As a boy I remember feeling the rush of the wind strike my face, the sky grow dark as ominous clouds rolled in and covered the sun. Then the sounds of the thunder could be heard in the distance and the sky flashed. It was a time of great anticipation and excitement. Even though the storm was several miles away, it was clear to all that it was coming. The end times can be likened a great deal to a coming storm. We can see the storm coming and feel its effect even though it has not yet arrived fully. So it is with the Lord’s return, the signs are evident even though the event itself has not yet arrived.
Concerning the time of the Lord’s return, Jesus’ disciples asked him: “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3b). Jesus then began to describe the many things that would precede His second coming – many of which are being fulfilled before our eyes. Jesus said “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many,” (Matthew 24:5). Since 1900 there have been many dozens who have either claimed to be Jesus or the Christ in one form or another. Some of the most notable are Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church and David Koresh of the Branch Davidian religious sect, Ariffin Mohamed from Malaysia and Sergei Torop from Russia.
He then spoke of wars, rumors of war and nation against nation.
And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows, (Matthew 24:6-8).
Only in the twentieth century have we seen the entire world at war not just once but twice. The projected death toll for the Second World War alone is upwards of fifty million people – a number unheard of before in human history. The past century could easily be classified as wars, rumors of wars, nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom.
There are many signs of the Lord’s second coming just as there were for his first coming and the Lord rebuked the leaders of his day for not picking up on the revealed signs that were evident of his first coming.
When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12:54-56).
Just as the signs of the coming storm were obvious to me as a boy, so should those leaders have known that their Messiah was coming. Jesus noted that they could easily and successfully forecast the weather by simply looking at the sky yet failed to see (or at least to accept) the Messiah in front of them. We too see the last days’ signs that Jesus spoke about are either happening or about to happen in our day.
Knowing the Times and Seasons
Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians wrote that believers could and should know the times and seasons of the Lord’s (second) coming since they were not in the darkness like others.
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness,” (I Thessalonians 5:1-5).
Jesus likened all of the events mentioned above to birth pains by saying: “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains,” (Matthew 24:8). Just like for a woman in labor, the contractions will get closer and closer until finally the child is born, so it is if we were to consider today’s events in terms of giving birth, we might say that prophetically all that is left is to push the baby out. All that the Lord had said so far (discussed above) was a response to the disciples’ question “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
The Fig Tree is the Sign of His Coming
Jesus then gave an important sign to look for concerning his coming: the fig tree. The sign of his coming and the end of the age is the fig tree:
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, (Matthew 24:32-34).
The Fig Tree Is Israel
There are two obvious questions concerning this parable: who or what is the fig tree and how long is a generation? The answer to the first question is unmistakably Israel. God clearly compares Israel with a fig tree. The following verses are given in chronological order.
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).
Here God compares Israel to grapes and the fathers to fruits of the fig tree. Then in Joel He speaks of “my land” as being comparable to “my fig tree” again showing that Israel (both ethnically/nationally and geographically) is symbolized as a fig tree.
For a nation has come up against My land, strong, and without number; His teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he has the fangs of a fierce lion. 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 1:6-7).
Next God shows Jeremiah a vision of baskets of good figs and bad figs. Note that both the good and the bad are representative of Israel (Judah). The “good” are taken out of the land, that is, out of danger, and the “bad” are left to be judged.[i]
One basket had very good figs, like the figs that are first ripe; and the other basket had very bad figs which could not be eaten, they were so bad. Then the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “Figs, the good figs, very good; and the bad, very bad, which cannot be eaten, they are so bad.” “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: “Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge those who are carried away captive from Judah, whom I have sent out of this place for their own good, into the land of the Chaldeans. “And as the bad figs which cannot be eaten, they are so bad’–surely thus says the LORD–“so will I give up Zedekiah the king of Judah, his princes, the residue of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt, (Jer 24:2, 3, 5, 8).
Jesus continues the correlation of Israel with a fig tree during the final stage of His ministry. Keep in mind that Jesus had been ministering in Israel for about three years when He gave this parable. Just like the illustration of God seeking good fruit from His vineyard and finding none in Isaiah 5:1-7, so too Jesus, had come in person expecting to find some good fruit and found little or none.
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,’ (Luke 13:6-9).
That Jesus had Israel in mind is confirmed at the end of the chapter when He laments over Jerusalem because of their unwillingness to receive their Messiah and declares that their house is left desolate. Furthermore, the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem could in no way say “blessed is He…” so long as they were not living in the land of Israel (during the time of their exile).
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ (Luke 13:34-35).
The Cursed Tree
Jewish men were to present themselves before the Lord three times a year. Jesus came up to Jerusalem via Jericho on a number of occasions during the three plus years of His ministry in order to celebrate the feasts. There was a fig tree by the road (Matt 21:19) that He invariably must have seen on a number of occasions as He went up to Jerusalem. The day of the triumphal entry, as He came up from Jericho on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus must have seen the tree and noted that there was not any fruit on it – just as the land owner in the parable found none. Coming into Jerusalem, He was hailed as the Messiah by the masses. He then drove out the money changers from the temple foreshadowing his coming pronouncement that Israel, like the fig tree, was barren. In the evening He set out for Bethany to spend the night with His friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Bethany was on the same road which came up from Jericho). Returning to Jerusalem in the morning, Jesus passed by the fig tree, noted that there was no fruit on it when there should have been at least some early fruit. Seeing that the tree was unfruitful, He then cursed it.
And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away. (Matt 21:19)
Thus, just like His parable of the fig tree, He had come looking for fruit from the Jewish leadership for over three years finding none. They were like the barren fig tree with no fruit to be found and so He then pronounced judgment on the worthless tree causing it to die immediately which symbolized the nation. With all of that as our backdrop, we then come to the time markers that He gave us during the Olivet discourse, this time reading Luke’s account:
Then He spoke to them a parable: “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, (Luke 21:29- 30).
When Jesus commanded them to learn a parable from the fig tree, they must have had swirling in their minds the recent events of the parable and the cursed fig tree. The Hebrew Bible (OT) background makes it clear that Jesus is likening Israel to the fig tree and just as the fig tree withered, so too would Israel soon be destroyed by the Romans.
Israel was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and then again in 135 AD. After the second Jewish revolt they were warned not to return to Jerusalem upon the pain of death. They were then dispersed to the four corners of the earth – without a homeland for nearly 1900 years. Furthermore, the curse appears to apply to the land itself as well. Rabbi Menachem Kohen of Brooklyn discovered that the land of Israel “suffered an unprecedented, severe and inexplicable (by anything other than supernatural explanations) drought that lasted from the first century until the 20th – a period of 1,800 years coinciding with the forced dispersion of the Jews.” [ii] Journalist Joseph Farah, prompted by the research of Rabbi Kohen, later discovered that only after the Jews returned did the rain begin to come:
For 1,800 years, it hardly ever rained in Israel. This was the barren land discovered by Mark Twain. So-called “Palestine” was a wasteland – nobody lived there. There was no indigenous Arab population to speak of. It only came after the Jews came back. Beginning in A.D. 70 and lasting until the early 1900s – about 660,000 days – no rain.
I decided to check this out as best I could and examined the rainfall data for 150 years in Israel beginning in the early 1800s and leading up to the 1960s. What I found was astonishing – increasing rainfall almost every single year – with the heaviest rainfall coming in and around 1948 and 1967.[iii]
Then after those many years and just as Isaiah had foretold, Israel was born in one day:
Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth[iv] be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, She gave birth to her children, (Isaiah 66:8).
On May 14, 1948 Israel (the fig tree) declared independence and then was ratified as a nation by edict of the United Nations and literally was born in one day. 1948[v] becomes the year by which a generation can be measured against.
[i] This is analogous to the rapture in that the “good” are taken out of the land and the “bad” are left to be judged.
[ii] Retrieved October 4, 2010 from: http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.printable&pageId=65288. Thanks to my friend Bob Rico for bringing this to my attention.
[iv] Could the earth be a representation of the UN?
[v] An interesting circumstantial confirmation of the 1948 date is found concerning the birth of Abraham. According to biblical chronology (reading from the Masoretic text) he was born 1,948 years after creation (Anno Mundi). While that calculation is based on the year of creation and not the Gregorian calendar, the same number is striking. Furthermore, the date of Abraham receiving the covenant in Genesis 15 was given 2,018 years anno mundi. Given that the birth of Abraham, the father of the nation, and the rebirth of the nation both occurred in the same year (on their respective calendars), is it possible that AD 2,018 (on the Gregorian calendar) will also be significant?