Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Parable of the Fig Tree

In Matthew 24:32-34, the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking to his disciples about the timing of events related to the tribulation and he speaks about the budding of the fig tree in a parable.  Do you believe that the fig tree represents Israel’s religious life? 
Could it shed any light on how close our catching away to be with the Lord might be, because we can see religious life in Israel starting to bud?  For example:  all the articles needed for temple worship are being prepared; there is much talk about rebuilding the temple; there is a search for men of the Levitical blood line to serve as temple priests; and the Sanhedrin has been instituted. 
In context the parable doesn’t seem to represent Israel’s religious life as I have read, but that the Lord is showing that the generation that sees all those things take place that he mentioned will be the one that sees the end and the second coming.  Can you comment on this?

You are right; the Lord is dealing with the timing of things that will happen during what we call the 70th week of Daniel…

Daniel 9:24-27
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.  Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.  And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.  And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.

…or the time of Jacob’s trouble (which is commonly referred to as the Tribulation):

Jeremiah 30:7
Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.

The Lord talks about great tribulation – particularly the second half of the 70th week.

Matthew 24:21
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

The fig tree does represent the religious life of Israel, particularly regarding the issue of temple worship; but for the most part Israel’s religious life is not manifest in the context of this passage, as you correctly observed.

Matthew 24:32-34
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
He uses an actual fig tree as an example.  Parable = go along side.  This is an example of what will happen.
So likewise ye [Jews],….
‘Ye’ refers to the Jews in his day; but now we know that the prophetic program has been put on hold, so these verses will actually be applied to the future after the end of this dispensation.
when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.  Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

Remember that the dispensation of grace is not in view.  When the Lord says this, just as he says in this verse:

Matthew 16:28
Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

These are not only things relating to the tribulation, but also to the actual setting up of his earthly kingdom which would have happened in some of these men’s lifetimes had the dispensation of grace not come in.

Ephesians 3:2
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

Had it not been for the last 2,000 years of the dispensation of grace which only God the Father knew about at that time, these passages would have been fulfilled; they would have seen the coming of the Lord.

Acts 1:11
Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Notice that earlier in the passage the Lord Jesus speaks of his coming.

Matthew 24:29
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

This is very similar to what Peter talks about in Acts 2 when he quotes Joel 2.

Acts 2:16, 19-20
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet JoelAnd I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:  The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:

Matthew 24:30-31
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
He is talking about the end of the tribulation period future from us.
And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

This will happen when he comes back; it is the Feast of Trumpets, the gathering of the nation of Israel.
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Returning to the parable of the fig tree…

Matthew 24:32-33
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:  So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

In this passage the fig tree, unlike the passage in which Christ curses the fig tree (Mark 11:21), he is just telling them to look at the fig tree.  He uses it as a picture of how they would know the return of the Son of Man in power and great glory was near, even at the doors.  The focus is not so much on the fig tree itself, but on seeing the signs.  Here he is not really dealing with temple worship even though in other passages we do see that.  Here are the signs:

Matthew 24:1-12, 15
And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.  And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.  And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be [the destruction of the temple]? and what shall be the sign of thy coming [when are you going to come in your power and great glory?], and of the end of the [present] world?  And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
The things beginning with verse 5 are the signs that these events are at the doors:
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
The fig tree in the parable in this chapter is all about the signs listed in the earlier passage.  One of the leaves of the fig tree is that many shall come in my name saying ‘I am Christ’ and shall deceive many.  Another leaf is:
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
Here are some more leaves continuing with verse 7:
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.  All these are the beginning of sorrowsThen shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.  And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.  And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.  And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.  When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place [religious worship in the temple], (whoso readeth, let him understand:) [this is in the middle of Daniel’s 70th week]

So he talks about all these things that point to his return.  In context they are things that are happening in prophecy, particularly future from us.  He uses the fig tree as a picture (in this context not so much of the religious life of Israel even though it is in other passages) but here it represents all the signs of his coming listed in Matthew 24:5-15.

The fig tree was something that the nation could understand.  It goes all the way back to the garden.  In certain cases (Judges 9) it represents Israel’s religious life.  We will go into the use of the fig tree in scripture in more depth in another installment.

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You are also correct in saying that the generation that sees all these things take place will be the one that sees the end and the second coming.  Through right division we know that the last nearly 2,000 years since the prophetic program has been put on hold, God the Father has been doing something different in this Pauline dispensation of grace.  But had God himself not brought in the dispensation of grace, the things that his Son the Lord Jesus Christ said to the people of Israel in that day would have happened in a short period of time.  In my thinking it might have been 10 or 11 years after his resurrection.  Luke tells us that Christ began his ministry at the age of 30.

Luke 3:23
And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,

His ministry includes Christ’s function as Israel’s priest.

Hebrews 4:14
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

In Israel a priest could begin his ministry at age 30 and serve for 20 years.  There is one extra year that Christ gave Israel in a parable.

Luke 13:6-9
He spake 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 cumbereth it the ground?  And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:  And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

So his priesthood would have lasted 21 years.  If the dispensation of grace hadn’t happened, there would have been 21 years from the time of his appearance to Israel to the second coming, at least in my understanding.  It will be a future generation that will witness the signs of his coming (the leaves put forth by the fig tree) and his return to earth to set up his kingdom.

Ephesians 2:13
But now [in this dispensation of grace] in Christ Jesus ye [gentiles] who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

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