by Britt Gillette
Throughout the centuries, people have longed to know which generation will witness the return of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, the answer to that question appeared in the form of a fig tree more than 2,000 years ago.
Jesus Curses the Fig Tree
Both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark tell the following story of Jesus and His encounter with that fig tree:
“Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” Matthew 21:18-22 (KJV)
Although not spoken to His disciples in the form of a parable, this story about the fig tree and its lack of fruit strikes at the heart of the Gospel message.
The Meaning of the Curse
The disappointment of Jesus with the fig tree is an extremely significant event. At first glance, one might think Jesus is merely upset with an actual tree that failed to feed Him when He was hungry. But the fig tree and its fruit play a much larger role. They are symbols of the nation of Israel and its faith.
In Jeremiah 24, the people of Israel are compared to figs, both good and rotten. When Jesus cursed the fig tree, He symbolically placed a curse on Israel. The reason for the curse is straightforward. The fig tree (Israel) failed to bear fruit (faith) even though its leaves indicate it was in season (the appointed time for the coming of the Messiah). Due to its lack of fruit, the fig tree withered. Likewise, Israel’s lack of faith when presented with her Messiah led to her eventual destruction at the hands of the Romans in A.D. 70.
What is Good Fruit?
Jesus cursed the fig tree because of its refusal to bear fruit, and in so doing, He makes it clear that He expects His followers to bear fruit as well. And not just any kind of fruit, but specifically good fruit.
If Jesus expects us to bear good fruit, it’s essential to know what constitutes good fruit in the first place. What is good fruit? And how do we bear it? Paul defines “good fruit” in his letters to the Galatians and the Philippians:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (KJV)
This is the fruit we should produce: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Why? Because ultimately, the good fruit we bear comes from faith in Jesus Christ:
“Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:11 (KJV)
Good fruit should never be confused with the world’s definition of good works. Good fruit is born in the heart and blossoms outward into the world. Its only motive is Jesus Christ. But good works as defined by the world can have many motives, sometimes even evil motives. Yet, no matter how justified we feel in our own eyes, God will always measure our inner motives, never our outward deeds. Placing our trust and faith in Jesus Christ will inevitably produce the good fruits Paul mentioned in his letter to the Galatians. And when we exhibit these good fruits, the world will witness through our lives the glory that is Jesus Christ.
Good Fruit vs. Bad Fruit
To make sure we’re producing good fruit and not bad fruit, we need to know how to tell the difference. Before He placed the curse on the fig tree, Jesus warned His disciples to beware of false prophets and teachers. In fact, He used fruit as a metaphor for identifying the righteous from the evil, explaining that if a tree doesn’t bear fruit, it will be chopped down and thrown into the fire:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Matthew 7:15-20 (KJV)
A good tree will bear good fruit, and a bad tree will produce rotten fruit. Therefore, you can always identify the righteous and the evil based on what they produce.
God’s great commandment is to believe in the one He has sent. Those who do will bear good fruit as a natural result. This is because Jesus is the branch on which all good fruit grows, and His righteous branch can’t help but bear good fruit. Long ago, the prophet Isaiah identified the Messiah as the branch of Jesse:
“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” Isaiah 11:1 (KJV)
If the generation that rejected Jesus had instead made Him the basis of their faith, the very root of their spiritual sustenance, then they would have born good fruit that is pleasing to the Lord.
So what do good fruit, bad fruit, and a barren fig tree have to do with the timing of the Second Coming of Christ? To find out, we must first understand why the fig tree had to wither.
The Withered Fig Tree
Why did the fig tree have to wither in the first place? Why did the generation which witnessed the birth of Christ lack faith in God’s promise of the coming Messiah? They committed to memory the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, and they knew the exact year in which the Messiah would appear in Jerusalem. Yet, because they lacked faith, they failed to recognize the time of His Coming. As a result, an entire generation failed to produce fruit for the Messiah. But why?
Although the Jews didn’t plan to reject the Messiah, God did have a plan. His plan was to spread the salvation of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. Israel’s lack of faith was integral to this process, providing the catalyst for God to offer this salvation to the Gentiles as well. As a result, the salvation God had previously reserved for the Jews alone was offered to the entire world:
“For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” Romans 11:15-24 (KJV)
When Israel rejected Jesus Christ, she opened the door to salvation for the Gentiles. But God never forgot His promise to Israel, and He promises the day will come when Israel will fully embrace the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
A Second Chance for Israel
Just as Paul stated in his letter to the Romans, the Lord hasn’t forgotten Israel. She will have one more chance to bear fruit for her Messiah, and this opportunity is the key to understanding the hour of Christ’s return. Jesus illustrates this when He tells a parable about a planted fig tree:
“He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” Luke 13:6-9 (KJV)
For three years, Jesus spread His message throughout Israel, performing miracles, exhibiting unprecedented knowledge of the Scriptures, and offering ample evidence of His claim to be the long awaited Messiah. Yet despite three years of testimony, Israel refused to believe in the one who was sent.
According to this parable, Israel will get one more year with special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If she still fails to bear fruit, she will be cut down (destroyed).
As Jesus reveals, Israel will be given a final chance to exhibit faith in Him in the last days, just prior to His Glorious Appearing. To do so, Israel must first become a nation once again, a miraculous feat which took place in May 1948. The reestablishment of Israel as a nation is the foremost sign to our generation that Christ’s return is imminent. And that’s why the fig tree is the key to understanding which generation will witness the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Through the nation of Israel, God has given the world a sign that is impossible to ignore. Nevertheless, most of the world has chosen to ignore it.
The Sign of Our Generation
In the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24), Jesus revealed to His disciples that the primary sign of the end of the age and His soon return would be the restoration of Israel as a nation. However, He didn’t plainly say so. Instead, He once again used the fig tree as a metaphor for the nation of Israel:
“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matthew 24:32-35 (KJV)
The fig tree is Israel. It’s been six decades since Israel was once again declared a nation against all worldly odds. In Matthew 24, Jesus promises that the generation which witnesses the reestablishment of Israel will not die off until the end of the age comes to pass. Given the Bible’s impeccable track record, we have every reason to expect His imminent return. Jesus will return soon, within our generation, and a wise person will prepare accordingly.
Just as the time of His first coming was clearly revealed to the previous generation, the season of His Return has been clearly revealed to ours. The previous generation was unprepared for His arrival. Ours should be watching with a patient and enduring faith, fully confident in the glory we are about to witness. Christ is coming. The fig tree is in bloom, and ours is the generation.
Britt Gillette is the founder of BrittGillette.Com, a website examining the relationship between bible prophecy and emerging trends in technology. For more information or to sign up for his email alerts, please visit his site.