How does one interpret the Fig Tree Prophecy?
On the March 8th edition of the radio program Prophecy Update, I was interviewed by Bill Salus, author of the popular Psalm 83-themed book Isralestine and evangelist on the end times website Prophecy Depot. Bill and I spent much of the interview discussing how mankind is living on borrowed time. The fact that all the end times Bible prophecies are presently stage setting evidences that the return of Christ in the Rapture could happen at any moment.
The Fig Tree Prophecy
Bill Salus: This other question from your book Living on Borrowed Time is very important. How do you interpret Matthew 24:32-35?
“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. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Dr. Reagan: We had a very interesting scattering of responses there. Twenty people responded to this question and there were two who did not. Of the 20 who responded, ten took the position that, yes, it does refer to Israel. They believe that the fig tree is the symbol of Israel. The passage speaks of putting forth leaves. Jesus was prophesying that the state of Israel would be re-established in the end times. That was our majority view.
There were others who said they didn’t think that this passage had anything to do with Israel. They had good biblical arguments about why they believe what they believe. I think that it was interesting that Tim LaHaye took the position that he did not believe that passage referred to Israel. He felt that it simply referred to all of the signs coming together in the end times.
Bill, what was your position on Matthew 24:32-35?
Bill Salus: I do believe that Israel is the “super sign” of the end times, and so that was what Christ was saying in Matthew 24. He actually gave a whole specific list of end times signs in response to the questions of the apostles, and then He said, “Now learn this…” So, in other words, Jesus singled the fig tee out as the super sign. I was among the 10 who would say that, yes, the fig tree rebudding refers to Israel.
Dr. Reagan: I find it very interesting that Tim LaHaye has changed his position in just in the last few months. He suddenly decided that he was wrong about the meaning of the fig tree. He decided that he really did believe that indeed the fig tree does apply to Israel. That’s a major change for him. He often will speak up and say to the effect, “On the basis of studying this, I’ve decided it doesn’t mean that. It means something else.” He’s always in a very fertile state of mind which isn’t stuck in certain interpretations.
Bill Salus: I did read in your magazine about Tim LaHaye’s change on the interpretation of the fig tree. He gave Old Testament quotes from Hosea and Jeremiah where you do see Israel pictured as a fig tree as the symbol of the nation of Israel.
Dr. Reagan: That symbol is very important, because the nation of Israel is pictured that way. To me, the whole context of Matthew 24:32-35 also emphasizes Israel is the fig tree. A day or two before Jesus gave that passage, He was walking over the Mount of Olives and He suddenly put a curse on a fig tree. It actually dwindled before His very eyes. That’s what I call “symbolic prophecy.” The fig tree represents Israel. What Jesus was showing there is because Israel had rejected Him as Messiah, God was going to pour out His wrath upon the nation. The nation would be set aside for awhile. Then, a couple of days later, Jesus says, “You remember that fig tree? Watch it. One day it will bloom again, and when that happens, all these things are going to occur.”
In the fifth and last segment of my interview with Bill Salus concerning the converging end times signs, we’ll discuss how to interpret Daniel 12:4.
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I read this passage and it does not refer to the Ezekiel/Isaiah/Amos passages of Israel becoming a nation again at all. It only refers to the final events and advises that when they occur we can be sure His return is near. To interpret otherwise requires a great deal of imagination.
To use these famous words, "when the plain meaning makes the most sense, use the plain sense or you end in nonsense."
This passage is talking about the end of the tribulation and says that when all these things have come to pass, know that the coming of Jesus is imminent. There is no literary transition from end of tribulation to pre-tribulation at all (from vs 24:30-32).
I'd genuinely love a good explanation of why so many respected bible teachers make this leap without using consistent hermanutics throughout prophetic interpretation. They teach so well until it comes to end-times prophecy and then it's like they consult the Left Behind series before they read the bible. I simply cannot come to the same conclusions if I only read scripture and not other's opinions first.
At the beginning of Matt. Chptr. 24,
the disciples as the question, "What will be the sign of your coming and of
the end of the age?" After a lengthy prediction on the events leading up to
and through the Tribulation, Jesus tells them to learn the parable from The
Fig Tree. When Jesus previously cursed the Fig Tree he said "no fruit will
ever grow on you again." And Jesus is correct….Israel bears no fruit
today or IN THIS AGE! When Israel does bear fruit will be the next age, the
Millennium. Jesus admonished the leaders of Israel for not knowing the time
of His coming. We are told that we are not in the dark about knowing the
season of His return. God's answer in Matthew 24, is the "fig tree
blossoming." I believe that is May of 1948 when Israel became a nation.
God called Israel His Fig Tree in the OT (Joel 1:6-7; Hosea 9:10; Jer.
24:2-3, 5, 8) In this passage of Matt. 24, "summer" is near, I believe
summer refers to "the kingdom," as you will see why later. Most people do
not talk about the parallel passage of Luke 21:29-33! Again the Fig Tree is
Israel as is seen, but there is something different about this passage. It
also mentions another blossoming, "and all the trees." God uses the word
"Trees" in the OT to represent the nations and/or rulers (Judges
9:8-16;and many other passages not mentioned here.) These "trees" that
are mentioned in the parallel passage as having also blossomed (as a nation)
are Lebanon, 1943; Jordan, 1946; Syria, 1946; Egypt, 1952. These countries
(and of course Israel) did not exist as independent until 1943 and shortly
after. They also blossomed at this time! Another thing different about
this passage is that it spells out what is actually "Summer is near" of
Matthew 24–Luke 21:31 says "the Kingdom is near!" These passages say
that THIS generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
The all things are what Jesus just spoke of (the many signs up to and
including the Trib). Who is THIS generation? The generation that saw the
time of the Fig Tree and all the Trees blossoming. What is a generation?
Moses answers in Psalm 90:10: "The days of our lives are seventy years,
and if by reason of strength they are 80…" Incidentally, studies prove
that fits most nations of the earth's today's life span. Moses lived to
be 120! Therefore, we are in the last generation of the Fig Tree blossoming
of 1948 (becoming a nation) and all the trees blossoming! And time is
running out. God only knows the day or hour, but we can know the season.
You forget that when Luke 21:29 records the passage Jesus doesn't exclusively refer to a 'fig tree' but all the trees. The trees are the metaphor not the uniqueness of the fig tree which was prevalent in that region and an obvious choice.
To interpret the fig tree as Israel in this instance is to use eisegesis where you insert a preconceived meaning into the text. It doesn't say Jesus is referring to Israel here and Jesus certainly doesn't mention it here either. Moreover a biblical 'generation' is more than over since 1948 and I know that Jesus is never wrong.
I know we all get excited about the coming of our Lord but we also tend to listen to learned brothers/sister's opinions more than we actually study the bible text they use (or misuse) frequently. It is not an intentional misrepresentation of God's word but it is incorrect and needs to be correct or it misleads people into believing that the second-coming is literally going to be within the year.
Hal Lindsey started this whole fig tree as Israel, in Matt 24, business and literally had nothing to go on except his opinion. That has since been propped up for years with good people failing to really challenge it with the text and the other passages in the synoptics that enlighten. You'll notice they never use the Luke passage just the Matthew 24 one because it's easier to make the argument with. I think it's just intellectually lazy.
I certainly did not forget the "and all the trees" of the Luke passage. Read my previous post to see Biblical interpretation. You do not have to believe, but I will not be chastised by Jesus that I should have known the season of His coming. His Word is indeed clear on this. And you are not correct, Hal Lindsey is not responsible for this interpretation, but dates back over 400 yrs to the Puritans. Incidentally, 1948 plus 70 = 2018 and 1948 plus 80 = 2028. The generation is not passed yet as you suggest. P.s. the Luke passage identifies 'summer' of the Matthew passage as The Kingdom is near. It is talking of Christ's return!
So much correct, very impress 🙂
Indeed Lucaso, some quick googling will show that many church fathers understood the fig tree to refer to Israel – this is no new interpretation.
Jennifer I missed that part of your comment earlier about all the trees, my apologies. I don't doubt the prophecy about Israel becoming a nation again as Ezekiel 37's valley of dry bones expresses.
I usually don't do internet dialogue because of the tendency to become hostile or childish like Lamb-student…
I've heard all of the arguments you brought up for years, and you're in good company as you suggest. Many people I love and respect believe as you do. There are amazing theologians on both sides. However the argument is ultimately not very convincing to me. Jesus is speaking plainly here and not interspersing metaphors with literal statements.
The fig tree was an extremely common tree to use in any example. While it is referred to as Israel a 'few' times it was always clearly indication as such by the context or denoted directly. Here Jesus is simply using a tree as an example of those who see the aforementioned incidents occur. The point of the passage is not the fig tree but the events he describes in plain language. Thus it makes sense that those who see those events will also be the generation that sees the end. Most of the generation who saw and comprehended the nation of Israel being reestablished have already died. There are a small number left (my elderly mother being one of them).
Even if you take a hardline approach that those born at the moment Israel became a nation, you've got, at best, 4 years before your time wears out and then what? It becomes 80yrs? Then in 2028 does it become a reinterpretation of the word generation to mean 'race' of people so that it becomes an endless thing?
Just take Jesus at his word and don't read into it so much as a create some sort of date control you can hang your hat on. He'll come when He's ready and all those who love and trust Him will know the season of His coming by the events occurring as prophesied.
Is it possible that it could be both? How many times have we read a passage and had an epiphany? Suddenly it means much more than we originally thought. He is infinite. Perhaps His living and active Word has many layers. If we write that way, how much more the Living God!?