Print

The Fig Tree and Jerusalem

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

The most obvious of all the signs of the times is the restoration of Israel to their own land, and particularly also the restoration of Jerusalem as their capital. The Lord Jesus clearly refers to these signs in His Olivet Discourse:

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near… For these are days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled… And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. And He spoke to them a parable: Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you, likewise, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things are fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-32).

In this section, there are two definite signs of the times: the budding of the fig tree, which indicates the reviving of Israel in their land, as well as the restoration of Jerusalem as their capital city. They are both well defined end-time signs. When we see these things we should know that the coming of Christ is near.

A great joy should fill our hearts when we behold the promised restoration of Israel. We should see the hand of the Lord in these events. In Ezekiel 37:21 the Lord says, “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land.” The Lord also uses various symbols to explain the deeper meaning of Israel’s dispersion and restoration.

The Fig Tree

Clarence Larkin says in his book, Dispensational Truth, p. 156: “The fig tree is a New Testament symbol or figure of Israel and was used by Jesus Himself.” This symbol is also used in the Old Testament, where the Lord said of Israel, “I saw your fathers as the first-fruits on the fig tree in its first season” (Hos. 9:10). In Jeremiah 24:5 He said, “Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge those who are carried away captive from Judah, whom I have sent out of this place for their own good, into the land of the Chaldeans.”

In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus, who was on His way to Jerusalem, cursed a fig tree for not bearing any fruit. On a fig tree, the blossoms of the fruit appear before the leaves. Naturally, therefore, one should look for fruit on a tree in full leaf. This accounts for why Jesus cursed the fig tree that had on it nothing but leaves. This was typical of the spiritual barrenness of Israel. As God’s people they were established (and growing) in their land for a long time but still yielding no spiritual fruit. Jesus cursed the tree by saying, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again” (Matt. 21:19). Immediately the tree withered away. The word used here of ever (aeon) may also indicate a long period such as an age. In Matt. 24:3 the disciples asked Jesus: “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age (aeon)?” This rendering of aeon suggests that the fig tree would not remain withered and barren forever but only until the end of the present age between the first and second coming of Christ. The word aeon is also used in 1 Cor. 10:11 where Paul says, “All these things happened to [Israel] as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages (aeons) have come.”

In the parable of the barren fig tree we have another picture of Israel: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down: why does it use up the ground? But he answered and said to him, Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down” (Luke 13:6-9).

This tree was planted in the Lord’s vineyard (the land of Israel) but it did not bear any fruit. The three barren seasons refer to the three years during which Jesus ministered to Israel before His crucifixion. After that, they were spared another season for the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the apostles and the early church. Through the killing of Stephen (Acts 7) the leaders of Israel strongly condemned and utterly rejected the early Christian church. Shortly before being stoned, Stephen put the nation in the dock, accused them of repeated rebellion against God, found them guilty, and condemned them to God’s rejection, punishment and extradition from their land. In principle he put the seal on the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the nation that started in 70 AD. The impending tragedy had, by Israel’s own doing, become unavoidable.

At the end of that generation, the tree (Israel) was cut down by the Roman Empire and its branches spread all over the world. But the root of the tree remained in the ground and has again started budding during Israel’s national restoration. The fact that the fig tree started budding in 1948 is a clear indication that the kingdom of God is near. Why does the Lord Jesus say, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees…?” The fig tree (Israel) is singled out as the most significant sign of the end-time. Other peoples (e.g. the Arabs) also strongly emerge as distinct ethnic groups, but Israel’s restoration is the most important sign. Also consider the large number of African peoples that became independent nations after 1948. The summer of God’s revealed kingdom in the millennium is definitely at hand.

The Lord Jesus links the end-time restoration of Israel to a generation. A total generation represents a period of 70 years (Ps. 90:10) while an adult generation is 40 years. In Israel, political and religious coming of age is attained at the age of 30, leading to the adult years between 30 and 70. An adult generation is usually accountable to God for their actions. The last full generation before the second coming of Christ started with the birth of modern Israel in May 1948, and the last adult generation 30 years later, shortly before the restoration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1980.

The parable of the fig tree which was cut down after the first coming of Christ and is now, shortly before His second coming, budding again is supported by numerous prophecies on the historic dispersion and end-time restoration of Israel. At an early stage of their history, Moses warned Israel that persistent apostasy would lead to their dispersion among the nations from the one end of the earth to the other (Deut. 28:64). This warning does not refer to their Assyrian and Babylonian captivity in Old Testament times, but to their international dispersion that occurred after the rejection of the Messiah in the first century AD. That would also not be a permanent situation as Moses emphasised Israel’s ultimate restoration from the nations to whom they would become scattered: “The Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you” (Deut. 30:3).

Most of Israel’s prophets referred to the nation’s dispersion and restoration. Jeremiah said: “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock” (Jer. 31:10). Ezekiel said: “I will gather you from the people, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel” (Ezek. 11:17). Israel’s land was never called Palestine, so they are not returning to Palestine but to Israel. Palestine is derived from Philistia, which is the land of the Philistines (cf. Joel 3:4). Like Israel’s ancient enemies, the modern Palestinians claim the land and call it Palestine. The two-state solution of Israel and Palestine as neighbouring states is in conflict with God’s counsel (Joel 3:2). The land of Israel was given by God to the Israelites as an eternal possession and may never be divided.

Jerusalem

Luke 21 does not only refer to the budding of the fig tree at the beginning of the last generation, but also to Jerusalem that will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:24). Jerusalem is the hub of Israel’s political and religious life; for that reason, events in this city always had great prophetic significance. In the near future, wonderful revelations of God will occur in Jerusalem; But before that time the biggest war in the world’s history (the battle of Armageddon) will break out in Israel, and also in and around Jerusalem. Why is this city so important?

After building the first temple, God said to Solomon: “I have sanctified this house which you have built to put My name there for ever” (1 Kings 9:3). God said that Jerusalem is “the city which I have chosen for Myself, to put My name there” (1 Kings 11:36). God’s Name is forever linked to Jerusalem. It is “the city of the great King” (Ps. 48:2).

God revealed Himself through the service of priests and prophets. By far the most significant revelation of God to Israel and the whole world was the birth of His Son, Jesus. He was destined to be King of Israel. The angel Gabriel said to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:31-32).

But the Lord Jesus could not rule over an apostate Israel and an equally apostate world without driving them away in wrath and destroying them because of their sin. He first had to become their Saviour before He can be their King. This demanded two comings to the world by Jesus – first as Saviour and then as King.

During His first coming John the Baptist introduced Him by saying, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). However, His sacrifice on the cross also became the symbol of Israel’s rejection of Him as their Messiah. They abhorred the crucified One. Jesus was deeply moved because of all the suffering and destruction that Israel would bring upon themselves, their land and their city because of the misguided rejection of their Messiah:

“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).

God revealed Himself through His Son to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but in spite of clear messianic prophecies they did not recognise Him and, as a nation, rejected Him. The Lord Jesus was crucified just outside Jerusalem in the stone-quarry of Solomon. Here, He made atonement for our sins by paying the price for the transgressions of lost humanity to God.

Forty days after His resurrection Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives. Just prior to His ascension He gave the Great Commission to His disciples. That ministry would only commence after something very important happened in Jerusalem. Jesus said to them:

“Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:46-49).

That was the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out over the disciples, the assignment of world evangelism began. On that day, three thousand souls were saved and became members of the church of Christ in Jerusalem. From that day onwards, the gospel of salvation would be preached in Jerusalem and beyond, even to the uttermost ends of the earth.

Many people argue that the divine purpose of Jerusalem expired with the moving out of the disciples to preach the gospel in the rest of the world. What about God’s decision that His name would forever dwell in Jerusalem? Was that decision rescinded when Israel rejected Jesus and crucified Him? Not at all! The long-term future of Jerusalem was always, and still is, securely fixed in the divine counsel and purposes of God.

Israel would go into dispersion because of their apostasy, but not indefinitely. God’s plan with this people, their land and their capital city, Jerusalem, will certainly be fulfilled and reach its glorious consummation. After their Diaspora among the nations they will have another personal encounter with Jesus, but then they will fully accept Him. He said the following to the spiritually blinded Jewish leaders of the first generation:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate. For I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” (Matt. 23:37-39). The Lord Jesus will return to Jerusalem and be welcomed with a blessing.

Luke describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of Israel as follows: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains; let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing mothers in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-24).

Please note that Jerusalem was not to be trampled indefinitely, but until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. At the end of the time of world evangelism, when the non-Jewish people had the opportunity to enter the kingdom of heaven, Israel, their land and their city will again be restored. Paul says:

“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:25-26).

During the past two thousand years the Lord Jesus gave Israel and the nations ample opportunity to accept Him as Saviour. Only a minority of them made the right choice, as the majority still prefer the broad way of sin. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). Exactly the same situation prevails in Israel: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved” (Rom. 9:27). Although small groups of Jews have been saved throughout the centuries, the whole remnant will only be saved when the Messiah comes, so they can be His people.

Before their national spiritual revival will occur, a time of severe testing and affliction awaits the restored Israel in their land, and particularly also in the city of Jerusalem: “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have all become dross, therefore behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. As men gather silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into the midst of a furnace, to blow fire on it, to melt it; so will I gather you in my anger and in my fury, and I will leave you there and melt you… then you shall know that I, the Lord, have poured out my fury on you” (Ezek. 22:19-22).

The time of Jacob’s trouble, which is aimed at the spiritual revival of a remnant in Israel, form part of the events of the last generation of the present dispensation, at the end of which the Messiah will come back.

The wickedness in end-time Jerusalem will reach such alarming proportions that Israel will enter into a covenant with the false messiah. The Lord Jesus said, “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive” (John 5:43). During this time the Lord will raise up two special witnesses who will take a strong stand against the Antichrist in Jerusalem, and warn the people against this impostor. After 3½ years they will be killed by the Antichrist and his forces. John says, “Their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:8).

Jerusalem and its inhabitants, most of whom still reject the Messiah, will further apostatise until they reach unprecedented extremes of sin and wickedness in the middle of the tribulation period. Jerusalem will then be like Sodom and Egypt. The land of Egypt was associated with idolatry for a very long time, while Sodom was synonymous with homosexuality (sodomy). Recently, there were big gay parades in Jerusalem and other Jewish cities, which indicate that the immoral character of Sodom is rapidly taking root here. Idolatry, as in Egypt, will ominously be manifested when the Antichrist sets up an image of himself in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and forces people to worship it.

A large group of Jews will come to their senses when the Antichrist declares himself to be God (2 Thess. 2:4). They will revoke their covenant with him and flee to the wilderness for survival (Matt. 24:15-22). During that time, many Jews will be killed. Zechariah says, “And it shall come to pass in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one-third shall be left in it: I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, This is My people; and each one will say, The Lord is my God” (Zech. 13:8-9).

At the end of the coming tribulation of seven years the Lord Jesus will return to Jerusalem to save a remnant of His people as well as a remnant of the nations (Matt. 24:29-30). “In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem to the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very big valley… Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You” (Zech. 14:4-5). Jerusalem, the city that was chosen by God to put His name there for ever, will enter a wonderful new phase when the Messiah comes again. Its inhabitants will be revived spiritually:

“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a first-born… In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 12:10; 13:1).

After Israel has been reconciled with the Lord Jesus He will also restore the throne of David in Jerusalem. He never reigned from this throne, but after His second coming He will assume His office as King of the Jews, and of the whole world, and rule from David’s throne: “After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen down. I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things” (Acts 15:16-17; cf. Amos 9:11-12).

After the second coming of Christ, Jerusalem will be the capital of the world. The Lord Jesus will be King, and peace will prevail on earth: “At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; they shall walk no more after the stubbornness of their evil heart” (Jer. 3:17).

Satan will be bound during that time and therefore unable to instigate rebellion and warfare among the nations or to deceive them into sinning. They will spontaneously seek the favour of the Lord in Jerusalem, walk in His ways and honour Israel: “Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to pray before the Lord… In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech. 8:22-23).

Jerusalem is an important symbol of God’s intervention in human affairs. The fact that the trampling of Jerusalem by the Gentiles has ended, the city already being in an advanced stage of restoration, is strong evidence that we are in the last generation before the coming of Christ. “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28). When great anxiety and distress enfold Israel and Jerusalem, we should expect the imminent return of the heavenly Bridegroom to take His bride to her heavenly abode.

After the tribulation period, we will return with the King to Jerusalem and behold His final victory over the forces of darkness in this city where He was once despised and crucified. We should earnestly pray for the fulfilment of the many prophecies on the future of the City of the Great King. God said, “I have set watchmen on you walls, o Jerusalem, who shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isa. 62:6-7).