the serpent on the pole
Christ was conformed to the image of the serpent
we might be conformed to the image of Christ.”
The serpents point back to Egypt
and the severity of the punishment from God in the 10 plagues.
It’s a reminder to the people of Israel at the time not to
harden their hearts in disobedience.
The Israelites repent, and God provides a way of healing.
Moses then holds up a bronze serpent on a pole foreshadowing and
representing Christ on the cross
and God’s people have a chance to look and live.
It is the same for us today, look unto
Christ and believe in Salvation
The Gospels tell a tale of trees
It starts with John the Baptist
He comes preaching a gospel of repentance,
“axe is already laid at the root of the trees”
Trees without fruit or with bad fruit will
cut down and consumed in fire
Jesus reiterates the warning.
Trees are known by the fruit they produce.
Good trees bear good fruit, bad trees bear bad fruit,
and the latter are destined for burning
These aren’t warnings of a generic judgment. John’s reference to the “axe” brings us back to Isaiah 10, where Yahweh takes up Assyria as his rod and axe to shatter and chop up the forest of Judah
In Psalm 74, the temple is the forest hacked down by Israel’s enemies
Like many of the warnings of the Gospels,
John’s and Jesus’s tree prophecies speak doom to the temple,
shortly to be torn down block-by-block by the Romans
(cf. Matt. 24:1–2)
The tale of trees
comes to a climax during Holy Week
Jesus enters Jerusalem from the grove on the Mount of Olives
and enters Jerusalem riding over tree branches
like Yahweh marching over the trees to lead David into battle
(2 Sam. 5:17–25).
Jesus marches directly to the temple and, after inspecting and clearing God’s house, leaves Jerusalem to spend the night in Bethany. The next morning, he has a strange encounter with a fig tree. Finding it fruitless, he curses it: “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you”
According to Matthew’s account, “at once the fig tree withered”
Matthew juxtaposes the temple incident with the fig tree.
In Mark 11:12–26, the two episodes form a classic “Markan sandwich”:
Jesus curses the tree, Jesus clears the temple, the tree is withered.
Both Matthew and Mark want us to see some connection between the two episodes. The earlier tree warnings provide the key. Jesus comes to the temple, looking for fruit that will prove the temple is a good tree. But the temple is a hideout for brigands, not a house of prayer. His curse on the fruitless fig tree symbolizes a curse on the fruitless temple. It’s a more pointed warning about the coming fire that will leave the temple withered.
Death of the Tree
Jesus is the good tree
He produces the fruit of good works, cleansing lepers,
delivering the possessed from enslaving demons,
healing the withered and sick,
raising the dead
His words are nourishing food for those who hear.
Even when Jesus goes into the wilderness, there’s plenty of food.
His presence turns the wilderness into a fertile field.
As Holy Week continues, though, Jesus appears to become something else.
He’s arrested, tried, and tortured.
He no longer heals bodies, but suffers in his own.
The man who battled Satan and cast out demons
is subdued by the powers of darkness.
At the last, he’s nailed to a tree
(cf. Gal. 3:13).
It seems the curse he pronounced on the fig tree has recoiled on him.
Jesus, the fruitful tree, becomes Jesus, the withered tree.
Which is precisely what has happened.
God sent forth his Son, born of a woman,
born under the law,
to die under the law’s curse, to redeem those under the law.
Jesus takes Israel’s curse on himself,
and so he looks for all the world like a bad tree,
prepared for the fire.
Jesus, the fruitful tree, becomes Jesus, the withered tree.
Immediately the tale of trees takes a turn.
Jesus is elevated in his death,
dried fruit hanging on a tree of death.
After he dies,
Joseph of Arimathea takes his body down and places it in a cave,
Joseph’s own tomb.
Jesus enters into a stone, into the earth.
In the grave, Jesus is a seed, lying dormant.
The seed of his body dies.
Holy Saturday is a day of germination, as the
seed gets ready
to burst through the earth to bear much fruit
Isaiah again provides the frame for seeing Jesus’s resurrection
as another moment in this tale of trees.
The Assyrian axe hacks Judah down to its roots,
until there’s nothing left but the stump of Jesse
When Assyria is finished, it’s as if David never existed,
much less his dynasty.
But from this unpromising stub of a tree, a branch grows,
a new David filled with the sevenfold Spirit of God,
who will judge for the poor, strike the earth with his rod,
and slay the wicked with his breath
Growing from Jesse’s barren root, the branch “will bear fruit” (Isa. 11:1).
Jesus, the barren tree,
springs from the tomb as Jesus,
the tree of life
The tale of trees becomes more elusive and allusive,
but it doesn’t end with the resurrection.
Nebuchadnezzar dreamed he was a tall tree with beautiful foliage
and abundant fruit for all. Beasts rested in the shade beneath,
and the birds nested in its branches
The tree is a figure of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, the birds and beasts a figure of the nations that live under his protective shade,
fed by the fruit of Babylon.
Jesus, the barren tree, springs from the tomb as Jesus, the tree of life.
That’s the kind of tree Jesus becomes.
He doesn’t remain a branch.
He grows into a great tree that touches the sky.
As he said, the kingdom is a tiny mustard seed,
which grows into a great herb,
big enough for birds to take refuge in its branches
Jesus is the kingdom tree in person. He’s the greater Nebuchadnezzar,
to be the imperial tree that connects heaven and earth.
The withered tree
has been raised and exalted
to fill the whole earth.
But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
who trust in the LORD will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like
Jesus Creates Other Trees
Jesus is the world-tree, but he’s the greatest tree
in a forest of trees.
His canopy spreads out over the
birds and beasts,
overshadowing the church like the Spirit who hovered over
the primordial waters
Ascended to fill all things,
pours out his Spirit like rain,
which turns the desert into a fertile field,
the fertile field into a forest
Drenched with the same Spirit that nourished the branch of Jesse,
we too grow into trees, planted by streams of water,
our leaves green, our branches ever fruitful.
When the Father grafts us into Jesus the vine,
we produce the fruit of the Spirit,
the fruit of the withered-and-
risen tree of life.