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The Last Days Duncan Heaster  
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The fact that this parable is tacked on to the end of the Olivet prophecy in the way it is, suggests that it refers to a very special indication of the Lord's coming. Surely every thinking Christian should be working overtime to crack this one- if we can sort out what the budding of the fig tree is, then once we see it, we will have proof positive that we are at 11:59 in the prophetic timetable.

The fig tree was to " shoot forth" (Lk. 21:30) or 'germinate' (Young), witnessed by its putting forth of leaves (Mk. 13:28) and tender branches (Mt. 24:32). When the fig tree puts forth leaves there are often immature, unripe figs amongst them. Thus Jesus inspected the fig tree outside Jerusalem to see if it had any fruit, and cursed it because it did not. "The time of figs was not yet", i.e. it was not reasonable to find fully developed fruit on it. The fig tree referred to the nation of Israel; Jesus expected to find at least the beginnings of some spiritual fruit, but due to the chronic dearth of response to his message, Jesus cursed the nation and dried it up (Mk. 11:13,14,20). This would lead us to interpret the putting forth of leaves on the fig tree as the signs of an initial repentance and indication that real spiritual fruit is developing. It may well be that the whole of the Olivet prophecy has reference to a final three and a half year tribulation of the believers just prior to the second coming, and that during this time there will be a period of zealous witnessing to both Jews and Gentiles. This fits into place with the fig tree parable; this preaching starts to produce some degree of response from Israel, and then " all (is) fulfilled" in the full manifestation of Christ's Kingdom. The parable says that as surely as Summer follows Spring, so those who see the blossoming of the fig tree in the parable, will see the Kingdom. Maybe this is to be taken literally; there may be a literal gap of a few weeks/months (as between Spring and Summer) between the first signs of Jewish repentance, and all being fulfilled. It may well be that the " all" which will be fulfilled in Lk. 21:32 is to be equated with " the times of the Gentiles" being fulfilled (Lk. 21:24). " Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles" for three and a half years, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. 'Jebus', the old name for Jerusalem, means 'downtrodden'. This  hints that the liberation of Jebus at the beginning of David's reign was seen by Christ as typical of the time when He would liberate Jerusalem from downtreading, at his return. This suggests that the times of Gentile domination of Jerusalem are to be ended by the establishment of the Kingdom at Christ's second coming; we are yet to see, therefore, a Gentile domination of Jerusalem before Christ's coming.

" The times of the Gentiles" are often taken to have finished in 1967. But at least three major problems arise with this:

1) The temple site, Biblical 'Zion', is still not totally under Jewish control due to the presence of the Mosque there.

2) " Trodden down" has clear links with Dan. 8:13 and Rev. 11:2, which describe the temple being blasphemously desecrated for certain periods of time. How can they have ended in 1967, seeing the 'Dome of the Rock' still stands there? And 1967 minus 2300 day/years (Dan. 8:13) or 1260 day/years (Rev. 11:2) do not appear to yield any significant starting points.

3) The times of Gentile opportunity, as some read it, are still with us now as much as they were in 1967. If anything, numbers of baptisms have mushroomed since 1967, notably in distant Gentile lands.

The Blossoming Of The Fig Tree

More attention now needs to be paid to the other references to the blossoming of the fig tree. Between them they build up a strong case for the suggestion made earlier- that the fig tree parable refers to the beginnings of Jewish repentance in the last days, which will herald the establishment of the Kingdom at Christ's return.

- Lk. 13:6-9 records another parable of the fig tree, upon which that in Lk. 21 is based. Jesus, the dresser of God's vineyard of Israel, came seeking spiritual fruit on the fig tree, for the three years of his ministry. Because of the lack of it, the tree was cut down. Christ said " Now (i.e. towards the end of the tribulation period?) learn a parable of the fig tree" (Mt. 24:32). It is tempting to read this as 'Now learn the parable of the fig tree', seeing that the parable of the Olivet prophecy is so similar to the previous fig tree parable.  

- " Ye shall know them (primarily referring to the Jewish false prophets who dressed up as lambs/Christians) by their fruits. Do men gather...figs of thistles?" (Mt. 7:15,16). Thus the fruit of the fig tree is associated with signs of true spiritual development among the Jews. For confirmation of this, see comment on Mic.7:1 later.

- The prophecy of Habakkuk is concerning the coming judgment upon Israel unless they repented. In the last few verses the prophet reflects that even though Israel would not repent as a result of his preaching, he personally would rejoice in the Lord and maintain his own spirituality. He describes this in the language of the fig tree: "Although the fig tree shall not blossom (i.e. put forth leaves), neither shall fruit be in the vines (notice the equation of fruit and just blossoming)... yet will I rejoice in the Lord" (Hab. 3:17,18).

- Jer. 24:2-5 describes the Jews who repented during their 70 year captivity in Babylon as " good figs... that are first ripe" . In the same way, good figs will start to be developed on the Jewish fig tree as a result of their passing through the tribulation of the last days, which will lead to their repentance. The arrogant Jews who were taken into captivity by Babylon learnt humility and repentance, thanks to the words of the prophets who underwent the same tribulation as they did. This points forward to the Jews of today undergoing a similar captivity and conversion as a result of the preaching campaign during the tribulation. Thus Lk. 21:25,26 describes the Jewish sun, moon and stars being shaken, (Jewish) men's hearts failing them for fear because of the tribulation that is breaking over the land (A.V. " earth" ) of Israel. Then there is the fig tree parable; the repentance of Israel comes about as a result of the traumas in the land described in the previous verses.

- Micah laments the lack of spiritual fruit amongst the Jews: " My soul desired the firstripe fruit (fig)...(but) there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood...the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge" (Mic. 7:1,2,4). This is probably the basis for Christ's parable about the Jews being thorns instead of figs (Mt. 7:15,16).

- God recalls how originally the Jews had borne spiritual fruit, especially amongst the generation that entered the land (the most spiritually fruitful of all the generations of Israel?): " I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baal-peor" (Hos. 9:10).

- The fig tree was to shoot forth tender branches. Is. 30:17 implies that the fig tree being without branches symbolizes Israel under domination by the Gentiles: " One thousand (Jews) shall flee at the rebuke of one (invader)... till ye be left as a tree bereft of branches" ( The repentance of Israel- the tender growth of the branches- will therefore come at a time when they have no branches, i.e. at a time of Gentile domination of Israel.

Both vine and fig trees are used as symbols of Israel. It seems likely that the Lord had in mind the figure of Is. 18:5 in mind when constructing this parable. Here we are told that the vine must be pruned and some branches “cut down” (RV)- exactly the language of trial and tribulation which Jesus uses in Jn. 15. The result of this will be that “the flower becometh a ripening grape”(RV)- i.e. spiritual fruit is brought forth by tribulation (the same figure is found in Is. 17:6-8). And out of all this, “a present shall be brought unto the Lord of Hosts of a people scattered and peeled... whose land the rivers [Babylon, Assyria, in Isaiah’s symbology] have spoiled, to the place of the Name of the Lord of hosts, the mount Zion” (Is. 18:7). The fruit on the vine corresponds with the repentant latter day remnant of Israel; and the pruning of that vine to their sufferings during the final tribulation. Is. 65:8-11 speaks of how the vine of Israel is not finally cut down because someone [Jesus, Lk. 13:8] says "Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it"- i.e. there is at least some promise of fruit on the otherwise unfruitful tree. This then leads into the "seed" being brought forth to inherit the promised land, God's people inheriting that land, and the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth. This chronology would fit in with the other Biblical evidences adduced earlier in this chapter.

Hastening The Return

Joel 2:18-20 describes how the northern invader of Israel in the last days will be driven away, and the rest of the prophecy describes the conflicts associated with this and the setting up of the Kingdom. Verses 18 reads " Then will the Lord be jealous for His land, and pity His people" , etc. This implies that the previous words of Joel also have a latter day reference; and they describe a massive invasion and domination of Israel because of the Jews' wickedness, which will only be lifted by their repentance. This all describes the latter day holocaust of the Jews, and our calling upon them to repent. There are several links in this part of Joel with the last days- " the day of the Lord cometh" (Joel 2:1); " there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it" (Joel 2:2). This is the final, unsurpassed " time of trouble such as never was" for Israel. The invasion will be upon the mountains (Joel 2:2,5), which is where Gog will invade. " The earth shall quake before them; the hearers shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining" (Joel 2:10) is quite clearly Luke 21 language of the last days. During this time of tribulation, " the vine is dried up, the fig tree languisheth" (Joel 1:12)- i.e. Israel were spiritually unfruitful (Mk. 11:20). But on their repentance, " the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength" (Joel 2:22). The generation who see the beginnings of this spiritual revival among the Jews will see the establishment of the Kingdom. As the tribulation gets progressively worse, we will strain our eyes for every sign of Jewish repentance. Those who understand these things will therefore have a verve and fire in their preaching to the Jews because they know that the sooner they are successful, the sooner their Lord will appear in His glory. For the elects' sake the days- i.e. the 42 months, the 1260 days, the three and a half years- of our tribulation, may be shortened. Our present apathy in witnessing to the Jews may need a tribulation to shake off.

When the watchman of Is. 21:11 calls out “What hour of the night [will it come]?” (RVmg.) the answer is “Turn ye” (RV). This is when it will come- when Israel turn again in repentance. This is alluded to in Acts 1:7,8; Mk. 13:28-33, where the answer to the question ‘When will Jesus return?’ is basically: ‘Preach to Israel; lead them to repentance. That’s when the Lord Jesus will return’. When Israel are finally broken in pieces, both literally and spiritually, then “all these things shall be finished” and her invaders will likewise be broken in pieces by the Lord’s return (Dan. 12:7 = Dan. 2:44).