God is worshiped, and man does not do evils, conjunction takes place; for so far as a person desists from evils, that is, does the work of repentance, so far he is accepted by God, and does good from Him. Amen.