Perspective is almost magical. It changes how we understand and interact with information.
How can perspective enhance our understanding of Scripture?
Why is it important to adjust our perspective when studying Scripture?
There’s an old joke about a man who was studying a cricket. He wanted to see how far the cricket could jump as he removed its legs. Each time a set of legs were removed the cricket jumped a shorter distance. Each time the man commanded the cricket, “Jump cricket, jump.” The cricket would jump, and he took a measurement. Until the final pair of legs had been removed. The man called, “Jump cricket, jump.” The cricket didn’t move. “Jump cricket, jump.” The man continued. After a third chant of, “Jump cricket, jump.” The man wrote his findings: Cricket with no legs is deaf.
The man’s perspective may have changed if he didn’t assume his command made the cricket jump. Perspective can completely change our understanding of a situation. The same applies to scripture, that’s why it’s so important to understand context.
Jesus is recorded in the book of Matthew and Mark cursing a fig tree. This account is placed alongside clearing the money changers from the temple. The writers placed accounts as illustrations to main points. In this instance, the cursing of the fig tree illustrates the empty religious practices of Israel. They may follow the letter of the law but were far from the heart of God.
Israel is often depicted as a fig tree in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 8:13, Hosea 9:10). In the New Testament, Jesus curses a fig tree illustrating the nation of Israel. “May you never bear fruit again (Matt. 21:19).” Jesus says.
The perspective is Jesus’ mission to Israel. It was their opportunity to see what He was doing and understand. We often teach Jesus speaking to us today. He is, but his ministry was to Israel. It was God’s appeal through Jesus declaring the Kingdom He was establishing.
Perhaps it will help a little more if we understand the perspective of Israel. This will help with many of the Scriptures in the New Testament. Israel believed they were to be saved because of their blood line. It was their birth right. If, they were pure of blood. For instance, when Nehemiah and Ezra came back to Jerusalem to rebuild from exile, they excluded the Hebrews still living in the land. Ezra went further and demanded those of Hebrew descent married into other cultures divorce their spouse. Ezra saw them as traitors to God and the Hebrew people. They were worse than Gentiles because they had forsaken their blood covenant. They had been part of the covenant and threw it away. They were less than human, less than dirt, they were named Samaritans. They were traitors and cowards, unworthy of life in the land. It was no longer theirs. Their very presence was an insult to God and the people of Israel.
This perspective helps us understand why Samaritans were hated so much. It also makes more sense of Israel’s empty religious practices. They were far from God’s love. They did not show mercy, forgiveness, or love. It helps us understand what was important to the religious leaders, at the time. Their emphasis was on the physical attributes of the covenant. Their hearts were rotten and hateful, full of pride and arrogance as members of God’s chosen people. This was an entitled people. They were not the blessing God had intended. Some were, don’t get me wrong. There were those who blessed others, but their leadership represented the people as a whole. There was always a remnant, God spoke of the remanent he held for himself, in the Old Testament.
With this understanding, imagine Nicodemus, coming to Jesus in the cover of darkness. He confesses Jesus is from God and there are others that believe the same. Nicodemus is a religious leader, a Pharisee. Jesus uses the traditional logic of the blood covenant (of the line of Abraham) to explain the ‘New’ He was doing. “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again (John 3:3).”
Nicodemus is so confused. He takes Jesus literally. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born (v.4)!” But he follows Jesus’ logic. Now, he wants to know how to join Jesus and the ‘New’ he is doing. Jesus uses the wind as a metaphor, you can hear it, but you can’t see it. It won’t be based on records or genealogy. “But you will know them by their fruit (Matt. 7:16-18).” In other words, the overflowing of their heart will identify them as born of the Spirit. Their actions. Their love, joy, piece, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control.
This will divide Israel from the physical (blood line) and spiritual (water baptism). “It is not as though God’s word has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel (Romans 9:6).”
“For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-In-law against her mother-in-law (Matt. 10:35).”
Jesus made his appeal to Israel to save the remnant of Israel. When we are able to look at Scripture with this lens, it enables us to find understanding. Another example, the faith of the leper who returned to Jesus and thanked Him. Ten lepers were healed and told to go to the priest to show themselves clean. The priest had the authority to confirm their healing from being unclean. The ailment was not seen in a biological or disease manner, at this time. It was seen as being unclean spiritually. Calamity, as this, befell those in connection to sin. The law deemed death and such a disease as unclean. Pharisees did not wash their hands before eating because of germs (they didn’t know about germs). They did it to wash the filth of the world off before they put their hands to their mouth. It was a ceremonial action for spiritual cleanliness.
The one leper, when seeing he was healed recognized where the authority of the healing came from. One out of ten found understanding. He didn’t need to see the priest to tell him he was clean. Jesus cleansed him. Jesus had the authority to heal and, more importantly, cleanse. The highlight of this story—the man was a Samaritan. He was outside the pure bloodline of Israel, but he understood.
As Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem for the last time, he tells the story of the king who leaves his servants in charge of large sums of money. The disciples and Israel, that day, expected his Kingdom to come that week. Jesus knows they don’t understand how He will bring the Kingdom. He tells them this shocking story of the servant who hid his money instead of investing it. He rewards the one who was given the most. Those who squandered and hid what they had will be destroyed. Israel, as the children of Abraham knew it was going to be no more.
So, back to the fig tree during Jesus’ last week. The Israel who bears no fruit is cursed. The whipping and overturned tables in the temple was evidence why Jesus had to destroy Israel. The hardened hearts of its leaders unwilling to love and show mercy was the reason Israel had to be destroyed. There was no grace. There was mercy, they were far from the heart of God.
I challenge you to look at scripture with fresh eyes, as though Jesus was making his appeal for Israel to understand before it was destroyed. Jesus bore into his body the decimation of Israel, the wrath of God to free the remnant. “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again (John 3:3).” Bear fruit in your life, so you too, may see the Kingdom of God. May you be a blessing for others, to rest in the shade of your branches and find life from your fruit.
To produce fruit, we must remain in Christ. “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me (John 15:4).”