Throughout the centuries, people have
longed to know which generation will witness the return of Jesus Christ.
Interestingly, the answer to that question appeared in the form of a fig
tree nearly two thousand years ago.
Jesus Curses the Fig Tree
Both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark
tell the following story of Jesus and His encounter with that fig tree:
"In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem,
he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to
see if there were any figs on it, but there were only leaves. Then he said
to it, 'May you never bear fruit again!' And immediately the fig tree
withered up. The disciples were amazed when they saw this and asked, 'How
did the fig tree wither so quickly?' Then Jesus told them, 'I assure you, if
you have faith and don't doubt, you can do things like this and much more.
You can even say to this mountain, 'May God lift you up and throw you into
the sea,' and it will happen. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask
for in prayer"
(Matthew 21:18-22, NLT).
Although not spoken to His disciples in
the form of a parable, this story about the fig tree and its lack of fruit
strikes at the heart of the gospel message.
The Meaning of the Curse
The disappointment of Jesus with the
fig tree is an extremely significant event. At first glance, one might think
Jesus is merely upset with an actual tree that failed to feed Him when He
was hungry. But the fig tree and its fruit play a much larger role. They are
the nation of Israel and its faith.
In Jeremiah 24, the people of Israel
are compared to figs, both good and rotten. When Jesus cursed the fig tree,
He symbolically placed a curse on Israel. The reason for the curse is
straightforward. The fig tree (Israel) failed to bear fruit (faith), even
though its leaves indicate it was in season (the appointed time for the
coming of the Messiah). Due to its lack of fruit, the fig tree withered.
Likewise, Israel's lack of faith when presented with her Messiah led to her
eventual destruction at the hands of the Romans in
What Is Good Fruit?
Jesus cursed the fig tree because of
its refusal to bear fruit, and in so doing, He makes it clear that He
expects His followers to bear fruit as well—and not just any kind of fruit,
but, specifically, good fruit.
If Jesus expects us to bear good fruit,
it's essential to know what constitutes good fruit in the first place. What
is good fruit? And how do we bear it? Paul defines "good fruit" in his
letters to the Galatians and the Philippians:
"But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will
produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23,
This is the fruit we should produce:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
and self-control. Why? Because ultimately, the good fruit we bear comes from
faith in Jesus Christ:
"May you always be filled with the fruit of your
salvation--those good things that are produced in your life by Jesus
Christ--for this will bring much glory and praise to God" (Philippians 1:11,
Good fruit should never be confused
with the world's definition of good works. Good fruit is born in the heart
and blossoms outward into the world. Its only motive is Jesus Christ. But
good works as defined by the world can have many motives, sometimes even
evil motives. Yet, no matter how justified we feel in our own eyes, God will
always measure our inner motives, never our outward deeds. Placing our trust
and faith in Jesus Christ will inevitably produce the good fruits Paul
mentioned in his letter to the Galatians. When we exhibit these good fruits,
the world will witness through our lives the glory that is Jesus Christ.
Good Fruit vs. Bad Fruit
To make sure we're producing good fruit
and not bad fruit, we need to know how to tell the difference. Before He
placed the curse on the fig tree, Jesus warned His disciples to beware of
false prophets and teachers. In fact, He used fruit as a metaphor for
identifying the righteous from the evil, explaining that if a tree doesn't
bear fruit, it will be chopped down and thrown into the fire:
"Beware of false prophets who come disguised as
harmless sheep, but are really wolves that will tear you apart. You can
detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its
fruit. You don't pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles. A
healthy tree produces good fruit, and an unhealthy tree produces bad fruit.
A good tree can't produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can't produce good
fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and
thrown into the fire. Yes, the way to identify a tree or a person is by the
kind of fruit that is produced" (Matthew 7:15-20, NLT).
A good tree will bear good fruit, and a
bad tree will produce rotten fruit. Therefore, you can always identify the
righteous and the evil based on what they produce.
God's great commandment is to believe
in the one He has sent. Those who do will bear good fruit as a natural
result. This is because Jesus is the branch on which all good fruit grows,
and His righteous branch can't help but bear good fruit. Long ago, the
prophet Isaiah identified the Messiah as the branch of Jesse:
"Out of the stump of David's family will grow a
shoot--yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root" (Isaiah 11:1, NLT).
If the generation that rejected Jesus
had instead made Him the basis of their faith, the very root of their
spiritual sustenance, then they would have borne good fruit that is pleasing
to the Lord.
So what do good fruit, bad fruit, and a
barren fig tree have to do with the timing of the Second Coming of Christ?
To find out, we must first understand why the fig tree had to wither.
The Withered Fig Tree
Why did the fig tree have to wither in
the first place? Why did the generation which witnessed the birth of Christ
lack faith in God's promise of the coming Messiah? They committed to memory
the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, and they knew the exact year
in which the Messiah would appear in Jerusalem. Yet, because they lacked
faith, they failed to recognize the time of His Coming. As a result, an
entire generation failed to produce fruit for the Messiah. But why?
Although the Jews didn't plan to reject
the Messiah, God did have a plan. His plan was to spread the salvation of
Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. Israel's lack of faith was integral
to this process, providing the catalyst for God to offer this salvation to
the Gentiles as well. As a result, the salvation God had previously reserved
for the Jews alone was offered to the entire world:
"For since the Jews' rejection meant that God offered
salvation to the rest of the world, how much more wonderful their acceptance
will be. It will be life for those who were dead! And since Abraham and the
other patriarchs were holy, their children will also be holy. For if the
roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too. But some of these
branches from Abraham's tree, some of the Jews, have been broken off. And
you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, were grafted in. So
now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children,
sharing in God's rich nourishment of his special olive tree. But you must be
careful not to brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were
broken off. Remember, you are just a branch, not the root. 'Well,' you may
say, 'those branches were broken off to make room for me.' Yes, but
remember—those branches, the Jews, were broken off because they didn't
believe God, and you are there because you do believe. Don't think highly of
yourself, but fear what could happen. For if God did not spare the branches
he put there in the first place, he won't spare you either. Notice how God
is both kind and severe. He is severe to those who disobeyed, but kind to
you as you continue to trust in his kindness. But if you stop trusting, you
also will be cut off. And if the Jews turn from their unbelief, God will
graft them back into the tree again. He has the power to do it. For if God
was willing to take you who were, by nature, branches from a wild olive tree
and graft you into his own good tree—a very unusual thing to do—he will be
far more eager to graft the Jews back into the tree where they belong"
(Romans 11:15-24, NLT).
When Israel rejected Jesus Christ, she
opened the door to salvation for the Gentiles. But God never forgot His
promise to Israel, and He promises the day will come when Israel will fully
embrace the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
A Second Chance for Israel
Just as Paul stated in his letter to
the Romans, the Lord hasn't forgotten Israel. She will have one more chance
to bear fruit for her Messiah, and this opportunity is the key to
understanding the hour of Christ's return. Jesus illustrates this when He
tells a parable about a planted fig tree:
"Then Jesus used this illustration: 'A man planted a
fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any
fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his
gardener, "I've waited three years, and there hasn't been a single fig! Cut
it down. It's taking up space we can use for something else." The gardener
answered, "Give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I'll give it
special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine.
If not, you can cut it down."'" (Luke 13:6-9, NLT).
For three years, Jesus spread His
message throughout Israel, performing miracles, exhibiting unprecedented
knowledge of the Scriptures and offering ample evidence of His claim to be
the long-awaited Messiah. Yet despite three years of testimony, Israel
refused to believe in the one who was sent.
According to this parable, Israel will
get one more year with "special attention and plenty of fertilizer." If she
still fails to bear fruit, she will be cut down (destroyed).
As Jesus reveals, Israel will be given
a final chance to exhibit faith in Him in the last days, just prior to His
glorious appearing. To do so, Israel must first become a nation once again,
a miraculous feat that took place in May 1948. The reestablishment of Israel
as a nation is the foremost sign to our generation that Christ's return is
imminent. And that's why the fig tree is the key to understanding which
generation will witness His Second Coming. Through the nation of Israel, God
has given the world a sign that is impossible to ignore. Nevertheless, most
of the world has chosen to ignore it.
The Sign of Our Generation
In the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24),
Jesus revealed to His disciples that the primary sign of the end of the age
and His soon return would be the restoration of Israel as a nation. However,
He didn't plainly say so. Instead, He once again used the fig tree as a
metaphor for the nation of Israel:
"Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its buds
become tender and its leaves begin to sprout, you know without being told
that summer is near. Just so, when you see the events I've described
beginning to happen, you can know his return is very near, right at the
door. I assure you, this generation will not pass from the scene before all
these things take place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will
remain forever" (Matthew 24:32-35, NLT).
The fig tree is Israel. It's been six
decades since Israel was once again declared a nation against all worldly
odds. In Matthew 24, Jesus promises that the generation that witnesses the
reestablishment of Israel will not die off until the end of the age comes to
pass. Given the Bible's impeccable track record, we have every reason to
expect His imminent return. Jesus will return soon, within our generation,
and a wise person will prepare accordingly.
Just as the time of His first coming
was clearly revealed to the previous generation, the season of His return
has been clearly revealed to ours. The previous generation was unprepared
for His arrival. Ours should be watching with a patient and enduring faith,
fully confident in the glory we are about to witness. Christ is coming. The
fig tree is in bloom, and ours is the generation.
Britt Gillette is founder of
BrittGillette.Com, a website examining the relationship between Bible
prophecy and emerging trends in technology. For more information or to sign
up for his email alerts, please visit http://www.brittgillette.com.