The Parable of the Fig Tree
The Olivet Discourse contains a section known as the parable of the fig tree, recorded in Matthew 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-32 and Luke 21:29-33.
The Matthew account reads:
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer [is] nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, [even] at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
The Luke account reads:
And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.
Those who have attempted to date the Rapture or the Second Coming of the Messiah have often misused this section. The fig tree is often taken to mean the re-establishment of The State of Israel in 1948. Then, within a generation, that is forty years or so from 1948 the Second Coming must occur. This would place the Second Coming in 1988. Because the Rapture precedes the Second Coming by at least seven years, it would place the Rapture by 1981. This is simply date setting; something the Scriptures clearly forbid. Nevertheless, date-setters continue to revise their 1988 “prophecy” year after year. Since 1988 has now come and gone, the new focus is to start the forty years with Six-Day war in 1967. So then some have predicted the return of the Lord around 2006-2007. It keeps moving because they are distorting what Jesus said.
There are two errors in this type of reasoning and its exposition. First, the Bible nowhere limits the period of a generation to simply forty years. The one place where the term “generation” is given a specific length of time, it is reckoned to be one hundred years (Genesis 15: 13-16). Actually, the term “generation” can mean “twenty”, “forty”, “seventy”,” eighty” or a “hundred years.” Sometimes it simply means “contemporaries, much as we use the term today. That is the way it is used here. A second mistake made in this reasoning is assuming that the fig tree is a symbol of Israel and that this passage is speaking of the re-establishment of the Jewish State in 1948. This has not been mentioned anywhere is the entire Olivet Discourse. The re-establishment of Israel has merely been assumed and presupposed in the passage, but, it has never been dealt with specifically. Furthermore, the usual scriptural symbol of Israel is the vine.
However, the real point of this passage is that the fig tree is being used literally as an illustration, not as a symbol for Israel. This is clearly seen from verse 29 of the Luke passage, which reads: Behold the fig tree, and all the trees. If the fig tree represents Israel, what then, do all the other trees represent? If they refer to the other nations, and since a number of nations have risen-and keep rising-since 1948, then when would the forty-year countdown really begin? Neither the fig tree nor the other trees are used symbolically to refer to any nation or nations; rather, they are being used as an illustration.
The point of the illustration is this: When fig trees and all the other trees begin to bloom it is a sure sign that summer is on its way, because blossoming occurs in the spring. Then, in application of the illustration, Jesus said: Even so ye also when ye see all these things, know that He is nigh, even at the doors. Just as a blossoming fig tree means that summer is on its way, in the same way, when these events that Yeshua spoke about occur, then they can know that His return is near.
But, what is it that signals the soon return of the Lord? It is not the re-establishment of Israel in 1948, because Jesus never mentioned that event in this passage. Rather, the event that He was speaking about was the Abomination of Desolation which is the topic that began this section of Scripture in Matthew 24:15. When the Abomination of Desolation occurs it will signal the soon return of the Messiah, namely only 3 1/2 years later. More specifically, it will be exactly 1,260 days from the Abomination of Desolation until the Second Coming.
Then Jesus stated that the generation that sees this event-the Abomination of Desolation-will still be around when the Second Coming of the Messiah occurs 3 1/2 years later. The point of verse 34 is not that the generation that sees the re-establishment of the Jewish State will still be here at the Second Coming, but rather, the Jewish generation that sees the Abomination of Desolation will still be here at the Second Coming. Verse 34 is intended to be a word of comfort in light of the worldwide attempt at Jewish destruction. It must be kept in mind that the Abomination of Desolation signals Satan’s and the Antichrist’s final attempt to exterminate the Jews. The fact that the Jewish generation will still be here when the Second Coming of the Messiah occurs shows that Satan’s attempt toward Jewish destruction will fail, and the Jewish saints of the second half of the Tribulation can receive comfort from these words.
The ‘coming” referred to in this passage is not the Rapture for which no signs are promised, but the Second Coming itself. This is evident from the Luke account, for He states that what the Abomination of Desolation signals is the coming of the Kingdom of God. The Millennial Kingdom will be a result of the Second Coming, not of the Rapture.
Again, the point of this section is not that the fig tree represents Israel in 1948, but rather, the fig tree is being used literally as an illustration. The point of the illustration is to provide a word of comfort that the worldwide attempt to destroy the Jews is destined for failure, for the Jewish generation that sees the Abomination of Desolation will still be around when the Messiah returns.
The fig tree has a regular pattern; the leaves appear, and then summer follows; when you see the leaves, you know summer is near.
Jesus assures us that when these signs appear as He as foretold (the abomination of desolation, followed by great tribulation, followed by signs in the heavens), His return to the earth will follow. Really, it was just as Daniel prophesied in Daniel 12:11; the end will come 1,290 days after the abomination of desolation. Jesus is assuring that the agonies of the great tribulation will not continue indefinitely; they will have an end.
Ref. Arnold Fruchtenbaum Footsteps of the Messiah