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Tree of Life Podcast

Jesus on the Cursed Tree

In this final episode of the Tree of Life series, Tim and Jon talk about the death of Jesus upon a tree on a high place. Jesus begins his final week on earth by cursing a tree. He faces his final test in a high garden and ends his life hanging on a tree as a sacrifice for a broken humanity.
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Episode Details

March 2, 2020
80 min

Episode Details

March 2, 2020
80 min

Show Notes

Jesus on the Cursed Tree

Tree of Life Podcast

QUOTE

Jesus is hung upon a tree in the middle of two other trees on a high place that looks like a skull. And there he allows himself to be bitten by the snake that has bitten everyone else who has failed the test, though he has not.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Jesus curses a fig tree to point us toward the judgment God will bring on fruitless Jerusalem. In the place of this false Eden, Jesus himself will pave the way for a new Eden.
  • Jesus faces his final test in a garden on a high place. This moment sets Jesus up as the snake-crushing savior who will suffer the consequences of death.
  • The death of Jesus on the tree in the middle of a high place becomes both the place of cursing and the source of blessing for all nations. Jesus becomes the ultimate sacrifice that brings the presence of God to every person.

Returning to the Tree of Life

In the first part of the podcast (0-27:25), Tim and Jon recap the theme of trees in the series so far. From the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, trees are found in gardens on high places. These trees represent a choice for humanity to choose to live by either their own wisdom or God’s wisdom.

This story is replayed from the life of Adam and Eve through the stories of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the new seed promised in the book of Isaiah. When Jesus steps onto the scene, he declares that he is the fulfillment of this prophetic hope. Jesus often uses parables, like the parable of the four soils, to describe the countercultural Kingdom he is bringing. Jesus describes those who keep his teaching as “good fruit.”

In the conversation, Tim shares an observation he hadn’t noticed before from the first garden narrative. The events that take place after Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowing good and bad seem to take place in the middle of the garden.

Genesis 3:8, 10 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden (lit. “in the middle of the tree of the garden”).... Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”

The story sets up a question: how will humanity return to the tree of life? And how will God reckon with the wake of evil that humanity has created? The solution must be someone who can resist the tree of knowing good and bad yet also shoulder the consequences of humanity’s individual and collective failures. Sacrifices on trees on high places become a common image as the narrative theme of trees develops.

Jerusalem becomes the ultimate high place where God’s glory dwells. God promises to bring a seed from the house of David who will deal with the problem and plant a new people in a renewed Jerusalem. However, those who follow David choose false Edens over the true Eden. And as Jesus begins his ministry, he declares that the new Eden comes with him.

Jesus and the Fig Tree

In part two (27:25-43:30), Tim unpacks a curious incident that takes place just outside Jerusalem. In Mark 11, Jesus’ story culminates with his journey into Jerusalem. After Jesus is hailed in the city, he comes back to see a fig tree bearing no fruit. He then pronounces a curse on the tree.

Mark 11:13-14 Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if perhaps he would find anything on it; and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the time for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!”

Tim shares that the fig tree is a symbol for something more. Israel is also compared to fig trees in Jeremiah 8 and Micah 7.

Jeremiah 8:12-13 “At the time of their punishment they shall be brought down,” Says the Lord. “I will surely snatch them away,” declares the Lord; “There will be no grapes on the vine And no figs on the fig tree, And the leaf will wither; And what I have given them will pass away.”

Micah 7:1-2, 4 What misery is mine! I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard; there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs that I crave. The faithful have been swept from the land; not one upright person remains…. The day when you post your watchmen, Your punishment will come.

Jeremiah compares Israel to a fruitless fig tree, and Micah describes Israel’s lack of faithful people as failing to find early figs. All of this imagery plays into this moment when Jesus curses the fig tree, and his disciples see the result the next morning.

Mark 11:19-23 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”

The cursed fig tree is connected to Jesus’ actions in the temple. God was bringing a just judgment on Jerusalem for becoming a false Eden. A few days later, Jesus confronts the root of corruption itself in a garden on a high place.

Jesus in the Garden

In part three (43:30-53:45), the guys look at Jesus’ final test. After Jesus and his disciples observe the Passover meal, they walk to a garden called Gethsemane. That night, Jesus faces his final test in this garden.

Matthew 26:36-45 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (see Psalm 42:5, 11). Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not enter into a test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Humanity is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

The words and actions of Jesus show that he passes the test. Instead of choosing what he wants, he tells God, “Not what I want, but what you want.” He also prays that he would be delivered from the test, echoing his own prayer that he taught his disciples. As a new Adam, Jesus passes the test. And just like the promised seed from Genesis 3:15, Jesus must also suffer the fate of the wounded victor.

Trees on the Place of the Skull

In part four (53:45-60:30), Throughout the rest of the crucifixion narrative, Jesus acts and behaves as one who has conquered his fate and is in control. He allows the religious leaders to accuse him, answers Pilate in riddles, and stays silent before his abusers. Jesus is taken and crucified at Golgotha, the place of the skull.

John 19:16-18 So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Now nailed to a tree, Jesus is raised in the middle of two other trees. Tim shares more insight on Golgotha from scholar R. Riesner.

Golgatha. The “Garden Tomb” north of the Damascus gate at the alleged hill of Golgatha is a place where one may envision the Easter events. But its origins are pious speculations of the nineteenth century, excluded by the archeological data that demonstrate a pre-exilic tomb. Recent investigations (GBL 1.480–82) show rather that the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre actually lay a bit outside the city wall (cf. Matthew 28:11; John 19:17–42) in the vicinity of a gate (Hebrews 13:12; cf. Josephus, J.W. 5.146 [Gennath- (i.e., garden) gate]) and a busy street (Matthew 27:39). Remains of the temple of Aphrodite have also been found, which Hadrian in a.d. 135 erected to displace a Jewish Christian worship site (ELS 619ff.). Golgatha was a rock formation that took shape as a result of quarrying activity. It rose as high as twelve meters and owed its Aramaic name gûlgultāâʾ or Hebrew name gulgôlet (Gk. Golgotha), “the skull” (Luke 23:33; cf. Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17), to its shape.

– R. Riesner, “Archeology and Geography,” ed. Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Second Edition, 55.

The Gospel authors want us to see Jesus carrying a tree up a man-made hill outside the city that has become another man-made false Eden.

Trees on the Place of the Skull

In part five of the episode (60:30-64:20), Tim and Jon come back to the theme of sacrifice on high places. The biblical narrative often places trees on high places as altars holding a sacrifice. This is where we find Jesus, offered on wood on a high place before God.

And the result is cosmic. The Gospel accounts tell us that the temple curtain separating the priests from the most holy place is torn from top to bottom. The tree of life always represented nearness to the presence of God, and in this moment, the presence of God becomes available to everyone, everywhere.

Jesus and “the Tree”

In the final part (64:20- end), Tim and Jon consider several passages in the later New Testament that refer to Jesus and “the tree.” Tim also shares more context from the book of Deuteronomy.

Acts 5:30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging him on a tree. He is the one whom God exalted to his right hand as ruler and deliverer.

1 Peter 2:21-25 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering, he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously; and he himself carried our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by his wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day, for he who is hanged is cursed by God, so that you do not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.

The sacrifice that Jesus carried on the cross allows us to follow his same course of life. We die to our own understanding of what is right and wrong and trust God’s wisdom through Jesus to bring us true life. We walk on a path opened to us through Jesus. Our sin is covered, and we’re given a new way of life.

We will all face trees of testing, and these moments of decision will look different for each of us and our families, communities, and nations. The way we bring the gift of Eden life into the world may look like foolishness and death, but it comes by a transformation that Peter calls “life in righteousness.” Jesus has become our tree of life.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 It is the love of the Messiah that drives us on, because we’ve concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all have died. And he died for all so that they might live, no longer for themselves, but for that one who died and who rose again on their behalf.


Additional Resources

R. Riesner, “Archeology and Geography,” ed. Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Second Edition, 55.

Show Music

  • Defender Instrumental: Tents
  • Scream Pilots: Moby
  • Ambedo: Too North
  • Reminiscing: No Spirit
  • Chillhop daydreams 2

Show produced by Dan Gummel.

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