Parable of the Fig Tree
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near:
So likewise, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
Truly I say to you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. – Matthew 24:32-34
When Jesus spoke this parable He was responding to His disciples’ question – “What shall be the sign of Your coming and the end of the world (or this age) – Matthew 24:3. The parable of the fig tree has been interpreted by many to be Israel’s restoration to her own land as a nation in 1948. Thus the generation that Jesus is referring to begins at that date. Others view this parable as Israel responding to the Gospel in the tribulation period. Still others interpret this parable as Jesus says; when we see those things coming to pass as He describes in Matthew 24, then just as the spring buds tell us that summer is coming, we know that His prophesied return is very near. The fig tree in this interpretation is not viewed as representing Israel.
This is the obvious interpretation and it would seem to be a stretch to apply it to Israel’s becoming a nation in 1948, yet, there are some other factors that need to be considered.
Is Israel the Fig Tree?
The Scriptures tell us that God sees His people as grapes and her leadership as figs.
I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time – Hosea 9:10.
He (the enemy)has laid My vine waste, and barked My fig tree: he has made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white. - Joel 1:6, 7. - In this verse Israel is referred to specifically as the Lord’s fig tree.
Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good.
For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. – Jeremiah 24:5,6. - Here we see God’s people as figs being brought back to their own land, which was fulfilled after the captivity.
Jesus tells another parable concerning a fig tree that is not producing fruit and is about to be cut down, but is given a second chance.
He spoke also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why clutter the ground with it?
And he answering said nto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: - Luke 13: 6-8.
Jesus prophesied of the destruction of Jerusalem because she did not know the time of her visitation, the fig tree would be cut down – (Luke 19:44).
For forty years after Jesus’ resurrection, the Gospel was preached upon the fig tree’s own soil, this being the equivalent in Jesus’ parable of Jerusalem being “cultivated” by God’s word. The word was rejected, and the city was destroyed as Jesus said it would be in 70 AD.
While it is apparent from the Scriptures that the fig tree does represent Israel, viewing the budding of the fig tree as Israel becoming a nation could still be merely an assumption; but there are other factors that must be considered before we rule out the possibility completely.
When Jesus was painting the landscape of future events described for us in Matthew 24, He was actually prophesying of two events at the same time; the first being the destruction of Jerusalem when “There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2) - And also of the great tribulation that precedes His second coming. (Matthew 24:14, 21, 29, 30).
In the counterpart to Matthew 24 that is found in Luke’s Gospel, the fig tree is mentioned along with “all the trees” (Luke 21:29). A distinction is being made here between the fig tree representing Israel and “all the trees” representing the Gentile nations.
The localized horror that engulfed Jerusalem in 70 AD is a picture of the devastation that will eventually encompass the entire world, as prophesied within the pages of the Book of Revelation.
The fig tree has once again been restored to her own land and has literally budded, turning desert wasteland into fruitful fields fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy - The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose - Isaiah 35:1. And since 1948, Israel has been given a second chance to hear the Gospel on her own soil. But this season has an end.
This generation shall not pass, till all these things are fulfilled – Matthew 24:34.
How much time Israel and the rest of us have to share and receive the Gospel depends on the length of the generation Jesus is referring to.
What is a generation?
A generation today is sometimes viewed as twenty-five years, or a period of time without a definite end, but Jesus was a Hebrew and the Jews considered a generation to be the length of a man’s life. Originally it was one hundred years based on the four hundred years of Israel’s bondage in Egypt; the last generation being that which would see an end to that bondage; (Genesis 15:16, compared with Genesis 15:13). Later it was reduced to forty years in the wilderness (Numbers 32:13) then finally reached an average of between seventy and eighty years (Psalm 90:10), which appears to be the average life span today.
When Jesus declared that Jerusalem would be destroyed within a generation, her walls fell forty years from Jesus’ resurrection, reflecting the same amount of time that Israel was tested in the wilderness, and approximately seventy years from the year of His birth. Therefore, Jerusalem was destroyed within Jesus’ generation.
Now that Jesus has risen from the dead, or has been reborn from the dead, is the last generation calculated from Jesus’ resurrection to His second coming, a figurative generation that encompasses a great length of time – or is it a literal Biblical generation, a seventy to eighty year lifetime calculated from Israel’s budding as a nation?
Forty years have come and gone, the seventy or eighty years are still waiting to be fulfilled. Jesus said that no man would know the hour of His return as He waits and watches the events that are being orchestrated upon the world’s stage that will eventually climax into the finale of earth’s troubled history.
While we may not know the day or hour, we have enough signs that have already been fulfilled to prepare us for that season. As Jesus said, “Watch therefore: for you know not what hour your Lord will come” – Matthew 24:42.
copyright 2012 by H.D. Shively