The Message of the Fig Tree

parable of the fig tree

Matthew 24:32. Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (New American Standard Bible, NASB)

Jesus put this parable in the context of answering a question that goes back to verses 1 through 3 in chapter 24. Jesus’ followers heard him refer to something that, to them, must have seemed astonishing: This great, magnificent temple that Herod the Great began renovating since before Jesus was born—a structure that the people were looking forward to be completed in all its splendor—would one day be destroyed.

Right away, Jesus’ followers realized that he was describing something that had to do with the Messiah’s victory over the nations as the prophets predicted. Their curiosity was aroused, especially since they supposed it has to do with defeating the Romans and putting the Jewish people, namely themselves, into powerful positions. When was this Messiah going to appear to establish his kingdom? they asked. They eagerly wanted some signs as to when these events would take place.

So, Jesus proceded to give them some signs: False Christs would arise, deceiving many; there would be wars and rumors of war; world-wide unrest; catastrophic occurrences in nature; persecution of believers; spread of the Gospel around the world. Then will come something that Daniel the prophet spoke about: “the abomination of desolation” when a very evil person will desecrate the holy sanctuary, where the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is today. (Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11.)

The Temple Mount is one of the most contested areas in the world. Both Arabs and Jews and Christians claim it as their most sacred place. The Jewish temple used to be there. And the Dome of the Rock—the shrine that marks the spot where the Arabs believe their prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven—occupies the Temple Mount. Many Christians believe that one day a powerful person will impose his authority on the mount. He will cause many people to be killed before Messiah comes.


The Temple Mount, Jerusalem, with the Dome of the Rock (top center)

Jesus added more signs pointing to the nearness of his return: the great tribulation, the rise of false Christ’s, signs in the heavens, great sorrow in the nations, and finally, his glorious coming. Now enters the parable of the fig tree in Jesus’ discourse.

We could call this parable the greatest sign of all. Although there are many important signs, the fig tree represents something that is so obvious, one would have to be vision impaired not to see it. For, what it particularly has to do with is the nation of Israel and what will happen when the Messiah comes.

The Old Testament actually makes the connection of the fig tree with Israel. Joel 1:7 reads, “It has made my vine a waste, And my fig tree splinters. It has stripped them bare and cast them away; Their branches have become white.” The prophet Joel describes a time of great upheaval and devastation in the land of Israel, as if it had been destroyed by a plague of locust. In this case, the locust represents armies of nations that go to war in Israel in the last days and leave everything dead and bare in their wake. Israel will be desolate when her enemies invade her, as a fig tree is stripped of its bark and left for dead after the locust have passed through. Israel is that fig tree.

Keep mind that all the signs that Jesus predicted apply, in large part, to Israel and the nations with Israel the biggest sign of them all. Now, we go to Luke’s version of the parable:

Luke 21:29. Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. 31 So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.”

Please notice that in this passage, Jesus uses the fig tree not in the context of doom and gloom like Joel 1:7. Instead, he looks past this time and projects what will happen when this fig-tree nation recovers from her destruction and triumphs over her enemies.

Jesus alludes to the fact that when “these things” (the doom and gloom) give way to summer time (when fig trees produce life and abundance) there will ultimately be joy for that will be when the Kingdom of God is near at hand. At his coming, Jesus the Messiah will save Israel when he defeats those nations who come against her.

Revelation 19:11 likens the Lord to a rider on a white horse coming to conquer the nations that oppose him. He will defeat them with power and justice as with “a rod of iron,” verse 15, until all his enemies submit to him. Then he will reign in the time of world-wide peace such as the world has never known. Israel will repent of her rejection of Jesus as the true Messiah, “the one whom they pierced,” (Zechariah 12:10). And Jesus shall reign “on the throne of his father David,” in Jerusalem (Luke 1:32-33). Thus, we come to something I referred to earlier: fig trees and what they represent.

Micah 4:4 says, “Each of them will sit under his vine; And under his fig tree, With no one to make them afraid, For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.”

The fig tree is figurative of a future day when fighting will be thing of the past (v. 3). This will be during the reign of the Messiah when war will be no more. Everyone will be safe, secure, and satisfied. People will live in great health and wealth. Life will be prolonged. The environment will be clean and pure. Wild animals will become tame.

And so Jesus said that when you see the signs begin to come to pass, know that the fig tree is about to blossom and the kingdom will soon come. It will be a time of joy for God’s people. He describes the fig tree as a time of joyful expectation: “When these things begin to take place,” Jesus says, “stand up and lift up your heads, because redemption is drawing near,” (Luke 21:28).

So, like his disciples, we are also curious: WHEN? When will these things begin to come to pass? Is the fig tree blossoming in our own time?

In his book, Prophecies of the End of the Age, the late Pastor James Mattison wrote the following comments in reference to Luke 21:

…the fig tree refers to Israel and “all the trees” (i.e., verse 29) refers to other nations….When Israel “shoots forth” and begins to bud and grow leaves, know that summer, or the end of the age and the coming Kingdom of God, is near. Jesus said that “all the trees” or other nations will “shoot forth.” and grow during this same time. Never before the 1950’s and 1960’s was there such a rash of the colonies of the larger powers becoming independent nations. They obtained freedom from the powers that had dominion over them for hundreds of years. Over 60 new nations were formed during the 1950’s and 1960’s. This newly sought independence has also caused unrest and civil war in most of these countries, for it has been diffickult for them to learn to rule themselves….Jesus said that when we see this “shooting forth” of nations, the Kingdom of God is “nigh at hand.” Israel shall blossom and bud, said Isaiah (27:6). Truly, Israel and other nations are shooting forth buds and leaves today. Israel and these new nations are now in existence.

There can be no doubt in our minds that we are living at a time when the leaves of the trees are budding. Israel—the main fig tree—budded as a new nation in 1948. Since then more nations have budded forth. When communism fell in the 1980’s, several nations became independent. And in the Middle East, we hear talk of the formation of another nation aside from Israel—the new Palestinian state.

Jesus seemed to indicate that at such a time he will return. Many believe this will take place in our own lifetime. “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” There are different interpretations to what Jesus meant by the word, “generation.” Some think that it only applies to the Jewish generation in Jesus’ day or the Jewish people as a race or mankind in general, or the faithful in the church.

Others have theorized it could mean the generation that saw the formation of Israel as a nation in 1948. A generaton in the Bible is anywhere from 20 to 60 years. But that would be as late as 2008 and Jesus hasn’t come yet since we are currently seven years past that date.

Still, others believe the generation started at 1967 when the Jews captured the ancient portion of Jerusalem, including the sacred Temple Mount during the Six-Day War. Could Jesus come as late as 60 years from that date, or by the year 2027? We don’t know. (Matthew 24:36)

But there’s another view to consider. According to Simon Kistemaker, ancient scrolls discovered at Qumran “shed significant light on the meaning of ‘last generation.'” He said,

The expression indicates that its duration is not limited to one life span, and should not be taken literally. It refers to people who persist, and are faithful to the end. It includes, therefore, to the disciples who heard the words from Jesus’ lips, the people who witnessed the fall of Jerusalem, and the believers throughout the centuries who have steadfastly looked forward to the fulfillment of the prophecies relating to the end of the age. (The Parables of Jesus.)

Regardless of the view you choose, I think we could all agree that we are indeed closer to the return of Christ than the last generation. We’re even closer than we were last year, or even yesterday. Jesus says that when the fig tree puts forth its buds, be aware that his coming is near, “right at the door.” You know, if someone was standing at your door, and about to enter, he wouldn’t be too far away, would he?

In my next post, we will continue with Part 2, “The Application of the Fig Tree.” Please stay tuned!

Good News to You!

Pastor Michael

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