This post deals with one of the most compelling questions of our time. Does the parable of the fig tree in the Olivet Discourse refer to the day in which we live? If it does, then more than any other passage this parable identifies how close we are to the next major step in God’s program, the Rapture of the church, when Christ will return as far as the clouds, catch His church up into the clouds with Him, and take us to heaven. This event will also signal the commencement of the Tribulation here on earth, a seven-year period during which unprecedented judgments will fall on those remaining on earth. Therefore, the timing of the Rapture has serious implications both for those who are believers and those who are not.
This post is built upon my two previous posts, which deal with the Olivet Discourse, so if you have not read those posts it will be helpful for you to do so. In my previous post I provided the following diagram that gives an overview of the Olivet Discourse:
Matthew records the parable of the fig tree as follows:
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near–at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. (Matthew 24:32-35 NKJV)
In understanding what Jesus is telling us through this parable it is essential to know to whom He is speaking. Of course, in the context He is speaking to His disciples. However, apparently this message was not for them personally but for the followers of Jesus in some future generation, since the events He described in the first section of the Olivet Discourse, including His return to establish His Millennial Kingdom, have not yet occurred.
But what audience might that be? Only two options exist. Either Christ is addressing those who will be living in the Tribulation, giving indication regarding the time of His return, or His comments are intended for those living at the end of the church age (that would be us), providing us with signposts as to the time of the Rapture and events that follow.
Jesus must have been addressing the parable of the fig tree to those of us living today. Let me give a compelling reason for this perspective. Such a parable would have no relevance to those going through the Tribulation but would have great relevance to us, who are living at the end of the church age.
If I would capture you and abandon you on an isolated island in the Pacific inhabited only by human-consuming beasts, telling you that I would be back in exactly seven years to the day, some parable delineating the general time of my return would have no value since you already knew the precise time of my return. Instead, each day you would be etching out on some rock the daily count, totally focused on knowing the exact day when the seven years would be finished, and I would be back to rescue you.
However, if I dropped you off on Hawaii and gave you a credit card that would care for your every need, assigning a job for you to achieve before my return, and told you that I would be back at some undisclosed time in the future, maybe you would need a fig tree type reminder of approximately when I would be back. And if I delayed my return for many years, in all probability you would quickly get caught up in the good life, possibly putting off completion of the assignment. In this latter case, giving you some landmarks regarding the time of my return would be needed.
These two scenarios parallel the options for applying the parable of the fig tree spelled out in the Olivet Discourse.
Scripture stipulates that the Tribulation lasts seven years. The books of Daniel and Revelation convey this information, even providing the number of months and days. Armed with information of that precise nature, a parable dealing with the time of the return of the Lord in general terms would be irrelevant.
However, in Matthew 24:37-25:30 reveals that the end of the church age will be characterized by normal living, people eating and drinking and getting married. That fact together with it being almost 2000 years that we have been waiting for the return of Christ makes a teaching of the nature of the parable of the fig tree very relevant.
This is especially the case if the signs provided by the fig tree would indicate that Christ must return within the lifespan of many of my readers. I believe this to be the case and plan to discuss that further in my next post.