For decades, this set of verses were my “go to” verses to speak of the pretribulational rapture and coming of the Lord within my lifetime.
It was obvious, wasn’t it, that as the Jewish population had come back from the four corners of the earth to the land of Israel, and that this occurrence was equivalent to the branch becoming tender, and of the leaves sprouting forth.
Nevermind that I had to make two assumptions.
- The fig tree was Israel.
- The Lord was teaching His audience of something they would never experience.
- this generation, or that generation! Oh bother, what generation was He referring to
These unwarranted assumptions became evident decades into my walk of faith, and initiated my rethinking of the dispensational theology that I have since abandoned.
Lets read the parable and try to find it’s context, and what it meant to those who heard it, and what is the message we need to hear today.
32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Questions to Consider
Who were the audience?
Jesus no longer was teaching in the temple. He had left the temple, having given the Jewish leaders stories directly related to them. Prophecies in parables, speaking of the leaders judgement, and of the coming doom of their nation. Jesus’ focus shifted the His disciples, as Matthew 24:3 states
3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” – Mat 24:3 ESV
The disciples caught the message, but still had questions. The temple! What of the temple? Had not the Jewish people fallen into the same thinking as those of old, when they thought the temple was their security. (Check out my four part series Jeremiah 7 – The Temple of the Lord)
Is this not the security of the nation, the fact that God resides in His temple? Little did they recognize that God had just left the temple, and was going to isolate His teaching to His disciples until the end.
When did the Lord give this parable?
Matthew 24 was given to the disciples within the last seven days of our Lords earthly life, prior to the cross.
Where did the Lord teach the parable?
As Matthew 24:3 teaches, the Lord gave this teaching on the Mount of Olives, outside of Jerusalem.
Why did the Lord give this message?
Jesus was answering three questions the disciples had for Him.
- When will these things be?
- What will be the sign of your coming?
- (What will be the sign) of the end of the age?
This particular portion of Matthew 24 is speaking of the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:30) , and of the sign of the Son of Man in the heavens. This seems to directly relate to our second point. That is, the fig tree parable is a response to the question of the sign of the coming of the Son of Man.
The fig tree. That is surely a reference to the nation of Israel. Or is it? Lets check it out.
What was the message for the original audience?
A Fig Tree as a Symbol of Israel?
Occasionally the scriptures will refer to the people of a nation as living in safety, and a sign of this as every man being under his fig tree. A sign of prosperity for each man, but not a symbol of the nation.
And Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon. – 1Ki 4:25 ESV
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. – Mic 4:4 ESV
Hosea likens Israel to grapes and the individual leaders (fathers) to the first fruit on the fig tree.
Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers…. – Hos 9:10 ESV
So why did the Lord use the fig tree to give us this parable if He didn’t intend for us to understand it as a reference to the nation of Israel? Consider the same parable provided by Luke, and it’s opening statement
And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. – Luke 21:29 ESV
As we can see in the Gospel of Luke, the message was intended as a general teaching of nature, somewhat similar to the lessons that could be learned of the the sky at night. He was teaching a general truth and applying it to the specific situation for the disciples benefit.
This or That?
For those who fear grammar, please stick around. This won’t hurt that bad.
As the graphic illustrates, “this” refers to something near (in time of space), whereas “that” refers to something distant (in time or space)
When the Lord referred to “this generation” in the parable, what generation was He referring to? It seems obvious to me that the generation He was referring to was the one that was closest to Him, that was hearing His teaching during His life.
Consider the following passages that Matthew used “this generation” and check if this makes sense for yourself
“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, – Mat 11:16
The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. – Mat 12:41-42
Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. – Mat 23:36
Sadly, I cannot find any reference to the Lord using the term “that generation” within the gospels. It seems He was focusing His message to the generation He was closest to. The generation that He was present with, and had heard His message in the temple, in the cities, in the fields and on the roads.
Jesus was teaching his disciples of the nearness of the temples destruction, in response to their confidence in the temple’s permanence.
What is the message for us today?
What is permanent in your world? What in your mind is enduring, unfading, constant, fixed?
Oh, we may have lived long prosperous lives, but let us not fall into the same trap that the disciples had fallen into. Permanence is an illusion in this life, and we trust in many things as if they were permanent.
- Is your church permanent? No
- Is your family permanent? No
- Is your job permanent? No
- Is your home permanent? No
- Is your nation permanent? No
- Is your life permanent? No
What hope do we have? What can we look to for permanence in this temporary life? Let me ask you – Is Jesus permanent?
Cling to Him, for His permanence is our only hope in this life and the next!
Thanks again for coming to visit. I hope you found something of interest in this post and would appreciate a comment, to begin a discussion.