Rev. Anders Brogren
This article is based on three Bible studies which were aired in Sweden. They have been transcribed, edited and summarized by Göran Larsson. Rev. Brogren is a Lutheran minister, deeply engaged in Jewish-Christian relations.
We will focus upon some biblical trees, what they symbolize and what they have to teach us about the kingdom of God. In the land of the Bible with a different climate than ours, trees are growing whose characteristics are not always known to us. First we will look at the olive tree, which tells us about what it means to become a Christian. Then we will continue with the vine, which deals with the Christian life. Finally we will come to the palm tree, which refers to the goal of our lives.
The Olive Tree
The olive trees are very important in the countries around the Mediterranean. The olives give oil for cooking, and in ancient times the oil was also used for the lamps. Therefore the olive tree is considered as a special blessing.
In the Bible it symbolizes Godís people Israel. Therefore it is also
natural that the apostle Paul says that we, who do not belong to the people
of Israel but believe in the God of Israel, have been grafted into this
olive tree (Rom. 11:17-24). As the great heavenly gardener, God has taken
branches which do not belong there by nature and put them into Israel.
In this way we Christians have been incorporated in Godís covenant. By
living in the covenant and remaining living branches in the olive tree
can we produce the fruit the Lord is looking for.
A quite different kind of tree Ė or rather a bush Ė has to do with the fall. The earth was cursed and brought forth thorns and thistles. The thorn bush survives when everything else dies. In the dry season the cattle eat the vegetation. However, the sharp needles protect the thorns from the grazing animals. Therefore, the thorns and the thistles symbolize the dry and sterile, the curse of the earth.
When Jesus died on the cross and atoned for our sins, he wore a crown of thorns, the very symbol of the curse. The crown of thorns expressed that he had taken our sins upon himself and suffered the curse of our sins. When he wore this crown of curse the curse was taken away, and instead we can be grafted on to the olive tree which brings forth good fruit.
In Romans 11 the apostle compares the Jews who do not share our Christian faith to branches which have been cut off. However, it is obvious that Paul does not mean that they are cursed and rejected (see already verse 1). But for the time being it is in Godís plan to let them wait, since they have a special role in His household. We could, perhaps, compare this to the hosts of a feast, who have to wait until the guests have been served. This does certainly not imply that they are of less value. Quite the contrary is true.
Therefore, Paul strongly stresses that we Christians are in no way allowed to regard ourselves as superior to the Jews (Rom 11:18). He also contends that we who were far away from God but through Jesus Christ have been brought near and been grafted into the tree do not need to worry about the Jews. In due season, when the fullness of the Gentiles have come in, a great miracle will take place, the mysterious details and extent of which nobody is able to realize (see Rom. 11:25-27).
In the olive tree we have life. There we are intimately united with Godís people Israel.
The vine has much to say about what it means to live as a Christian. Jesus says: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit " (Joh. 15:1-2).
The vine is a very special tree. As a matter of fact it is no real tree. It can not stand by itself. It often grows on steep hills in meager soil. In fact, such harsh conditions do not diminish the quality of the grapes, which are among the most delicious and noble fruits we know of. The tendrils of the vine can be very long, sometimes up to hundred feet, and the roots penetrate very deep into the hard soil where there is water. Therefore the vine can survive even in extreme draught.
When Jesus compares himself to a tree, he chooses the vine, the least impressive tree we can imagine. He could have chosen an oak instead, which is also growing in the lands of the Bible. The vine even has to be supported by a frame.
This tells us much about how Jesus appears in this world Ė humble, not as a mighty one to be served, but one who serves (cf. Matt. 20:28), as one who even needs our help and support in order that the kingdom of God shall grow in this world. It is to be compared to the vineyards being in need of workers and frames to support the branches.
Jesus claims to be the trunk of the vine; we are the branches who are expected to bear fruit. In this respect the vine is no different from other trees. One has to remain in the tree in order to be able to bear fruit. Is one branch broken off, it can certainly not produce anything.
We Christians have to remain in Jesus Christ and receive the life and the nourishment from him. He is like the vine with its deep roots which deep down in the meager soil receives what gives life. Through him the miracle can occur that grapes will grow forth in the midst of what is meager and barren. Nobody will be spared from tests and trials. However, then something similar may happen as with the vineyards, i.e. even in barren lands, and perhaps particularly under such conditions, the grapes will become particularly good. The Lord purges the branches. Even we may have to experience that the Lord has to take things away in our lives in order that we may bear more and better fruit.
Finally, the day of harvest will come when the grapes will be gathered, when there will be a feast in heaven. Until then, let us remain in Jesus Christ, keep the commandments and remain in his love. He is our life.
The Palm Tree
The palm tree points to the goal for our lives. It is the royal tree, tall and magnificent, straight and strong. It is planted along the promenades at sea fronts, boulevards and in parks. It was branches of palm trees that the people used to greet Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. In this way he was received as a king and as the liberator of the people, as the Messiah.
In reality Jesus entered Jerusalem to suffer and die. His elevation was first to take place on a cross. Therefore, the palm tree is a symbol of the future glory, not for the present times. It is a reminder of the glory prepared for the coming age and the manifestation of the kingdom of God, as John witnessed it in his revelation (see Rev. 7:9- 17). Beyond the 144000 representing the twelve tribes of Israel he saw i huge crowd from all nations, i.e. those who through Jesus Christ had been grafted on to Israel, altogether Godís people here on earth. They were standing there with palms in their hands, glorifying God and the Lamb.
The meaning of life is that even we will one day join that crowd, participate in the majestic heavenly service and praise our King for all that the olive tree, the vine and the palm represent. However, today is the day when the grafting in and the bearing fruit have to begin if the victory shall be ours.
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