On the Mount of Olives, Jesus gives His disciples an overview of signs that will indicate the imminence of the end of the age, the gathering of His saints, His Second Coming, and the inauguration of His Kingdom rule. Part of this instruction is a parable involving a fig tree:
Matthew 24 / Luke 21 / Mark 13 (all ESV)
32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
Who is the Fig Tree?
The first thing we need to do is identify what or who this fig tree represents. Where in the Bible has a fig tree been used to describe something before? From a concordance search, we see that Israel has been represented by a fig tree before, usually when discussing its political nature (spiritually, Israel is generally referred to as an Olive tree). References include: 1 Kings 4:25, Micah 4:4, 2 Kings 18:31, Isaiah 36:16, Zechariah 3:10, Mark 11:12-14, Matthew 21:18-20, Luke 13:6-9.
A Barren Tree
Let’s zoom in on this last reference in Luke, where Jesus told His disciples a parable about a barren fig tree a little while earlier. In it, Jesus compared Israel to a fig tree with no fruit:
And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9 ESV
Jesus taught elsewhere about trees bearing fruit in the context of true versus false teachers: “Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 7:17-20 ESV)
Israel was called by God to be a light to the nations. Through her, God intended to draw the Gentiles back to Himself. This didn’t happen, as He knew it wouldn’t. God can only rely on Himself. So God Himself came down among us to accomplish what Israel did not.
The question was, would Israel embrace Jesus as her Messiah?
At this point while Jesus is teaching, Israel (the fig tree) has been barren for three years. My parable timeline isn’t that great, but I am guessing that this is three literal years. Jesus likely is teaching this parable in the third year (between years 2-3) of His 3.5 year long ministry. Israel has listened to Jesus teach in the synagogue, they have seen his signs and miracles, but on the whole they have not accepted that He is their Messiah. They will be given one more season in the fourth year (between years 3-4) to bear fruit. Bearing fruit is the mark of a true believer.
Unfortunately, Israel does not bear fruit in this fourth year and is “cut down” in 70AD and scattered among the nations as foretold. However, we see in the next parable Jesus teaches about the fig tree (during the Olivet Discourse) that Israel will again leaf out someday.
The Fig Tree Buds
The fig tree is an object lesson, a parable, used to point to a season. The tree that had been barren and cut down in 70AD showed signs of life in the late “spring” when, at long last, it budded in May 1948. The connection is made to Israel coming together in bones and sinews but still lacking the Breath (Spirit) – relating it to what we see in the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37. Thus, when we see the bones and sinews (structure and strength, becoming a nation politically) come together, the fig tree is budding. Israel continues to leaf out, as Jews return in Aliyah, but it has yet to bear fruit (spiritual rebirth).
All the Trees
The inclusion of “all the trees” in Luke’s version, represents the rest of the world. The other nations will also exhibit signs that “he is near, at the very gates”! For this we turn our attention to all the other signs pointing to the end of the age given by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse. These include a collection of signs including: nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, great signs from heaven, and signs in the sun and moon and stars. This first collection of signs is called “the beginning of birth pains” and as soon as they begin, redemption is imminent for believers. For the born again, they will be whisked away from what is coming on the earth at this point – the moment this group of birth pains signs appears.
Notably, this collection of signs is paralleled in Seal 6 (Revelation 6) and includes “the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind”. When the “birth pains” begin, the fig tree drops its unripe figs. This seems to be a parallel to Isaiah 26:18 “We became pregnant, we writhed in pain; we gave birth to wind. We have won no victories on earth, and the earth’s inhabitants have not fallen.”
On her own, without the breath of the Holy Spirit, Israel has been unable to produce mature fruit or redeem herself. Thus, they are about to enter into “the Time of Jacob’s Trouble” (Daniel’s 70th Week and the Day of the Lord), which will refine and purify them to the point of redemption. (Isaiah 26:19-21 continues on to describe the resurrection of the dead and a time of protection in heaven during wrath on earth, which is strongly indicative of the resurrection/rapture event). It is at this point, after the 70th Week of Daniel concludes, that Israel will be redeemed as a nation and will finally bear mature fruit.
Jesus mentioned a specific collection of signs that would indicate that His return was near and that the end of this age of humanity was imminent. The first sign would be the leaves on the fig tree coming out; this is understood as Israel becoming a nation in 1948. The fig tree is one of the last to leaf out in spring, so when it does, Jesus indicated that you know summer is near. The signs will “leaf out” and be present in both Israel (the fig tree) and all the gentile nations (all the trees). Indeed, as “summer”draws to a close, we are seeing the approach of the fall harvest season. The Fall Feasts of God will be fulfilled at Second Coming of Christ.
Learn the Parable of the Fig Tree (Unsealed)
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