Timeline: The Fig Tree Sign
Most people in the English speaking world are familiar with "the calendar." Go to any book store and a wide assortment of annual calendars are for sale. In this article we look at the purposes of calendars generally an introduce the topic of different calendars.
The Bible is a written account of many people who have had encounters with God at various times in history. Most of the stories in the Bible have distinctly personal meanings while at the same time also capture the overall flow of human history.
The first really big story involves God’s first harsh judgment of the entire human race, Noah’s flood. In this account the Bible teaches that God is a God of justice and will punish sin, even the collective sin of the entire human race. At the end of the flood, God enters into covenant with Noah, promising not to destroy the world again in a flood, though he reserved the right to destroy the world by fire.
Several millennia pass after Noah’s time before the Bible’s story turns to Abraham and God’s plan of redemption. Again God uses a covenant to seal the promises he makes with Abraham, promises to bless him, bless all nations through his offspring, to increase his numbers to unimaginable amounts, and to give Abraham’s descendants certain pieces of land.
To seal this covenant God appeared to Abraham as a smoking firepot and passed through cut halves of several animals that Abraham had placed on the ground. Abraham did not walk between the pieces so nothing was expected of Abraham, only God, visible in the form of a smoking firepot, passed through and entered covenant with Abraham.
The symbolism was strong: Should God ever break his part of the bargain, an impossibility, then Abraham or his descendants could dismember God, like the animals halves through which the firepot passed.
Eventually Abraham is tested and asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. This is the son through whom the promises are to fulfill. At the last minute Abraham receives his son and a ram, caught by its horns in a thicket, is sacrificed instead. At this the covenant becomes totally unconditional, God swears completely by himself that he will do all he had promised for Abraham.
The covenant does not unfold immediately, but takes time to develop. Isaac’s son Jacob, the third generation to hold Abraham’s promises, grows his family to 70 members before fleeing famine to Egypt. After 430 years in Egypt the family has grown far larger, now over 600,000 households. At the time of the Exodus from Egypt the nation again turns to the issue of covenant making and using much the same symbolism as Abraham and the cut animals, the nation enters into another covenant with God himself.
Building on top of the earlier covenants, Moses and the ancient Israelites are promised a specific piece of ground and numerous national blessings if they pay careful attention to obey a series of detailed laws spelled out through Moses. If they do not pay attention, do not keep the Mosaic law, then they will have various hardships fall on them including eventual dispersion to the nations.
This time the covenant is conditional God does not pass through the pieces alone, but but passes with the entire nation through the parted halves of the Red Sea. "Seas" in the Bible always represent peoples and the main figurative meaning of the parted Red Seas is this: Should the nation break this covenant the nation will be divided by civil war and thrown back into the gentile peoples.
Of course the nation could not keep up its end of the bargain. Before the nation had been in the land 500 years, civil war erupted between Jeroboam, king of Israel and Rehoboam, king of Judah. The division and war seriously weakened the country and about 775 years after leaving Egypt, the Assyrians invaded and removed nearly all of the inhabitants of the land promised under oath through Moses. Only a small remnant, those who withstood the Assyrian assault from within the walls of the fortified city of Jerusalem, remained in the land. What had been over 600,000 families at the exodus from Egypt, was now a few thousand families. All the rest of the people under the Sinai Covenant had been spread out to other nations, the sign the covenant had been broken.
Protection in the Diaspora
In a little noticed account buried deep inside the Book of Jeremiah, God pleads with those who will listen, and leave, ancient Judah.
5"This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. Jeremiah 24:5 NIV
5Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good.them…: Heb. the captivity Jeremiah 24:5 KJV
God warns through Jeremiah the only way to remain under God’s blessing is to leave the region of Judah and go to the land of the Chaldeans, where God will still look after his people for their good.
This warning stood for 19 years. During this time the leadership at Jerusalem, thinking they still had God’s favor, made a treaty with the Egyptians in hope of breaking the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar. The plan backfired and triggered a Babylonian invasion. In the 909th year from the Exodus city of Jerusalem was burned to the ground and abandoned. The good figs, as Jeremiah’s prophecy had explained, were safely transplanted into Babylonia where they would increase and prosper as their respective cities prospered.
A Remnant Returns
After 70 years a remnant from Babylon, following a call placed on them by God himself, returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. This remnant operated under Babylonian authority and never regained the national sovereignty enjoyed by David or his descendants. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah both chronicle the palace intrigue that transpired around the local Judean governors and various appeals to the king in Babylon.
Just in time for the millennial celebrations of the era, the Second Temple, along with a rebuilt Jerusalem wall, were rededicated just before 1000 years from Egypt, right at the start of a roughly 500 year period between the old and new testaments.
Throughout this time various levels of independence were enjoyed by the residents of Jerusalem, but never was the nation anything more than an outpost of distant empires. By the time of Jesus the city was now in Roman hands and under the direction of a Roman governor.
It was into this environment that Jesus began to make statements about the Jewish remnant in the area in his day, and about their future.
Jesus Curses a Fig Tree
At the start of the last week of his earthly life Jesus was on the road back to the city of Jerusalem after spending a night in Bethany. He came across a fig tree...
19Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.
20When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked.
21Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. Matthew 21:19-21 NIV
19And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.en autee (thereon) - autee empty ei mee (but) - mee empty 20And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! 21Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. Matthew 21:19-21 KJV
Jesus never acted like this in a vacuum. All of his actions were based on stories already recorded in the Bible. In this case he was invoking two Bible stories and linking them together. The first Bible story was the figs of Jeremiah.
Figs are those people who had a choice to leave their roots in Jerusalem. In Nebuchadnezzar’s time more than 19 years of warnings preceded the burning down of the city. Bad figs were those people who stayed behind in Jerusalem. Those were the ones who did not bear fruit for the kingdom of God. In his actions, Jesus picks up the same theme and shows that the tree, the city and Jewish religious system based in Jerusalem, would never bear fruit again.
Lest the meaning be lost on his disciples Jesus reinforced the message by a deliberate reference to the seas and a mountain. The seas were the two halves of the "animal" that the ancient Israelites had passed between as they left Egypt. Breaking covenant was met with dispersion into the nations, into the seas.
The "mountain" referenced here by Jesus is a quote from the Book of Daniel where a mountain is equated to a government. Here Jesus suggests it is both people and an entire governmental and religious system that will be cast into the surrounding peoples for having broken covenant.
Of course this has already happened once in history and would happen again about 40 years future from this point in history. The fig tree would not bear fruit again.
The Mosaic covenant was entered into by passing through a parted Red Sea. Walking between to halves of an animal cut into 2 pieces was an ancient symbolic act that represented covenant making. Walking through the waters of the parted Red Sea had the same meaning at the time of Moses. Should the ancient Israelites break covenant, as they later did, they too would be cast back into the seas, the gentile peoples, and be removed from the promised land.
When Jesus cursed the fig tree and spoke over it and said it would never bear fruit again, he explained it was the same as a mountain, biblically a government, or people group, being cast into the seas, the gentile world. Who was it Jesus was referring to? The fig tree and the mountain are the same. They are the remnant in control of Jerusalem and the temple at the time of Jesus.
Within 40 years of Jesus’ time in Jerusalem, the length of time suggested by the sign of Jonah, the Romans invaded Jerusalem and burned down the Temple. They crucified thousands and sold the rest into slavery. Anyone living in Jerusalem who wanted to avoid such a fate had fled the area as per the warnings given by Jesus in this very chapter.
The religion of Judaism, based at Jerusalem would not bear fruit for God any longer. Like a fig tree without fruit, so too would this fig tree wither.
The return of the Jews
Later in the last week of Jesus’ ministry he made a comment to his disciples that the Temple at Jerusalem would be torn down, and that not even 1 stone would remain.
This so shocked the disciples that they came to him in private and asked when it would happen. They also asked, apparently thinking it the same question, what the sign would be of his return and of the end of the age.
3As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" Matthew 24:3 NIV
3¶And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?kat idian (privately) - kat empty Matthew 24:3 KJV
The question, "When will this happen?" is the usual question asked of anyone who warns of future destruction. Jesus proceeded to explain many things about that period. One of the things Jesus did was reference back to the fig tree and the parable he had already used to teach about these things.
32"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Matthew 24:32 NIV
32Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:hotan eedee (When) - Matthew 24:32 KJV
This is the same fig tree lesson as first explained in Jeremiah and as used earlier with the fig tree on his way in from Bethany. The same fig tree The sign that Jesus is referring to here is the sign of the fig tree, a sign Jesus uses to explain that summer, the season without storms, is near.
Jesus goes on to explain that the timing of this return is unknown, unknown to anyone on earth, unknown even to the angels.
36¶But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.ei mee (but) - mee empty Matthew 24:36 KJV
36"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Matthew 24:36 NIV
Jesus will go on to say that 1 generation, a period of 80 years, will span from this sign up to and including the end of this age.
explain to Jeremiah that those living in Jerusalem would be hauled away. Only good figs, those who were exiles to Babylonia, would be watched over and cared for by the Lord himself. Those who remained would be bad figs, so bad they could not be eaten.
Jesus had picked up on the fig tree symbol earlier in Matthew when he cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit. The fig tree still symbolized the Jewish people of the first century who were not bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.
Now, here on the Mount of Olives, Jesus draws on the fig tree sign once again and explains that the fig tree will start to bud, in preparation for bearing fruit, and that will be the sign that the age is about to close.
Two related but fundamentally different systems exists for measuring time. The first system breaks the day down into hours, minutes and seconds, providing for successively smaller units of time. The smallest named unit of time, seconds, is broken down even further allowing the measurement of microscopic time intervals.
Fractions of a day, especially hours and minutes, are important to most people living in the western world because these time units form the basis for marking time for the daily routines of most modern life. Because the daily routine is so common, most people have a built in, innate, sense of the time intervals that make up individuals days.
The other time measurement system used by people bunches days into successively longer intervals of time. This area of time measurement bunches days into weeks, months and years. Because there are so few years in a typical life span most people have little or no innate sense of "calendared" time. Indeed, as people grow older their innate sense of calendared time usually changes. Years seem to young people as a very long interval of time, while to older people years seem quite short.
Bible Prophecy operates almost exclusively in the area of long term, "calendared" time. Predicted prophetic dates from the pages of the Bible have been spread across the past 2000 years. For most of the past 2 millennia it was unusual for even 1 predicted date to land within someone’s lifetime. With the Jewish return to the modern nation of Israel the rate of predicted prophetic dates began to change. By the start of the Persian Gulf War in 1990 the dates where happening at about the rate of 1 per year. By the summer of 2000 the rate had changed still further and was happening at about 1 date per month. Until the end of 2010 the rate of prophetic dates remains relatively high, so anyone interested in the Bible’s prophetic time riddles has many years to reap a return from careful study of calendared time.
The Bible Time story begins in 1582, when Joseph Scalinger introduced the Julian Day Numbering system...
These rates are still well outside of the innate time sense that most people have, but these rates are still so quick that they deserve special understanding. By learning about time, and learning how time works, anyone who cares to know can learn alot about the headlines and the progression of prophetic headlines now going on in headline news.