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In Luke 6:43-45 Jesus says,
43 For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit; nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. 44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. 45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.
In other words, teachings manifest the condition of one’s heart, for good or for evil. Luke seems to connect it to the previous words of Jesus, where he speaks of those who have “logs” in their eyes.
Matthew also records the same “fruit inspection” theme, but links it to discerning false prophets, whose “fruit” is evil. Matt. 7:15-20 says,
15 Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.
Each gospel writer selected (or remembered) different details of Jesus’ teaching, and, of course, there is no doubt that Jesus returned to the same themes on many occasions, each time using different wording. No doubt Jesus used the “fruit” comparison many times, applying it specifically to false prophets and to those with “logs” in their eyes. If both of these accounts of both Matthew and Luke record a single “sermon,” then it indicates that Jesus made both comparisons, one after the other.
John, too, tells us further thoughts that Jesus had about fruit in John 15:1, 2,
1 I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit.
Evil trees are not pruned. Good trees need pruning in order to increase their fruit. This topic goes beyond the words of Jesus in either Matthew 7 or in Luke 6, but it is yet relevant. There are some disciples who only need pruning, but who are chopped down by “hypocrites” who have logs in their own eyes. Those hypocrites are offended by the speck of sawdust that they see in their brother’s eye. Because they subconsciously see the same problem in their own heart, they react negatively on an emotional level. No one can tolerate the faults in others that match what is in their own hearts.
But Jesus was able to recognize a good tree from an evil tree. Even so, a good tree, when overgrown, needs to be pruned. Pruning is painful to the tree, but the outcome is that it bears more fruit. So this is how God deals with every good tree. Rejoice if you are being pruned, for God is spending time on you, and you have a great future.
I can speak from personal experience. Most of my major pruning occurred during the twelve years from 1981-1993. I learned as early as June 1982 that this time of training was to last twelve years. I had hoped I could get by with just twelve months of pruning—and indeed the first twelve months were the most intense. However, the Father saw fit to spend more time on me, and so it was twelve years before I was ready to enter the present ministry. The “fruit,” for better or for worse, is now displayed for all to see, because all of my writings and books are posted freely online for all to judge.
Of course, even after being pruned, a tree branch can bear no fruit unless it is attached to the “vine” or the root of the tree (via the trunk). Jesus says in John 15:4-6,
4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
We see, then, that there are three main steps toward bearing fruit: First, we must be a fruit-bearing tree so that the possibility is there. Second, we must be pruned. Third, the branches must be attached to the tree to sustain its life. The result is given in John 15:8,
8 By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
One aspect of this that is often missed is that this entire fruit-bearing theme is based on the New Covenant. Only through the New Covenant is this possible. Recall that Jesus said in verse 1, “My Father is the vinedresser.” The production of fruit, then, depends on the actions of our heavenly Father, not upon our own actions. The Old Covenant demanded fruit that was based on man’s vows of obedience, and this failed utterly. The New Covenant, however, is based upon God’s vow, oath, and promise, which cannot fail.
God is the owner of this vineyard or orchard. When He brought the nation of Israel into the land of Canaan, He “planted” them in His vineyard. Isaiah 5:1-7 tells us the story in the Song of Isaiah:
1 … My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. 2 And he dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones.
The prophet then asks “the inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah” what was to be done with the vineyard. He received no answer…
5 So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard; I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. 6 And I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, but briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it. 7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.
The old vineyard was destroyed, first when the house of Israel was taken to Assyria, and fully when Judah was taken to Babylon. Although a remnant of the house of Judah returned to the vineyard after seventy years to rebuild and to replant, God had already charged the clouds to withhold “rain.” Hence, the second temple, though built by divine command, did not see the return of the Holy Spirit. There were many individuals among them who were moved by the Spirit, including the post-exilic prophets (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) and Ezra, Zerubbabel, and Nehemiah; however, the glory had already departed (Ezekiel 11:23) from the city itself, never again to return (Jer. 7:12-14).
Instead, the glory now fills new individual temples (1 Cor. 3:16) made of living stones (1 Peter 2:5), and the corporate temple is being built as well (Eph. 2:20-22). This corporate temple, when completed, will receive the full glory of God, but it will not have a single location, for it is composed of people scattered throughout the whole earth.
The first-century nation of Judah as a nation was called primarily to allow the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem, as Micah 5:2 had prophesied. Though individuals within that nation certainly followed God as fruit-bearing trees, the nation itself lost this ability on account of the spiritual drought. A new nation would have to be formed from Jesus’ disciples. Even as Joshua (Yeshua) was the New Covenant agent who planted Israel and Judah in Canaan, so also Jesus (Yeshua) was called to plant a new vineyard—one that could receive the “rain” of the Holy Spirit.
Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, He told a parable in Matt. 21:33-46 that updated Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard and applied it specifically to Judah and Jerusalem. The main difference is that Isaiah said the vineyard produced only wild grapes that could not be eaten, whereas Jesus’ revision said that the employees of the vineyard usurped it for themselves and denied the Owner the fruit which He deserved and desired.
When the Owner sent His servants (the prophets) to obtain fruit, the employees “beat one, killed another, and stoned a third” (Matt. 21:35). More servants were sent, and the employees did the same to them. Finally, He sent His Son, but when they saw Him coming, “they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance” (Matt. 21:38).
Obviously, the Son is Jesus Christ Himself, whose throne was usurped by the priests. By the principle of mercy, Jesus then asked them to judge the employees in the parable. This gave them opportunity (as in the case of David) to judge or to show mercy, for God judges us by our own standard of measure. Their verdict is in Matt. 21:41,
41 They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”
Like Nathan did with David, Jesus then rendered the final verdict upon Judah and Jerusalem:
43 Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.
Hence, the Kingdom of God is taken away from Judah and all those who do not bear fruit, and it is given to the nation that does bear fruit. Fruit is the goal and the qualifier for the Kingdom. No one can claim citizenship in the Kingdom based upon genealogy from Abraham or any other factor. If anyone claims to be a Kingdom citizen, let him show the fruit of the Spirit by his manner of life. That is the only thing that impresses God.
Since the days of John the Baptist, a three or four year divine visitation, or investigation, had been taking place, as we saw from Luke 3:8, 9 and in Luke 13:6-9. It is plain from the vineyard parable of Matthew 21 that the investigation had come to an end, and that the religious leaders had established the level of their own judgment. Jesus then pronounced the final verdict on behalf of the divine court.
Earlier, in Matt. 21:19 Jesus had already cursed the fig tree (representing Judah) saying, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” The tree of Judah, then, was ready to be cast into the fire and burned, as was done with any fruitless tree. This occurred in 70 A.D. and is now set to occur again in our own time, for the present Israeli “tree” will remain fruitless, as Jesus prophesied.