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Parable of the Fig Tree

Matthew 24:32-35
32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: 33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. 34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. 35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
KJV

Matthew 24:32-35 presents a parable that has created many interpretations among scholars. What does the fig tree symbolize?


Although the first issue encountered is the fig tree itself, the understanding of the fig tree is best considered after a review of verse 33 and the meaning of "all these things." While it would be easy to apply this phrase to the budding of the fig tree, the context of the parable demands a meaning applicable to the entire discourse.  "These things" must be the "signs" provided by Jesus in the entire discourse set forth in chapter 24. The disciples did not ask about fig trees. Their questions addressed the things leading to the end of the world and the Second Coming of Jesus.

 

Likewise, Jesus  response to the questions all point to the conclusions of verses 30-31, the sign of the Son of man and the Second Coming. To remain consistent within the confines of the discourse, the "things" of verse 33 must be the signs set forth by our Lord in response to the disciples  questions. These "things" are the "beginning of sorrows" (verse 8). They are the signs that point toward Second Coming of Christ. They are clearly different from the consumption of the end. If the signs were part of the end, then the parable would not make a great deal of sense.

Having established that the parable is about the signs leading to the end of the world, it is easier to understand the nature of the fig tree within the parable. The context, as discussed, calls for a natural understanding of the fig tree parable. Earlier in this Gospel (21:18-22), as well as other parts of Scripture (Luke 13:6-10; 21:29; Joel 1:6-7; Hosea 9:10), Israel is referred to as a fig tree. Many desire to carry this symbolic meaning into the parable. Yet, this is an unnatural reading of the context. While Israel could be symbolically reflected in the parable, the discourse is about the signs of the end times, not about Israel. To read Israel into the parable makes Israel itself the sign of the coming, a conclusion outside the meaning of the discourse.

 

The natural meaning of the parable is straightforward. Summer is arriving when the branches of the fig tree turn green and the buds start to blossom. All parables make use of the common elements of life to describe a spiritual meaning. Since the concept of parables is to allow believers to understand the spiritual meaning, the easy context is a "just as" comparison. So, just as the fig tree s blooming predicts summer, so the signs provided in the discourse will predict the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world. Remember, these were the two questions asked by the disciples and answered by Jesus.

 

To view the fig tree in a symbolic fashion strains the understanding of the "just as" comparison. Is the question "as the fig tree blossoms, so Israel will blossom?" Alternatively, as some like to interpret it, "as Israel blossoms as a nation, the end times will come." Yet, there has been no discussion of Israel in the discourse. The discourse is not about Israel but about the end of the world. In the context of the discourse, there is no relationship between Israel and the disciples  questions. Therefore, it is unrealistic to "discover" the symbolism of the fig tree as representing Israel.

The positive nature of such an assertion is clouded, however, by verse 34: "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." This verse is full of issues that could lend support to a symbolic meaning of the fig tree. If "this generation" obviously relates to Israel, then "all these things" might be reinterpreted to point to the nation.

 

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