Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 2 Study # 5
March 5, 2006
9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
1901 ASV Translation:
9 And even now the axe also lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
- I. The Purging of the Orchard.
- A. John's warning: the chopping has already begun.
- 1. In what sense?
- a. Historically, the nation has come to its lowest point theologically.
- 1) It had a long history of idolatry in its "youth". The overt forms of this were squelched by the Babylonian Captivity, but the inner reality just "morphed" into a more deadly form: hypocrisy coupled to a rigid self-righteousness. Without "regeneration", nothing significantly alters the inner reality, though the outer visibility often proves to be an extremely adept creation of an "image" of true righteousness that is simply deceit carried to the maximum.
- 2) Though it had significantly different "sects" (Pharisees, Saducees, Herodians), they could all be united against God.
- b. Historically, the nation was within 40 years of an enormous destruction, followed by two millennia of dispersal and serious difficulty while God pursued a distinctly different program of salvation for human beings. The purging of the "orchard" ended up being more like a "trashing" of the orchard followed by abandonment.
- c. Historically, John's arrival upon the scene with his message of "forgiveness upon repentance" coupled with "Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world" is the application of the ax to the roots. The presentation of Jesus as the Lord's Christ, the sole means of salvation from the coming wrath, and the inevitable Judge of every human being of history is the "ax". Every person will be "preserved" as a "fruitful tree", or "eliminated" from the orchard, on the basis of this Truth. Once the issue of "fruitfulness" has been determined, all that remains is the final purging.
- 2. The metaphor.
- a. The "root" is always presented as the key element of life for the plant. If anything blocks the development of a "root", the plant cannot survive; if anything cuts the "root" from the plant, the death of the plant is almost immediate.
- b. The imagery of the "tree" is "individualistic" (unlike the fig tree that Jesus cursed in his anger in Mark 11). There is no easily discerned reason for using a "tree" for the metaphor.
- c. ...lays a foundation for the Lukan record in Luke 6 of the necessity for the "goodness" of the "tree" in order to have a "good" fruit.
- d. ...clearly emphasizes the earlier theme of the "wrath to come". This is the expression of both complete disgust with the "trees" and a complete intolerance of their continuing existence in the orchard.
- 1) One issue here is the "tolerance" that allowed fruitless trees to obtain a place in the standing of the trees. This is addressed to some degree in Luke 13:6-9.
- 2) A second issue is the "absolute necessity" for "good fruit" (an automatic reality to "good trees" -- Luke 6). There will be good fruit from a good tree. The "problem" with this metaphor is that it does not match the reality that the regenerated still have the "old" in them. This, however, only addresses the amount of good fruit, not the fact of good fruit. [The issue of relative fruitfulness must be understood on the basis of two facts: the New Testament teaches that the "Law of Sin" continues to abide in the flesh of the regenerated believer; and it insists that no one can excuse too much by turning "grace" into "lasciviousness" (Jude 4). The New Testament teaches that nothing can subvert the impact of the "new birth" (regeneration) as far as the reality of a new creation is concerned, but it also teaches that the person who has been so created can be stymied into a serious lack of true growth into maturity and quality "fruit production".]
- 3) A third issue is the inescapable fact that "regeneration" is an act of God and the "fruit" of it cannot be "evaluated" with "final precision" by anyone but God. The problem is not, normally, the identification of worthless fruit; it is, rather, the identification of "good" fruit in the face of incredible hypocrisies. Men can "fake it" to the point that no man can "tell" who is a genuine believer (NOTE 2 Timothy 2:19), and men can become so disoriented that no man can "tell" that a person's behavior means that he is unregenerate (NOTE the classice example of "just Lot" in 2 Peter 2:7, whose behavior would lead most men to the conclusion that he was not "regenerated"). Faked "good fruit" must be tolerated, but the imposition of "bad fruit" upon the "church" is not to be tolerated (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 5; etc.).