Week 2, Lesson 3: The Fig Tree has Budded!
If you are still trying to catch your breath from yesterday, don’t bother! We will be left breathless again today as we consider the faithfulness of God following the beginning of the return of His people to the land of Israel. Let’s jump right in!
As the Holocaust-weary Jews returned to the land, there was lots of work to do! Remember, God began preparing the land for them prior to their arrival, but it was not yet fully accomplished. It had been totally barren, filled with swamps, sand dunes and wasteland. There were no homesteads, no trees, no vegetation from which to live. Families and tribes of Jews banded together to form kibbutzim, communes where families pooled skills, talents, and resources to create settlements for themselves. Kibbutzim still exist in smaller numbers today. (Yes, we will see several!)
Survival was the first order of business following the Jewish return to the land, but almost equally as urgent was the matter of statehood. For Jews, there is ingrained knowledge that God promised them land. So, in the late-1800’s, Jewish “dreamers” such as Theodor Herzl launched the Zionist movement, intended to reestablish a homeland for the Jewish people who had been scattered across the globe since 70 AD. While immigration back to the land of Palestine (which Israel was called at the time) had begun, the quest for statehood remained only a vision.
Near the end of World War I, British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour, who was favorable to the Zionist cause, secretly persuaded US President Woodrow Wilson to support a declaration establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Balfour, then, wrote a very brief document written as a plea to Lord Rothschild, another high-ranking British official sympathetic to the Zionist dream. Thus, the movement gained support of both the British and American governments.
That document was The Balfour Declaration, and though not legally binding under international law, it was officially enacted during the 1920 San Remo conference when a treaty granting control of Syria and Lebanon to France, and control of Palestine and Mesopotamia to Britain was issued. In 1922, the League of Nations (precursor to the United Nations) affirmed the treaty and Britain controlled the area.
But it was messy. Great Britain agreed only to provide a Jewish homeland, not that the entire territory would become Jewish. So, the British Mandate carved out Palestine for the Jews and Transjordan for the Arabs. Furthermore, the British Mandate was fraught with pressure from the Arabs, and Jewish immigration became severely limited. Finally, the newly formed United Nations issued a resolution to partition the land in 1947, and Britain announced the termination of their controlling mandate, effective May 15, 1948.
Seizing the moment, David Ben Gurion (for whom Israel’s airport is named!) and other leaders saw the opportunity to fulfill Zionist hopes and dreams originally put forth by Theodor Herzl. They gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum on May 14, 1948, to declare the establishment of the State of Israel! It took only 17 minutes to read the entire Declaration of Independence during a 32-minute ceremony, and the United States became the first nation to recognize the new Jewish state. (Click here for 70 seconds of actual footage of the event.)
Four hours later, Egypt bombed Tel Aviv and four other Arab armies immediately joined the attack. But that’s a story for another day!
Today, let’s examine the Biblical significance of Israel’s rebirth and seek to find the evidence of God’s faithfulness once again. First, do you recall the two major things God promised Abraham? If you said land and descendants, you have learned well! But just because God promised land did not mean Israel would always occupy the land God promised. Their our rebellion and disobedience brought consequences, and a just God cannot and will not overlook sin. Thus, repeatedly Israel’s enemies (Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon for example) dragged the Jewish people into captivity and God brought them back to the land. The land, however, always belonged to them, whether they were in it or not!
But there is lots more Biblical significance to Israel’s rebirth. Isaiah 66:7-8 in NASB and NLT shed the clearest light on a very interesting prophecy regarding Israel’s rebirth. Verse 7 references Israel giving birth to a Son, Jesus the Messiah. But what does verse 8 reference? How quickly does that birth happen?
Indeed, Israel was born in a day! Ben Gurion and the Zionist leaders knew that once the last British soldier was pulled out of Palestine, the British Mandate and the San Remo treaty ensuring a homeland for the Jews would hold no authority. Therefore, Israel had to declare themselves a sovereign nation in that moment to realize any hope of the Zionist dream and ambition. So, literally in a day, they drafted the Declaration of Independence, which they had mulled since the Zionist dream began. Israel was reborn, according to prophecy, on May 14, 1948.
Yet, there is another astounding way God proved faithful to His Word and to Israel. In Matthew 24, Jesus Himself spoke prophetically to His disciples regarding the last days. As they sat on the Mt of Olives, looking west over the Kidron Valley toward the Temple, Jesus had much to say. We will get to more of it later but notice a brief 4-verse parable Jesus shares about a fig tree. Read verses 32-35 of that chapter.
In Scripture, trees often describe Israel’s heritage in various facets. The vine depicts Israel’s religious heritage, the olive depicts Israel’s spiritual heritage, and the fig depicts Israel’s national heritage. (Hosea 9:10, 1 Kings 4:25, Habakkuk 3:17, are examples of Israel’s national heritage depicted through the fig tree.) Jesus’ use of the fig tree to represent Israel was clearly something His disciples would have understood.
In the Matthew 24 parable, we learn a key prophetic significance of Israel’s rebirth. The setting was shortly before Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (early 30’s AD), and Jesus had already predicted the destruction of the Temple (see verses1-2). Israel as a nation still lived at that time, but would be demolished in 70 AD. Now, in verses 32-35, Jesus predicted the rebirth of Israel even before it was dead as a nation!
A dead tree does not bear fruit, yet He was describing the fig tree (Israel) as having tender branches and putting forth leaves. What do you think verse 33 means when it says, …when you see all these things, know that it is near – at the doors? The entire chapter is Jesus’ words regarding end times. Could He perhaps be saying that Israel’s rebirth is a key end time sign? I believe so!
Now it gets really interesting! What in the world does verse 34 mean? What generation is He talking about? How long is a generation? What will that generation see?
The generation He is talking about is the generation who sees the fig tree budding! There is disagreement over how long a generation is but Psalm 90:10 provides an interesting perspective. According to that verse, how long is a generation? Sure, people live longer than that, and some pass away sooner than that. However, might the last person to die, who was alive at Israel’s rebirth, mark the end of a generation? It is just “fuzzy” enough that we cannot figure it out, but if one does the math from Israel’s rebirth in 1948, it is safe to say we are well on our way to the passing of a generation. (Please watch The Generation that Shall Not Pass Away.)
In verse 33, Jesus says, …when you see all these things… the time is near. What things? All the things Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24! Regarding that same conversation, Luke wrote: Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. (Luke 21:28) WE are SEEING those things BEGIN TO HAPPEN! We do not hear them as future events, we actually see them with our very own eyes.
Friends, God was faithful to bring Israel back to life. The fig tree budded on May 14, 1948, just as Jesus Himself said it would. Because of that, we know that God will be faithful to the rest of His promises, including His coming to snatch us away to meet Him in the clouds! (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
One quick word: Immediately after the parable of the fig tree, Jesus stated clearly that no one except the Father knows the day or the hour of Jesus’ return (rapture), so if we think we know, we are false prophets. Never should we set dates and times in predicting His return.
But the apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:1: But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. Furthermore, Jesus criticized the Pharisees (Matthew 16:1-3) and His followers (Luke 12:54-56) for not knowing and understanding the time and season in which they lived. If they were not discerning when Jesus was right in front of them, how much more must we be diligent to discern according to His Word? Paul had no need to write us about it because the rapture will not take us (true believers) by surprise!
We do not know the day and the hour, but we are to discern the time and the season by studying His Word. He is faithful to His Word, and we are living in the season of His soon return! He could literally return at any moment…are you ready?