The parable of the fig tree is the only passage in Scripture providing us with landmarks that provide information regarding the time of the Rapture. Since the Rapture is the next major item on God’s agenda, and since we are approaching the time of the Rapture’s occurrence, for us the parable of the fig tree constitutes one of the most significant passages of Scripture.
The parable as recorded in Matthew states this:
“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)
The central element of this parable is the fig tree. Therefore, essential to understanding this parable is identifying the fig tree.
A study of Scripture reveals that the fig tree represents the nation of Israel.
Two passages in the Old Testament refer to Israel as a fig tree.
“I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstfruits on the fig tree in its first season…. (Hosea_9:10)
He has laid waste My vine, And ruined My fig tree; He has stripped it bare and thrown it away; Its branches are made white. (Joel 1:7)
A more compelling identification of Israel with the fig tree is found in Luke 13:9:6-9.
He also spoke this parable: “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.’”
This parable seems to refer to Christ’s ministry to Israel during His first advent. Even though God sent his Son to minister to them, they had been largely unresponsive—as a nation had not yielded spiritual fruit. God the Father instructed Him to cut it down, that is, bring judgment on the nation. However, Christ requests that His Father give Him another year to minister to them. As we know, they continued to be unresponsive, and ultimately judgment fell on the nation in 70 A.D.
One troublesome aspect of this understanding of this parable is that it would extend the earthly ministry of Christ to four years. However, this might easily be explained if the initial three years included the ministry of John the Baptist.
It does seem highly likely that Christ had the nation of Israel in view in this parable.
Another connection between Israel and the fig tree is found in Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree on which she found no fruit as he traveled to Jerusalem on Monday morning of Holy Week. The condition of the tree having leaves but no fruit perfectly describes the spiritual state of Israel at the time, being characterized by external religious practice but no genuine spiritual fruit.
The next morning as Jesus and his disciples traveled the same path from Bethany across the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem the disciples noted that the tree was withered. This seems to reflect the judgment that was to come on the Jewish nation in 70 A.D. Note how this reference to the fig tree corresponds to the earlier parable in Luke 13.
Jesus and His disciples sat on the Mount of Olives as Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse. Since the fig tree that was cursed and subsequently withered was along the path between Bethany and Jerusalem that crossed over the Mount of Olives, and on this occasion they were traversing the same path headed back to Bethany, it is entirely possible that the Olivet Discourse was given in view of the cursed the fig tree.
All these factors point to the conclusion that the reference to the fig tree in the Olivet Discourse refers to the nation of Israel.
In my next post I plan to discuss what this parable of the fig tree with its reference to Israel teaches us about the timing of the Rapture and subsequent events.