“Now learn the parable of the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 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. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:32-35).
The parable of the fig tree, appearing in what is known as the Olivet Discourse, is perhaps one of the most challenging passages of Scripture for Bible students. The challenge stems from the fact that Jesus appears to be predicting a particular period of time in which we can expect to witness His glorious and visible return to earth. In light of current events and the fact modern Israel has been around for over 74 years, I recently revisited this fascinating prophecy. You can read about my earlier musings on this prophecy here.
The Parable of the Fig Tree--The argument goes something like this: The fig tree represents the nation of Israel. The branch that becomes tender and puts forth its leaves refers to the rebirth of the nation in 1948. Therefore, the generation born around the time of Israel’s return to the land will be alive at the Second Coming of Christ. Sounds like a legitimate interpretation, but is this the correct interpretation of this particular passage of Scripture?
Many conclude this traditional interpretation cannot possibly be correct given Jesus’ words in verse 36: “But of that day and hour no one knows.” He said the same thing in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” Paul reiterated this in his first letter to the Thessalonian believers: “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you” (1 Thess. 5:1).
If you have been following my musings for any length of time you know that I believe the Bible says what it means and means what it says. In other words, God does not have a speech impediment. The rule of thumb I follow is if the plain sense of the text makes sense; seek no other sense, lest you end up with nonsense. I follow this rule in every sermon a preach and every Bible study I teach and every article I write. With that in mind, how should we approach this difficult text?
Hank Hanegraaf, radio’s so-called “Bible Answer Man,” and author of The Apocalypse Code (I do not recommend it), believes the entirety of Matthew 24 refers to events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Therefore, his conclusion is that the “this generation” of Matthew 24:34, refers to the generation alive at the time Jesus gave this prophecy. Since Jesus gave this prophecy around A.D. 32, or so, there were some still alive when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.
Suffice it to say Hank is guilty of seeking “other sense” in this passage thus ending up with nonsense. He is a partial Preterist who is thoroughly confused on matters of eschatology. He believes all prophecies except for the Second Coming and the resurrection have already been fulfilled. Just to demonstrate how utterly ridiculous this interpretation is, consider the fact that the worldwide preaching of the kingdom, the tribulation period, the return of the Lord in visible glory, and the regathering of the elect of Israel have not yet occurred.
Another solution to this difficult passage is offered by the late Pastor Bob DeWaay. He believes this prophecy is used in a pejorative sense in the New Testament and is therefore qualitative and not setting a time limit. He sees the issue of “this generation” in the sense of Jewish hardness to the gospel and their rejecting Jesus as Messiah down through subsequent generations. He uses passages like Matt. 12:41-45, Luke 9:40-45, and Acts 2:40 to support his interpretation. His argument is well thought out and may very well be correct.
I will admit it is possible the fig tree here refers to Israel’s rebirth. However, I believe Jesus was using this parable to say that when the people of Israel see all the end times signs He described, they will know that His return is really near. Notice I said, “The people of Israel.” I believe the Olivet Discourse, though contained in three Gospels, is meant for Israel (or the Jewish people), and not the Church.
The fig tree is among the last to get its leaves in the spring. So when it begins to bud, you know that summer is really near. Therefore, when the people of Israel see all these signs they’ll know their redemption is near. Luke’s account drives this point home clearly: “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
Another interpretation—one I like better than my own and it may very well be the correct interpretation—suggests Matthew 24:34 says that the generation born when the end times signs begin will still be alive when all signs are fulfilled and Jesus returns visibly to this planet. This interpretation aligns perfectly with my current position that with the exception of Israel's return to the Land, we are not witnessing signs today but rather prophetic trends pointing to future signs that will be fulfilled during Daniel's 70th Week.
According to Psalm 90:10, a biblical lifespan is 70 to 80 years. Many scholars agree that the first of the end times signs was the rebirth of Israel in 1948. Therefore, the generation born around 1948 can expect to see everything fulfilled in their lifetime. If this interpretation is correct we must keep in mind that Israel is recently 74 years as a nation. If a biblical lifespan is 70 to 80 years, what does this say about the lateness of the hour?
What does this say about the lateness of the hour? Israel has been a nation since May 14, 1948, sovereignly fulfilling Isaiah 66:7-9, and Ezekiel 36-37. Since that time the nations that made up the ancient Roman Empire have been coming back together in what is known as the European and Mediterranean Unions—a key End Time prophecy. Russia, for the very first time in history, has been entering into military and economic alliances with the nations described in Ezekiel 38-39. Jerusalem has become a heavy stone for all the nations of the world just like Zechariah predicted in Zech. 12:3.
But perhaps the key piece to understanding the lateness of the hour is found in Daniel 9:26-27. Here the prophet Daniel speaks of a pseudo-peace that is coming to the Middle East, between Israel and her enemies. The Bible gives us every reason to believe this peace will be brokered by a European—a descendant of the people who destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70—the Romans. Daniel predicts this so-called peace agreement will be forced upon the Israeli people. This is amazing considering the ongoing desire of world leaders to broker some kind of peace in the Middle East.
Although it is impossible and foolish to try and interpret prophecy to fit every headline, it is not impossible to see that things are happening in our world, the Middle East, and Israel in particular, that are setting the stage for what the Bible describes as the final act of history—the 70th Week of Daniel and return of Christ. Given the direction things seem to be headed, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see some talk in the near future about dividing the world into ten regions. The Bible is not silent on that and seems to indicate the so-called Antichrist will arise from among ten kings in the latter days. With that, I have one final question: Are you ready to meet the Lord in the air? If not, your time is quickly running out!