United Fruit Bearers
“Keep bearing much fruit and prove yourselves my disciples.”—JOHN 15:8.
1. How does the Bible show that Jehovah places much value on fruit trees?
“JEHOVAH GOD made to grow out of the ground every tree desirable to one’s sight and good for food.” (Genesis 2:9) In Israel newly planted fruit trees were to be allowed to grow for three years without the owner’s using the fruitage for any purpose whatsoever. Even any fruit produced during the fourth year had to “become a holy thing of festal exultation to Jehovah.” The fifth year, the owner could use the fruit crop as he wished, after giving the firstfruits to Jehovah. (Leviticus 19:23-25; Deuteronomy 26:1-10; Nehemiah 10:35-37) In the event of war, fruit trees were especially protected under the Mosaic Law.—Deuteronomy 20:19, 20.
Unproductive Trees Cut Down
2, 3. What did Jesus state in the parable of the barren fig tree?
2 In the previous article we have seen that many natural branches in the symbolic olive tree (Romans, chapter 11) were broken off and replaced by branches from a wild olive. In that illustration the lopped-off branches represent faithless Jews who refused to recognize the olive trunk or primary Seed, the Messiah, Jesus. In a different illustration Jesus likened the Jewish nation to an entire tree—not an olive but a fig tree.
3 In the fall of 32 C.E. Jesus stated: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it, but found none. Then he said to the vinedresser, ‘Here it is three years that I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, but have found none. Cut it down! Why really should it keep the ground useless?’ In reply he said to him, ‘Master, let it alone also this year, until I dig around it and put on manure; and if then it produces fruit in the future, well and good; but if not, you shall cut it down.’”—Luke 13:6-9.
4. How had Jesus proved himself to be a faithful “vinedresser”?
4 At the time Jesus spoke of this fig tree he, as the “vinedresser,” had spent three years trying to cultivate faith among the Jews. Yet in spite of their many advantages under the Abrahamic and Law covenants, only a small remnant of the Jewish nation had accepted the Messiah. (Romans 9:4, 5, 27) During the fourth year of his ministry Jesus intensified his efforts among the Jews, symbolically digging and putting manure around the Jewish “fig tree” by zealously preaching and teaching in Judea, Perea and finally in and around Jerusalem.—Luke, chapters 10 to 19.
5. How and why was the Jewish “fig tree” cut down, and when was it “thrown into the fire”?
5 However, halfway through that fourth year, a few days before his death, Jesus wept over Jerusalem and told the capital city of the Jewish nation that its house had been abandoned. (Matthew 23:37-39) Jehovah, the owner of the Jewish “fig tree,” had inspected it once again in this fourth season of intensive care. Finding it fruitless as a nation, he ordered it to be cut down in line with the principle Jesus stated at Matthew 7:19. Thus the Kingdom of God was taken from the Jewish nation and given to a nation, spiritual Israel, producing its fruits. (Matthew 21:43) This transfer occurred at Pentecost of that same year, 33 C.E. Thirty-seven years later, in 70 C.E., the cut-down “fig tree” was “thrown into the fire” when Jerusalem and the Jewish nation were destroyed.—Matthew 3:9, 10; Luke 19:41-44.
“Provided You Remain in His Kindness”
6. How do the illustrations of the barren fig tree and the grafted olive tree highlight God’s kindness and severity?
6 Just as the parable of the barren fig tree shows there are limits to Jehovah’s patience, Paul’s illustration of the olive tree, while highlighting Jehovah’s kindness, also shows his severity. In his kindness Jehovah had sent John the Baptizer to the Jewish “natural branches” to tell them to “produce fruit that befits repentance” and to believe in Jesus. (Matthew 3:8; Acts 19:4) Because of their lack of faith they were “broken off.” This decrease in the number of Jewish “natural branches” meant “riches to people of the nations,” inasmuch as Gentile ‘wild olive branches’ were grafted onto the Abrahamic-covenant tree to become part of the spiritual seed of Abraham.—Romans 11:12, 17, 20, 21.
7. What warning did Paul add?
7 But Paul adds a warning. Addressing himself to non-Jewish anointed Christians, he says: “For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. See, therefore, God’s kindness and severity. Toward those [Jews] who fell there is severity, but toward you [Gentiles] there is God’s kindness, provided you remain in his kindness; otherwise, you also will be lopped off.” (Romans 11:21, 22) To remain in Jehovah’s kindness, Gentile Christians grafted into the Abrahamic-covenant tree had to show strong faith in the primary Seed of Abraham. They were “standing by faith,” which faith they had to prove by Christian fruitage, ‘presenting their bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service.’—Romans 11:20; 12:1.
8. What other practical lesson did Paul draw from his illustration of the olive tree?
8 Paul drew another practical lesson from the wonderful manner in which Jehovah enables the Abrahamic-covenant tree to produce the full number of 144,000 Jewish and Gentile “branches.” He goes on to say to both kinds of “branches”: “I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind, each one as God has distributed to him a measure of faith. For just as we have in one body many members, but the members do not all have the same function, so we, although many, are one body in union with Christ.” (Romans 12:3-5) Both Jewish and non-Jewish Christians had been admitted into the spiritual seed of Abraham by “God’s kindness.” Paul reminded them: “It is not you that bear the root [Jehovah], but the root bears you.” (Romans 11:18) To avoid being “lopped off” they would have to remain in God’s kindness by preserving their unity as “one body in union with Christ.”—Romans 11:22.
9. This contains what lesson for the “other sheep,” so what must they be careful to do?
9 Does this warning to anointed Christians contain a lesson for Christians today who are not spiritual Israelites? It most certainly does. Although they are not a part of the spiritual seed produced by the Abrahamic covenant and therefore are “not of this fold,” these “other sheep” are definitely a part of the “nations of the earth” who can bless themselves by means of the seed. (John 10:16a; Genesis 22:18) It follows that they must have faith like Abraham, whose life prospects also are earthly, and “walk orderly in the footsteps of that faith.” (Romans 4:11, 12, 16) They must show their subjection to the Fine Shepherd, Christ, the primary Seed of Abraham. They must also cooperate with the remnant of the secondary seed of Abraham, becoming with them “one flock” under “one shepherd.” (John 10:14, 16b) If anointed Christians who do not remain in God’s kindness risk being “lopped off” the Abrahamic-covenant tree, should not the “other sheep” also be very careful to do nothing that might cause them to lose Jehovah’s goodwill?—Romans 11:22.
“If They Do Not Remain” Faithless
10. What could occur if a Jew did not remain in his lack of faith, and what would this mean for him?
10 The illustration of the olive tree contains yet another general lesson that can apply to anointed Christians and to the “other sheep.” We find it in Romans 11:23, which reads: “They also [faithless Jews], if they do not remain in their lack of faith, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.” Here we see another aspect of God’s kindness. When Paul wrote this letter (about 56 C.E.), the Jewish nation as such had long since been cut down as an unfruitful “fig tree.” Or, to come back to the olive-tree illustration, most of the “natural branches” had been “lopped off” because of their lack of faith in Jesus, the Messiah. Yet if any individual Jew did not remain in his lack of faith, Jehovah God was willing to graft him back into the symbolic olive tree and make him a member of the spiritual seed of Abraham. For such a repentant Jew, Jehovah’s receiving him back would mean “life from the dead.”—Romans 11:14, 15.
11. What has happened to some of the “other sheep,” but what should they do?
11 Today, some of the “other sheep” have become complacent and, through lack of faith, have stopped serving Jehovah. They have cut themselves off from active association with his people. Some of them have got into sore straits, and the warnings contained in God’s Word have ‘found them out.’ Should they feel irretrievably lost? God’s Word states: “If you do look for Jehovah your God from there [outside the “land” of God’s people], you will also certainly find him, because you will inquire for him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in sore straits and all these words [of warning] have found you out at the close of the days, then you will have to return to Jehovah your God and to listen to his voice. For Jehovah your God is a merciful God.”—Deuteronomy 4:29-31.
12. (a) How has the ‘faithful slave’ shown concern for such strayed “other sheep”? (b) What examples can you relate to show that some have gratefully returned to the flock?
12 As a united group of fruit-bearing branches within the Abrahamic-covenant tree, “the faithful and discreet slave,” the remaining ones of Christ’s anointed brothers on earth, is very conscious of the vital need for some of the “other sheep” to awaken from complacency and to become once again fruit-bearing Christians. (Matthew 24:45-47) To that end, the “slave” arranges for the publishing of such articles as “‘Return to the Shepherd of Your Souls,’” appearing in The Watchtower of May 1, 1982. Beginning in January 1982, Our Kingdom Ministry published a series of articles on that same theme. Has this firm lead from the Master’s “slave” produced fruitful results? Have some returned to Jehovah their God? Many have. Note the typical examples on page 22.
“Keep Bearing Much Fruit”
13. What should any who have become complacent now do, as shown by what words of Jesus?
13 Yes, any anointed Christians or their companions of the “other sheep” who have become complacent and unproductive should heed the warning, respond to Jehovah’s kindness and accept help so as to become fruitful Christians once again. In an illustration that differs in several respects from those of the olive tree and of the barren fig tree, Jesus likened himself to a vinestock, or vine stem, and his anointed disciples to the branches of a vine. He stated: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the cultivator. Every branch in me not bearing fruit he takes away, and every one bearing fruit he cleans, that it may bear more fruit. . . . My Father is glorified in this, that you keep bearing much fruit and prove yourselves my disciples.”—John 15:1-8.
14. (a) In what two ways must all Christians “keep bearing much fruit”? (b) What other requirement for anointed Christians is shown in the illustration of the “true vine”?
14 While the “other sheep” are not branches of the Abrahamic-covenant “olive tree” or of “the true vine,” Christ Jesus, they must prove themselves to be Christ’s disciples. Like all the anointed Christian “branches,” they must “keep bearing much fruit.” This they do by producing Christlike qualities of the new personality, including “the fruitage of the spirit.” (Galatians 5:22, 23; Matthew 28:19, 20; Colossians 3:5-14) But to be really fruitful they give active expression to such qualities by sharing in the work of preaching “this good news.” (Matthew 24:14) Just as the anointed “branches” of the “true vine” must remain in union with Christ, the “other sheep” must remain in close union with “the faithful and discreet slave,” Christ’s anointed “brothers.” Only thus can they hope to ‘inherit the Kingdom prepared for them from the founding of the world.’—Matthew 25:31-40.
“Nations of the Earth” Already Blessing Themselves
15. As the Abrahamic covenant finishes producing the promised “seed,” what added meaning does Romans 11:12 take on?
15 As the Abrahamic-covenant olive tree, with its holy “root of fatness” (Jehovah) and its solid trunk (Christ), finishes producing the full number of Jewish and Gentile “branches,” rich blessings are already ensuing to “people of the nations” who are not spiritual Israelites. Paul foresaw this and wrote: “Now if their [the natural Jews’] false step means riches to the world, and their decrease means riches to people of the nations, how much more will the full number of them [Jewish anointed Christians] mean it!”—Romans 11:12.
16. (a) How did the “false step” of the Jews mean “riches to people of the nations”? (b) At what stage is the grafting work?
16 We have already seen that the “false step” of the Jewish nation as a whole meant great spiritual riches to Gentiles. But these wild olive branches’ becoming members of the spiritual seed of Abraham did not exclude from the symbolic olive tree the natural branches—faithful Jewish Christians—who were either left on the tree or ‘grafted in again’ after 36 C.E. So the 144,000 branches include a “full number” of Jews and a “full number” of non-Jews. (Romans 11:12, 25) The facts indicate that this grafting in went on until the mid-1930’s. Today, at this late date, there is good reason to believe that the “full number” of both Jewish and Gentile branches has been grafted in. Any branches grafted in since 1935 would reasonably be replacements for Jewish or non-Jewish branches lopped off through unfruitfulness.
17. In what way does the completing of the membership of the seed mean further riches for “people of the nations”?
17 Now, Paul says that this completing of the membership of the seed of Abraham “means riches to people of the nations.” How much more is this so because such spiritual riches and blessings affect not just a few tens of thousands of non-Jewish anointed Christians (as in the fulfillment of the first part of Romans 11:12) but literally millions of “people of the nations” who are not of the Abrahamic-covenant fold.
18. What can be said about the promises of the Abrahamic covenant, so what part of it must have begun to be fulfilled?
18 This brings us back to the Abrahamic covenant. The primary Seed, Christ Jesus, is now enthroned in the heavens. He has gathered the members of the secondary seed into the Abrahamic-covenant fold. He is about to “take possession of the gate of his enemies,” by the destruction of the world empire of false religion, Babylon the Great, and of the rest of Satan’s visible organization. (Genesis 22:17, 18) It is not surprising, therefore, that the concluding part of the Abrahamic promise is already beginning to be fulfilled: “By means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.”
19. (a) How are people from “all nations of the earth” beginning to bless themselves? (b) What is their hope?
19 Yes, “a great crowd . . . out of all nations,” including not a few natural Jews, are already blessing themselves. With full faith in the Greater Abraham, Jehovah God, they have joined themselves to the remnant of spiritual Israel, and are “rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple,” with everlasting life on earth in view. (Revelation 7:4, 9-17) May they continue to bring blessings upon themselves by means of the seed, on into the new system of things.
Do you understand?
□ What did the barren fig tree picture, when was it cut down, and when burned?
□ How only could Jewish and Gentile Christians avoid being lopped off the “olive tree,” and what lesson can we draw from this?
□ Why can the grafting back of repentant Jews be a source of comfort to any who have gone astray?
□ In what ways must all Christians keep on bearing fruit?
□ How are many “people of the nations” already blessing themselves?
[Box/Picture on page 22]
These Have ‘Returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of Their Souls’—1 Peter 2:25
A woman in Normandy, France, writes: “After ten years of inactivity and several unfruitful efforts to come back to the congregation [of Jehovah’s Witnesses], I still hesitated to make a move. In view of my unscriptural conduct since leaving the congregation, I feared Jehovah’s discipline and the reproachful looks of the elders and all the congregation. While on vacation with my parents-in-law I picked up a copy of The Watchtower and read an article that related the case of an inactive brother whose situation had been just like mine. Reading how kind Jehovah had been to him, how the elders had given him loving help, and how the members of the congregation had welcomed him back, I found the strength to return to Jehovah’s organization.”
Suzanne, a Witness in a congregation in northeastern France, writes: “I sincerely thank Jehovah, his Son Jesus Christ and ‘the faithful and discreet slave’ for the help given to inactive ones. I was inactive myself when the elders visited me and offered to arrange a Bible study for me. I accepted their offer and now I am very happy because I am attending the meetings again and I regularly share in the preaching work. Now I am able to show sisterly love to others who are in need of encouragement.”
Yolande, another French Witness, had not been to a meeting for years and stopped praying because she felt guilty at neglecting Jehovah’s table. Helped back into fruitful Christian activity, she writes: “I express my deep gratitude to Jehovah for having helped me and given me another chance. With my whole heart I encourage all those who have slackened off for some reason to return to Jehovah.”
With loving encouragement, many inactive ones have again become ‘fruit bearers’
[Diagram on page 20]
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Paul’s illustration of the olive tree shows how the Abrahamic covenant produces the complete spiritual “seed”
ABRAHAMIC COVENANT (Genesis 22:16-18)
PRIMARY SEED SECONDARY SEED
CHRIST (Galatians 3:16) (Galatians 3:27-29)
“Full number” of “Full number” of
“natural branches” “wild olive”
(Jewish remnant branches
and Jews later (non-Jewish
Romans 11:5,12, Christians—
“All Israel,” 144,000
144,001 members of spiritual “seed”
of Abraham, for blessing of “all nations
of the earth”