The Last Days and Signs of Christ’s Return
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”, He identified four types of end-time sign:
- Signs in the world – wars and great natural disasters
- Signs in the church – apostasy, false Christs, and persecution
- Signs in the heavens – fearful astronomical events
- Signs in Palestine – emergence of national Israel, and Middle East conflict
Jesus said that when we see these signs then “know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21.31). In Mathew 24.33 He said, “know that (the end) is near – at the doors“. Consider the last point. Prophecy says that the last days timeline (chronology of major end-time world events) is closely tied to the people and land of Israel. Put simply, when world events center on Israel then we are near – very near – to the end of the age. Jesus said that when Israel emerges onto the world scene, those who are watching will know that His return is imminent, even “at the doors“. At this time, Israel will become a visible sign for the nations, a sign of the reality of the God of the Bible. As prophecy says:
He will set up a sign (Israel) for the nations (Isa 11.12)
We will examine the last days timeline and how it relates to Israel, but first it is necessary to understand the Parable of the Fig Tree. This is the key to unlocking the mystery of what is now happening in the world.
Israel and the Parable of the Fig Tree
After describing the end-time signs to watch for (signs in the world, signs in the church, and signs in the heavens), Jesus ends with a parable – a simple illustration of a deeper concept. He told His disciples:
Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near – at the doors!
Some argue that Jesus was just using a simple horticultural observation, namely that the fig tree is one of the last trees to bud in the spring and so when it’s leaves are budding know that summer is just around the corner. So, they argue, Jesus was simply saying; “when the fig tree buds you know that summer is near – likewise …”, and they deny that the fig tree is symbolic of the end time ‘budding’ of national Israel, link. On the other hand, Jesus used the concept of parable, implying that He was teaching a much deeper meaning. In particular He said (Luke 21.29):
Look at the fig tree, and all the trees
Why single out the fig tree and then refer to all the other trees? Some see this as a veiled reference to Israel (the fig tree) and all the other nations (all the other trees). In fact, as explained below, seeing Israel as a fig tree has strong biblical justification.
A Little Horticulture
The common or edible fig (Ficus carica L.) is native to the Mediterranean region, where it can produce three crops per year, link. Pollination (caprification) of the common fig can markedly increase fig size, link and is done by fig wasps transporting pollen from Capri fig flowers. Flowering is from April to July. Ficus carica was cultivated for its fruit thousands of years ago and figs are often referred to in the Old Testament. In fact, the Bible refers to three crops as:
- ‘early, first ripe, first fruit before the summer, very good figs’ (Isa 28.4; Jer 24.2,3; Hos 9.10) – a relatively small crop with the best flavour, June-July
- ‘sweetness and good fruit, the season for figs, (Judg 9.11, Mk 11.13) – main crop, August-September. Made into cakes for winter use (1 Sam 25.18)
- ‘green, bad, inedible’ figs (Song 2.13; Jer 24.2,3) – green or winter figs, small, unripened, unsweetened, inedible fruit, link
As with most fruit trees, the breba figs develop in the Spring (May) on the previous year’s shoot growth. They are inferior to the main crop and are often discarded. But, in contrast to most fruit trees, the Autumn figs (the main crop) develop on the new wood that grows in the Spring.
Spiritual Implication to Israel
The horticulture of figs identifies good sweet figs, especially the first of the summer figs, and poor, unripe and often inedible figs. The significant point here is that the Bible associates these qualities with the people of Israel. For instance, the ‘fathers of Israel’ or Patriarchs are seen as the best figs – the firstfruits of the summer crop:
“I found Israel .. your fathers as the first fruits on the fig tree” (Hos 9.10)
God sees this minority of Israel as the first and best of the nation. These figs contrast with the green, inedible figs and both types of fig symbolize the people of Judah before their deportation to Babylon; they are seen as good and bad figs:
The LORD said to me ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ And I said, ‘Figs, the good figs, very good, and the bad, very bad (Jer 24.3)
Jeremiah 24.5-8 shows that God is referring to those Jews who are whole-hearted followers of God (the good figs), and to those rebellious Jews who had rejected God (the bad figs). Likewise, in the time of Christ, most Jews rejected Him and remained dead in their works and legalism – like green, unripened, unsweetened figs. Today, most Jews can be seen as green figs, whilst a few (the messianic Jews) are like sweetened ripe figs.
The consequences of rebellion against God is well illustrated in the incidence of the ‘Withered fig tree’ (Mat 21.18,19). Jesus found no fruit, (apparently not even the unripe breba crop) and so He cursed it and it died. This was prophetic, looking to the destiny of the Jews when they were to be scattered by the Romans in 70 AD. The nation of Israel seemingly died. In contrast, Jesus gave an extremely important prophecy that applies to our time. To repeat our previous discussion:
Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near – at the doors! (Mat 24.32,33)
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 also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom is near (Lk 21.29-31)
Note that Jesus refers to the tender branch, implying new wood and the coming good summer fruit on the new wood. Since the fruit of the fig tree is established in the Old Testament as symbolizing the spiritual state of the people of Israel, many see this coming ‘summer crop’ as the restoration of the people of Israel (generically referred to as ‘Jews’). The fruitless dead wood of scattered Israel is replaced by fruit on new wood, a people drawn back into their own land and a nation that becomes a sign to the Gentiles, link. A remnant of this people become ‘the good, sweet crop’, and messianic Jews drawn from the twelve tribes of Israel will evangelize the Gentile nations at the very end of this age:
I looked and saw a great multitude … of all the nations … clothed with white robes … these are the one’s who come out of the great tribulation (Rev 7.9,14).
Summary: The Last Days Timeline is tied to Israel
When Jesus spoke of the appearance of new shoots on the fig tree signalling that summer is near, He was really saying that His return and the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom of God is near – even “at the doors”. In Luke 21 He said “look at the fig tree (Israel) and all the trees” (the Gentile nations) and so observe the signs of the times. He implied that Israel will be the vortex of the nations.
So let’s now apply the parable of the fig tree to the recent world scenario and ask the questions like, “When did the fig tree (Israel) start to bud?” and “When did Israel emerge onto the world scene?” When we trace a timeline of world events from this time we find that many issues of the day are closely linked to Israel! We see that Israel is increasingly the vortex of the world.
The timeline below is best viewed on desktops, laptops and tablets.
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