Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Must Jesus Return Within the Israel-1948 Generation?

In my 31 years as a Christian, I've heard so many predictions about the end of the world, and all of them have one thing in common - they've all flopped. So what I am looking for is a Biblical reason why we should be so sure that the predictions which are being bandied around today about our generation are more reliable. Otherwise, I don't want to pass them on! Good idea, don't you think.

A verse popularly used to assert that Jesus must return in our generation is the verse about the fig tree. Do you mind if I express my feelings about that popular assertion, in hopes that by your response I might further enhance my understanding? I wonder how conclusive it really is that Jesus' parable of the fig-tree was a prediction about the rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948.

I know figs were once used as an illustration by the prophet Jeremiah. But far from talking about the rebirth of the nation, it was talking about God's decision that Israel should go into captivity (Jeremiah 24).

I know the vineyard was once used as an illustration by the prophet Isaiah. But on that occasion it was a vineyard of grapes and not figs that was mentioned - and neither did it talk about the rebirth of the nation, but rather the destruction of the nation (Isaiah 5).

I know fig trees were mentioned by the prophet Nahum, but that time it was not about Israel, but about the Gentile city of Nineveh. And once again, it was about the destruction of the city (Nahum 3:12).

I know Jesus told a parable about a fig tree that was fruitless for three years. Once again, it wasn't talking about the rebirth of Israel, rather it was a warning to Israel's leaders of the very opposite!

I know Jesus cursed a fig tree. But it doesn't say the event was symbolic about Israel; and even if it was, it didn't prophesy the rebirth of Israel, because Jesus said to the fig tree, "Let no man eat fruit from you henceforth and forever".

So I've observed two things in the Bible about the fig tree: Firstly, a fig tree didn't always symbolize Israel: it also represented a Gentile nation - but a statement was always included which explained the meaning that the fig tree was intended to have in the context; and Secondly, I've noticed that everytime the fig tree was used symbolically in the Bible, it was talking about the captivity or destruction of a nation, rather than its rebirth.

With that background in mind, allow me to now express my current feelings about the parable of the fig tree in the Olivet discourse, which you quoted. Knowing that a fig tree does not automatically symbolize Israel, the first thing I do is look for a statement to indicate that it was intended in this context to be about Israel - but I find an absence of a explanatory statement in the passage which conclusively identifies the fig-tree as Israel.

But even if it IS talking about Israel, I then look for support for your assertion that the blossoming of its branches is about the REBIRTH of Israel (even though in every other symbolic use of the fig-tree in the Bible, the context is always about the captivity or destruction and not the rebirth of a nation). Again, I don't find anything in the Olivet discourse which conclusively explains that the blossoming of the branches is about the rebirth of Israel.

To the contrary, it seems to be about the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, rather than about its rebirth as a nation (because Jesus explained, "So likewise ye, when ye see THESE THINGS come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand". What were "these things"? It refers back to the things Jesus had just finished describing - which was all about the destruction of Jerusalem, not its rebirth. I'm keeping in mind that Jesus was answering the disciples' questions not only about His coming but also about the signs of the destruction of the Temple and city.

But even if the blossoming of the fig tree IS talking about the rebirth of Israel rather than about its destruction, I then look for evidence in the text that events of 1948 could have fulfilled this. But I notice in Luke's account, that He said, "Behold the fig tree, and ALL THE TREES; when THEY now shoot forth, ye see and know..." So Jesus never talked about the fig-tree being the only tree to shoot forth its branches - rather, He mentioned ALL THE TREES. So apparently Jesus wasn't intending to be deliberate in His use of the fig-tree over other trees, in His parable.

But even if He WAS being deliberate in His mention not only of all ALL THE TREES shooting forth their branches but also in His menion specifically of the FIG TREE shooting forth its branches, and even if it does indeed refer to the rebirth of Israel, then it must mean that not only Israel but ALL the nations of the earth would also be rebirth. This did not happen in 1948.

So, is the parable of the fig tree and all the trees a prophecy about the rebirth of Israel in 1948? Dake's Annotated Reference Bible comments: "...this could not possibly be the meaning".

I think there is a perception that the view which you have alluded to has long been the established and accepted view - but actually it's only a relatively recent deviation from what for many centuries was the standard view held by many of the church's great reformers, revivalists, missionaries and evangelists.

For example, John Wesley's Explanatory Notes Upon the Whole Bible; Matthew Henry's Commentary; and Jamieson Faucett and Brown's Commentary do not take the view which you have asserted in regard to the Olivet discourse.

I'm not necessarily agreeing with Dake, Wesley, Matthew Henry, Jamieson, Faucett and Brown, nor am I saying the modern assertion isn't possible. I'm merely expressing my feeling that I don't see the popular modern take on the fig-tree verse in the Olivet discourse as being in itself substantial enough to be used as a basis for the assertion that Jesus must return within the 1948 generation. He said it's not for us to know the years, seasons, day, nor hour.

Am I still doing okay?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post, interesting read. I'm not convinced one way or the other, but more connecting dots. Old testament prophecies predict a last days return to the land and a flourishing nation of Israel, as well as the nations rising against it. That is all being fulfilled. When Jesus cursed the fig tree, it was not "forever", although that is how most translations phrase it. Check the Greek and notice that every time (as in this instance and 118 other times) the word "aion" is preceded by the genuine article, it is for a fixed period of time. Interestingly, and only a day later, the disciples ask when these things will take place and when the "aion" or end of the age will be. Is it only coincidence that Jesus then uses the fig tree to give as a sign to look for? Would the disciples have still had the withered fig tree on their mind(certainly, they were amazed at how fast it withered!) and seen this as relevant to what Jesus was telling them?!

Regardless, we are to look for His coming and be ready!(Titus 2:13). Luke 21:28 says to look up when you see these things happening, because our redemption is near. We are not in darkness (1 Thes 5:4) as others. There are many more examples that we WILL know the general season...just like Jesus first coming. Some people knew the scripture and were ready for Him, others not. What would be the point of prophecies if they weren't helping us to know the future events that need to happen?

Whether or not Israel is that fig tree shooting forth it's branches(and all the trees- look at when all the surrounding nations came about..1940-1950's), the Lord is not slow about Keeping His promise, and He will return for His bride. Maranatha!

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Dave said...

Sorry for another, but this is intersting as well:

The amillennial skeptics will probably ask how will the gospel be preached throughout planet earth if not by the church. The gospel will ultimately be preached throughout the world by a angel as described in Revelation 14:6-7. Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth; to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people; saying with a loud voice, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water." Thus, Scripture is eventually fulfilled and the end of the world occurs.

jamal said...

Praise God

Randy K said...

I realize this response is a few years later, but the same issue persists. No, the "fig tree" does not refer to Israel's rebirth. It refers to the immediacy of indicators that Israel is about to be judged---in that very generation. Ultimately, it referred to the coming of the events of 70 AD, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. randy

Randy K said...

The fig tree does not speak of Israel's rebirth in 1948. Rather, it speaks of the emerging signs of Israel's imminent destruction (in 70 AD). Christ's coming is said to follow that event. Although to some it appears as if Jesus indicated his return would appear right after the 70 AD event, in reality Jesus left the time of his return obscure, known by God. The point was, Jesus' return would follow the judgment of Israel and her exile, which took place following the fall of Jerusalem and her temple.

John said...

Agreed, Randy