When Jesus spoke the Parable of the Fig Tree, what did He try to communicate to His listeners? What meaning is there for believers today?
Why Did Jesus Speak in Parables?
Jesus told the disciples and I believe He is telling believers today why He spoke in parables, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt 13:11). The parables are to reveal what has previously been hidden as a mystery and He wanted them and He wants us to “know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” He speaks these for our understanding but to those who refuse to bend the knee to Christ He spoke “to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matt 13:13).
The Fig Tree Parable
Jesus spoke the Parable or the Lesson of the Fig Tree in Matthew 24:32-35 as such: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Was Jesus purpose behind this lesson, as it is sometimes called “The Lesson of the Fig Tree,” that we should be aware that the time of the end of this age and Christ’s appearing will be when the fig tree starts putting out leaves? What does this mean? This parable comes during what is called the Olivet Prophecy which is about the time just prior to Jesus coming so it must be about the end of the present age…and just prior to His appearing a second time to judge the living and the dead. Some theologians believe and teach that He is speaking about the time leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Is it possible that there is a dual application to this teaching and that He is speaking both about the coming fall of Jerusalem and the end of the age?
Is the Summer the Time of Judgment?
When Jesus returns to judge the souls of men and women, is He giving us a clue as to when this great harvest is going to happen? In reality, everyone is just one heartbeat away from eternity and the judgment of God because we all have an appointment with death (Heb 9:27) and no one can know when that time is so we must always be ready for His appearing as He says “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt 24:44). Jesus has already said that “when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Matt 24:33) so it appears to fit the context of the end of the age. All one has to do to see that the world is becoming increasingly dangerous to live to simply watch the news. These are perilous times in which we live in and they appear to be growing more evil every day. Paul warned Timothy “that in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Tim 3:1) and so, are they here already? It seems so.
The Symbolism of the Branch
When Jesus mentions the branch in the Parable of the Fig Tree it reminded me of John 15 which appears to point to the Father as the Vinedresser and Jesus as the branch. In John 15:-3 He says “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” We have a winery nearby and when you take a close look at the vine, it closely resembles a tree branch and is not much different in size from one either. Is Jesus saying that when the branch puts forth its leaves then the time of His second coming is near? That’s what the conclusion of this parable is when He said “as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Matt 24:32b-33). If He will be very near to the gates then this means that He’s ready to come back again at any moment but this time He comes not as the mild and meek Lamb of God but as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, ready to judge the world in righteousness.
Jesus prophesied coming has been foretold by many of the prophets but the symbolism of His being a righteous Branch is found throughout the Old Testament like in Jeremiah 23:5 who wrote “Behold, the days come, says the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” Isaiah also writes something very similar; “In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel” (4:2) but what is the day he writes about? The day of His visitation or coming judgment as He will come as “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1). Since we know that Jesse’s son was David, this “stump” must be David and Jesus was of the line of David so there can be no doubt that this Branch is Jesus.
The specific purpose of Jesus’ giving the Parable of the Fig Tree and the other parables in Luke 21 is actually given in Luke 13:3 where He says “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” and “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6). If you don’t abide in the vine or the Branch, then you’ll be cut off and thrown into the fire which pictures hell fire…the fire that cannot be quenched (Mark 9:48). Jesus quoted Isaiah, His favorite Old Testament author, who wrote in Isaiah 66:2 about those who would reject Him that “they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” Not a future that I would envy for anyone, therefore I pray you consider repenting today and confessing your sins and then putting your trust in Christ if you have not already done so, for there is no other way to escape the great fire that is surely coming (Rev 20:15).
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon