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The Symbol of Israel the Fig Tree | Is It Biblical?

Is modern-day Israel the fig tree in Matthew 24, and did Jesus say the generation that sees Israel become a nation again will also see him return?



Have you ever heard something like this? The woman in the video below says, "Before Jesus left, he said that the generation that sees Israel become a nation will also see him return again."



Aftyn Vermeer Statement


This is a common belief among futurists (those who believe we’re living in the last days and that Jesus is fixing to come back).


The idea of the “fig tree generation” comes from Matthew 24, which is the famous chapter where Jesus tells his disciples about all the signs and events that would happen before he returned.


He talks about wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and all kinds of bad stuff happening on the earth, and then he tells them this:


Matthew 24:32-34 ESV

32 From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.


Now, if you already believe, as futurists do, that Matthew 24 is talking about events that are going to happen in the future and is describing the end of the world along with the physical second coming of Jesus, then of course, you’re going to interpret these “fig tree” verses as something that’s going to happen in our future, too, right?


Beginning with this “futurist filter,” some Christians have concluded that the fig tree in this verse is spiritual talk about the reinstating of the actual nation of Israel in 1948.


In other words, they say that when Jesus says, “When you see the fig tree blooming again, know that the season is changing,” he’s speaking metaphorically or in a parable, and the meaning of what he’s saying is, “When you see Israel (fig tree) become a nation again (bloom again), know that the end is near.”


From there, a futurist would remind us of two important events:


  • The nation of Israel was destroyed in AD70.

  • But in 1948, it became a nation again.


They’ll then say that, therefore, WE are the generation that has indeed seen the fig tree blossom again.


Israel has become a nation again in our time and in our generation, so WE are the ones who are going to see the rapture, the return of Christ, and the end of the world.


But of course, the validity of this idea rests on whether or not Jesus was talking about the literal nation of Israel when he mentioned the fig tree.


Is modern-day Israel the fig tree that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24? Did Jesus mean the generation that sees the rebirth of the nation of Israel would be the one that sees the second coming of Christ?


Let’s start with one fact that we all should agree on: No where in the passage of Matthew 24 does it clearly say that the nation of Israel is what’s meant by the fig tree statement.


This is a problem I see with the statement from the video of the woman above.


The woman states that Jesus SAYS…The generation that sees Israel become a nation again will be the one to see Jesus come back.” 


However, that’s not true.


Jesus did not SAY that; he simply used a blossoming fig tree to explain how they would be able to see the signs of his coming, and that THIS generation would see that coming.


But the woman in the clip is interpreting his statement to be talking about the future rebirth of the nation of Israel in 1948.


Do you see the difference?


She said, “Jesus said."

What she should have said was, “Jesus said this and I am interpreting it to mean this.”


This just isn’t a healthy, natural way to read the Bible.


Let’s face it: The only way for anyone to see Jesus’ fig tree statement as referring to Israel is to either...


  1. Speculate, because there is nothing in the context that explains this, or,

  2. They would have had to have this idea implanted in their mind before reading this scripture. They would have heard it from a preacher, a YouTube video, or from a book.


I’ve done my research on this topic, and as it turns out, there are a lot of preachers, people, TikTokers, and YouTubers saying that the fig tree means Israel, but there aren’t many Biblical, academic scholars who hold that view.


For example, Tommy Ice is a huge advocate of futurism and has authored many books about the subject.


Here’s what he says about the fig tree statement (1):


“...my good friend Hal Lindsey teaches that the fig tree represents Israel, which it might, and that this means that within a generation of the founding of the modern state of Israel, Christ will return… I agree with so much of what Hal teaches in the area of Bible prophecy, but on this particular passage I have to disagree with him, even though I used to hold this view myself in the early 70's. I held the view then because the most influential book upon me at the time concerning Bible prophecy was Hal’s Late Great Planet Earth… The basic problem with Hal’s view is that he takes the parable of Jesus and turns this illustration into a prophecy. Christ is simply illustrating that when one sees a fig tree (In Luke’s version of the same treaties Christ says in Luke 21:29, “Behold the fig tree and all the trees.”) begin to put on leaves (in the spring), then you know that the next season is approaching (summer). Christ then concludes, “even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” Thus, in the context, our Lord does not put an emphasis upon Israel as a symbol… Hal and others who hold that view have taken Christ’s illustration, which was meant to demonstrate a point about Matthew 24:4-31, and created a prophecy out of thin air, which does not even exist.”

Here, Tommy is talking about a man named Hal Lindsay, who wrote a book called The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970.


Hal was probably the one who popularized the idea of the fig tree being 1948 Israel.


Of course, this Israel-fig-tree idea didn’t become popular until after 1948 when Israel did become a nation again and people started saying that this was a huge, super sign of the end times, and that this is what Jesus meant by the fig tree.


When I was researching this, I told myself, “I bet there wasn’t any scholar, commentary, or really anybody before 1948 saying that Israel becoming a nation again is what’s meant by Jesus’ fig tree statement.”


Before 1948, no one was reading that interpretation into Matthew 24:32.


I searched for commentaries written before 1948 and sure enough, the first two I pulled up didn’t say anything about Israel becoming a nation again being the blossoming fig tree. (2)


A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments (Far)

They simply implied what Tommy correctly explained in his commentary: Jesus was just doing what he always did and used a parable (not a secret, prophetic message) to say that when they would see these signs, they would know that the end is near.


A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments (Near)

Just as when you see a fig tree putting forth its first leaves and know that the next season is approaching, when you see these signs, you will also know that my coming is approaching. That’s it.


You have to understand that people didn’t start saying that 1948 Israel was the blossoming fig tree until after Israel already became a nation again in 1948.


And that should make you think.


Another man named John Walvoord was a very prominent and popular futurist in the sixties and all the way up to the 2000s.


He was the president of Dallas Theological Seminary (a massively futurist academy) and authored tons of books about eschatology.


He also does not believe that Israel was the fig tree (3):


“Actually, while the fig tree could be an apt illustration of Israel, it is not so used in the Bible… Accordingly, while this interpretation is held by many, there is no clear scriptural warrant. A better interpretation is that Christ was using a natural illustration.”

Again, he does believe in futurism.


He just doesn’t think that when Christ spoke of the blossoming fig tree, he was referring to the reinstatement of the nation of Israel.


It’s always better to learn from actual, academic scholars, and not just a random person online.


When you try to insert this idea into the text, you have to totally change the scripture to make it fit better, like the girl did in beginning quote I showed you.


She’s so convinced that the fig tree represents 1948 Israel that when she reads that scripture, she doesn’t read it as, “This generation will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled.” (As it actually says)


She reads it as, “The generation that sees Israel become a nation again will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled.”


The same thing happens with this gentleman, Amir Tsarfati. In the video (4), he says:


"Jesus is basically telling the disciples, "Look, the fig tree (Remember the fig tree? That fig tree that died?) It's going to come back to life." And I want to tell you something. This generation that is going to live... it says, "The generation that will by no means pass away." WILL. It says, "The generation that will see (SEE) the rebirth of that tree, that generation shall not pass away."

0:00 / 1:33 Amir Tsarfati: The Generation that Shall Not Pass Away

At this point of the video, he begins to fumble a bit because it seems he’s having trouble explaining himself.


He looks as though he’s having a quick, internal realization that what he’s saying is not actually what’s written in the text and starts to stumble.


He begins with what the scripture says (“this generation”) and then throws it in the future (“that is going to live”).


I'm sure Amir is a well-studied, good man. But with this particular passage of scripture, can you see how he has to manipulate the text to make it work?


We went from:


The scripture SAYS…

“This generation…” to →

“This generation that is going to live…” to →

“The generation that will by no means pass away…” to →

“The generation that will see the rebirth of that tree…” to →

“THAT generation shall not pass away…”


In the beginning, he said that the fig tree Jesus is referring to is the specific fig tree that he cursed back in Matthew 21.


Jesus was not talking about that fig tree that he cursed a few chapters earlier; he’s making a general reference in a general parable about all fig trees to make a point.


Besides, if Jesus was talking about the fig tree he withered earlier, don’t forget that he told that tree that it will never produce fruit again.


Therefore, if 1948 Israel is that fig tree, it wouldn’t “come back to life”, as Amir says.


Futurists like Amir are adamant that the nation of Israel is regularly described as a fig tree in the Bible, and therefore, it makes perfect sense to see Israel as the fig tree here in Matthew 24:32.


But this isn’t really the case.


Greg Laurie, another big futurist, says this (5):


“The Fig tree, in Scripture, is a symbol of the nation of Israel. On more than one occasion God compares Israel to a fig tree. In Hosea 9:10, God says, “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstfruits on the fig tree in its first season.” When Jesus said, “Learn the parable of the fig tree…,” He was telling us that the rebirth of Israel, or the budding of the fig tree, will be a super sign of the last days.”

I don’t know if he still believes this because this is a quote from about 12 years ago, but I’m sure he does.


Is this true? Jeremiah 24:1-8 and 29:17 do describe a vision where Jeremiah sees baskets of good and bad figs, and God tells him that these figs do represent the good and bad ones of Israel.


So, perhaps there is a “check” for the futurists here.


Hosea 9:10 also does say: “Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved.”


Yes, God is saying that he saw Israel as something good, like the first fruits of a fig tree. (Then they became detestable.)


These are the only scriptures that compare Israel to figs from a fig tree.


But that’s just it - they are mere comparisons to make a larger point.


They aren’t prophetic formulas in which every time we see figs or a fig tree in scripture, we now need to replace the phrase “fig tree” with the word “Israel” and decode the prophetic meaning.


Just because you see Israel compared to figs or a fig tree in one or two places, this doesn’t mean that every time you see the phrase “fig tree”, you need to replace that word with "Israel".


That’s not how Bible exposition is done, and even futurist academics like Tommy Ice and John Walvoord know this, which is why they don’t interpret this scripture that way.


In Hosea 9:10, it also compared Israel to grapes from a vine.


Surely, we wouldn’t think we need to read “the nation of Israel” into every scripture that talks about grapes and figure out the prophetic meaning.


As Gary DeMar says (6):


“The New Testament makes it very clear that the preferred symbols for spiritual Israel are the vine (John 15:1-11), the olive tree (Rom. 11:16-24), the lump of dough (11:16), and the flock (Isa. 40:11; Jer. 23:2; Matt. 26:31; Luke 12:32; John 10:16; 1 Peter 5:2).”

These things are symbols for Israel more than a fig tree.


Sometimes in the Gospels, one of the writers (like Luke) will tell the same story a little differently from another writer (like Matthew).


Luke talks about the fig tree scenario like this:


Luke 21:29-32

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.


Notice how it’s not just the fig tree, but all the trees.


Are all trees now a prophetic symbol of the rebirth of Israel?


We shouldn’t put such a big emphasis on only the fig tree in order to bolster our view that the fig tree is Israel since Jesus is literally talking about all trees.


This proves that Jesus is simply using a parable to make a point: When you see all trees begin to bloom, you know that something is fixing to happen.


In the like manner, when you see all these signs, something is fixing to happen.


The last thing we need to know about this “fig tree generation” theory is this: The timing isn’t right.


You see, futurist Hal Lindsay and others believe that since 1948 Israel was the fig tree, and since Jesus meant that “this generation (the generation that would see Israel become a nation again) would not pass until these things have happened”, this means that the second coming would happen in 1988.


Israel became a nation in 1948 →

That generation would not pass until Jesus came back →

In the Bible, a “generation” was usually 40 years →

40 years from 1948 would be 1988 →

Jesus would return and the rapture would happen no later than 1988


Futurist Chuck Smith said this in 1976 (7):


“That generation that was living in May 1948 shall not pass away until the second coming of Jesus Christ takes place and the kingdom of God established upon the earth. How long is a generation? Forty years on average in the Bible… Where does that put us? It puts us right out at the end. We’re coming down to the wire.”

That’s why this man wrote a book saying that the rapture would be in 1988, and then wrote another one year later changing his date when the rapture didn’t happen:


88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988

The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989

And of course, other Christians still today are saying this:


Modern Christian quoute about 1948 (1)
Modern Christian quoute about 1948 (2)

But wait, wasn’t a generation only 40 years, and wouldn’t that put 1988 as the latest possible date?


As you could imagine, modern day Christians have simply now changed the meaning of “generation” to be more than 40 years since the first definition failed and didn’t fit their fig tree theory.


They say that Psalm 90:10 teaches that a generation is now 70-80 years, and that would put the coming of the Lord from the beginning of the so called fig tree generation at 2028 (80 years from 1948).


This is the scripture that modern day futurists are now using to justify a generation being 80 years, not 40, and to justify the rapture not happening yet.


Psalm 90:10 just says, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty.”


So, I’m not really sure why they use that formula to equate to a “generation” because it clearly says that 80 years is how long a strong, healthy life usually lasts, not how long a generation is.


A "generation" is not the same thing as a "lifespan", and we don’t even need a Bible study to know that.


But it seems they're just desperately grabbing any number from the Bible to define a generation to throw the rapture even further into the future.


And when 2028 comes and goes, I can almost guarantee that a "generation" will become something else to a futurist.


Perhaps it’ll become 120 years, since Genesis 6:3 says, ““My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.””


This would then be a potential new definition of a generation, putting the rapture no later than the year 2068.


This would give futurists much more time to predict and preach the “any-moment” rapture and the theory of the fig tree.


And when 2068 comes and goes, the definition of a generation might become 153, since John 21:11 says that Jesus told Peter to throw his net into the water, and he caught 153 fish.


Maybe they’ll say that “fish” now represent “years of the fig tree generation.”


The point is that no matter what, it’s likely that:


  • Futurists will keep changing the meaning of a generation forever to keep the fig tree theory.

  • Futurists will keep changing the meaning of a generation until the teaching kind of dwindles out, people stop talking about it, and we all forget about it.

  • If, God forbid, the nation of Israel goes away again, futurists will simply say that the nation will come back again one day, and when it does, THIS was the re-birthing of Israel that Matthew 24 talks about, not the 1948 one. And they will say that 40 years from that time will be the rapture.


As you can see, it’s like the fig tree theory can’t be beaten.


Unless, of course, you believe that Jesus’ fig tree statement was not referring to the re-birthing of Israel in 1948, and that it’s possible for Matthew 24 to be talking about something else.


It's true. Modern-day Israel is NOT the fig tree in Matthew 24, and Jesus did NOT say the generation that sees Israel become a nation again will also see him return.



I hope to see you there!


Please share this article and be blessed!


Bibliography


(2) Brown, David. A Commentary, critical and explanatory on the Old and New Testaments: Matthew-Romans (New York : S. S. Scranton, 1873), 88.

(3) Walvoord, John F. Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago, IL: Moody, [1974] 1980), 191-92.

(6) DeMar, Gary. Last Days Madness (Atlanta, GA: American Vision), 1999. 179.

(7) Smith, Chuck. Snatched Away (Costa Mesa, CA: Maranatha Evangelical Association of Calvary Chapel, 1976), 21. Quoted in Richard Abanes, EndTime Visions: The Road to Armageddon? (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1998), 442, note 81.

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11 Comments


I'm very surprised that Christians cannot understand such simple passages. Pre-trib has destroyed common sense Christianity. The fig tree is mentioned 72 times in the bible, 16 times in the New Testament and not once does it refer to Israel in the NT. In the Old Testament it refers to Israel 3 times in Jeremiah 24 and 29, and Hosea 9. Jesus used the word 'likewise' meaning in the same manner! When you see fig trees beginning to bud - you know summer is near. Likewise - In the same manner -

When you see the events pass Jesus mentions between verse 3 and 33 - you know his return is near. Simple enough, isn't it? I can't stand the…


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You state that the fig tree cannot refer to Israel becoming a nation because people have concluded that a generation is 40 years and nothing happened in 1988. Therefore Case closed! Just because people make stupid claims that a generation is 40, 70, or 80 years and that is how the parable should be interpreted doesn’t make it false. It’s a straw man argument you make so you can easily topple it. When Jesus called the Pharisees a generation of vipers what was he referring to? He was referring to the people then living at that time. Right? How do we recon generations today? We have gen z, We have millennials. We have the baby boom generation that I am…

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Replying to

Excuse me, ** "it could be around 2058", not "1958".

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You claim that the fig tree cannot be Israel because in the parable in Luke 21 it includes all trees. This apparent discrepancy could be easily explained if Jesus gave two parables, one parable written down in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 and the other written in Luke 21. In the Luke 21 parable trees could represent nations that shoot forth. What does it mean to shoot forth? And what do the nations shoot forth. Answer: the Jewish people. Ezekiel 36:23-24

23   And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall…

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You're right - all the trees "COULD" represent the Jewish people. But it could also mean what I said. You started by giving your assumption, then used a passage of scripture that says nothing about the Jewish people being "trees that shoot forth from the fig tree." You have to give real scriptural evidence that "all the trees" in Luke represent the Jews. I've never heard a futurist make that connection. The multiple scholarly futurists I've read don't even agree with your statement: "a. Look at the fig tree: The fig tree is just one example of a tree that buds before summer; no special reference to Israel seems to be intended (as indicated by the words, and all the…

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You state that there is no one was interpreting the parable that the fig tree is Israel before 1948. My answer to that is found in Daniel 12:4

But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. That tells me that Biblical knowledge shall increase in the last days.

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Hello bvbeliever1! The Gospels were not written until hundreds of years after Daniel, so that scripture could not be, in any way, telling us what the specific fig tree parable represents in Matt. 24:32-34. I don't see how your scripture or comment refutes what I said. Can you find me a reputable commentary or quote existing before 1948 which says that the fig tree in Matt 24 is the re-established nation of Israel?

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Todd Ott
Todd Ott
Apr 02

The fig tree seems to represent the Temple. Jesus cursed the fig tree because it didn't bear fruit. It was meant to be a house of prayer for all nations, but had become a den of thieves. Jesus associated the temple with His body, which was destroyed on the cross and raised up in three days. Then, on Pentecost, the Fig tree brought forth its leaves (just prior to summer) and the new Temple was sent out to the uttermost parts of the earth to bear fruit. So it seems that the cursing of the fig tree represented the fall of the old temple (when the mountain of Israel was cast into the sea of nations) and sprouting for…

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Interesting correlation Todd! I've never heard that interpretation before! Thanks for reading, brother

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