Budding Fig Tree

The parable of the “budding fig tree” is a graphic illustration of Christ’s answer to the question – “When will these things come to pass?” The fig tree sprouting foliage is the clue for the “when” of the predicted events. Its leaves signal the arrival of “summer,” the time when “all these things” will be fulfilled.

When interpreting the parable, we must remember that Jesus began his discourse by predicting the destruction of the Temple that was standing in his day:

  • (Mark 13:2-4) – “And Jesus said to him, Do you see these great buildings? There shall not be left here one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down… Tell us, when shall these things be?
  • (Mark 13:28-29) – “Now from the fig tree learn her parable: when her branch is now become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that the summer is nigh; even so you also, when you see these things coming to pass, know you that he is nigh, even at the doors.

THE SYMBOL


Often in the Hebrew Bible, the fig tree symbolizes the impending judgment of Yahweh, sometimes on Israel, but also on other nations.

Elsewhere in the gospel accounts, Jesus uses it to symbolize the failure of the Temple to produce the fruit required by God. For example, he cursed a fig tree for its fruitlessness, and that act portrayed the coming desolation of the Temple - (Isaiah 34:2-4, Jeremiah 29:17, Matthew 21:19-21, Mark 11:13-21).

Likewise in Luke, the parable of the Barren Fig Tree compares the nation of Israel to an unfruitful tree. For three years the landowner expected fruit, but none was produced. Just before he cut down the fruitless tree, the vinedresser asked for one more year to make it productive - (Luke 13:6-9).

The reference to “three years” links the parable to the ministry of Jesus. God is the owner of the tree, Jesus is the vinedresser, and Israel is the fruitless fig tree.

And the parable illustrates the nation’s failure to produce the required fruit and warns of the impending disaster that will befall it if Israel does not repent and heed its Messiah.

The placement of the parable at this point in the discourse recalls the fig tree that Jesus cursed just a few days previously. It, too, was sprouting leaves. Nevertheless, it was completely barren of fruit - (Mark 11:13).

THESE THINGS


The depiction of the budding fig tree is called a “parable,” a teaching device that uses an analogy to make its point. Jesus describes how a fig tree sprouts foliage prior to “summer.”  The arrival of new leaves is a sure sign of summer’s imminence.

The point of the analogy is that “when you see these things happening, you know that it is near”; that is, the “summer” (In the Greek clause, the pronoun is neuter or “it,” as is the noun rendered “summer”).

The tree represents the series of events referenced by the term “these things,” the events that the disciples will witness. They include “birth pains,” persecution, “false prophets,” the proclamation of the gospel to all the nations, and the appearance of the “abomination that desolates” - (Mark 13:2-13).

The use of the Greek demonstrative pronoun tauta or “these things” stems from his prediction of the Temple’s destruction at the start of the discourse (“Do you see these great buildings?”). Jesus applied it to the things the disciples would see leading up to the Temple’s desecration and destruction.

It is vital for his disciples to understand this outline of coming events, especially the arrival of the “Abomination of Desolation,” so they will know when to flee the city of Jerusalem. They will see these catastrophic events unfold before their eyes - (“This generation”).

The parable is a pictorial representation of the events that would culminate in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. When the disciples saw “summer” approaching, they would know that the day of reckoning was at hand, and therefore, presumably, they “fled to the mountains” as instructed and escaped all “these things.”


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