Urged to Destroy
God provided in Christ’s
life and teachings the complete and final means whereby every theory about
Him can be tested. By this means, every interpretation of God’s behavior can
be infallibly categorized as true or false. Thus, for instance, the idea that
God destroys those who defy Him, is classified as erroneous.
If faith can take
firm hold upon the principle that Christ is the perfect and incontrovertible
expression of all that God is, the groundwork has been thoroughly laid for
revising the common interpretations of the Old Testament stories. Confidence
will be established in the truth that there is an alternative version of what
God actually did in those terrible
To strengthen that
confidence and expectation, further consideration will now be given to the
testimony of Jesus. When, upon this earth, He showed no disposition to reach
out in acts of punishment and destruction, it was not because He was afforded
no opportunity or power to do so. He certainly had the power as was
manifested in His miracles of healing, His command of the wild storms, and
His ability to restrain the demoniacs.
There was no lack
of occasion for the administration of punishment and destruction, for He was
continually confronted with those who despised His offers of salvation, not
only refusing to obey Him, but actually working in open rebellion against
More than this, He
was urged to raise His hand and
rain fire upon those who had turned against Him.
“And it came to
pass, when the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly
set His face to go to Jerusalem.
messengers before His face: and they went, and entered into a village of the
Samaritans, to make ready for Him.
“And they did not
receive Him, because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem.
“And when His
disciples, James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt Thou that we
command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
“But He turned, and
rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
“For the Son of man
is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to
another village.” Luke 9:51-56.
could have offered no greater insult to the Son of God. The offer of hospitality
to a stranger is regarded in the east as being an obligation on all, and to
refuse this is to indicate rejection of the worst kind. If ever, from the
human point of view, a sin needed to be punished to teach a lesson of warning
to all others, then this was it.
“James and John,
Christ’s messengers, were greatly annoyed at the insult shown to their Lord.
They were filled with indignation because He had been so rudely treated by
the Samaritans whom He was honouring by His presence. They had recently been
with Him on the mount of transfiguration, and had seen Him glorified by God,
and honored by Moses and Elijah. This manifest dishonour on the part of the
Samaritans, should not, they thought, be passed over without marked
“Coming to Christ, they reported to Him the
words of the people, telling Him that they had even refused to give Him a
night’s lodging. They thought that a grievous wrong had been done Him, and
seeing Mount Carmel in the distance, where Elijah had slain the false
prophets, they said, ‘Wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from
heaven, and consume them, as Elias did?’” The
Desire of Ages, 487.
Those men were
familiar with Old Testament history and they thought they understood quite
well the way in which God had dealt with similar offences in the past.
Therefore, they believed that they were asking Christ to do just what they
were sure God would have done under the circumstances. Their misunderstanding
of His character led them to expect Christ to endorse their suggestion.
before and since, those men had a concept of God and His kingdom which
differed in no way from earthly kings and their kingdoms. For this reason
they held to the expectation that Christ would establish a kingdom by using
force and compulsion. So firmly entrenched was this idea that Christ’s
efforts to disillusion them proved fruitless. They came to the last Passover
making no provision whatsoever for Christ’s rejection, a crown of thorns, and
In order to
understand the Samaritan incident, it is important to recognize that the
apostles did have a very wrong concept of God’s character and that their
request to Jesus was made in harmony with that erroneous idea. They looked
upon God as a majestic Being of judgment and destruction who would miss no
opportunity of asserting His authority by making an example of the
They believed that
Christ was on the journey to His coronation in Jerusalem so that if there was
ever a time when men should have a signal lesson of the peril of withholding
homage, this was that moment. A few lives sacrificed now would save many
If the disciples
had been correct in their assessment of God’s character; if what they thought
they understood Him as doing in the Old Testament had been what He really had
done, then, because Christ did only as and what the Father did, He would have called down fire
from heaven there and then. This would have been a splendid opportunity for
Christ to show forth the character of God as the executioner of those who
rebelled against Him. Christ would have taken full advantage of such a
splendid opportunity to show this aspect of God’s policies.
But Christ would
not even consider doing any such thing. Instead, He rebuked the disciples.
“They were surprised to see that Jesus was pained by their words, and still
more surprised as His rebuke fell upon their ears, ‘Ye know not what manner
of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but
to save them.’ And He went to another village.” ibid.
Christ did not use
this opportunity to show forth the Father as an executioner because that is
not God’s character. But this does not mean that He missed the chance of
revealing the Father. Far from it. This was a golden opportunity to do so and
He made the most of it.
He instructed His
followers that the course they proposed sprang from a spirit foreign both to
Him and His Father. Such a spirit and its fruit, not being found in the
divine nature, found its source in Satan’s heart. It was his way, not God’s
to destroy those who failed to serve
identification with that spirit, Christ reiterated what He had come to do.
Close attention should be paid to what He said with care taken not to read
into it what He did not say. Explicitly, He declared, “For the Son of man is
not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
He did not say,
“The Son of man is come to save all who will be saved and then to destroy the
But this is what
the Saviour would have had to say if the accepted view of God’s ways is
correct. Furthermore, He would have been obliged to demonstrate the veracity
of His words by destroying every Samaritan whose rejection of Him was final.
But He neither spoke such words nor performed such actions.
Instead with great
plainness, He said, “The Son of man is
not come to destroy men’s lives . . .”
Men set out to
achieve with the best of intentions and noble principles, only to find that
they did not realize the complications which would arise. Too often, they
then compromise their principles and modify their plans to meet the
It is not so with
God. At the outset, He is fully aware of every difficulty which will develop.
In the fullness of that foreknowledge, He outlines the course He will pursue.
With infallible consistency thereafter, He adheres to His stated principles.
No pressure can be mounted sufficient to cause the least deviation.
When Christ said
that He did not come to destroy men’s lives, we can be assured of the
absolute reliability of those words. Therefore, we can know that He did not
destroy when He came. Further, inasmuch as He did only what the Father did,
then we can know that the Father does not come to destroy us. Christ came
only to save. Likewise, the Father comes to us as a Saviour and a Saviour
“It is no part of
Christ’s mission to compel men to receive Him. It is Satan, and men actuated
by his spirit, that seek to compel the conscience.
Under a pretense of zeal for righteousness, men who are
confederate with evil angels bring suffering upon their fellow men, in order
to convert them to their ideas of religion; but Christ is ever showing mercy,
ever seeking to win by the revealing of His love. He can admit no rival in
the soul, nor accept of partial service; but He desires only voluntary
service, the willing surrender of the heart under the constraint of love.
There can be no more conclusive evidence that we possess the spirit of Satan
than the disposition to hurt and destroy those who do not appreciate our
work, or who act contrary to our ideas.” ibid.
The Samaritans did
not appreciate Christ’s work and they certainly acted contrary to His ideas.
Had He shown the least disposition to hurt or destroy them, He would have
given the strongest evidence that He possessed the spirit of Satan. It was
because He did not possess that spirit that He did not show any such
If we project this
principle back to the Father’s behavior, the same conclusions must be
maintained. Let the popular concept of God’s character be thus tested.
It is true that the
inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah did not appreciate the works of God and
they certainly acted contrary to His ideas. The longer they lived, the
greater the depths of apostasy to which they carried this. In the meantime,
they resisted wilfully and stubbornly every outreach of God to bring them
back into appreciation of His works and to actions harmonizing with His ideas.
Consequently, so popular theology declares, God destroyed them by raining
fire upon them. In the light of the statement quoted above, if this is true,
then God provided all with convincing evidence that He was actuated with the
spirit of the devil.
There is no other conclusion which can be
drawn but this. The only way to deny this is to prove the statement quoted to
be false, and this cannot be done for it is the inspired word of God.
implication of the popular belief stand thus exposed, it is evident that
there is the need for another better informed and more spiritual
investigation of God’s performance in that holocaust. It is certain that God
does not possess the spirit of Satan. Therefore, it is equally certain that
He does not hurt nor destroy those who do not appreciate His work and act
contrary to His ideas.
The stand made by
Christ against His apostles in the matter of the Samaritans, is a valuable
revelation of His utter refusal to be involved in any kind of punitive work of
destruction. He made it quite clear that such had no part with Him and
therefore no part with His Father in heaven. The life of Christ utterly
denies the idea that God destroys anyone for any reason.
There are , of
course, those two instances mentioned in the previous chapter which, on the
surface, would seem to provide occasions when Christ did stretch forth His
hands to use force and to destroy. They are the cursing of the fig tree and
the expelling of the desecrators from the temple precincts.
Let the case of the
wasted fig tree be considered first.
This occurred very
late in Christ’s ministry. A few days before the last Passover, He had ridden
triumphantly into Jerusalem. This was an act of final appeal to the Jewish
leaders, their rejection of which placed them beyond any further hope of
He spent the night
in Bethany and the next morning returned to the temple. “On the way He passed
a fig orchard. He was hungry, ‘and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves,
He came, if haply He might find anything thereon: and when He came to it, He
found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.’
“It was not the
season for ripe figs, except in certain localities; and on the highlands
about Jerusalem it might truly be said, ‘The time of figs was not yet.’ But
in the orchard to which Jesus came, one tree appeared to be in advance of all
the others. It was already covered with leaves. It is the nature of the fig
tree that before the leaves open, the growing fruit appears. Therefore this
tree in full leaf gave promise of well-developed fruit. But its appearance
was deceptive. Upon searching its branches, from the lowest bough to the
topmost twig, Jesus found ‘nothing but leaves.’ It was a mass of pretentious
foliage, nothing more.
against it a withering curse. ‘No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever,’
He said. The next morning, as the Saviour and His disciples were again on
their way to the city, the blasted branches and drooping leaves attracted
their attention. ‘Master,’ said Peter, ‘behold, the fig tree which Thou
cursedst is withered away.’” The Desire
of Ages, 581, 582.
“Jesus looked upon
the pretentious, fruitless fig tree, and with mournful reluctance pronounced
the words of doom. And under the curse of an offended God, the fig tree
withered away. God help His people to make an application of this lesson
while there is still time.” The Review
and Herald, February 25, 1902.
The strong words in
these statements are “uttered against it a withering curse,” and “under the
curse of an offended God.”
Now, pause and
ponder what kind of picture these words call before your mind. Practically
anyone will find that this is what they see. The unabated spirit of rejection
and apostasy on the part of the children of Israel had brought God to the
point where He became offended, indignant, wrathful, infuriated, and
judgmental. So He cursed the fig tree whose pretentious foliage was a symbol
of the Jew’s hypocrisy. This act of cursing is seen as a direct sending forth
of a stream of death from God to the tree. In other words, God thus appears as one who specifically
decides what the fate of the tree will be and then administers judgment on
this picture, let another one now be projected. This time let the words be
used in describing the actions of the witch-doctor. He utters against another
man a withering curse and under the curse of the of-
fended witch-doctor, the man withers and dies. This happens
continually in the dark lands of heathenism. In Australian aboriginal land,
the curse is transmitted by pointing the bone. The victim towards whom the
bone is pointed invariably dies. The witch-doctor has decreed the death of
his victim and now he exercises his power for the direct purpose of
transmitting the curse of death to the man.
Except for fine
details perhaps, there is no difference between these two pictures. Some will
say that there is a large difference, pointing to the righteousness of God
versus the sinister evilness of the witch-doctor’s character. This is to
argue that God’s righteousness give His actions a sanctity which the evil of
the witch-doctor cannot give to the same
But a good character
produces good deeds. It cannot sanctify evil deeds. Here is where thousands
are deceived by a false philosophy. If this mist is cleared away, and the
actions of the witch-doctor, as such, are compared with those which God is
purported to do as in the paragraph above, then it will be seen that there is
emphasize that God’s ways are different from the ways of men, and, therefore,
particularly of witch-doctors. So we need to take a deeper look at what
Christ really did there at the fig tree, for we cannot be satisfied with the
In the Word of God
we shall find a very different view of this than is common to men.
The disciples, even
though they expected this of Christ, were surprised. “Christ’s act in cursing
the fig tree had astonished the disciples. It seemed to them unlike His ways
and works. Often they had heard Him declare that He came not to condemn the
world, but that the world through Him might be saved. They remembered His
words, ‘The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.’
Luke 9:56. His wonderful works had
been done to restore, never to destroy. The disciples had known Him only as
the Restorer, the Healer. This act stood alone. What was its purpose? They
questioned,” The Desire of Ages, 582.
They were not then
able to see and understand all things. The light on this was to shine through
for them later, but we are blessed with the words of inspiration beyond that
which they had, so we are without excuse if we do not understand. The truth
of what Christ did is spelled out in the following statement.
“God ‘delighteth in
mercy.’ ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of
the wicked.’ Micah 7:18; Ezekiel 33:11. To Him the work of
destruction and denunciation of judgment is a ‘strange work.’ Isaiah 28:21. But it is in mercy and
love that He lifts the veil from the future, and reveals to men the results of a course of sin.
“The cursing of the
fig tree was an acted parable. That barren tree, flaunting its pretentious
foliage in the very face of Christ, was
a symbol of the Jewish nation. The Saviour desire to make plain to His
cause and the certainty
of Israel’s doom. For this purpose He invested the tree with moral qualities,
and made it the expositor of divine truth. The Jews stood forth distinct from
all other nations, professing allegiance to God. They had been specially
favored by Him, and they laid claim to righteousness above every other
people. But they were corrupted by the love of the world and the greed of
gain. They boasted of their knowledge, but they were ignorant of the
requirements of God, and were full of hypocrisy. Like the barren tree, they
spread their pretentious branches aloft, luxuriant in appearance, and
beautiful to the eye, but they yielded ‘nothing but leaves.’ The Jewish
religion, with its magnificent temple, its sacred altars, its mitered
priests, and impressive ceremonies, was indeed fair in outward appearance,
but humility, love, and benevolence were lacking.
“All the trees in
the fig orchard were destitute of fruit; but the leafless trees raised no
expectation, and caused no disappointment. By these trees the Gentiles were
represented. They were as destitute as were the Jews of godliness; but they
had not professed to serve God. They made no boastful pretensions to
goodness. They were blind to the works and ways of God. With them the time of
gifs was not yet. They were still waiting for a day which would bring them
light and hope. The Jews, who had received greater blessings from God, were
held accountable for their abuse of these gifts. The privileges of which they
boasted only increased their guilt.
“Jesus had come to
the fig tree hungry, to find food. So He had come to Israel, hungering to
find in them the fruits of righteousness. He had lavished on them His gifts,
that they might bear fruit for the blessing of the world. Every opportunity
and privilege had been granted them, and in return He sought their sympathy
and cooperation in His work of grace. He longed to see in them self-sacrifice
and compassion, zeal for God, and a deep yearning of soul for the salvation
of their fellow men. Had they kept the law of God, they would have done the
same unselfish work that Christ did. But love to God and man was eclipsed by
pride and self-sufficiency. They brought ruin upon themselves by refusing to
minister to others. The treasures of truth which God had committed to them,
they did not give to the world. In the
barren tree they might read both their sin and its punishment. Withered
beneath the Saviour’s curse, standing forth sere and blasted, dried up by the
roots, the fig tree showed what the Jewish people would be when the grace of
God was removed from them. Refusing to impart blessing, they would no longer
receive it. ‘O Israel,’ the Lord says, ‘thou
hast destroyed thyself.’ Hosea
13:9, “ ibid. 582, 583.
There are several
key sentences in this statement which clarify Christ’s actions. “That barren
tree . . . was a symbol of the Jewish nation. The Saviour desired to make
plain to His disciples the cause and the certainty of Israel’s doom . . . In
the barren fig tree they might read both their sin and its punishment . . .
the fig tree showed what the Jewish people would be when the grace [Spirit]
of God was removed from them.”
Thus Christ’s act
was a prophecy. He was declaring in advance just what was going to happen to the
Jewish nation. In order for the prophecy to be accurate, Christ had to do to
the fig tree exactly what He would later do to Jerusalem. Prophecy is
valueless if it is not accurate.
It is a principle
that a prophecy is never fully understood until it has been fulfilled. Jesus
indicated this in these words, “And now I have told you before it come to
pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.” John 14:29.
A careful study of
the history of prophetic interpretation clarifies just what Christ meant when
He uttered those words. The more distant the future prophecy stood, the less
it was understood by God’s children. For instance, in the days following the
apostolic era, the Christians of that day understood the rise and fall of the
four great empires, expected the partition of the Roman Empire into ten great
divisions, but did not understand the one thousand, two hundred and sixty
days, the image of the beast, or the battle of Armageddon.
In like manner,
while Luther, Knox, and their contemporaries saw that the little horn was the
papacy, they did not understand what was to happen beyond that. But when the
period of papal dominance was about to end, Bible scholars on both sides of
the Atlantic were able to know the very year in which it would happen and
said so just before it did. Immediately the interest turned to Daniel 8:14, but it was not until
after the great disappointment that an understanding developed of the nature
of the image of the beast.
On the basis of the
principle that the prophecy is never fully understood until it is fulfilled,
there is an obvious advantage in that we have both the prophecy and the
fulfillment of the parable of the cursed fig tree. The prophecy was made by
Christ just prior to His crucifixion, and the fulfilment took place in the
fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
What took place in
the fulfillment is very clear. As already noted from The Great Controversy, 35, 36, God did not personally decree the
nature of the punishment which should and did befall the Israelites. Instead,
He sorrowfully and reluctantly submitted to their insistent demands that He
leave them to their own way, thus exposing them to whatever potential of
destruction was nearest to them. It proved in this case to be the enraged
Romans who, freed of any restriction imposed by God’s presence, were able to
wreak their vengeance upon the shelterless Jews.
In order, then, for
Christ to reveal in the prophecy what God would do in its fulfillment, He
must do the same in the prophecy, Therefore, Christ simply withdrew His
presence from the tree leaving it exposed to whatever plague, blight, or
other destructive force was waiting to consume it. Some
may say that it must have been very convenient for a
destructive power to have been overshadowing that particular tree so that it
would serve Christ’s purpose when He withdrew His protective power from it.
Only those who do
not appreciate the fact that a thousand unseen dangers are lurking over us
and all of nature every moment of the day, would adopt such a view. It would
not matter from what point or quarter the Lord was to withdraw His
protection. Destruction would come flooding in, in some form or the other.
Were we better aware of this, we would maintain toward God a spirit of gratitude
and dependence far in excess of that which we now display.
In this particular
case the attack came at the roots of the tree for the Scriptures expressly
say “And in the morning, as they passed by, they say the fig tree dried up
from the roots.” Mark 11:20.
Note also that it
was not until the next day that the effects of the withdrawing of the
Creator’s sustaining and protecting presence were apparent, whereas we would
expect that if the Lord struck the tree with His own direct power, as so many
suppose He did, then the tree would have instantly been blasted as if struck
with lightning. But it was not so.
The argument that
the fulfillment clarifies the prophecy, does not mean that the prophecy is
wholly obscure. Rather, in the comments from The Desire of Ages where the prophecy is spelled out in more
detail, it is stated quite clearly that “. . . the fig tree showed what the
Jewish people would be when the grace of God was removed from them.”
Thus the evidence
is clear for those who will dig a little deeper, that Christ did not strike
the tree any more than He struck the Jews in the fall of Jerusalem when the
prophecy was fulfilled. Thus is removed any possible reference to this event
as an example of Christ using force or engaging in an act of destruction.
Let an examination
next be made of the driving out of the money changers and traffickers in the
courtyard of the temple. Once again, the casual and superficial view of this
incident is that Jesus drove these men out by force, but a careful study
reveals another picture altogether.
Here is the
Scripture record of it:
“And the Jews’
Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,
“And found in the
temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money
“And when He had
made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the
sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’’ money, and overthrew the
“And said unto them
that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not My Father’s house a house
“And His disciples
remembered that it was written, The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up.” John 2:13-17.
The natural human
tendency is to interpret the words, “He drove
them out,” in the same way as they would be understood if used to
describe human behavior. No greater mistake could be made, for the ways of
God as revealed in Christ’s life are so different from men’s ways. Christ drove
them out, it is true, but not as man would do it by dependence on physical
power or force. Let there be the continual reminder that “Compelling power is
found only under Satan’s government. The Lord’s principles are not of this
order.” The Desire of Ages, 759.
compelling power or the use of physical force to achieve obedience is never
found under God’s government. Inasmuch, then, as Christ was fully under God’s
government, even to being the perfect expression of that government, no physical
force was ever used by Him to achieve obedience. So, Christ did not drive
those men out as other men would drive them out. He did not do it by physical
force at all.
A little thought would
show the infeasibility of His attempting to do it by physical force. He was
only one man pitted against a considerable number of wily, hardened
opponents. How many there were, we are not exactly told, but they could have
numbered a hundred or more. While their number is not revealed, their
characters are. They were men whose souls were calloused with the sinful
traffic of extortion. They feared no man on earth and would think nothing of
resorting to physical violence to preserve their treasured gains. For Christ
to have attempted their expulsion by physical power would have been a very
rash and foolish enterprise.
How did He do it?
Christ stood before
them that day in the role of the eternal and righteous Judge. Those men knew
that He was reading the closely guarded secrets of their lives. They were
conscious that His eye was seeing beneath the pretentious garments of
righteousness with which they had sought to cover the sickness of their
Such the sinner
cannot stand. One compelling desire fills him. He flees in abject terror from
the presence of the Righteous One. They did it there in the temple courts and
they will do it again when the Saviour returns in the clouds of heaven.
Finally they will do it when they stand arraigned before the Judge of the
heavens and the earth in the last and final day.
The truth of this
is laid out in these words:
“And why did the
priests flee from the temple? Why did they not stand their ground? He Who
commanded them to go was a carpenter’s son, a poor Galilean, without earthly
rank or power. Why did they not resist Him? Why did they leave the gain so
ill acquired, and flee at the command of One Whose outward appearance was so
“Christ spoke with
the authority of a king, and in His appearance, and in the tones of His
voice, there was that which they had not power to resist. At the word of
command they realized, as they had never realized before, their true position
as hypocrites and robbers.
When divinity flashed through
humanity, not only did they see indignation of Christ’
countenance; they realized the import of His words. They felt as if before
the throne of the eternal Judge, with their sentence passed on them for time
and for eternity.” The Desire of Ages,
It was the awful
power of burning condemnation that drove those men from the presence of
Christ. They could not endure it. No man ever can. They will always flee in
terror from the presence of the Almighty Judge of the earth. God does not
need to raise a single finger of physical power to drive them away. When the
time comes that He must stand before them in that role, they will do nothing
else but flee.
Thus we need have
no misgivings of the perfection of the revelation of God in Christ. Throughout
His life Christ made no concessions whatsoever to the principles of Satan’s
character. Flawlessly He showed that “God does not stand toward the sinner as
an executioner of the sentence against transgression; but He leaves the
rejecters of His mercy to themselves, to reap that which they have sown.” The Great Controversy, 36. He came to
reveal God as a Saviour and a Saviour only and He did it to perfection. There
is not a single instance in Christ’s life in which any other character but
this is shown. That life gives the total lie to the long-held view that God
does destroy the finally impenitent. He does not do this but rather leaves
them to their own desires. This means that they stand without protection from
the onslaught of the grim reaper.
If every person in
the world could see God in Christ with the understanding that Christ gave a
full and undimmed revelation of the Father; if they could know that “All that
man needs to know or can know of God has been revealed in the life and
character of His Son,” Testimonies 8:286;
they would reject every concept which sees God as One Who rises up and
destroys those who are disobedient. They would see Him only as a Saviour,
Who, while He cannot condone and support sin, will not destroy those who
cherish it, but will accept their freedom to choose their own way and perish.
May the Lord open
the eyes of every reader to see God as He is to be seen in the face of Jesus
Christ, “the Word of God—God’s thought made audible.”
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