THE FIG TREE...1948, or Still Future for Israel ?
(first published in the Jan-Feb 2014 Bible Prophecy As Written Newsletter}
The FIG TREE, Israel, and Date Setting
The “Fig Tree” parable in Matthew 24:32-34 is a powerful predictor of Israel in the End Days that has too often been misused as a bench mark for “date setting”, that is, predicting the date, or approximate date, of the Lord’s return. (see “Date Setting”, below)
The evidence that the Fig Tree is a symbol of Israel is strong. Passages such as Joel 1:7, Hos. 9:10 and Jer. 8:12-14 and 24:1-8 make a clear connection of the symbolic Fig Tree with Israel.
But the clincher for me is Jesus’ continuation of this analogy in the New Testament. His references to Israel in “fig tree” terms is unmistakable in Mat. 21:18-20 and Luke 13:6-9.
Then Jesus gives His famous “fig-tree” parable in the prophecy of Mat. 24:32-34. But does this refer to the rebirth of the State Of Israel in 1948?
There is ONE problem with “Date Setting”—Jesus said
"But of that day and hour no one knows,
not even the angels of heaven,
nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
In spite of a sorry history of abuse, date-setters continue to plague the credibility of Bible Prophecy.
Formulas, feast-calendars and forged revelations have made big-sellers out of books and whole religions whose authors, through “deep study” and inside-info, suddenly come into knowledge that the Bible says is known by “the Father alone.”
In recent history, the dates of 1988, 1992, 2000 & 2011 have all forecast the 2nd Coming or some such.
Right up there among these has been the “formulated fig-tree”—i.e., the fig tree of Matthew 24:32 seen as the reestablishment of the State of Israel in 1948.*
If this is what the fig tree symbolizes, then the date-setting is not at all arbitrary—it is mathematically logical (see right).
But does the fig tree in Matthew 24 represent the 1948 rebirth of the State Of Israel?
YES & NO (point 1-6, below)
*To be fair, the “1948 fig-tree” is SOFT date-setting, below.
The LOGICAL outcome of a “1948 Fig Tree”
ABOVE—A popular —and "logical"— formula for “soft” dating "the Return of Christ (see "NOTES" below) :
1. The budding-leaves & the “fig tree” of Matthew 24:32 represents the rebirth of Israel in 1948.
2. The “generation” that sees this happen will see the Return of Christ. (Mat. 24:34)
3. A generation is either about 40-years (Exodus generation), or 70 years (Psa. 90:10).
4. LOGICALLY, then, Jesus must come at the end of the Tribulation by either 1988 or 2018.
ABOVE—With 1988 now gone, and 2018 getting too close for comfort, a new benchmark for “fig tree” dating has become the 1967 Jewish recovery of Jerusalem—the 70-year version.
"Logic" is only as sound as the assumptions. (see "NOTES" below)
When the Fig Tree “puts forth its leaves”
The “fig tree” of Matthew 24:32 does not symbolize the reestablishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Nor does it symbolize the recapture (after 2000 years) of Jerusalem in 1967. Both were miracles, and were prophesied in other scripture passages. The fig tree symbolizes the first fruits of the salvation of Israel during the 7-year Tribulation, which will be the greatest miracle of all.
This is significant because it not only removes the fig tree as a benchmark for “generational-date-setting” in our current church age generation, but it more accurately depicts the Biblical picture in Matthew 24:32-34 (and parallel passages Mark 13 and Luke 21).
Here is the evidence that the “fig tree” and its “budding leaves” in Matthew 24 speak of the first fruits of the salvation of Israel during the 7-year Tribulation period.
1. The “fig tree” is Israel. The Old Testament sometimes uses this symbol for Israel (Jer. 24:1-8; Joel 1:7; Hosea 9:10) Very significant, however, is the fact that Jesus strongly affirms this designation of Israel as a “fig tree” in both Matthew 21:18-20 and Luke 13:6-9. Then, within a day of the fig tree-Israel symbol of Matthew 21, He tells the “fig tree” parable and its relationship to His Second Coming in Matthew 24:32-34. Jesus’ repeated use of the fig tree-Israel connection is too strong to miss. Here’s the last passage...
"Now learn the parable from the fig tree:
when its branch has already become tender,
and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near;
even so you too, when you see all these things,
recognize that He is near, right at the door.
"Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things take place.
2. The emphasis on the fig tree is the putting “forth its leaves.”
3. The stress in all of the fig tree passages is on fruit bearing, which always refers to righteous fruit—righteous Jews who constitute true, believing Israel.
4. The “putting forth leaves” normally and naturally indicate that fruit is present on the tree. Even in the passage where Jesus found no fruit on the fig tree (Mat. 21:18-19l), by virtue of the leaves being present, He expected fruit. The parallel passage, Mark 11:12-14, means that an early first fruit should have been present with the leaves, even though the season for the mature fruit (v. 13) was still a month away. (see page 6, “The Fig Tree—Leaves and First Fruit”).
5. The Israel of Jesus’ day rejected Him. The “fig tree” of Mat. 21 was fruitless, its leaves bearing false witness of fruit (the self-righteousness of official, first-century Israel). But the anomaly of a fruitless-leafy-tree all the more undergirds the fact that normally and naturally the presence of leaves bears witness to the presence of fruit. (again, see page 6)
6. For Jesus, then, the presence of leaves on the prophetic “fig tree” of Mat. 24:32 indicated FRUIT, not the rebirth of political Israel. The fig tree itself was 1948 Israel. (1948-Israel in the land is required by Mat. 24:15-16) But for Jesus, fig tree-Israel needed to “put forth its leaves” and bear the fruit of salvation?
7. Therefore, the fig tree which “puts forth its leaves” in Matthew 24:32 is a prophecy of the first fruits of the salvation of Israel in the 7-year Tribulation.
The Fig Tree—Leaves and First Fruit
The statement “when the fig tree puts forth its leaves” (as prophesied in Matthew 24:32-34) is equivalent with “puts forth its fruit”. The evidence for this is impressive. Virtually every commentary affirms this truth. (see below)
● Fig leaves appear about the same time as the fruit or a little after... Thus the leaves normally point to every prospect of fruit, even if not fully ripe.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., Zondervan, 1984, Mark 11:12-14.
● The tree is fully leafed out, and in such a state one would normally expect to find fruit.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., Zondervan, 1984, Mark 11:14.
● The figs [fruit] normally grew with the leaves.
The MacArthur Study Bible, John MacArthur, Word Bibles, 1997, Mark 11:13.
● Normally the small figs appeared preceding, or at least simultaneously with, the leaves. The larger figs appeared later.
The Believer’s Study Bible, W.A. Criswell, et.al., ed., Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, Mat. 21:19.
● This particular tree had put forth foliage in April to such an extent that one would expect it to have produced fruit as well.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Charles F. Pfeiffer & Everette Harrison, eds., Moody Press, 1962, Mat. 21:18-22.
● A peculiarity of the [fig] tree is...the fruit and leaves usually appear at the same time, with the fruit sometimes coming first.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Charles F. Pfeiffer & Everette Harrison, eds., Moody Press, 1962, Mark 11:12-14..
● [Fig trees] would have been in leaf by this time of year [spring, with early figs preceding the main crop of late figs]... predicting the fruit [later figs] that should appear... in the summer.
The Bible Background Commentary, Craig S. Keener, Inter-Varsity Press, 1993, Matthew 21:18-20 & Mark 11:12-14.
.● ..with the fig tree representing Israel; A tree full of leaves normally should have fruit...
The NIV Study Bible, Kenneth Barker, ed., Zondervan, 1985, Mark 11:14.
● Normally the fruit and leaves appear at the same time.
Ryrie Study Bible, Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Moody Press, 1978, p. Mat. 21:18-19.
The last statement by Charles Ryrie is an apt summation when he says “Normally the fruit and leaves appear at the same time.” Therefore to say “when the fig tree puts forth its leaves” is to say “when Israel puts forth its fruit.”
More precisely, Matthew 24:32 actually describes a fig tree that FIRST BEGINS to “put forth leaves.” This indicates the presence of FIRST FRUITS. What are these FIRST FRUITS? Hosea 9:10, speaking of Israel, sheds some light:
“I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first season.”
These forefathers were Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc.—saved men—FIRST FRUITS on the fig tree Israel.
Therefore, when Matthew 24:32 says
“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves,”
it is describing the first fruits of the salvation of END TIME Israel.
Replacing the symbols with the reality, Matthew 24:32 can be paraphrased this way,
“When Israel puts forth the first fruits of salvation,
you know that the return of Christ is near.”
So...When will these first fruits of saved Jews appear in what today is secular, unbelieving Israel? SEE "FIG TREE MAP" BELOW...
"Soft-dating"—is not based on a "day or hour", but based on SIGNS & EVENTS as specified in prophecy. Though we are told to "recognize" that Christ is "even at the door" (Mat 24:33) of coming by these specified-in-Scripture signs, we still do not know—nor should we project—the "day or the hour", for two reasons...
1. We are admonished not to do it in multiple passages,
(Mat 24:36; 43-51; Luke 12:40, 46)
2. As demonstrated above, faulty assumptions lead to faulty conclusions, no matter how pure the mathematics or the logical syllogism. This fallacy extends even beyond any "day or hour" prediction to even a "month or year" projection. Yes, we are commanded to "recognize that He is near, right at the door" (Mat 24:33), but let us stay away from "day, or hour"—or even month or year projections.