Jesus Verse by Verse

an expanded commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

Jesus Verse by Verse...

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Digression 27: The Blossoming Of The Fig Tree

The other references to the blossoming of the fig tree build up a strong case for the suggestion 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 the Olivet prophecy 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. 
- 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 first ripe 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 first ripe 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 and 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.