Lessons for Spiritual Growth
The Bible is replete with symbols and metaphors that convey profound spiritual truths. A few of which are among the trees. (To read my article on the significance of the Myrtle tree click here) Among these is also the olive tree. The olive tree stands as a significant symbol in the Old Testament (mentioned over fifty times) and is first seen when the dove from the ark brings an olive branch to Noah (Gen. 8:11).
It is referred to as an emblem of prosperity and beauty as well as religious privilege. It was celebrated for the oil it produced (a constant symbol of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work), its representation of peace, and its picture of the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
In chapter four of Zachariah, two olive trees are described. “And two olive trees by it (candlestick), one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.” When Zachariah saw them it prompted him to ask, “What are these two olive trees…?” (11)
Contextually, these two trees represented two men anointed and empowered by the Spirit of God. They were Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest. They are most likely the recipients of oil, thus treating this phrase as equivalent to “anointed ones,” and linking them to the royal Zerubbabel and the priestly Joshua.
They exemplify how God works through His chosen vessels to accomplish his purpose. These men, “Not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit” (Zech 4:6), will exemplify how God works through His chosen vessels, in this case, to rebuild his temple.
Prophetically, these two olive trees have an even broader significance, representing the two witnesses empowered by the Spirit during the tribulation, as revealed in Revelation 11:3-4. This dual representation emphasizes the olive tree symbol’s enduring relevance and depth of meaning.
New Testament Significance
A Picture of Unity
From the fact that the majority of Jews had failed to accept Paul’s gospel message, the Gentile Christians had come to the false conclusion that God had rejected the Jews. Paul addresses this issue In Rom. 11:17 as he refers to the practice of grafting shoots of the wild olive into a “good” olive which has become unfruitful. By such a process the sap of the good olive, by pervading the branch which is “graffed in,” makes it a good branch, bearing good olives. Thus the Gentiles, being a “wild olive,” but now “graffed in,” yield fruit, but only through the sap of the tree into which they have been graffed.
James also makes a similar illustration when he says, “Receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save your souls.”
So regardless of race, background, social status, or ethnicity, we are all grafted into the body of Christ by His Spirit through His Word.
A Picture of Service
As members of the body of Christ, each one of us has been empowered with unique gifts by the Holy Spirit. It is our responsibility to recognize these gifts and employ them for the glory of God within our local churches and communities. Just as Zerubbabel and Joshua were not left to their own devices but led by the Spirit, we too can rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance and strength.
This sanctifying work in us is a process and requires the same amount of effort needed for an olive tree to produce olives. Olive trees:
1) Require a long, hot growing season to ripen their fruit. Our journey as believers is marked by seasons, much like the olive tree. Seasons of suffering bring trials and tribulations that test our faith and resilience. These experiences often likened to the olive tree’s hot growing seasons, are essential for our spiritual development. Just as the olive tree endures and ultimately thrives in these hot seasons, we too can emerge stronger and more fruitful when we yield to the Holy Spirit during these challenging times.
2) They must be pruned to create a strong trunk, ensure an adequate crop, and extend the productive life of the olive grove. In John 15 Christ explains this pruning process which is necessary for us to go from good to great in our “production” as well.
This process of seasonal stress and pruning, though at times uncomfortable, is essential for us to bear the fruit of the Spirit and grow the church. It is a reminder that God, the Divine Gardener, works diligently in our lives to produce the best possible spiritual yield.
In conclusion, the significance of the olive tree in the Bible extends far beyond its literal representation. It serves as a profound symbol of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the necessity of spiritual growth, and the call for unity and for the church to utilize its gifts for God’s glory. Like the olive tree, our lives may experience challenging seasons, but through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, we can bear the fruit of righteousness and honor God with our service. May we remain yielded to the Spirit, endure the growing seasons, and be used as vessels for His honor and glory.