Return to Index Page


Jerusalem and the Fig Tree

By Richard Gunther


Mat.24:15-23 with Luke 21:20-24


   The context: Jesus is explaining to his disciples what to look out for, as the signal that Jerusalem is about to be destroyed. He uses, as always, the language of the prophets, which should send us running back to the Old Testament to find the passages he is referring to, or the symbols he uses which the O.T. also uses. (Sadly, many Christians today are so unfamiliar with the style or language of the O.T. prophets that they are unable to refer back to them, and so misunderstand what these same words and expressions mean in the New Testament. Instead of using the O.T. as a manual, they make up their own interpretation, and construct all sorts of imaginative meanings, which of course have no relation to the actual meaning. The Bible interprets the Bible.)


   The “abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel” is a reference to Dan.12:11, where the arrival of the abomination is part of a time-line of 1290 prophetic day/years. Christians in the time of Jesus, who understood what the prophet Daniel was speaking about, would have known exactly where they were in history, and they would have known what was about to happen too. The irony (or sad thing) is, after about 2000 years, Christians today are still generally unaware of what Jesus was talking about!


   Some background information:

   In AD 66 Cestius Paulus was sent by Caesar to surround Jerusalem, and to warn the Jews that their political restlessness was annoying Caesar. The Jews were to be informed that if the trouble didn’t settle down, Caesar would punish the little Jewish nation – as he had punished many other rebels against Rome. Informed Christians would have seen the Roman soldiers lined up around the walls of the City and remembered the words of Jesus.


   In 68 AD Vespasian again surrounded the City, but the Jewish hostility continued. The Zealots however, trapped inside the City, seized the Temple and City, and set up their own guard at the gates to prevent people from leaving. Jesus had already foreseen this event, which is why he forewarned his followers to flee the city when the soldiers came. Many Christians heeded the warning and left before they were trapped inside.


   Jesus said “For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled” Notice that Jesus said THESE be the days . . .  and ALL things which are written . . .” He pointed his disciples at the present, during their own lifetime – not to some time away off in the distant future. Jesus wanted his followers to know that the wrath of God was about to be poured out on the Jewish nation, right then, rather than later.


   In Luke 21 Jesus also foretold the captivity of the Jews (21:24) and the time period for Jerusalem’s “treading down”. This time period, known as the “Times of the Gentiles” is clearly given in other places in Scripture. It is 2520 years long.


   Returning to the armies of Rome, they were commanded by the emperor Vespasian’s son Titus. Eusebius says “But the members of the church in Jerusalem, having been commanded before the war in accordance with a certain oracle given by revelation to the men of repute there, to depart from Jerusalem, and to inhabit a certain city of Perea called Pelia, all the believers in Christ in Jerusalem went thither, and when now the saints had abandoned both the royal metropolis itself and the whole land of Judea, the vengeance of God finally overtook the lawless persecutors of Christ and His Apostles”.


   The “sign” of the armies compassing (surrounding) Jerusalem was fulfilled – Luke 21:20 – and the ABOMINATION arrived – the Roman desecrators. The Romans desolated the City and Temple, just as Jesus (and Daniel in chapter 9) had predicted.


    Daniel said the City would continue to be desolated (9:26) and that the desolation would begin soon after the crucifixion. Daniel also said the City would be desolated UNTIL the consummation, as did Jesus, in Luke 21:24, when the desolator himself would be judged. Romans, Turks, Arabs and others with them, moving over the land of Palestine, judging the land with each occupation, and then in turn being judged by some other invasion . . . until the “times of the Gentiles” were fulfilled – Luke 21:24.


   These “Times of the Gentiles” ran out in 1917, when General Allenby, leading the Allies against the Africa Corps and Hitler, drove the Turks from the City and took possession. From then on the land began to recover. The Jews started to return. Eventually the flag of Zion flew over the City and the Jewish nation was established.


The story of the fig tree.


Luke 13:6 – 10.

   In this story, a man has a fig tree in his vineyard. E looks after it for three years, but then decides, because it bears no fruit, to destroy the tree. He gives it one more chance, with the intention of cutting it down if it still refuses to bear.

   As we already know, from Daniel 9, the ministry of Jesus was planned to last for 7 years, but he was “cut off” or crucified, in the “midst of the week”. The three years of Jesus’ ministry correspond to the three years in the story.


   The fig tree represents the Jewish nation, which was planted in God’s vineyard, that is, within the territory of Palestine, the covenant land. The Jews regarded the fig tree as so valuable that to cut them down was a crime which should be punished by God. The death penalty was not thought too harsh for the destruction of fig trees, palms or olives. And this attitude was held even if the trees produced a tiny crop, since they thought any crop was enough to justify keeping the tree.


   There is a species, called the Benoth Shuach, which takes 3 years  - so the Jews believed – to ripen fully. They might have thought of this particular species of fig when Jesus was telling the story to them.


   The fig tree was also considered the most fruitful of all trees, and was normally planted inside the vineyard enclosure, where it would have the best, well-cared-for soil. The Jews believed in regular manuring of their gardens and orchards.


   The Jews regarded a barren fig tree harshly because:

1.                      Its roots undermined the soil, taking the goodness, but leaving nothing,

2.                      It filled valuable space where vines, or better trees could grow,

3.                      It bore no fruit, so all the effort spent on it was wasted.


   It was in fact considered a duty to cut down barren trees.


   The fruit of the fig tree appears before its leaves begin to open, so, when Jesus cursed the leafy tree in Mat.21:19, he was indicating how the Jewish nation, for all its outward growth was not showing or bearing any fruit. The Jews had their City and Temple, their communities, commerce, clothes and other fashions. Outwardly they appeared to be prospering – but this was all leaves. They lacked the inward fruit of righteousness and a love for God.


   Another allusion to figs is in Jer. 24:5 where God calls the Jews who are in captivity “figs”. He says that the “good figs” are the ones whom God gathers back to meet the Messiah, which they did some 400 years later. Unfortunately figs have the tendency to go rotten over time, so 400 years later the “good figs” had become “bad figs”.


   The three fig tree passages:

1.                      Here, as a symbol of the barren Jewish nation, on the brink of judgment, but with the offer of restoration and forgiveness,

2.                      In Mark 11:12-14, when Jesus left Bethany towards the end of his ministry, and found “nothing but leaves” on a certain fig tree. He then pronounced a curse on the tree and said that it would not yield fruit for ever (Greek = for the age),

3.                      In Mat.24:32-34 where Jesus said “Now learn a (Greek = the) parable of the fig tree . . .” Jesus told this story to give us a sign of his imminent return. The re-establishment of the Jewish nation, starting in 1917, was the great sign, warning people of this generation that the return of Christ was very close.


   Coupled with the third sign just listed, Jesus added : “when you see all these things . . .” referring to the generation alive at the time, which means this present generation. The promise is that the generation which sees the Jewish State appear, will live to see “all these things fulfilled”. Just how long “a generation” is we are not told. Of course, if there was a Biblical “generation” all we would need to do is count from 1917 on and we would know the day when Jesus was coming back, so the Bible gives us no definite clues on this. Moses lived 120 years, the Psalms give us three score years and ten, and maybe a few more. We can hardly go on an average age because we don’t know all the ages when people died. We can only go on the general idea of one generation  passing and a new one taking its place.


   Another sign:


   Coupled with the fig tree sign, Jesus added yet another clear sign. He was addressing the Jews in his prophecy when he said “You shall not see me again until you begin to say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” – Luke 13:34,35. The context is important. The destruction of the City is foretold, then the restoration, then the words of the Jewish nation as they say that Jesus is blessed. This can be best interpreted to mean that during the last generation, after the Jewish nation has been re-established, a certain proportion of the Jews will begin to accept Jesus as Saviour – in other words, become Christians.


   And yes, it is true, that after nearly 2000 years, a proportion of Jews are realising that Jesus is the Messiah. There are many Jewish outreach ministries going on today, many of them run by Jews, and the proportion of Christian Jews is growing.


   If you are reading this, you are assuredly part of the fortunate generation which will be alive when the might Lord Jesus returns in his full glory.

Back to Index Page