Parable of the Fig Tree
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.
Matthew 24:32-35 presents a parable that has created many interpretations among scholars. What does the fig tree symbolize?
"Now learn" creates a transition from the previous verses into this parable. As with all parables, there is a spiritual meaning behind the story. Buried within several interpretive issues found in these few short verses is the meaning of this parable.
The entire context of Matthew 24-25 (and its parallels in Mark and Luke) has helped to fuel the differences in end time views and interpretations. One's overall suppositions regarding pre-millennialism, post-millennialism, amillennialism, and the issue of the Rapture will play a significant role in one's view of these verses. Likewise, declaring one's self to be a preterist, historicalist, an idealist, or a futurist plays a role in one's view of the fig tree parable. If there is no millennium, or if all of the events of Matthew 24 occurred early in the history of the church, the fig tree parable contains significantly different meaning than if one adopts a futurist, real millennium view.
In answering this question, the presuppositions forming the background of consideration are those of a pre-tribulation Rapture, a pre-millennial tribulation, a real millennial rule by Jesus, and a generally futurist view of end times prophecy.
In the first 31 verses of this chapter of Matthew, Jesus has been addressing issues raised by the Apostles. Jesus was discussing the future status of the Temple (24:1-2) and this raised questions in the minds of His followers. These questions are found in verse 3: "Tell us, when shall these things be and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world"
It is important to note the beginning of Christ's answer: "Take heed that no man deceive you" (v4). Jesus provides the information of this chapter to assure that His followers are not deceived by the events leading to the "end of the world" and the Second Coming. There will be a Second Coming. There will be an end of the world. Jesus not only wants us to understand this, but He greatly desires that we not be deceived while we await these events.
In verse 8 Jesus makes it clear that the signs He has detailed are but the "beginning of sorrows." Indeed, in verse 14 Jesus imposes a condition upon the end times, namely the preaching of the Gospel to the entire world. In fact, the true sign of the end times is Jesus Himself (verse 30). Following the sign of the Son of Man, the angels go forth to harvest the earth (verse 31).
Therefore, Jesus wants His disciples to "learn." He desires that the Apostles, and everyone who reads Scripture, understand the "parable of the fig tree" and understand the meaning of the parable. Yet, as referred to above, the presuppositions of interpretation lead to multiple meanings of the details of the parable. At least three different issues arise in these few verses.
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