The Greek language contains a word for time (kairos) that can be translated as “opportunity” e.g. in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “For he says,“At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” At a certain point, when the sovereign purposes of God intersect with chronological time, a time of spiritual opportunity is created. This space is limited and demands urgent response, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15). I believe God is warning that such a time of opportunity is coming soon, but most of the church will miss this divine visitation. Here is the background for these convictions.
One of the more puzzling episodes in the life of Jesus is the cursing of the fig tree.
“12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.” (Mark 11:12-14). Many people have thought this action to be uncharacteristic of Jesus. Yet the Father responded to his Son’s words and supernaturally shrivelled the tree.
“20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered.”” (Mark 11:20-24).
The key to understanding this prophetic action is to recognise the fig tree is a symbol of Israel, particularly its leadership e.g. Jer 8:13;11:16; Hos 9:10; Mic 7:1. Jesus has just arrived in Jerusalem and is about to be confronted, rejected and crucified by Israel’s leaders (Mark 8:32;9:31;10:33). He therefore symbolically pronounces judgement upon Israel represented by the fig tree, because it has fallen under the covenant curses for rebellion (Deut 28: 15 -68).
Some have considered Jesus action unfair, for after all, “it was not the season for figs”. Natural seasons and spiritual seasons are however not identical. This is made clear by other words of Jesus.
“They will crush you (Jerusalem) to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time (kairos) of your visitation.” (Luke 19:44) For Israel to recognize the time of her visitation would have been to recognize that Jesus was her Messiah. The season for Israel to bear fruit was set by the sole criterion of the presence of Jesus in her midst. It was not unfair for Christ to curse the fig tree (=Israel) because his ministry was her opportunity to repent, welcome the kingdom of God and bear fruit.
Later in Mark’s story of the fig tree Jesus provides us with additional insight concerning why Israel missed her kairos. “22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”” (Mark 11:20- 23)
The “mountain” that is to be cast into the sea is not any old mountain – Jesus is about to ascend this mountain, it is Mount Zion, the temple mountain, “the city of the great king” (Ps 48:2). In refusing to recognize Jesus as their king (Mark 15:31; John 19:21), the Jewish hierarchy condemns the nation to unfruitfulness and destruction. This relates directly to the church and its history of revivals.
The New Testament speak of special divine visitations of judgement. In Revelation 2:5 Jesus warns the church of Ephesus, “Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Similar visitations are threatened in Revelation 2:16 and 3:3). On other occasions, the visitation brings blessing, “One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.”” (Acts 18:9- 10). It is the nature of the response of the church to the presence of Jesus that determines whether it experiences judgement or reward.
In what state is the church in Perth? What should we be expecting from a divine visitation? I believe a key text for us is Hosea 14:8, “8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; your fruitfulness comes from me.” Since Jesus is now living in the church (an inhabitant, not merely a visitor), God expects constant fruitfulness from his people – whether this is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:2- 24) or evangelism (2 Tim 4:2). This is the presence of the power of the eternal city of God, with its “twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more” (Rev 22:2- 3) is surely present in the body of Christ NOW. God does not desire to see the church wither. As long as we are faithful he will produce the fruit (John 15:5).
But what does Jesus do when he beholds a church that is not “bearing fruit and growing in the whole world” (Col 1:6); much of the church in Perth is slowly withering on the vine and dying as if it is cursed, it is not mature and seeing many conversions. Into this scenario I believe the Lord will act, with two very different results.
In the first place, those who are faithfully praying for a divine manifestation shall experience a major renewal. What is prophesied concerning Israel will come upon this faithful remnant. “In that day: “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it! 3 I, the Lord, am its keeper; every moment I water it. Lest any one harm it, I guard it night and day; 4 I have no wrath…6 In days to come Jacob shall take root,Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots, and fill the whole world with fruit.” (Isa 27:2- 6)
“4 I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. 5 I will be as the dew to Israel; he shall blossom as the lily, he shall strike root as the poplar; 6 his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom as the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit.” (Hos 14:4- 8)
This minority group will be characterized by the constant supply of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:5 is best translated as, “Well then, does he who keeps on supplying you with the Spirit and keeps working miracles among you do so by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?”) They will see growth in character, supernatural signs and missionary outreach.
The majority group however will remain bound by what always prevents the constant fruitfulness of the people of God-idols. The prophetic application of the cursing of the fig tree to our own day is that the idol corresponding to the temple and its priestly hierarchy is the church as an institution and its professionalised leadership. That is, those who profit out of organised religion. The religiously powerful of our day will not recognise the presence of God in his appearing any more than the Pharisees and Sadducees recognised Jesus from Nazareth and his cross or the super-apostles in Corinth could see Christ in Paul (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11).
A little while ago Jesus reminded me, “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also” (Matt 6:21). He was trying to tell me some of my treasure was not in the kingdom of heaven but in the church on earth, and that the church had become for me an idol. How embarrassing, I have been teaching, writing and preaching about the crisis in the church for more than a decade and here was God humiliating me with the most obvious illumination.
Like the Protestant Reformers, like Wesley, Booth, the early Pentecostals and every wave of deep renewal we must all die to the church, not just in it gross organisational forms, that is easy, but to all the hopes, aspirations and dreams we project upon it from the depths of our struggling subconscious. Only when our hope for the reformation in the church is crucified will there ever be hope of a reformation from God.
Only a generation that is willing to face ridicule, isolation and rejection by its Christian contemporaries can be freed from the power of religious idolatry. Only those who sell all they have will discover the treasures in the field and the pearl of great price (Matt 13:44 -46). “He is no fool, who loses what he cannot keep, to keep that which he cannot lose.”