One of the most fascinating parables in the Bible (okay, they’re all fascinating!) involves the parable of the budding fig tree, spoken of in Matthew 24; Luke 21 and Mark 13. Many scholars interpret it as referring to the coming Kingdom of God.
Others—particularly Bible prophecy teachers and students—believe it refers to the re-establishment of Israel.
Hal Lindsey, among others, has promoted this view.
Others, however, say no. In an article titled, “The Parable of the Fig Tree Matthew 24:32-36,” by Chafer Theological Seminary professor, George E. Meisinger took issue with the “Israel” interpretation:
“Some have said that the budding of the fig tree speaks of the re-establishment of Israel as a nation (1948), seeing it as a precursor of Christ’s return. Several things work strongly against that interpretation: Nowhere does Matthew 24–25 speak of Israel’s return to Palestine. In fact we do not find Israel’s return anywhere in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, in its flow of future historical events, has moved beyond Israel’s return portraying the Jews already in the land.
“Furthermore, Luke says in his parallel account ‘look at the fig tree, and all the trees’ (21:29). Not just one tree is in view, but many. Thus Christ refers to trees in general and what they do in the spring, not to a particular fig tree that pictures Israel. In Matthew 24, the budding fig tree, rather than picturing Israel, depicts eleven signs that Jesus reveals in 24:4–24. Nine begin to occur in the first half of the Tribulation and two more appear in the second half. Thus what we see unfolding is that as new leaves each spring signal the return of summer, so the signs Christ reveals will signal His return.”
But here, Meisinger is using “the argument from silence.”
In other words, just because Matthew’s account does not expressly describe Israel’s eventual return to the land, as a sovereign political entity, that in no way mitigates against that outcome being the subject of the fig tree parable.
This isn’t a make-or-break topic for one’s faith, but it is an interesting and long-standing discussion among believers.
My friend Michael Neutzling has a fascinating theory related to the fig tree parable. In his new book, The Fig Tree Parable: Israel Wins…in 2018? Michael sets forth a treasure of research that gives Israel a prominent place in eschatology.
What I like most about his book is that he unashamedly points to the Second Coming of Christ. In our world today—I mean, in the Church world—it is almost shocking that this core doctrine is met with embarrassment or indifference. Scores of popular Bible teachers either don’t emphasize it, or they scoff.
Incredible, isn’t it? As Michael states:
“The doctrine of the return of Christ is far from celebrated. It has an embarrassing, fairytale quality to it that some denominations have gone to great lengths to allegorize away. Even in evangelical Christian circles, those who bring up the topic are considered a little too edgy.”
The other thing I like about Michael’s research is that he also lifts up the specialness of Israel and the Jewish people. This is another concept that is shunted to the side by too many American Christian leaders, or those abroad, like the UK’s Stephen Sizer.
In the area of Bible prophecy, the issue of the identity of the budding fig tree is hotly debated, and while we can all agree to disagree on non-essentials, I hope readers will look at Michael’s research objectively. He has another intriguing title I intend to check out as well (www.figtreepress.org).
I think he brings something important to the conversation!