The triumphal ride of Christ into Jerusalem, just prior to his crucifixion, was the dim foreshadowing of his coming in the clouds of heaven with power and glory amid the triumph of angels and rejoicing of the saints. Then will be fulfilled the words of Christ: "Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." Zechariah, in prophetic vision, was shown the day of final triumph, when Christ shall come in glory; and also the condition of the Jews who rejected him at his first advent: "And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn."
The tears of Christ as he wept over Jerusalem were for the sins of all time. The Jewish nation was a symbol of the people of all ages who scorn the pleadings of Infinite love. Those who profess to be the representatives of Christ upon earth, yet whose lives are a continual denial of him, may read their own condemnation in Christ's denunciation of the self-righteous Jews. The Saviour came to the world bringing the light of truth; but his counsel has ever been rejected
and his mercies despised by those who have allowed selfishness and the love of mammon and worldly honor to possess the temple of the heart.
The sin of Jerusalem was in the rejection of her then present mercies and warnings. As a tender father pities a loved but erring and rebellious son, so had Jesus compassion upon Jerusalem. He had sent prophets and wise men with counsel, entreaties, and warnings of threatened judgments if she refused to forsake her sins. Sacrificial blood had flowed continuously for centuries, symbolizing the great atonement of the Son of God, to be offered for the salvation of man. But though the sacrifices of beasts had been abundant, they could not supply the place of true sorrow for sin and obedience to God. A broken heart and contrite spirit would have been of far more value in the sight of God than multitudes of offerings without true repentance.
Jerusalem had not improved her privileges; she had rejected the warnings of the prophets, and slain the holy representatives of God. But the generation that Jesus denounced was not responsible for the sins of their fathers, only so far as they followed their evil practices, and thus made themselves accountable for their course of hatred and revenge in persecuting the ancient messengers of God. It was the present mercies and warnings which that generation were rejecting that fastened upon them guilt which the blood of bulls and goats could not wash away. Proud, self-righteous, and independent, they had separated farther and farther from Heaven until they had become willing subjects of Satan. The Jewish nation for centuries had been forging
the fetters which that generation were irrevocably fastening upon themselves.
The tears of Christ expressed his anguish at seeing his people bringing sure destruction upon themselves. Gladly would he have broken from their necks the yoke of bondage to a heathen nation. But, while the Pharisees bitterly complained of their humiliation and oppression, they refused with hatred the only help that could relieve them from captivity, and make them a free and happy people. The voice of the Saviour had been heard for three years inviting the weary and heavy-laden to come unto him and he would give them rest. He had scattered blessings wherever his feet had trod. But, instead of returning his love with gratitude, they thrust Christ from them, and were now about to seal their own doom by putting him to death.
The earthly Jerusalem represents a large majority of the professed Christians of this age of the world. The Saviour has dispensed his blessings to us at the infinite sacrifice of his own life. This is our day of mercies and privileges. In every age of the world there is given to men their day of light and privileges, a probationary time in which they may become reconciled with God. But there is a limit to this grace. Mercy may plead for years and be rejected and slighted; but there comes a time when mercy makes her last plea. The sweet, winning voice entreats the sinner no longer, and reproofs and warnings cease.
That day had now come to Jerusalem. Jesus, from the summit of Olivet, in a voice broken by irrepressible sobs and tears, makes his last appeal to the nation of his choice: "If thou hadst
known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace--" A little remnant of the day still remained, in which Jerusalem might see and repent of her fatal error, and turn to Christ. While the fast westering sun yet lingered in the heavens there was time for her to be saved. The angel of mercy had long pleaded for the impenitent city; but now she prepared to step down from the golden throne, while the words of irrevocable justice were spoken: "But now they are hid from thine eyes."
The words of Christ, spoken upon the mount, reach to our time. His tears were for our impenitence. He has sent great light to us, as he did to the Jews. There have been given to us reproofs, entreaties, warnings, and the Saviour's yearning love. As the temple courts were desecrated by unholy traffic in the days of Christ, so the temple of the heart where Christ should be enshrined is defiled by selfishness, love of the world, malice, envy, and unholy passions. The Saviour sends messages to warn the sinner of danger and rouse his heart to repentance, but they are too often received as idle tales. Many of those who profess godliness are as unsanctified by the Spirit of God to-day as were the Pharisees in the days of Jesus. The light of truth is rejected by thousands because it involves a cross; it does not harmonize with their practices, and the natural inclinations of their hearts.
The prophets of God did not find favor with apostate Israel because through them their hidden sins were brought to light. Ahab regarded Elijah as his enemy, because the prophet was faithful to unfold the monarch's secret iniquities. So, to-day, the servant of Christ, the reprover of
sin, meets with scorn and rebuffs. Bible truth, the religion of Christ, struggles against a strong current of moral impurity.
Prejudice is even stronger now in the hearts of men than it was in Christ's day. Men, prompted by Satan, raise doubts as to the truth of God's Word, and exercise their independent judgment. They choose darkness rather than light at the peril of their souls; for God does not propose to remove every objection against his truth which the carnal heart can offer. The mysteries of the Word of God remain such forever to those who refuse to accept the precious rays of light which would illuminate their darkness. Divine love sheds tears of anguish over men formed in the likeness of their Maker who will not accept his love and receive the impress of his divine image.
Christ overlooked the world and all ages from the height of Olivet; and his words are applicable to every individual who slights the pleadings of his divine mercy. Scorner of his love, he addresses you to-day. It is "thou, even thou," who shouldst know the things which belong to thy peace. The retribution of the sinner will be proportionate to the light which he has received.
The most responsible period for the Jews was when Jesus was in their midst. And yet even the disciples appreciated but lightly the presence of God's Son until it was removed from them, when Christ ascended to Heaven. The Redeemer was unwilling to sever his connection with the Jewish nation. He had borne with its impenitence and abuse for years. He regarded them with the same unselfish devotion which a mother feels toward the child of her care. For
centuries he had stayed the bolts of God's wrath from falling on Jerusalem. But now she had filled up the cup of her iniquity by persecution of the Son of God, and divine vengeance was to fall upon her. Jesus gazed with inexpressible anguish upon the city and the temple he had loved. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"
If the Jewish people would have thrown off their bigotry and blind unbelief long enough to have looked into the depths of the loving, compassionate heart of Jesus, they could never have crucified the Lord of glory. But they were perverse and self-righteous; and when the priests and rulers heard the prophetic voice of the past sounded in trumpet tones by the multitude, in answer to the question, "Who is this?" they did not accept it as the voice of inspiration. The long list of ancient authorities pointing forward to Jesus as the Messiah, and which were quoted by the disciples, brought no proof to their hearts. But they were too much amazed and angered to express their indignation in words. Just as they were secretly and artfully laying their plans to put Jesus to death, behold! the humble Galilean is suddenly invested with honor that he had never before claimed, and receives homage which he had hitherto refused.
The dignitaries of the temple are dumb with astonishment. Where now is the boasted power of priests and rulers over the people! The authorities had announced that whoever should acknowledge Jesus to be the Christ was to be put
out of the synagogue and deprived of its sacred privileges. Yet here are the enthusiastic multitude shouting loud hosannas to the Son of David, and recounting the titles given him by the prophets. As well might the priests and rulers attempt to deprive the earth of the shining face of the sun, as to shut from the world the beams of glory from the Sun of Righteousness. In spite of all opposition, the kingdom of Christ was confessed by the people.
When the priests and rulers recovered their voices, they murmured among themselves, "Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? Behold, the world is gone after him." But they soon shook off the paralyzing effect of the strange exhibition which they had witnessed, and tried to intimidate the crowd by threatening to complain of them to the civil authorities as raising an insurrection. Some of the Pharisees carried out their threats, and angrily denounced Jesus to the Roman officers present as the leader of a rebellion. Others joined them, accusing the Saviour of setting himself up as king in defiance of the Roman power. Annas the priest urged that he was about to take possession of the temple, and reign as king in Jerusalem.
But the calm voice of Jesus hushed for a moment the clamorous throng as he proclaimed that his kingdom was not of this world; that he had not come to establish a temporal rule; that he should soon ascend to his Father, and his accusers should see him no more until he should come again in glory; and then, too late for their salvation, they should acknowledge him, saying, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord."
Jesus spoke these words with sadness and with singular power. The Roman officers were silenced and subdued. Their hearts, though strangers to divine influence, were moved as they had never been moved before; and a sudden hush fell upon the multitude. He who could command the elements, whose voice had stilled the angry waters of the deep, could also quell the excitement and apprehension of heathen men who had not rejected his light nor steeled their hearts against him by prejudice. The Roman officers read love, benevolence, and quiet dignity in the calm and solemn face of Jesus. They were stirred by a sympathy they could not understand. Before them was a man of humble mien, but of Godlike bearing. They were more inclined to pay him homage than to arrest him for insurrection.
They perceived that the priests and rulers were the only persons who were angry and creating a disturbance. They therefore turned upon them, and charged them with being the occasion of all the confusion. The priests and Pharisees, chagrined and defeated by this, turned to the people with their complaints, and wrangled among themselves with loud and angry disputation. There was a division of opinion among the priesthood regarding Jesus. Annas vehemently accused him of being an impostor. Caiaphas had publicly acknowledged him to be a prophet, but considered that his death was necessary to the fulfillment of prophecy. These two leaders gathered parties to their opinions. The majority of the common people were in favor of Jesus, declaring that no man could do the works which he had done.
While these angry contentions were going on, Jesus, the subject of all this disputation, passed unnoticed to the temple and looked about it with sorrowful eyes. All was quiet there, for the scene that had transpired upon Olivet had called all the people away from the temple. After looking upon it for a short time with solemn countenance, Jesus withdrew from the temple with his disciples, and passed on to Bethany. And when the people would have placed him upon the throne as king of Israel, he was nowhere to be found.
Jesus spent the entire night in prayer, and in the morning, while returning again from Bethany, he passed a fig-orchard. He was hungry, "And seeing a fig-tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon; and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever. And his disciples heard it."
It was not the season for ripe figs, except in certain localities; and on the elevated height of Olivet it might truly be said, "the time of figs was not yet." It is the nature of the fig-tree that before the leaves open the growing fruit appears; so it would follow that upon a tree covered with leaves one would expect to find well matured figs. The tree which Jesus saw was beautiful to look upon, but upon a thorough searching of its branches, he found that its appearance was deceitful, for it bore "nothing but leaves." In order to teach his disciples an impressive lesson, he used the fig-tree as a symbol, and invested it with moral qualities and made it the medium by which to teach a divine truth.
The Jews stood forth distinct from all other nations, professing perfect allegiance to the God of Heaven. They had been specially favored by him, and they claimed a greater piety than any other people, while in reality they were sinful, corrupted by the love of the world and the greed of gain. Boasting of their goodness and knowledge, yet full of hypocrisy and cruelty, and ignorant of the requirements of God, they were like the barren fig-tree that spread its pretentious branches aloft, luxuriant in appearance, and beautiful to the eye, but upon which Jesus found "nothing but leaves."
The Jewish religion with its magnificent display of temple, sacred altars, sacrificial pomp, mitred priests and impressive ceremonies, was but a superficial covering under which pride, oppression and iniquity held sway. The leaves were abundant and beautiful, but the tree bore no goodly fruit. The next morning as they passed by the same orchard, the disciples saw that the fig-tree which Jesus cursed was withered and blasted from root to branch. Jesus presented to his disciples the true condition of the Jews in this striking figure of the barren fig-tree; and, as the tree withered beneath the Saviour's blighting curse, and stood forth sere and blasted, dried up by the roots, so should all pretentious hypocrites be brought low.
The other trees in the fig-orchard were also destitute of fruit; but their boughs were leafless, therefore they raised no expectations and caused no disappointment. These leafless trees represented the Gentiles, who made no boasts of superior piety. In them the words of the scripture finds an application, "the time of figs was not
yet." But while the Jews in proud self-confidence stood forth assuming superiority to all others, the Gentiles were in a measure feeling their want and weakness, and longing for a better day, a clearer and more certain light to guide their wandering footsteps.
The Jewish nation were outwardly religious, priding themselves upon their sacred temple, the pomp of priests and the imposing ceremonies of the morning and evening services, gorgeous synagogues and sacrificial offerings. Here were abundant leaves, beautiful and bright, to cover the hollow hypocrisy, malice, and oppression at the heart of all this vain display. The Jews were privileged with the presence of Christ manifested in the flesh. This inestimable blessing which God bestowed upon them should have called forth their devout acknowledgments. But in blind prejudice they refused the mercies offered them by Jesus. His love was lavished upon them in vain, and they regarded not his wondrous works. Sorrow fled at his approach; infirmity and deformity were healed; injustice and oppression shrunk ashamed from his rebuke; while death and the grave humbled themselves in his presence and obeyed his commands. Yet the people of his choice rejected him and his mighty miracles with scorn. The Majesty of Heaven came unto his own, and his own received him not.
The judgment pronounced upon the barren fig-tree not only symbolizes the sentence passed upon the Jews, but is also applicable to the professed Christians of our time, who have become formal, selfish, boasting and hypocritical. Many who profess godliness stand before the world like the barren fig-tree, displaying pretentious leaves but
utterly devoid of fruit. They go through the form of worship, yet have not repentance and faith. In the doom of the fig-tree Christ demonstrated how hateful in his eyes are hypocrisy and hollow pretense. Ever pitiful to the truly penitent, ever ready to receive them and to heal their maladies, he thus evidenced that the open sinner is in a more favorable condition before God than the Christian who bears no fruit to his glory.
Important events clustered around the close of Christ's ministry. His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, his cleansing of the desecrated temple and the blighting of the barren fig-tree, all pointed to the doom of Jerusalem. The tears of Jesus upon the mount, when he overlooked the city of his love and care, while in the midst of the rejoicing and hosannas of thousands, were the last pleadings of rejected love and compassion.