There is a famous quote, or better yet, a prophecy, attributed to Isaac Newton that is coming true in our own day:
About the times of the End, a body of men will be raised up who will turn their attention to the prophecies, and insist upon their literal interpretation, in the midst of much clamor and opposition” (source).
Given that various forms of “replacement theology” have been assumed by an overwhelming majority within the body of Christ throughout the Church Age, it is all-the-more astounding that men like J.C. Ryle (19th century) and Lewis Sperry Chafer (20th century) trumpeted and forecast the literal, future fulfillment of certain prophecies regarding Israel’s return to the land of promise.
Amidst much clamor and opposition, these men and others from their tribe exhibited great boldness and unyielding resolve to place that kind of trust in the plain sense of God’s word. Thus, Newton’s prophetic statement about a renewed focus on a literal interpretation of prophecy didn’t take too long to come true.
And now that we find ourselves in the year of Israel’s 70th anniversary (2018), has the clamor and opposition abated? By no means. The Satanic hatred of Israel and the mere thought of her existence in the promised real-estate of the Abrahamic covenant is still producing ulcers for Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims alike.
Yeah, come to think of it, that’s a fitting slogan for a bumper sticker:
Speaking of Israel’s future in Bible prophecy, there’s a well-known passage that’s been on my mind as we near the date of Israel’s 70th anniversary; namely, Jesus’ parable of the fig tree:
Now learn this parable from the fig tree: As soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things [the aforementioned events inside the seven-year Tribulation period], recognize that He is near—at the door! I assure you: This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place” (HCSB, bracketed explanation and emphasis mine).
Talk about a prophetic piece of Scripture that has been under assault from within our own ranks. Sheesh. Does it only apply to AD 70 except the part about Christ’s return? Is the Church in view at all in the Olivet Discourse? Alas, can we in the body of Christ finally agree to acknowledge partial, multiple, or progressive, fulfillments of prophecy especially as it relates to ancient and future Israel?
Sadly, it appears that some are still going to pay mere lip-service to a future for Israel, and others will continue to twist the Scriptures and incorrectly (or not even attempt to) discern the distinctions between Israel and the Church in God’s prophetic program.
Not to worry, though! God means what He says, and make no mistake about it: The nation currently “occupying” the land of promise is prophetically significant and absolutely central to the unfolding of the Tribulation events that are nigh upon us.
In this article we will: (1) Briefly survey key OT passages that link Israel as being YHWH’s fig tree; (2) Look at a pivotal account in Mark’s gospel: Jesus cursing the fig tree; (3) Sort out the confusion in the Olivet Discourse and get our ecclesiology straight.
—All this to bolster the main purpose of this post, which I will preview here: The current generation of Israel, sprouting forth since 1948, will not be uprooted as it was in AD 70. Though the nation will be severely beaten and ravaged during the course of the seven-year Tribulation, Israel will remain planted and sprout forth like never before when Messiah’s reign from Jerusalem begins. When Messiah comes again to inspect the fig tree, it will be the appointed “season for figs,” and He will finally find fruit among God’s beloved nation (albeit a purged remnant of a once burgeoning people).
Ok, let’s get to it. Before we begin, is it just me or does anyone else have a craving for some Fig Newtons right about now?
Israel as YHWH’s Fig Tree in the Old Testament
Over the years I’ve compiled a running list of OT passages that unequivocally solidifies the link between the nation Israel and the “fig tree” symbolism found in the Gospels. In the major eschatological “fig tree parable” especially, a careful comparison of Jesus’ words recorded in all three synoptic authors (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) reveals an intricate fig tree/Israel connection that has its root in the OT.
For example: Luke 21:29, “…Look at the fig tree, and all the trees…” Luke’s emphasis “and all the trees” indicates unmistakably that we are dealing with not only Israel, but also her historical neighbors—nations like present-day Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan (“trees” often represent people and nations in the OT; e.g. Ezek. 31:3-9; 16-17; Dan. 4:20). Additionally, all three accounts of the fig tree parable have Jesus saying, in the same breath, “the fig tree” and defining the metaphor in the very next verse as “this generation” (i.e. physical descendants of Jacob situated in the Land of Israel at the end of this age; c.f. Matt. 24:3; Mk. 13:26-27; Lk. 21:24).
Note! The historical events of AD 70 do not completely fulfill the fig tree parable/prophecy: It was not the end of the age (Matt. 24:3); Jesus did not come visibly in power and glory (Mk. 13:26-27); and the times of the Gentiles was not fulfilled either (Lk. 21:24). This means: In order for Jesus’ words to be coherent and true, the fig tree parable has to apply to another generation other than the one uprooted in the 1st century. Oh, wait. There’s a generation in the Land right now…
When we look carefully at the rich root of the fig tree/Israel relationship, we find that multiple OT prophets are unanimous in their testimony to this truth:
1. Hillary has already highlighted Amos 8:1-2 in her post, “Messiah’s Lament.” The prophet Amos, well-acquainted with all things fig (cf. Amos 7:14), is shown a basket of “summer fruit” in a vision:
He said, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ And I said, ‘A basket of summer fruit.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer” (Amos 8:2, NASB, emphasis mine).
Recall the words of Messiah, the fruit inspector, “…as soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near…” The basket of gathered fruit depicts the saved remnant of “ripe figs” at the time of God’s judgment, when “the end has come” and the people’s sin has reached full measure (cf. Gen. 15:16; Rom. 2:5).
Bonus: See Song of Songs 2:10-14 for the prefiguring of the Resurrection and Rapture of the Bride of Christ. When the fig tree is blooming, the Rapture is looming! Thanks, Hillary!
2. Here’s Micah 7:1-2; another “summer fruit” and ripe fig connection + possible Rapture typology:
Woe is me! For I have become like one who, after the summer fruit has been gathered, after the vintage has been gleaned, finds no cluster to eat; there is no first-ripe fig for which I hunger. The faithful have disappeared from the land, and there is no one left who is upright…” (NRSV, emphasis mine).
3. Joel 1:7 explicitly links Israel as God’s fig tree:
For a nation has come up against My land…He has laid waste My vine, and ruined My fig tree…” (Joel 1:6-7, NKJV, emphasis mine).
4. Hosea 9:10-17 also affirms the relationship between the LORD and His fig tree, Israel:
Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers…” (Hosea 9:10, ESV, emphasis mine).
Last fall, I remember somebody had referenced Hosea 9:11-12 as a candidate for another cryptic Rapture passage in the OT prophets (was that you, Annabel?):
Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird: no birth, no gestation, no conception. Even if they raise children, I will bereave them of each one. Yes, woe to them when I depart from them!” (HCSB, emphasis mine).
What, or who, is Ephraim’s glory? Yahweh, of course, and this is made clear in verse 12 as Yahweh’s departure is parallel to His glory flying away like a bird. Now cross reference this passage with Hosea 5:15:
I will depart and return to My place until they recognize their guilt and seek My face; they will search for Me in their distress [Tribulation/Time of Jacob’s Trouble]” (HCSB, bracketed explanation and emphasis mine).
How about that? This isn’t only a prophecy about Jesus’ departure back to the Father after His death and resurrection. There is another departure coming, namely, that of the Church. The body of Christ is Yahweh’s current temple on earth and filled with His indwelled glory. See also my previous post “The Hanukkah Harbinger” for further echoes of this departure-then-judgment pattern.
5. Jeremiah 24 is reminiscent of the “summer fruit” vision given to Amos and establishes a clear relationship between “good figs” and a holy remnant of God’s people. This passage is also an excellent transition into Mark’s account of Jesus cursing the fig tree covered in the next section:
Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart” (Jer. 24:5-7, NASB, emphasis mine).
This promise has not been completely fulfilled and won’t be until the end of the Tribulation. Even though the exiles returned during the days of Cyrus, the circumcision of the heart via the New Covenant awaits a future day for the remnant of Israel (cf. Deut. 30:1-10; Isa. 59:20-21; Ezek. 36:24-28; Rom. 11:25-27).
A Fruitless Generation Sandwiched By Two Fig Tree Accounts
All three synoptic gospels mention the eschatological “parable of the fig tree” but arrange it differently in order to suit their own purposes. Mark makes a bold statement all his own by “sandwiching” the well-known episode where Jesus cleanses the temple complex in between two accounts about a cursed fig tree (Mk. 11:12-25). Thus, Mark’s passage serves to strengthen the OT link between the fig tree and the nation of Israel.
Take the time to read through Mark 11:12-25. I’ll point out just a couple of salient points about this passage and focus on one verse in particular.
First of all, there is a profound lesson for all of us concerning outward religiosity vs. inward life-giving faith. On the way to Jerusalem walking from Bethany (lit. “house of figs”), Jesus, who is famished at this point, spots a promising fig tree “with leaves” (Mk. 11:12-13). However, the Lord is sorely disappointed when he finds no fruit on this fig tree, and He pronounces a curse on it (Mk. 11:14). The curse is severe, indeed, and that tree is later found to be “withered from the roots up” (Mk. 11:20).
In Mark 11:11 Jesus had been “looking around at everything” in the temple complex, and this is immediately followed by His inspection of the fig tree. Even worse than finding no physical fruit on the fig tree was seeing no spiritual fruit from the only nation on earth who had a relationship with the one true God. Consequently, the temple in Jerusalem that was supposed to be “a house of prayer for all nations” had become a “den of thieves” instead (Mk. 11:17). Thus, the dysfunctional fig tree is linked with a dysfunctional Israel.
Now someone might ask: What did that poor tree ever do to Jesus to deserve a curse like that, especially since it was not the season for figs (Mk. 11:13)?
Ha! That’s the kind of thinking that led British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, to conclude:
This is a very curious story, because it was not the right time of year for figs, and you really could not blame the tree. I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects” (“Why I Am Not a Christian,” pg. 19, from a lecture delivered on March 6, 1927, to the National Secular Society, South London Branch).
How sad. For someone so educated and praised by men, he totally misses the point of the passage. 1 Corinthians 1:19-20 immediately comes to mind. And apparently, Russell isn’t the only one who has stumbled over this text as James Brooks, author of the New American Commentary on Mark, writes:
Few accounts in the Gospels are more difficult than the cursing of the fig tree…[t]he incident seems out of character with all else that is known about Jesus…[s]ome have seen in the act a fit of anger. Furthermore, it seems utterly irrational to expect figs when they are out of season” (pg. 181, emphasis mine).
Ok, this is a good time to have a little heart-to-heart. I’m all for apologetics, commentaries, and other writings that endeavor to find logical answers to alleged contradictions and confusing passages in the Bible. However, at some point, we have to acknowledge that the Bible is a prophetic book by nature, and texts like Mark 11:13are God-breathed and profitable only to those who have “ears to hear” (cf. Mk. 4:9-12).
Upon closer inspection, Mark is doing more here than providing a rational explanation for why a physical fig tree had a good showing of leaves but no fruit. There are deep spiritual truths to be gleaned in this text, and the fig-leaf theme goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (Gen. 3:7, HCSB).
This is deep! Just as YHWH’s first representatives on earth, Adam and Eve, failed in their mission and manufactured a fig-leaf covering, so also Israel, at Christ’s first coming, was found with a vain covering of “fig leaves” with no fruit to show for it. As a result of God’s judgment, both Adam and Israel were forced to wait before their full and final salvation. Also, in both instances, God is the one who provided the sacrifice to sufficiently cover their nakedness and shame.
Thankfully, deep spiritual truths are not lost on all scholars. Dwight Pentecost gets it:
In this incident, then, we find Christ pronouncing judgment on that generation which John had exhorted, ‘Produce fruit in keeping with repentance’ (Matt. 3:8). Like the leafy tree, they had given external evidence of being fruitful but on examination they were seen to be barren and fruitless. Therefore judgement had to come on that generation” (The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, pg. 378).
After ruminating on Mark 11:13 for a while, I am convinced there is something else going on beneath the surface of things. What if Mark included this peculiar statement to encourage believers by affirming God’s irrevocable and unconditional covenant promises? I see it as another way of communicating that all hope is not lost for the nation of Israel given the severity of Christ’s pronouncement, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” (Mk. 11:14).
The curse upon that generation troubled the disciples enough to warrant an encouraging word from Jesus about putting their faith in God and not in the temple (Mk. 11:20-25; cf. Mk. 13:1-4). When Mark says, “…because it was not the season for figs,” another way to translate “season” is “appointed time” [Grk. kairos]. Given that ripe figs are a well-noted image of the holy remnant of God’s people at the time of His judgment (recall OT passages cited in the previous section), could this be a hint that the full number of Israel (Paul’s “all Israel” of Rom. 11:26) would have to wait for an appointed time in the future?
This interpretation is certainly in keeping with the rest of Scripture, and I believe Mark is giving us another subtle “wink and a nod” in 11:13 to the tune of a future for Israel in God’s prophetic plan. Consider the nation right now that captivates the world. They are planted back in the Land, firmly rooted, and have grown up since 1948. Don’t look now but the leaves are starting to show! It’s almost time for the final figs to ripen and be gathered up by the Inspector.
…and if you see Israel’s leaves starting to show, then how much closer is the departure of the Church?
It’s All About the Fig Tree on the Mount of Olives (Jesus’ Olivet Discourse)
Before I go on and lest anyone accuse me of being naive about the current state of Israel, let’s just address this up front: The Israel of today’s headlines is more than a manufactured geopolitical entity of the modern era created by human willpower alone. Yes, there are nefarious powers-that-be that seek their own wicked self-interests (the Rothschilds, the Masons, and anyone else who buys into the Luciferian lie), and it is certainly a factor that Satan wishes to gather the Jews into one location in order to destroy them more easily.
However, to argue against the LORD’s involvement in the formation of Israel in the 20th century is an exercise in futility. So many others have shown the astronomical and numerical connections that all affirm God’s sovereign hand in the countdown from 1897 to 2017 (120, 100, 70, 50-year counts respectively. Shout out to watchfortheday.org, dailycrow.com, and many others; also, please see Gary’s post “Learn the Parable of the Fig Tree“).
One last point: Does the LORD not work all things together for the ultimate good of His chosen people? Even the evil acts that are involved in this process? (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28).
Moving on now to Matthew 24. In my experience I have seen that there is literally no end to the amount of fanciful interpretations if we do not rightly discern texts that deal with a future Israel and that of the Church. The Olivet Discourse seems to be ground zero when it comes to creative, yet erroneous blending of certain passages with other books of the Bible. All too often, I see more of the same: People are seriously missing the forest for the trees!
For starters, before you begin deriving an interpretation of the Olivet Discourse, one thing should be clear based on Jesus’ parable in Matt. 24:32-35…it’s all about the fig tree! And as we have seen above, there can be no mistake that Jesus is referencing a future generation of Israel [physical descendants of Jacob] who will endure the Tribulation events described in 24:4-31. Where is the Church? Answer: The body of Christ is nowhere to be found…not even between the lines as you read through 24:4-31.
For those who are new to this business of interpreting end-times texts, please make sure that you are reading or listening to someone who is well-acquainted with the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and not just assuming the Church is going to be here to witness “the abomination of desolation.”
One reason for the added caution before you accidentally read yourself into the text: English versions, cross references, can sometimes mislead by their wording, often unintentionally. For example, here’s a common translation of Matthew 24:30-31:
Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (NIV).
Ok, so Jesus doesn’t introduce anything shockingly new here that isn’t clearly described in the Old Testament. Moreover, His words are thoroughly Israel-centric and a couple of phrases more literally translated will help to clear up some of the confusion:
(1) The commonly paraphrased line “…all the peoples of the earth will mourn…” in the Greek is literally written, “all the tribes of the land will mourn.” This is a direct reference to a prophecy from Zechariah 12:10-14. Do you see any Gentiles mentioned in this OT passage?
(2) The angels gather up the elect at the end of the Tribulation at the sound of a “loud trumpet.” The Greek word is mega, which is more often translated as “great.” This “great trumpet” gathering is a direct reference to Isaiah 27:12-13 and Deuteronomy 30:3-4. Again, do you see any Gentiles mentioned in these OT passages?
The cross reference to Matt. 24:31 in my Bible, and most likely yours as well, is regrettably 1 Cor. 15:52. This is misleading because the trumpet calls are not the same. Paul reveals, for the first time, a “mystery” in 1 Cor. 15:51-52 concerning the Church, while Jesus is merely repeating clear Old Testament prophecy regarding the ethnic remnant of Israel alive at the end of the age (Matt. 24:3).
I could spend a lot of time camping out in Matthew 24-25, but there is one last thing I want to mention. When Jesus says, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars…these things must take place but the end is not yet” (24:6). The phrase “the end” is not the beginning of end, but rather the termination of the entire Tribulation period. About the ethnic and national conflicts, famines, earthquakes in diverse places, Jesus says, “All these events are the beginning of birth pains” (24:8). Therefore, at this point, Jacob’s trouble has only begun—the woman has gone into labor, but it’s going to take a while before the remnant of Israel is fully delivered (Matt. 24:13; cf. Isa. 66:7-8; Mic. 5:3; 1 Thess. 5:3; Rev. 12:1-2).
Conclusion: Israel is the “Fig” in Jesus’ Figure of Speech
All right then. Let’s recap:
(1) In the first section, I highlighted several OT passages which confirm the link between “the fig tree” and God’s nation, Israel. Israel as a whole is depicted as YHWH’s fig tree and the holy remnant as “ripe figs.”
(2) The second section dove into Mark 11:12-25, where Jesus curses the generation that rejected Him. Furthermore, the cursing of the fig tree account “sandwiches” the cleansing of the temple complex and cements the Israel/fig tree connection. Mark’s curious comment about it not being the season for figs provides a glimmer of hope for God’s beloved nation. Another generation down the road will produce the desired “figs” when the Inspector comes again.
(3) Finally, in the third section, parts of Matthew’s Olivet Discourse were examined and shown to be thoroughly Israel-centric. The parable/prophecy of the fig tree is central to this crucial end-times passage and should help those in the Church not to insert themselves into the Tribulation…because the events described in Matt. 24:4-31 concern the final fig tree generation (note: the Trib-saints will have to listen to the Jews who are preaching the cross of Christ and His coming kingdom when it all goes down).
Remember, this year Israel will be celebrating its 70th anniversary in May, and Psalm 90:10 defines the biblical limits of a generation. This puts the spotlight on the nearness of the coming Tribulation events foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24.
The LORD has allowed the current nation-state of Israel to take root, grow up, and flourish (put forth “leaves”) in order to fulfill key end-time prophecies and lead us to this critical hour. Most importantly, God has allowed things to progress up to this point when the leaders of Israel will soon agree to a covenant that will be their ultimate undoing (Isa. 28:14-22; Daniel 9:27; 1 Thess. 5:3).
A temple will be rebuilt and sacrifices reinstated, and so history will repeat: Israelites who put their faith in the temple will perish; conversely, the “ripe figs” who listen to the two witnesses and put their faith in Jesus will be saved.
This is it folks. The current generation of Israel alive right now in the Land of promise will not be uprooted again as it was in AD 70. Sure, the nation will be severely ravaged during the coming Tribulation, but Isaiah makes it clear that a purged remnant will “remain in the land,” because “…like the terebinth or the oak, which leaves a stump when felled, the holy seed is the stump” (Isa. 6:13, HCSB, emphasis mine).
The nation will not look as robust as she does at the present time. Nevertheless, a stump is a stump, and it still has its roots in the ground. For other Scriptures that affirm this truth about Israel not being uprooted from the Land anymore, see Joel 2:32; Zech. 12:6-7; 13:8-9; 14:2.
Look now at the fig tree and learn this: The time is ripe and we are going home soon, soon, soon! (Click to Source)
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