I’m sure a lot of people have interest in the “Parable of the Fig Tree”, which was first introduced by Christ in Matthew 24:32-25 (and also found in Mark 13:28-31 and Luke 21:29-32). Here is the parable described in the Book of Matthew:
(32) Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: (33) So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. (34) Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. (35) Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matt 24:32-35)
Many people believe that Israel represents the fig tree in the Parable of the Fig Tree and that we are the generation that will see the return of Christ after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. This viewpoint has led to speculation over the past few decades about when Christ will return.
- One popular theory was that Christ would return in 1988 as some argued that a “generation” represented 40 years and that the final generation started with the creation of the state of Israel.
- Another popular theory was that Christ would return in 2007 as some argued that a “generation” represented 40 years and that 1967 marked the start of the final generation.
- A current theory is that Christ will return between 2011 and 2018 as some argue that a “generation” represents 70 years and the final generation started with the creation of the state of Israel.
Today I provide my thoughts on this popular subject.
Some Symbolic Examples
Proponents of the idea that Israel is connected with the Parable of the Fig Tree believe that Israel is symbolically represented by the fig tree in scripture. Proponents cite several passages which they use to make their case. The following are three examples that proponents often cite:
One of the main passages cited by proponents is Jeremiah 24:1-9. The passage describes two groups of figs: those who were taken captive (the good figs) and those who remained in the land and lived in land of Egypt (the bad figs):
(1) The LORD shewed me, and, behold, two baskets of figs were set before the temple of the LORD, after that Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, with the carpenters and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon. (2) One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad. (3) Then said the LORD unto me, What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, Figs; the good figs, very good; and the evil, very evil, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil. (4) Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, (5) 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. (6) 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. (7) And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart. (8) And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the LORD, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt: (9) And I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them.” (Jer 24:1-9)
Hosea 9:10 is also cited by proponents. The verse compares the Israelites’ ancestors to the first fruits of a fig tree:
“I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.” (Hos 9:10)
Another often cited passage is Mark 11:13-23 (also found in Matthew 21:18-22). Mark 11:13-14 mentions that Christ commanded a fig tree to never grow fruit again. Mark 11:20-21 describes the discovery of the same fig tree-now withered away:
“(13) And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. (14) And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. (15) And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; (16) And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. (17) And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. (18) And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. (19) And when even was come, he went out of the city. (20) And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. (21) And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. (22) And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. (23) For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.” (Mark 11:13-23)
Some people view the cursing of the fig tree as a symbolic denunciation of Israel’s poor spiritual condition at the time. I know others have different ideas of what the symbolic importance of the curse placed on the fig tree is, so the issue of why Christ cursed the fig tree is not something that I am not dogmatic about.
I will not argue for or against the idea that Israel has some symbolic connection to the fig tree in this article because whether Israel is symbolically represented by the fig tree or not has no bearing on my view concerning the Parable of the Fig Tree. I’ll explain my view on the Parable of the Fig Tree next.
I will probably disappoint a lot of people by stating that I currently do not believe that the Parable of the Fig Tree specifically relates to Israel because the parable is not only about the fig tree. Luke 21:29 states the parable relates to the fig tree and all the trees.
(29) And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; (30) When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. (31) So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. (32) Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:29-32)
The focus on the fig tree and all the trees suggests the parable is not exclusively about a development that relates to the fig tree. Israel may represent a fig tree symbolically, but the parable is not focused solely on the fig tree sprouting leaves. The sprouting of every tree’s leaves, including the fig tree, is the focus of the parable as “they” are the subject mentioned in Luke 21:30.
- I do not believe the Luke 21:29-32’s account of the parable conflicts with the accounts provided in Matthew 24:32-35 and Mark 13:28-31 as the Word of God is inerrant and without contradiction. I think the difference between Luke 21:29-32 and Matthew 24:32-35 & Mark 13:28-31 is just an instance where Matthew and Mark emphasized the fig tree element of the parable (after all, the fig tree was distinguished from “all the trees” even in Luke 21:29-32).
I believe Christ tried to convey the message that people can tell that His Coming is near when they see the events He described taking place like people can tell that summer is near when they see trees begin to sprout leaves. In other words, Christ sought to alert people that the events He described are indicators that people can look at to gauge how near His Coming is as people can look at the sprouting of leaves to tell what time of year it is.
- People who will endure the great tribulation may not be able to keep a good track of time as they endure the greatest persecution in the history of the world. I imagine that some people may lose track of what day it is as they seek to survive the persecution (finding food and water and avoiding being captured probably will be much higher on the priority list for many people than finding out what day it is). The events Christ described can serve as indicators to help those who may not know what day it is to have an idea of how close Christ’s Coming is.
- The events/indicators for people to watch for relate to what Christ described in the Olivet Discourse prior to the mentioning the parable. For instance, the signs in the sun and moon are events people should watch to get a sense of how close Christ’s Coming is.
People are welcome to believe that the Parable of the Fig Tree is connected with Israel in some way, shape, or form. However, I think proponents of the view that the Parable of the Fig Tree is connected with Israel need to account for why the parable in Luke 21:29-32 includes all trees (and not just the fig tree).
Again, I believe the Parable of the Fig Tree is an analogy given by Christ to communicate the message to people that they can tell that His Coming is near when they see the events He described transpire. Until I am convinced otherwise, this is the position I hold on this topic. However, I am flexible so feel free to offer a rebuttal in the comments section.