Article of the Month

 

April 2008

The Fig Tree Parable

 

Jesus’ great prophecy, which centers in Matthew 24, is a complex combination of predictions, lessons, symbols, warnings, hopes, and parables.  The intent was to help us to understand the conditions and timings relative to his return and the establishment of the peaceable kingdom on earth for which he taught us to pray.  (Matthew 6:10)

 

Looming large in this extraordinary prophecy is the Fig Tree Parable. (Matthew 24:32-36)  Once its symbolisms are understood, we gain immense insight into the events of our own day and the near future.

 

 

 THE FIG TREE IS ISRAEL

 

The first necessity in understanding this parable is to understand that the fig tree is a Biblical symbol for the nation of Israel.

 

In Jeremiah 24 we have an Old Testament example of how the Lord used figs (good and bad) to symbolize the two parts of Israel.  The “good figs” represented the Jews who would return to their land from Babylon (Jeremiah 24:5, 6); the “evil figs” represented the Jews who would be scattered throughout the world from Babylon.  (Jeremiah 24:8, 9)  Jesus picked up this symbolic usage and applied it in his attempts to teach certain lessons to the Jews:

 

In Matthew 21:17-22 Jesus comes upon a fig tree with no fruitage.  He used the occasion to show that God was about to cast off the old Jewish Law-Covenant-Nation.  The disciples were amazed at the RAPID withering of the tree.  Within a few years they surely understood the symbolism!  Jesus expanded the story.  He showed (21:21, 22) that not only was the “fig tree” nation passing away, but the entire “mountain” (= kingdom) of Satan would also ultimately be thrown down into the restless masses (the “sea”) to meet its doom.  Verse 22 shows that this will come about because the disciples BELIEVE and PRAY, “Thy kingdom come…”

 

In Luke 13:6-9 we have a parable which gives the same lesson.  It even suggests the 3-1/2 year period of Jesus’ ministry during which he allowed considerable tolerance for Israel, giving it every opportunity for repentance.

 

Even in the complex symbolisms of Revelation, Jesus uses the fig to symbolize an event in Israel’s history.  In 6:13 is a reference to “untimely figs.”  There is Biblically a set time to favor Zion.  (Psalm 102:13)  But, historically, Napoleon proposed to establish a homeland for the Jews in the Holy Land in his (Napoleon’s) day.  It isn’t that God didn’t intend for this to happen; it’s that it wasn’t time for it to happen in Napoleon’s day.  It was, therefore, “untimely figs.”  This is the contextual subject matter of Revelation 6:12 and 13.

 

ISRAEL ULTIMATELY TO BE A BLESSER NATION

 

Zechariah 8:20-23 speaks of a time when God would again use the nation of Israel.  These verses show that people of all nations would “take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”  Thus, the very nation cast off by Jesus because it had been unfruitful, will become a nation used of God to teach and bless the remainder of mankind.

 

We know, of course, that the PRIMARY blessers of the world will be Jesus and his church.  (Revelation 5:10; Galatians 3:16, 29)  But their rulership will be invisible, from heaven.  The nation of Israel will be their on-earth, visible, ambassadors for the instruction of all mankind.

 

The fig-tree symbol is used in this connection to show the blessings for mankind under both the church and the nation of Israel.  Jesus symbolized his disciples as being part of a grapevine.  (See John 15:1-17.)  Knowing this, we see the wonderful hidden meaning in certain prophecies:

 

Micah 4:3, 4 reads:  “And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks:  nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  But they shall sit every man UNDER HIS VINE and UNDER HIS FIG TREE; and none shall make them afraid:  for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.”

 

What a wonderful prophecy!  With the symbols we have come to understand, we see that the peaceable kingdom will be under a VINE (Christ and his church) and under a FIG TREE (a restored people of Israel).  The combination will be perfect.

 

Another prophecy (Habakkuk 3:17) shows by the same symbols that JUST BEFORE the establishment of the peaceable kingdom, Israel will seem nearly lifeless (“Although the fig tree shall not blossom”) and the true disciples shall all be gone to heaven (“neither shall fruit be in the vines”).

 

Having seen the prophetic power of these symbols, it is time to return to the Fig Tree Parable.

 

BACK TO THE PARABLE

 

Jesus speaks (Matthew 24:32) of a time when the fig tree has “yet tender” branches.  Tender branches indicate new growth.  Jesus thus brings us to the twentieth century (1948) when the nation of Israel was re-born as a state after nearly two-thousand years of non-existence!  Jesus adds that it “putteth forth leaves.”  Leaves, of course, are the visible manifestation that a plant is alive.  “Leaves” in the Bible symbolize PROFESSION.  Thus a tree putting forth leaves PROFESSES TO BE ALIVE.  This was Israel’s claim to the world that it once again exists as a state.

 

Jesus makes the obvious conclusion:  When we see new leaves, we know summer is coming.  But that is too simple!  Remember, this is a PARABLE.  It is MEANT to have more read into it than meets the eye.

 

“Summer” in the Bible is one of many prophetic words used to symbolize the kingdom.  “Winter,” on the other hand, symbolizes the trouble which precedes that kingdom.  Jesus had just used the word “winter” in that way in Matthew 24:20, 21.  But, in our parable, Jesus is giving us hope.  He is teaching that when we see the new nation of Israel, the Fig Tree, professing statehood—tender branches and leaves—THEN WE KNOW that earth’s darkest hour is about to end and all the joys of the kingdom (“summer”) are close at hand.

 

Thus, in verse 33, Jesus says that JUST AS YOU SEE SUMMER COMING BECAUSE TREES ARE LEAFING OUT, so LIKEWISE, WHEN YOU SEE Israel’s statehood, you know HOW VERY CLOSE we are to the peaceable Kingdom!  What a marvelous and comforting indicator this is for us who live in such terrible times!

 

THIS GENERATION

 

Jesus knew we would instinctively and excitedly ask, “HOW CLOSE?”  So, in verse 34, he answers before we ask.  He explains that “This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.”

 

Many have reasoned on the meaning of these words.  But they are not meant to be mysterious; they are meant to CLARIFY and to REASSURE and to INSPIRE.  Actually, Jesus had used this word “generation” just a bit earlier.  Its usage there (Matthew 23:36) is both clear and definitive.  Jesus was warning Jerusalem of its coming destruction.  He told its inhabitants that it would “come upon this generation.”  What he meant was OBVIOUS.  He meant that many of those who heard him would see the fulfillment of his predictions.  It came in A. D. 70—a time when many of those who heard him were yet alive.

 

We have no reason to assume that “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 would mean anything different.  Many who were alive in 1948 are yet alive—and will be for a number of years yet.  Thus, the generation which witnessed the fig tree putting forth leaves in 1948 should EXPECT “SUMMER” (the peaceable kingdom) in their natural lifetimes.  Is THAT good news, or what???

 

 

NO SPECIFIC DATE

 

Jesus did not give this parable to give us an exact date—only a TIME-FRAME.  Faith still is the primary tool for judgment of his saints.  Knowing an exact date could only be a detriment.

 

Therefore, Jesus now simply summarizes the matter.  He says that “heaven and earth shall pass away.”  (Verse 35)  Heaven symbolizes the religious world.  Earth symbolizes rooted society.  The new kingdom will REPLACE the current ways of THINKING and DOING.  The old ways must “pass away” before the new can function.  So, Jesus is gently but forcibly confirming that, though summer is nigh, we are in for a terrible interim.  The world as we know it is falling apart and will continue to do so until it no longer functions.  But Jesus reassures:  “But my words shall not pass away.”  EVERYTHING GOOD he has promised WILL HAPPEN.  Therefore, he implies, do not fear as old things crumble.  The SUMMER I have promised is AT THE DOOR!

 

The EXACT DATE, however, is a secret.  (Matthew 24:36)  God has, for good reason, decided to keep it unknown until it appears—BUT HE HAS LET IT BE KNOWN THAT IT IS IN OUR NATURAL LIFETIME!

 

 

AN ADDITIONAL FEATURE

 

Luke’s account (21:29-33) adds an interesting feature.  “Behold the fig tree and all the trees.”  Because of its prophetic import, we tend to focus on the nation of Israel.  But Jesus’ words here in Luke suggest another phenomenon of the mid-twentieth century.  Not only did Israel become a state after nearly two-thousand years of oblivion, but handfuls of NEW STATES appeared which had never before existed.  The old colonial empires of England, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, etc., broke up; and their former colonies declared themselves independent states.   Jesus know this was coming, and he made mention of this proliferation of nations to allow us to see that Israel’s new-nation status (which is THE IMPORTANT ONE) would not be unique at the time.  The Scriptures contain such a wealth of prophetic detail—all for our faith and confidence.

 

The Fig Tree has leafed out.  Be patient.  The good is soon to come.