Concerning the fig tree parable, what is the symbolic meaning of the fig tree?
I believe the fig tree is a symbol of the nation of Israel. My reasons for this conclusion are twofold:
- The fig tree is used as a symbol of Israel in both the Old and New Testaments.
- The day before the Olivet Discourse Jesus had put a curse on a fig tree, causing it to wither. This was a symbolic prophecy that the nation of Israel would cease to exist because of their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. Then, the next day, He reminds His disciples of the fig tree and says, "Watch it. When it blooms again, the generation that sees that will witness My return."
Over four hundred years ago the Puritans seized on this passage and argued that one day Israel would be re-established and that when that happens, the generation that witnesses it will be the generation that will experience the Lord's return.
Some deny that the fig tree has any relation to Israel whatsoever. They argue that all the parable means is that just as the blooming of the fig tree is a signal that summer is near, so also, the coming together of all the signs Jesus mentioned will be an indication that He is soon to return.
I would agree that the parable carries this meaning, but I still believe that the fig tree was selected because it symbolizes Israel. And by using this common symbol of Israel, Jesus gives us a more precise time for His return. I think this is important because I believe God wants us to know the season of His Son's return (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6). He does not wish that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
I think it is interesting that in Matthew 24 Jesus speaks very clearly and precisely for 28 verses (verses 4-31) about the signs that will lead up to His return, and then, suddenly, at verse 32, He shifts into symbolic language by telling a parable. Why did He suddenly switch to coded words?
I believe it is because the parable contains a prophecy about a very specific event that will clearly reveal the season of His return, and that event is the re-establishment of the nation of Israel. He wanted to limit the understanding of this key event to those who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6 puts it, there is no reason for the Lord's return to overtake believers like a thief because they are "sons of light and sons of day." In other words, they have the internal illumination of the Holy Spirit to understand passages of Scripture that are unintelligible to unbelievers.
What is the generation that will see the fig tree reblossom? Find out as we continue with the next segment in this "Olivet Discourse" series!