Gospel Doctrine 2016 – Lesson 13 – The Allegory of the Olive Trees

  1. Symbol What It Might Represent
    The vineyard The world
    Master of the vineyard; Lord of the vineyard Jesus Christ
    Servants The Lord’s prophets
    Tame olive tree The house of Israel, the Lord’s covenant people
    Wild olive tree Gentiles, or non-Israelites (later in the allegory the wild branches are apostate Israel)
    Branches Groups of people
    The roots of the tame olive tree The covenants the Lord makes with His children, a constant source of strength and life to the faithful
    The fruit The lives or works of men
    Digging, pruning, fertilizing The work the Lord does for His children to help them be obedient and fruitful
    Transplanting the branches Scattering groups of people throughout the world, or restoring them to where they came from
    Grafting The joining of one group of people to another; referring to scattered Israel, it also means to “come to the knowledge of the true Messiah” (see1 Nephi 10:14)
    Decaying branches People dying spiritually from sin and apostasy
    Casting branches into the fire God’s judgments


    2. The First Visit (Before the time of Christ) Jacob 5:3-14

    First visit: God saw the apostasy of ancient Israel. He sent prophets to cry repentance but few people listened. He allowed the wicked to be destroyed and brought in the Gentiles. A few righteous branches of Israel were scattered around the world.

“For centuries the olive branch has been associated with peace. When the dove returned to Noah in the ark, it carried in its beak an olive leaf, as though to symbolize that the earth was again at peace with God. (See Genesis 8:11) The olive branch was used in both Greece and Rome to signify peace, and it is still used in that sense in the great seal of the United States where the American eagle is shown grasping an olive branch in his talons…

“There is further symbolic significance in that the olive tree is different from most other fruit-bearing trees in the manner of its beginning. If the green slip of an olive tree is merely planted and allowed to grow, it develops into the wild olive, a bush that grows without control into a tangle of limbs and branches that produce only a small, worthless fruit. (See Harold N. and Alma L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible, p. 159) To become the productive ‘tame’ olive tree, the main stem of the wild tree must be cut back completely and then a branch from a tame olive tree must be grafted into the stem of the wild one. With careful pruning and cultivating the tree will begin to produce its first fruit in about seven years, but it will not become fully productive for nearly fifteen years. In other words, the olive tree cannot become productive in and of itself; it requires grafting by the husbandman to bring it into production. One remembers the figure used by Jesus to describe himself, his Father, and those that serve them: ‘I am the true vine, and my father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. ‘ (John 15:1-3) The word purgeth in Greek means ‘pruned,’ and in Greek verse 3 keeps the metaphor and says, ‘ Now ye are pruned.’ God is the husbandman and prunes off the wild branches of our spiritual lives if we will but submit to his tender care. Thus we become like the tame olive tree…

“‘The wild olive is a kind of reversion to the primitive plant-such as occurs also with the fig and almond-and it takes place whenever the growth of the olive is neglected….

“‘In most neglected olive groves numerous little bushes of the ‘wild olive’ may be seen, which, though very unlike the cultivated tree-having a shorter, smaller, and greener leaf and a stiffer, more prickly stem-are nevertheless derived from it. As a rule the wild olive is but a shrub, but it may grow into a tree and have small but useless ‘berries.’ Where groves of wild olives are found in Palestine, they are probably always the descendants of cultivated trees long ago destroyed,’ (James Hastings, ed., Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “Olive.”­)

“The olive tree is remarkable for two other characteristics that are quite unlike other fruit-bearing trees. First, though requiring nearly fifteen years to come into full production, it may produce fruit for centuries. Some trees now growing in the Holy Land have been producing abundantly for at least four hundred years. The second amazing quality of the tree is that as it finally does grow old and begin to die, the roots send up a number of new green shoots which, if grafted and pruned in regular fashion, will mature to full-grown olive trees again. Thus, while the tree itself may produce fruit for centuries, the root of the tree may go on producing fruit and new trees for millennia. It is believed that some of the ancient olive trees in Israel today come from trees that were [in existence] when Christ was alive on the earth.” (Book of Mormon Student Manual, 1981, pp. 138-9)

“One writer has said of this extended symbolic portrayal, ‘One Jewish legend identifies the tree of life as the olive tree, and with good reason. The olive tree is an evergreen, not a deciduous tree. Its leaves do not seasonally fade nor fall. Through scorching heat and winter cold they are continually rejuvenated. Without cultivation the olive is a wild, unruly, easily corrupted tree. Only after long, patient cultivating, usually eight to ten years, does it begin to yield fruit. Long after that, new shoots often come forth from apparently dead roots. [The appearance of gnarled trunks gives] the impression of travail—of ancient life and renewing life.’ [Truman Madsen, “The Olive Press: A Symbol of Christ,” in The Allegory of the Olive Tree, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch (1994), 2.]

“As Lehi himself taught, no symbol could serve more powerfully and profoundly of God’s expansive, constant, redeeming love—including especially the love represented in the gift of his Only Begotten Son—than does the olive tree” (Jeffrey R Holland, Christ and the New Covenant, 163–64).


3. The Second Visit (Time of Christ) Jacob 5:15-28

Second visit: God saw that Israel (the old root tree) was saved and produced good fruit. The scattered branches of Israel also produced good fruit, except for the Nephites and Lamanites, whose fruit was partly good and partly bad.

“The mother tree, with Jewish roots and Gentile branches, had begun to bear fruit. How accurately this describes the early Christian era. At this time the Gentiles were blossoming in the knowledge of the resurrected Jesus Christ. One will recall that the Jewish Christians had some misgivings about taking the gospel to the Gentiles, but Paul was their champion. He understood the will of the Lord in bringing forth this great work.

‘For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles…

That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel’ (Eph 3:1,6)

In Romans he warns the Gentiles that they must produce good fruit or they will be destroyed as the Israelites which preceded them:

‘if the root be holy, so are the branches.

And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.

Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:

For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee…

And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. (Rom 11:16-21,23)

After Christ comes and fulfills the Law of Moses, the Gentiles are adopted into the house of Israel, as participants in a new and everlasting covenant. They, in effect, become holy branches, for the branches of the wild tree have taken hold of the moisture of the root thereof (v. 18). For the rest of the allegory, it is easier to think of the mother tree as Christianity in general, with Jewish roots and Gentile branches. In this sense, the mother tree does not have to be limited geographically to the confines of Jerusalem.” (Gospeldoctrine.com)

4. The Third Visit (The Great Apostasy) Jacob 5:29-49

God found that Christianity (the old root tree made up of both Israelites and Gentiles) had become corrupt, but the roots were still good. The natural branches that were scattered were also corrupt.

“There is much more here than simply the unraveling of convoluted Israelite history. Of greater significance in this allegory is the benevolent view of God that it provides. He is portrayed here as one who repeatedly, painstakingly, endlessly tries to save the work of His hands and in moments of greatest disappointment holds His head in His hands and weeps, ‘What could I have done more for my vineyard?’ (Jacob 5:41, 47, 49.) This allegory is a declaration of divine love, of God’s unceasing effort as a father laboring on behalf of His children. As one writer has noted, ‘Zenos’s allegory ought to take its place beside the parable of the prodigal son. Both stories make the Lord’s mercy so movingly memorable.’ (John S. Tanner, “Jacob and His Descendants as Authors,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne [Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies; and Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], p. 61.)” (Jeffrey R Holland, Heroes from the Book of Mormon, p. 37)

5. The Fourth Visit (The Gathering of Israel and the Gospel goes to all of the world) Jacob 5:50-76

God and His servants restore the gospel in its purity. They begin to gather scattered Israel and take the gospel to all the world. As righteousness increases, the wicked are destroyed until no wickedness remains (the Second Coming of Jesus Christ). Righteousness prevails for a long time (the Millennium). When evil again enters the world, God will separate the righteous from the wicked and cleanse the earth by fire.

“To the missionaries of the latter days the Lord has said:  ‘Ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect,’ for, the Lord explained, ‘mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts’ (D&C 29:7).  For theirs was a ‘believing blood.’  ‘What then is believing blood?  It is the blood that flows in the veins of those who are the literal seed of Abraham-not that the blood itself believes, but that those born in that lineage have both the right and a special spiritual capacity to recognize, receive, and believe the truth.  The term is simply a beautiful, a poetic, and a symbolic way of referring to the seed of Abraham to whom the promises were made.  It identifies those who developed in pre-existence the talent to recognize the truth and to desire righteousness.’  (New Witness, pp. 38-39)” (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, p. 61)

“I have lived to see the time foreseen by the prophet Zenos in the allegory of the olive tree, when the righteous from all nations of the earth would become partakers of the covenant of God with Israel.

I have seen the good fruit of the gospel blossom in my home continent of Africa. After just 30 years, there are 300,000 Saints. In the doctrines and principles of the restored gospel, many are finding a sure anchor for their faith. Families uprooted from their rural communities in search of a better future in the towns and cities have found a new way to hold on to the strong family traditions which have come progressively under attack in this era of globalization. The Spirit of the Lord is moving powerfully among the people.

A new celestial culture is developing in homes, nurtured by the ready hearkening to the counsel of the living prophet to have daily prayer and scripture study and to meet once a week as a family in home evening. As a result, many are able to break free from the shackles of traditions that restrict the exercise of their agency.” (Joseph W Sitati, General Conference, October 2009)

6. The Millennium Jacob 5:76-77

When the bad fruit comes again, the good fruit will be gathered out and the vineyard will be burned.

“The parable says this marvelous harvest of good fruit will last for a long time and during these many years the Lord will lay up much fruit. This appears to be referring to the Millennium. At the end of this peaceful, productive period of the Millennium the allegory says something tragic will happen. Once more the wild fruit will begin to appear in the Lord’s vineyard. The Lord said that when that happens he will gather the good fruit and also the bad fruit. The good fruit he will preserve unto himself, but the bad fruit will be cast away unto its own place. Then comes the winding-up scenes and the preparation of the earth to be celestialized by fire. In a modern revelation, the Lord describes the great falling away and the final conflagration of fire which will turn the earth into a celestial sphere like unto a sea of glass. The scripture says:

“And again, verily, verily, I say unto you that when the thousand years are ended, and men again begin to deny their God, then will I spare the earth but for a little season. And the end shall come and the heaven and the earth shall be consumed and pass away, and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth.”

“This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.”

Thus we come to the conclusion of this remarkable parable which was employed by the Lord to give the history of Israel in an allegory so that only those who had the prophetic key such as Isaiah, Nephi, Jacob, etc. would know what it meant until after it came to pass. The rest would only understand the parable as it unfolded and came to pass.” *Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon)



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