"The Fig Tree and All the Trees"

The fig tree is one of the more frequently mentioned trees in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Beginning in Genesis 3:7, And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. Adam and Eve made their first clothing from fig leaves to cover their nakedness, while in Revelation 6:13 we read, and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind, likening the effects of the sixth seal on the nations to the figs that came in winter and did not ripen but fell to the ground in the spring.

The fig was a nutritious fruit harvested in spring and early fall (the spring fruit being the best). The fig tree was an important source of food as well as important for its symbolism. It is identified with the nation of Israel as mentioned in the Old Testament prophecy of Hosea: I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first ripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved (9:10). Jeremiah received the vision of the two baskets of figs which also represented Israel: Thus 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 (24:5). By far the most important lesson found associated with the fig tree has to be the Lord Jesus pronouncing judgment on a fruitless fig tree. Some might ask why Christ would place a curse on a fruitless tree, particularly when it appears it was out of season to begin with. Was that fair, did the fruitless tree just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? We will investigate to see if we can answer these questions and others about the connection of the fig tree with the nation of Israel and as a prophetic sign of the coming Kingdom of God.

In the sequence of events that occurred at the beginning of the last week of Jesus' life and ending with his crucifixion, Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey colt but late in the day, Jesus and his disciples retired to Bethany about two miles outside Jerusalem. Early the next morning on the way back to Jerusalem, Jesus saw a fig tree afar off with leaves and came to it if haply he might find anything thereon; but the Scripture records he found nothing but leaves, for the time of figs was not yet. Jesus pronounced a curse on the fig tree: No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever (Mark 11:14). Christ then continued on to Jerusalem and the Temple where he cast out the money changers. That evening Christ and the disciples again went out of the city.

The following morning, traveling on the same road, Peter notices that the same fig tree that Jesus had cursed was now dried up and calls Jesus' attention to it. Jesus responds to Peters observation by saying, Have faith in God and instructs them on the power of faith and prayer (Mark 11:20-26). What is hard for many to understand was why Christ would curse a fruitless tree, particularly when it was out of season. Was it because Christ was hungry and had to look elsewhere for food; did he lose his temper because he was hungry? The answer to these questions, as we know, is that Christ knew exactly what he was doing. It has been suggested that what Jesus was looking for were not figs but green knobs about as big as an almond, which the Palestinian peasants eat today and call These appear sometime before the leaves, but always in the budding time, and, after growing to the size of nuts, fall off to make way for the real fruit. Therefore a fig tree without tagsh in the early stage will have no figs later on.

Throughout the Old Testament fig trees are mentioned in relation to Israel as both a blessing and a symbol of God's people. The promised land was described as a land of not only milk and honey, but also a land of vines and figs (Deuteronomy 8:8). When God chose Israel, we're told He delighted in them, as one who finds the first ripe in the fig tree at her first time as mentioned above in Hosea. Solomon's peaceful kingdom was a land where Israel "dwelt safety," every man under his vine and under his fig tree (1 Kings 4:25). Also the coming time of peace is described as every man under his vine and under his fig tree (Micah 4:4), establishing the fruitful fig tree as a symbol of God's blessing of peace and prosperity.

On the other hand, just the opposite is true of a barren and withered fig tree which served as a symbol of God's assessment and judgment against Israel. In Jeremiah 8:13 we read, I will surely consume them, saith the LORD: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them. Speaking of God's judgment by an invading nation, Joel says, He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white (1:7). Through such examples we understand what Christ was trying to tell his disciples, showing them that he was foretelling woe and doom on Israel because of their disobedient, rebellious behavior and fruitlessness.

The withered fig tree seems to be the only miracle in which Jesus used his power to destroy or do away with something. All his other miracles were done for the benefit of men, multiplying the bread, turning water into wine, healing of diseases and resurrecting the dead. Was this miracle out of character for Jesus, who when it was suggested that he destroy the wicked, replied, But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of (Luke 9:55)? The facts point to Christ's exceptional character and the fig tree's symbolic meaning, not to Jesus merely acting out of disappointment.

How soon was Christ's prophecy of the withered fig tree to be fulfilled? The temple would be destroyed in the year A.D. 70. No longer was there a place or opportunity to offer sacrifices and serve the Lord according to the law. Jerusalem would fall into ruin and the nation would be run out of their land and finally scattered throughout the world. Christ then speaking about the time of his coming Kingdom turns his disciples' attention once again to the fig tree with a parable, Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors (Matthew 24:32-33). It should be noted that this parable was spoken on the same day that the barren fig tree was cursed; would we not assume that when Christ told them to watch for signs to take place on that very same kind of fruit tree it was no coincidence? As a result of the Jews rejection of Christ, God's favor was turned away from them as shown in the withered tree. We can also link the words from the prophet Ezekiel to this parable of the fig tree as he spoke in Ezekiel 17:24, And all the trees of the field shall know that I the LORD have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the LORD have spoken and have done it.

In Luke's recording of the parable of the fig tree, Christ added the words "all the trees," And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand (Luke 21:29-30). Many nations have come into being since Christ spoke these words, more so in these last days. The Jews have continued to return to Israel since it was declared a state in 1948 - we see that Israel has indeed been shooting forth leaves. Since the beginning of the 20th century many independent nations have been born, more trees shooting forth leaves. For example in 1945 there were 51 member nations in the United Nations; in 1970 there were 127 including Israel and today there are 192: Behold the fig tree and all the trees.

Of particular interest is the emergence of the "tree" nations in the Middle East surrounding Israel. Though the Arab League would have the world believe that Israel is a new nation, a stranger having no place in the midst of their nation members which have been there for centuries, nothing could be further from the truth. The Middle Eastern Arab nations that now exist were brought into existence out of the territory liberated from the Turkish Ottoman Empire after WW1. For instance, Iraq became an independent nation in 1932; Syria in 1946; Lebanon in 1932 and Jordan in 1946 (Congressional Record − House, April 9, 2002). Even Egypt, ruled by the Byzantines and Ottomans from the 7th Century and later occupied by French and British Empire builders, became a British protectorate in 1914 and was declared by Britain an independent nation in 1922. The 1950's, 60's and 70's saw a number of new Arab nations come into existence, among which are Libya, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The attention of the whole world is turned to Israel and to these "trees" that have shot forth and are hostile to Israel, For lo, thine enemies make a tumult, they that hate thee have lifted up the head. They have taken crafty counsel against thy people...They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance (Psalm 83:2-4).

Brothers and sisters, how blessed we are to be witnessing the fulfillment of latter day prophecies, and how negligent we would be to not conduct ourselves in accord with the hope they present. We are truly living in the last days. Should some ask, "what do we mean by the last days?" ... the answer is given in Luke 21:27, And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

A fruitless tree is useless to man, just as a spiritually barren nation is useless to God, and Israel was fruitless. The tree dried from the roots up, but the roots were left in the ground, and even though the Jews would be scattered throughout the world, they would always look back to their homeland, where their roots were. Matthew 24:32 is a prophecy regarding the restoration of Israel, Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh. We note the prophecy makes no mention of fruit. There are other Scriptures that make it plain that the fruit will come later but the sign of the tender branch indicating that summer is nigh only requires leaves. That sign is the nation of Israel today. The challenge for us is the following verse, So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

The work of Jesus will not have been in vain for the Israelites for the day is coming when they will finally recognize him as their Messiah. For us, however, there is much work to be done to prepare for His coming. Jesus ended his prophecy with the warning of personal preparation. Bible students are sometimes divided on the precise order of events. Sometimes we fail to see the forest because of the trees. God's timetable is not revealed in precise detail, and we're not expected to know exactly how all events will unfold. Yet these prophecies were given to inform and prepare us, and as the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Have we heeded his warning; are we ready to meet him?

David Shelton, Mt. Sherman, KY