Jesus tells parables that portray the end-time Church as corrupt. He likens salvation to a narrow door through which we must make every effort to enter. He portrays many being excluded from the great end-time banquet.
The Parable of the Fig Tree (v6-9)
Jesus told this parable immediately after warning the Jews that unless they repented, they would all perish (v1-5). To understand this parable, it is important to understand that the fig tree and its figs are symbols of Israel in the bible. Fig trees are native to Israel, and in several scriptures, such as Micah 4:4, are used as a picture of prosperity and security, "Each will sit under his own grapevine or under his own fig tree without any fear". In John 1:47-48, when Jesus called Nathanael he said, "Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!…Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you". He pictures Nathanael as a typical Israelite sitting under his fig tree.

The fig tree (Greek: 'suke') belongs to the same family as the sycamore tree (Greek: sukomoraia). In Luke 19:1-10, when Jesus saves Zacchaeus out of the sycamore tree, it symbolises Jesus seeking after the lost sinners of Israel.

Jesus begins the parable in verse 6, "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none". The vineyard is another symbol of Israel (e.g. Isaiah 27:2, Matthew 20:1, 21:33). Jesus uses the double symbolism to emphasise that the parable is about Israel. In verse 7, the man who planted the fig tree wants to cut it down because for three years he has been looking for it to produce figs, but it has never produced any. This man represents Jesus, who for three years had been ministering to Israel, looking for them to produce the fruit of repentance and faith. In verse 8, the worker who tends the vineyard says, "Sir, leave it alone this year too, until I dig around it and put fertilizer on it. Then if it bears fruit next year, very well, but if not, you can cut it down". This worker represents God the Father, like the gardener in John 15:1. God knows that it is normal for a new fig tree to take several years before it produces its first crop. And as 2 Peter 3:9 says, God is patient, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.

It appears that Jesus told this parable in the last year of his ministry, not long before heading for Jerusalem for the last time (v22). The parable implies that God would be patient with Israel for another year. Even after Christ's crucifixion, the Jewish leaders could have made Isaiah 53 their prayer of repentance and faith. They could have avoided being cut down like the fig tree, or cut off like some of the branches in Romans 11:17. Potentially they could have still avoided the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. Jesus' prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem could have still been fulfilled through the Zechariah 14 fall of Jerusalem to the Antichrist, without the Roman destruction. The bible does not give us a clear timeline of events that would enable us to identify exactly when the extra year came to an end in accordance with this parable, or what events took place at that time. It is possible that it coincided with the arrest of Peter and John in Acts 4, signifying the continued rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leaders. Or possibly it coincided with the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.

The significance of this parable and of the fig tree as a symbol of Israel, is an important consideration when interpreting Jesus' cursing of the fig tree in Matthew 21:18-22, and his use of the fig tree metaphor as an end-time sign in Matthew 24:32-34 and Luke 21:29-33.

Parable of the Mustard Seed (v18-19)
This parable begins in verse 18 with the word 'Thus', suggesting that its context flows directly from Jesus' interaction with the president of the synagogue who was indignant that he had healed a woman on the Sabbath (vs 10-17). His questions, "What is the kingdom of God like? To what should I compare it?" are questions of frustration. His answers are a rebuke of the synagogue's leader.

This is one of many parables that Jesus told to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like. In some, the kingdom of heaven represents life in the age to come after the day of judgment. In others, as in this parable, it describes the community of believers. Today, that community is the Church, but before Pentecost it was the Synagogue. Jewish Christians often still met in synagogues until about the 4th century AD, so the transition form Synagogue to Church was a process, not something that happened simply at Pentecost (Acts 2). As in several of Jesus' parables, the seed represents the word of God, or the message of the Gospel. In this parable, Jesus pictures the faith community as growing from a small seed into a large tree, and the wild birds nesting in its branches.

Most Christians who read this parable interpret the birds in a positive light, picturing small cute garden birds like sparrows, blue-tits or robins. They see this parable as a picture of the Church being a welcoming home to people. However, the Greek word used here for birds is 'peteinon', meaning large wild birds like crows. It is the same word used in the parable of the sower for the birds that snatch the seed from the path (Matthew 13:4). In that parable Jesus said these birds represent the evil one who snatches what was sown in a person's heart. If Jesus had been talking about cute little garden birds making their nests in the tree, Luke would have used the Greek word 'strouthion', which is used in Matthew 10:29, "Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will".

The parable of the mustard seed is one of several that picture the Church, or the Synagogue, as a mixed bag, with Satan's people making a home for themselves in it. As a result, the Church appears to grow, but its Gospel message becomes confused and corrupted. The New Testament has much to say about the power of the Gospel to transform lives. But in 2 Timothy 3:5, prophesying about the life of the Church in the last days, Paul speaks of those "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away" (KJV).

In its original context, Jesus is likening the president of the synagogue to one of these wild birds that oppose the Gospel, just like the birds that snatched away the seed in the parable of the sower.

Parable of the Yeast (v20-21)
In this parable, the kingdom of heaven is like yeast which is mixed into a large amount of flour until all the dough has risen. The amount of flour is literally 'three satons', equivalent to about 21 kilograms of flour. This would make enough bread to feed a large number of people, and yet the yeast mixes all the way through, making the whole dough rise.

In the west, we rarely eat bread made without yeast, and as Gentiles we tend to miss the symbolic associations with yeast in the Old Testament. When the Israelites were driven out of Egypt, they took unleavened dough with them because they didn't have time to leaven it (Exodus 12:39). To commemorate their deliverance, Moses taught them to celebrate the Passover for seven days every year, eating bread made without yeast. During that time, they were not allowed to have any yeast within their borders (Exodus 13:3-7). When the Jews offered a blood sacrifice, they were not allowed to offer it together with anything containing yeast (Exodus 34:25). Yeast was not allowed in any burnt offering (Leviticus 2:11). Yeast in an offering would have made it unholy (Leviticus 6:17). Consequently, yeast had a symbolic association with sin and unholiness. Jesus warned his disciples to "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees", by which he meant their teaching (Matthew 16:6-12). In the parable of the yeast, Jesus foresees the church being corrupted through and through by sin and negative influences. Paul quotes the parable in 1 Corinthians 5:6, "Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough?" He sees boasting as an example of what Jesus meant by the yeast.

In its original context here in Luke, the yeast represents the negative influence of the synagogue leader and of the Pharisees, just as Jesus said in Luke 12:1, "…Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy".

In an end-time context, these two parables portray the corrupt nature of the end-time Church. Matthew 13 contains several other parables with a similar theme. At the judgment, Jesus will sort out the mess, separating the good from the bad (e.g. Matthew 13:40-43). Before that, intense persecution of the end-time Church will help refine and purify it, in preparation for it to be a spotless bride (Daniel 12:10, Revelation 19:7).

Parable of The Narrow Door to a Banqueting Room (v22-30)
In the parable of the yeast, Jesus has just portrayed the believing community as being corrupt. It provokes the question, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" Salvation and judgment are two very important and closely related end-time themes. Today, it is a common assumption that most people will go to heaven, and that if there is a hell it is surely only for the most evil kind of people, like murderers, or like Hitler. Jesus' response should be a shocking wake-up call to today's Church. Basically, his answer to the question is 'Yes!'. He likens salvation to a narrow door that is difficult to get through and requires effort. At the end of the age, Jesus (the head of the house) will close the door, leaving the majority outside. Then, even if they bang on the door and plead to be let in, they will be rejected and end up in a place of torment where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (v28).

Today, we live in 'the year of the Lord's favour' (Isaiah 61:2a) which Jesus announced at the start of his ministry (Luke 4:19). It is a time when salvation is freely available to all who respond to the Gospel. Isaiah 49:8 also calls this the 'day of salvation', which Paul quotes in 2 Corinthians 6:2 when he says, "Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation!" The day when Jesus shuts the door is the 'day of vengeance of our God' (Isaiah 61:2b), which starts when Jesus comes back at the end of the age. This is why Hebrews 3:7 says, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" (NIV). Jesus urges people to make every effort to enter through this narrow door while they have the opportunity to do so (v24).

In verses 28 to 30, Jesus describes the weeping and gnashing of teeth of those who find themselves excluded and see the great end-time banquet from a distance. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all the prophets, and people from all over the world will be there, but the unsaved will find themselves excluded. Jesus is referring to the great end-time banquet described in Isaiah.

Isaiah 25:6-9 says, "The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will hold a banquet for all the nations on this mountain. At this banquet there will be plenty of meat and aged wine – tender meat and choicest wine. On this mountain he will swallow up the shroud that is over all the peoples, the woven covering that is over all the nations; he will swallow up death permanently. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from every face, and remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. Indeed, the Lord has announced it! At that time they will say, “Look, here is our God! We waited for him and he delivered us. Here is the Lord! We waited for him. Let’s rejoice and celebrate his deliverance!”

For Jesus to imply that many from within the believing community will be thrown outside, while people from all over the world are feasting inside with the patriarchs and prophets of Israel, is truly shocking!
Symbols: Fig tree, Mustard seed, Yeast, Banquet, Feast, Door, Weeping and gnashing of teeth
Tags: End-time Church, Corrupt church, Day of Judgment, Narrow door of salvation, Hell, Wedding feast
A Call to Repent
13 Now there were some present on that occasion who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
2 He answered them, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered these things?
3 No, I tell you! But unless you repent, you will all perish as well!
4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who live in Jerusalem?
5 No, I tell you! But unless you repent you will all perish as well!”

Warning to Israel to Bear Fruit
6 Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.
7 So he said to the worker who tended the vineyard, ‘For three years now, I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and each time I inspect it I find none. Cut it down! Why should it continue to deplete the soil?’
8 But the worker answered him, ‘Sir, leave it alone this year too, until I dig around it and put fertilizer on it.
9 Then if it bears fruit next year, very well, but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Healing on the Sabbath

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath,
11 and a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten herself up completely.
12 When Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.”
13 Then he placed his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
14 But the president of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, “There are six days on which work should be done! So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day.”
15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water?
16 Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?”
17 When he said this all his adversaries were humiliated, but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.

On the Kingdom of God

18 Thus Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? To what should I compare it?
19 It is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the wild birds nested in its branches.”
20 Again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God?
21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all the dough had risen.”

The Narrow Door
22 Then Jesus traveled throughout towns and villages, teaching and making his way toward Jerusalem.
23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” So he said to them,
24 “Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.
25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and start to knock on the door and beg him, ‘Lord, let us in!’ But he will answer you, ‘I don’t know where you come from.’
26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’
27 But he will reply, ‘I don’t know where you come from! Go away from me, all you evildoers!’
28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves thrown out.
29 Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God.
30 But indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Going to Jerusalem
31 At that time, some Pharisees came up and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”
32 But he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Look, I am casting out demons and performing healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work.
33 Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the next day, because it is impossible that a prophet should be killed outside Jerusalem.’
34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!
35 Look, your house is forsaken! And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’”