About every other week I get a email telling me in one way or another that the parable of the fig tree means that all will be fulfilled by 2019 AD. Thus they believe the start of the tribulation or rapture has to be by 2012. There are well known Bible prophecy teachers teaching this today. I am tired of answering questions on this over and over so I am writing my own position on the “Parable of the Fig Tree”. In the future if anyone asks me about it or suggests that the Rapture has to occur within two or three years they will get a link to this post.
I will put the discourse from Jesus about the parable of the fig tree in proper context below so we can also see and consider what Jesus said before and after His parable of the fig tree statement.
Matt 24:3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.
24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
25 Behold, I have told you before.
26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,
39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?
46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The whole discourse here is a reply to what the disciples asked Jesus. They asked when will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age? Jesus then gave them a sequence of events. Scholars differ as to if part of it was already fulfilled in Jesus time, or if it is all yet to be fulfilled, or even if part of the prophecy might have a past and future fulfillment. I take the position that there could be a partial fulfillment in the past but this whole discourse is now about the future.
Lets look at what the passage implies and lets also look at what the passage does not imply. That part of the discourse is in bold print in the scripture passage above.
The parable of the fig tree implies:
When the branch of the fig tree puts forth leaves you should know that summer is near and when you see the signs Jesus talked about you know His coming is near. The other part of the discourse following the parable passage confirms that it is talking about the Lord’s coming for the elect.
The passage also implies the generation that saw what Jesus talked about in the discourse would still be around when the Lord returned, implying that all things would take place in a short period of time of less than one generation.
The parable of the fig tree does not imply:
That the fig tree is Israel, although some believe it is.
That this last generation started when the UN allowed the rebirth of the State of Israel
That a generation is 40 50 or 70 years. More likely all Jesus said takes place in less than a twenty or thirty year period since the generation seeing the signs would also have had to reach the full age of reason to comprehend them. Also, the generation that saw the Lord return most likely would not also be so old that aged brains would forget the data. The discourse does imply that some will actually give up waiting so this period spans more than a few years.
We seem to have false birth pains called the beginning of sorrows, persecution, birth pains and the second coming in this passage. This all could take much longer than just the seven years that most assign to end time things and that also may be why the discourse says that some people will give up waiting. The big clue for me that this is more than seven years is that in the first series of events Jesus makes it perfectly clear that the end is not yet. These are just the beginning of sorrows of this last time generation.
Was Jesus telling his disciples to learn that the fig tree represented Israel’s rebirth? I kind of doubt that, they would not have a clue unless He was referring to the fig tree that He cursed that did represent Israel. If that is true His using the fig tree here with the sprouting of leaves would have to refer to Israel returning to God not the rebirth of a nation that still rejects Him.
“Fig tree” is used 32 times in the King James. Most of the time it is used with other trees and is just describing abundance of food or the lack of it. A few are describing the spiritual condition of Israel but calling Israel the fig tree from those few passages is a stretch. Actually, Israel could more easily be identified with the olive tree in scriptures.
Luke adds a little more than Matthew on this passage and says when the fig tree and all the trees are putting forth shoots you know summer is near. So If Israel is the fig tree who are the other trees that are also putting forth shoots? Perhaps this parable is more straight forward than some like to think. Perhaps Jesus was just saying when you see the things He was talking about taking place on earth this will be the generation that would see His return if they do not give up waiting. Just as when a fig tree puts forth shoots you know that summer is near you can know that the Lord’s coming is near when you see the events Jesus talked about. Perhaps there is no hidden reference to Israel in this passage at all? I do not think we can be dogmatic about it one way or the other.
If the parable of the fig tree is all about the rebirth of Israel like many teach. I would like to know why a still dead tree at the time of these events is putting forth shoots and putting forth leaves? What are the leaves anyway? Ask those who teach this and you will get different answers.
In any case, this passage does not imply the generation that saw the rebirth of the state of Israel is the generation that would not pass away before the Lord returns. It seems to me that Jesus is really talking about the generation seeing all the things that He was talking about in prior versus.
Why do I bring this up? Because some are saying that Jesus has to come before 2019 and the Rapture is before 2012 and that they get hostile toward Christians who do not believe the time is as soon as the dates they set. There was a time when people said that Jesus would have to come in 1988 because it all had to happened within a generation of forty years from the rebirth of Israel. Then when that date came and gone they said that a generation was about 50 years. When that date came and gone they said a generation is a life span of 70 years and that is where some stand now. All of this latest date setting by some new prophecy teachers probably has more to do with their interpretation of pagan Mayan calenders then it does with sound exegesis of biblical prophecy.
Never mind that the latest interpretation of a generation being 70 years logically makes no sense because during the first decade or two of their life people of that generation would have been been too young to observe the events and properly process it. Some others extend the date by saying we should count the generation from when Israel took Jerusalem because taking new territory represented the leaves on the tree. That again is subjective speculation at best. Meanwhile, the whole concept has opened up Bible prophecy teachers to just criticism because some Bible prophecy teachers seem to be straining at gnats and swallowing camels in order to be dogmatic about their own subjective interpretations with date setting.
I do not know when the rapture of the Church will be because that date is always imminent but just looking at the signs on earth that are necessary to fulfill prophecy tells me that the coming of the Lord to set up His kingdom on earth is still twenty or thirty years down the line. If you do not want to wait that long tell it to God because the time is set by the Father. Meanwhile, lets not be so dogmatic about our prophecy speculations.
Don Koenig founded www.thepropheticyears.com website in 1999 after almost thirty years of independent study on the Bible and learning from many astute teachers within Christendom. Don created his website to write about Bible prophecy, biblical discernment and his Christian worldviews. Don wrote a free Revelation commentary ebook in 2004 named "The Revelation of Jesus Christ Through The Ages". The World and Church and Bible Prophecy section of this website was started in 2007.