During the last week of His life, Jesus delivered a detailed prophecy to His disciples about the end times. It has come to be known as “The Olivet Discourse” since it was delivered on the Mount of Olives after Jesus and His disciples had left the Temple Mount and crossed over the Kidron Valley. This discourse can be found in three of the Gospels: Matthew 24:3-25:46, Mark 13:3-37, and Luke 21:5-36.
Jesus ended this comprehensive speech about end-time signs with a parable that prophetically indicated the timing of His Second Coming.
Matthew 24:32-35: “Now learn the 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 too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
A Frequent Symbol
This was not the first time Jesus had used the symbolism of a fig tree to make a point. Earlier that year, while teaching in the Perean province on the eastern side of the Jordan River, Jesus had given His disciples another parable about a fig tree.
Luke 13:6-9: “And He began telling this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'”
This parable was a warning that if the Jewish people did not accept Jesus as Messiah, the wrath of God would be poured out on them, and their state would cease to exist. On the day Jesus made his entrance into Jerusalem (Sunday), he warned the Pharisees and Jewish people there would be no peace because they did not recognize the signs of His coming.
Luke 19:41-44: “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.'”
The day before His Olivet Discourse (Monday), Jesus gave His disciples another fig tree parable. This happened as they were walking from Bethany to Jerusalem by way of the Mount of Olives when they encountered a barren fig tree.
Mark 11:12-14, 19-22: “On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again!’ And His disciples were listening…. When evening came, they would go out of the city. As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Being reminded, Peter said to Him, ‘Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.’ And Jesus answered saying to them, ‘Have faith in God.'”
This was a classic symbolic prophecy. Like the fig tree, Israel had no fruit because the Jewish people had rejected Jesus as their Messiah. The curse Jesus placed on the tree was symbolic of the fact that the Jewish nation would experience the wrath of God and be set aside.
The next morning, as they returned to the Temple Mount (Tuesday), they saw that the tree had withered. Later that same day, after visiting the Temple, Jesus delivered His Olivet Discourse, and he reminded them of the fig tree. That’s when he told them to watch it because one day it would come alive again, and when that happened, the generation that witnessed it would also witness His return to earth. This is why He had told them that morning to “have faith in God.” Their state would be destroyed due to their rejection of their Messiah, but one day it would be re-established again.
Luke’s version of the fig tree parable, given on Mt. Olivet, provides us with additional insight as to the timing of the Lord’s return.
Luke 21:29-32: “Then He told them a parable: ‘Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.”
As you can see, Luke adds something that does not appear in Matthew’s account. Luke says that in addition to watching for the fig tree to come alive, we are to watch for “all the trees.” This is evidently a prophecy about the birth of many Gentile nations in the end times, at the same time that Israel is reborn as a sovereign state.
The Fig Tree
So, what about it? Has the fig tree come back to life? The Jewish people, displaced from their homeland for centuries, began showing signs of life during the second half of the 19th century (1850-1900) when waves of Jews (aliyah) started coming back to the land of Israel. Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the “Father of Zionism,” was the visionary behind the modern return of the Jewish people and the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland.1
Herzl organized the first world congress of Zionism that met in Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897 and became the first president of the World Zionist Organization.2 The goals of the organization were set forth in the Basel Program: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine, secured under public law.” 3
The Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917, paved the way for the United Nations partition resolution for Palestine on November 29, 1947, and the subsequent formation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948. The fig tree (Israel) came back to life during the first half of the 20th century (1900-1950), and Israel is now producing young figs (potential Jewish believers) that will be harvested at the end of the age (Zech. 13:8-9; Rom. 11:1-27; Rev. 12: 1-17).
“…As a terebinth tree or as an oak, whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump” (Isaiah 6:13).
“For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant” (Job 14:7-9).
“In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit” (Isaiah 27:6).
“And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more” (2 Samuel 7:10).
“Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit. I will also plant them on their land, and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them,’ says the Lord your God” (Amos 9:14-15).
The Other Trees
Trees are symbolic of nations, kingdoms, and empires in several places in the Bible (Daniel 4:10-27; Ezekiel 17:22-24, 31:1-18; and Judges 9:1-21). In Luke’s version of the fig tree parable, many trees are pictured as coming to life around the same time as the fig tree (Luke 21:29-32). Jesus said to “watch the fig tree and all the trees.”
When the branches become tender and begin producing leaves, which shows signs of life, you are to “know” that the generation that sees this take place will also be the generation that sees the kingdom of God established on earth. The generation that witnesses “the fig tree (Israel) and all the trees (Gentile nations)” come to life was specifically chosen by Jesus to be the generation that would “know” the kingdom of God was “near—at the doors!”
The parable of the fig tree did not say when “the fig tree and all the trees” put forth leaves, “we might know,” or “we should know,” that “the kingdom of God is near,” but rather, we were to definitely and emphatically “know” and “recognize” that “the kingdom of God is near.”
“So, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33 NASB).
“So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Mark 13:29 ESV).
“So also, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31 NKJV).
Jesus told His apostles before His ascension that it was not for them “to know the times or the seasons” when the kingdom of God would be established on earth (Acts 1:6-7). Rather, He reserved the understanding of this mystery about “the times and seasons” of His return for the generation that would see “the fig tree and all the trees” come back to life (Luke 21:29-32, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 5:1-11).
The Proliferation of Nations
Since the formation, expansion, division, dissolving, and reorganizing of nations are subject to wars, internal conflicts, and changes in leadership and governing bodies, the number of independent, sovereign states in the world has been subject to constant change. Factors for determining statehood have included independence dates, dates of constitutions, symbolic foundation dates, and, more recently, international recognition from the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations. Dates of national formation vary slightly among varied sources; however, the total number of independent, sovereign nations in the world today is considered to be 195-197 by several sources.4
Before the 20th century (1900), there were 44 countries that had achieved statehood. The 20th century (1900-2000) saw 147 new sovereign states added, with many splitting off from the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, and the Soviet Union. The first half of the 20th century (1900-1950) saw 38 new states created, while the second half (1950-2000) experienced an unprecedented addition of 109 new sovereign states. Only 5 nations have been recognized as sovereign states in the 21st century (2000 to date).5
The number of new states in the world multiplied quickly after World War II (1945) and continued at a rapid pace for the next 50 years. This proliferation of new states during the second half of the 20th century (1950-2000) abruptly ended on October 1, 1994, after Palau was granted recognition as a state. Only five nations have become sovereign states since 1994, with the last, South Sudan, receiving statehood on July 9, 2011.
Growth in Membership of the United Nations
Only independent, sovereign states can become members of the United Nations. There are currently 193 member states in the UN, with the last member, South Sudan, joining on July 14, 2011.6
There are currently 85 countries and territories not currently in the United Nations. 7 The Holy See (Vatican) accepted permanent observer state status on April 6, 1964, which was regarded as a diplomatic courtesy to enable the Vatican to participate in the UN’s humanitarian activities and in the promotion of peace.
On November 29, 2012, Palestine was granted the status of “Non-member observer state” but hasn’t yet been admitted to the UN as a full member. 8 As of 2019, there are two permanent non-member observer states in the General Assembly of the United Nations: the Holy See (Vatican) and Palestine. 9
The Overlooked Sign
Watching “all the trees,” as we now know, meant watching all the nations as they come alive in conjunction with the rebirth of Israel before the end of the age. The proliferation of new nations during the 20th century gave new meaning to Luke’s version of the parable of the fig tree when we were told: “watch . . . all the trees.”
“The fig tree” (Israel) officially came back to life in 1948, and “all the trees” (Gentile Nations) have come alive, some before and more after Israel became a nation in 1948. There were 75 states present in the world when Israel became a nation on May 14, 1948. After Israel’s rebirth as a nation, 120 nations have been recognized as independent, sovereign states. 10
The Pharisees and Sadducees were spiritually blind to the signs of Christ’s First Coming (Matthew 16:1-4). When they asked Him for a sign, Jesus acknowledged their ability to interpret the weather based upon the appearance of the sky, but they failed to grasp “the signs of the times” described in the Old Testament (OT) that were predicted by the OT prophets. How much more are many of the religious leaders of this generation blind to the “signs of the times” described in both the OT and NT that are heralding Jesus’ Second Coming!
After observing the coming to life of “the fig tree and all the trees” after World War II and during the second half of the 20th century (1950-2000), we can be assured, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the events that take place just before Jesus’ return are nearing fulfillment. This means His coming is “near, right at the door.”
According to Jesus’ words, when “the fig tree and all the trees” put forth leaves (come alive), we are to absolutely and confidently “know” the Kingdom of God is near, and the generation that is living at that time “will not pass away until all is fulfilled.” The preponderance of scriptural and global evidence is overwhelming that we are the generation Jesus was talking about.
1) “Theodor (Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl (1860-1904),” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/theodor-binyamin-ze-rsquo-ev-herzl
2) “Theodor Herzl: Austrian Zionist Leader,” David Ben-Gurion, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Theodor-Herzl
3) “Zionism: World Zionist Organization (WZO),” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/world-zionist-organization-wzo
4) “Independent States in the World,” Bureau of Intelligence and Research, https://www.state.gov/independent-states-in-the-world/
5) “List of Sovereign States by Date of Formation,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_by_date_of_formation
6) “UN welcomes South Sudan as 193rd Member State,” https://news.un.org/en/story/2011/07/381552
7) “Countries Not in the United Nations 2023,” https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/countries-not-in-the-un
8) “United Nations General Assembly Observers,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_observers
10) “List of Sovereign States by Date of Formation.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_by_date_of_formation