Prophecy on Mount Olivet
By Arlen L. Chitwood
The Fig Tree
Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.
So you also, when you see all these things, know that it [He] is near -- at the doors!
Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. (Matthew 24:32-36)
The Jewish section of the Olivet discourse begins with Israel in the Tribulation and involves God’s terminal dealings surrounding Israel during Man’s Day, with everything moving toward Israel being restored to her rightful place in relation to the theocracy and the surrounding Gentile nations.
Then, the Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse closes with the parable of the fig tree and a reference to the days of Noah, both referring to events pertaining to Israel during the Tribulation. And though both are dealing with Israel, matters are approached after a different fashion than seen in the preceding verses. But, as in the preceding verses, the direction toward which everything moves is the same.
There is a common but false interpretation of the Olivet Discourse that seeks to place the occurrence of some events depicted in the Jewish section of this discourse during the present dispensation, preceding that time when God removes the Church and once again begins to deal with Israel, completing the last seven years of Daniel’s Seventy-Week prophecy. This, as seen in previous chapters in this book (particularly in Chapter 1), is a mistake in hermeneutics. This type of understanding and interpretation of the passage seeks to present a beginning of God’s national dealings with Israel at a time near the end of the present dispensation, while God is dealing with the Church, during the time when Israel has been set aside, allowing the Spirit of God to call out a bride for God’s Son.
God works with set times that He Himself has established. And seeing God dealing with Israel on a national basis near the end of the present dispensation, before the dispensation has run its course, is to see God begin dealing with Israel before the arrival of the time that He had previously established and set aside.
God is not going to begin dealing with Israel until it is time for Him to begin dealing with Israel. And the time in which He will resume His dealings with Israel is clearly revealed in Scripture. God’s concluding dealings with Israel during the present age, ending Man’s Day, await time during the Seventieth and last Week of Daniel’s prophecy — which cannot be brought to pass until the present dispensation has run its course.
(Some Bible students might seek to see a validity for God beginning His dealing with Israel in a national respect, as seen in the Olivet Discourse, before the present dispensation is over on the basis of the fact that He continued dealing with Israel in a similar respect for some three decades after the dispensation began [from 33 A.D to about 62 A.D.].
One problem with this type of thinking has to do with the situation, then and now; the situation between 33 A.D. and 62 A.D. was not the same at all as the situation is now. In 33 A.D., after the kingdom had been taken from Israel and a new creation had been called into existence to be the recipient of that which Israel had rejected, a generation of saved Jews remained on the scene. This was the generation to which the kingdom had originally been offered during Christ’s earthly ministry; and the kingdom was re-offered to this generation of saved Jews for about the next three decades, until this generation began to die off, leaving a generation of unsaved Jews on the scene [for now salvation was effected through the death and shed blood of the rejected Paschal Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, not through the death and shed blood of the previously accepted paschal lambs, which had typified and pointed forward to Christ]. Thus, the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel, of necessity, was closed.
During the period from 33 A.D. to about 62 A.D., this message, as seen in Romans 1:16, was “to the Jew first [those comprising this saved generation of Jews] and also for the Greek [those comprising the one new man, the new creation ‘in Christ,’ which was taken mainly from the Gentiles].” Israel was given priority during this time simply because of the nation’s identity within God’s economy [which had allowed both the original offer and the re-offer to be extended].
A situation of any related nature to the preceding simply won’t exist near or at the end of the present dispensation. Aside from that, the main problem surrounding the thought of God dealing with Israel on a national basis near the end of the present dispensation, in a similar nature to the way He dealt with Israel for about three decades at the beginning of the dispensation, would be the clear teaching of Scripture itself. Scripture is quite clear concerning the time in which God will turn back to Israel and begin dealing with this nation once again. God’s national dealings with Israel will occur only after the present dispensation is over, after He completes His dealings with the Church, and after time during Daniel’s Seventy-Week prophecy begins. This is the manner in which God has established the matter throughout the Prophets and at any other place where Scripture deals with that future time when God will resume His national dealings with Israel.
Just as surely as God will complete His dealings with and remove the Church before the Tribulation begins [which will comprise the last seven years of the previous dispensation, the dispensation in which God dealt with Israel], He will not begin His dealings with Israel on a national basis until He has completed His work with the Church during the present dispensation. To see God dealing with Israel in a national respect before He completes His work with the Church during the present dispensation [any part of the nation — e.g., the remnant in the land today, forming the nation of Israel], or to see God dealing with the Church during the Tribulation [any part of the Church], is a mistake in biblical hermeneutics.
The hermeneutical mistake is made by stepping outside the scope of the meaning of the word “dispensation” in Scripture. This word, a translation from the Greek word, oikonomia [a compound word that has to do with the management of household affairs (oikos, ‘house,’ and nemo, ‘to manage’)]. “A dispensation,” by the simple definition of the word itself, has to do with God’s management and dealings with household servants [a work occurring during time, though time is not part of the meaning of the word, oikonomia, “dispensation”].
During the present time, God is dealing with one group of household servants, the Church. Israel, comprising another group of household servants, has been set aside, allowing God to deal with a different group of household servants for the length of time covered by the present dispensation. Once God has completed His dealings with one group of household servants during the present dispensation, He will then turn back to Israel and deal with another group of household servants, completing the last seven years of the past dispensation.
But God will not deal with both during either the closing days of the present dispensation or during the last seven years of the past dispensation [Daniel’s Seventieth Week, the Tribulation]. That is to say, God will not deal with Israel in a national respect during the closing days of the present dispensation, during which time He is dealing with the Church; nor will God deal with the Church during the coming Tribulation, during which time He will be dealing with Israel.
Thus, any thought of Christians [any Christians, faithful or unfaithful] entering into any part of the Tribulation [a widespread teaching in Christendom today] is immediately seen to be fallacious on dispensational grounds alone. And, aside from the previous, when dealing with that which the future holds for Christians at the end of the present dispensation, Scripture always clearly presents Christians [all Christians] being removed from the earth before the Tribulation begins.)
Thoughts that part of the Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse has a beginning fulfillment during the closing days of the present dispensation concern mainly the opening verses (all or part of the events seen in Matthew 24:4-14, depending on the interpreter).
Then, this whole overall thought of a beginning fulfillment occurring during the closing days of the present dispensation is usually carried over into the parable of the fig tree in verses thirty-two through thirty-six by these same interpreters.
An attempt is made to relate the budding of the fig tree to Israel becoming a recognized nation once again on May 14, 1948, with many Bible students seeing this as the beginning of God’s promised restoration of His people from a worldwide dispersion. This may sound good, and it may appear to be in complete accord with that which is seen in the Olivet Discourse, along with biblical prophecy surrounding God’s promises concerning the restoration of His people. But this type of understanding of the matter is not only incorrect any way that it is viewed but such an understanding of the parable of the fig tree and God’s promises concerning Israel’s restoration only adds to an already existing confusion concerning biblical prophecy as it pertains to Israel and the nations.
(For additional information concerning why the present restoration of a remnant to the land during modern times [though approaching 6,000,000 strong, some two-fifths of the world’s Jewish population] can be neither a beginning nor a partial fulfillment of God’s many restoration promises to Israel throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, refer to “The Intractable Middle East Problem” or “The Death of the High Priest” in the appendix of the author’s book, The Time of the End.)
The Fig Tree — a Metaphor
“Trees” are used in Scripture to symbolize national powers. In Judges 9:8-15, a passage that relates the oldest known parable in the world, “trees” are seen as representative of nations that sought to elect a king to reign over them. Daniel 4:10-12 refers to the vision of “a tree in the midst of the earth,” which is revealed to represent the kingdom of Babylon (vv. 20-22).
And the Lord used trees on more than one occasion during His earthly ministry within this same framework in order to teach His disciples great spiritual truths concerning the Church, Israel, and the Gentile nations. He referred to the “mustard seed” which germinated, experienced an unnatural growth, and became a tree. He later referred to “the fig tree” on several occasions, and on one of these occasions He referred to “all the trees” in conjunction with the fig tree (Matthew 13:31, 32; 21:19, 20; 24:32; Mark 11:13, 14, 20, 21; 13:28; Luke 13:6-9; 21:29).
The manner in which the Lord used “the fig tree” in Matthew 21:19, 20 and Mark 11:13, 14, 20, 21 (see also Luke 13:6-9) clearly reveals that He was referring to Israel. Contextually, even apart from how God had previously used “the fig tree” in the Old Testament Scriptures as a reference to Israel, no other conclusion can be drawn.
And His subsequent use of “the fig tree” in the Olivet Discourse accounts must be understood in this same sense, for “the fig tree” had not only previously been singled out to represent Israel (in line with the fact that “trees” are used in Scripture to represent nations) but the textual setting and things stated about “the fig tree” in the Olivet Discourse accounts preclude any other interpretation. In this same light, “all the trees” in Luke 21:29 would have to be a reference to all the Gentile nations.
Though there are several references in the Old Testament to the use of “the fig tree” to represent Israel (e.g., Hosea 9:10; Micah 4:4; Habakkuk 3:17), the book of Joel contains the most extensive use, clearly and unmistakably associating “the fig tree” with Israel. This book deals with the complete Times of the Gentiles (Chapter 1), but more extensively with the Times of the Gentiles being brought to an end, followed by Israel (“the fig tree” [1:7, 12; 2:22]) occupying her proper place in relation to the nations (“all the trees of the field” [1:12]) in a restored theocracy.
The book of Joel contains an abundance of metaphors and symbolism. And this type of use of language must be recognized when studying through the book. In fact, God, throughout His Word, has an affinity for the use of this type of language, a type of language used more commonly in the East (where Scripture was written) than in the West.
The book of Joel begins by calling attention to four types of locusts — together, showing the complete destructive power of the locust — which are used to symbolize the complete destructive power of a Gentile nation (in this case, the kingdom of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar), which, itself, is symbolized by the destruction that a lion with its powerful teeth and jaws can produce (1:4-6).
In the preceding respect, the writer uses two metaphors (the destructive powers of both the locust and the lion [vv. 4, 6]) to describe the same thing, that which is seen in the next verse, in verse seven — the destruction that the Lord allowed a Gentile nation to wreak upon the nation of Israel:
He [the Gentile nation (v. 6)] has laid waste My vine, and ruined [‘fragmented,’ ‘broken’] My fig tree; He has stripped it bare and thrown it away, its branches are made white [the bark missing from the branches, descriptive of the chewing work of locusts]. (Joel 1:7)
Not only is reference made to “My fig tree,” but a previous, introductory reference is made to “My vine.” This is the translation of a Hebrew parallelism, something seen quite often in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. That is to say, a statement is made, then the same statement is repeated another way.
“My vine” is mentioned first. The vine had been laid waste by the destructive power of the Gentile nation referred to in the previous verse, and there can be no possible mistake concerning the identity of the nation referenced by “My vine” and that which is referred to by this sequence of events by the use of metaphors and symbolism.
The entire picture was presented earlier in Isaiah 5:1-13, preceding both the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities (occurring about 722 and 605 B.C. respectively), with “the vineyard of the LORD of hosts” specifically said to be the house of Israel, and the men of Judah (a reference to both the northern and southern kingdoms in this case — the whole house of Israel [v. 7]). And, in the same passage, because of the nation’s failure to bring forth the type of fruit that the vineyard was supposed to produce, the Lord not only took away His protection, but He allowed Gentile nations to come into the land and take His people captive.
Then to further explain “My vine [i.e., the whole house of Israel]” being laid waste in this manner in Joel 1:4-7a, the writer goes on to refer to exactly the same thing under the symbolism of “My fig tree,” completing the Hebrew parallelism (v. 7b).
Further down in the chapter (v. 12), there is a reference to “the vine” and “the fig tree” again, followed by a reference to “all the trees of the field” (a reference to the surrounding nations — the same nations seen by and through the symbolic use of “all the trees” in Luke 21:29, 30). And, in this verse, because of that which happened to the fig tree, to Israel, the surrounding nations are seen suffering a similar fate.
(In relation to the surrounding Gentile nations, Israel had been called into existence as the nation through which God would not only reach the Gentile nations with His message but the nation through which He would bless the Gentile nations as well.
But, with Israel removed from the position that the nation had been called to occupy, the Gentile nations, from a spiritual standpoint, could rise no higher than Israel. The nations, from a spiritual standpoint, could only occupy a position in keeping with the position in which God had placed Israel.)
But Joel doesn’t end his prophecy at this point. Rather, the main part of the prophecy has to do with that coming day when God will restore His vine, His fig tree.
And, with the restoration of the fig tree, the trees in the field would be dealt with accordingly, by Israel fulfilling her calling, reaching the nations with God’s message and the nations being blessed by and through Israel (something seen also in Luke 21:29, 30, when not only the fig tree shoots forth but all the trees as well, verses that must be studied and understood in the light of Joel’s prophecy).
(As “all the trees,” from a spiritual standpoint, could not occupy a position above the broken, fragmented position occupied by “the fig tree,” the opposite concerning “all the trees” would be true when “the fig tree” is one day allowed to shoot forth.
When this occurs, then “all the trees” can shoot forth. Then, all the Gentile nations can be reached by and blessed through Israel.)
Note how this condition relative to “the vine” and “the fig tree” — which, collectively, will result in blessings for “all the trees,” seen in Luke 21:29, 30 — is dealt with in Joel once the Lord steps back into the picture and completes His dealings with Israel, with the Messianic Era in view:
Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done marvelous things!
Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field; for the open pastures are springing up, and the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their strength . . .
Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the LORD your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame. (Joel 2:21, 22, 27)
The Fig Tree — Cursed
Christ, at His first coming, appeared in two related fashions, seen in John 1:11:
He came to His own [neuter in the Greek text, referring to His own things], and His own [masculine in the Greek text, referring to His own people, the people of Israel] did not received Him.
His own things to which He came had to do with those things rightfully belonging to the One “born King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2): the throne of David, His own throne, the domain over which He was to rule, etc. He offered to His own people (the nation of Israel) that which pertained to His own things, and He was rejected.
As a consequence, Israel was, in turn, rejected. God set Israel aside while He called out a separate and distinct “nation,” comprised of those who were neither Jew nor Gentile, to be the recipient of that which Israel had rejected.
Matthew 21:1-11 records the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as Israel’s King in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. This was the final, climactic offer of His own things to His own people. And the continued rejection by the “chief priests and scribes” (v. 15) brought about the cursing of the fig tree (vv. 18, 19), the utterance of two parables pertaining to Israel and their unbelief (vv. 28-42), and the announcement that the kingdom that had been offered to and rejected by the Jewish people would be taken from them and given to “a nation bearing the fruits of it” (v. 43).
Note the place that the cursing of the fig tree occupies in this sequence of events. It appears immediately after Christ’s final, climactic rejection by Israel and immediately before Christ announced that the “kingdom of God [i.e., that part of the kingdom which had been offered to the nation — the ‘kingdom of the heavens’]” would be taken from Israel.
Understood contextually, the symbolism involved in the cursing of the fig tree becomes a relatively simple matter to ascertain. Christ came to the fig tree seeking fruit and found none (exactly as seen when God came to His vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7 and found no fruit, a section of Scripture alluded to in Matthew 21:33ff that related to Israel’s fruitless condition at Christ’s first coming). A curse was then pronounced upon the tree (in relation to the tree bearing fruit):
Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry.
And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again” [lit., ‘with respect to the age’ referring to the coming age, the Messianic Era]. Immediately the fig tree withered away.” (Matthew 21:18, 19)
(Note that this curse relative to the nation bearing fruit was in relation to the proffered kingdom, the kingdom of the heavens. In relation to the rejected kingdom in Matthew 21:18, 19, Christ’s previous words in Matthew 12:31, 32 would, of necessity, have to apply. In these verses, “the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit [attributing to Satan the power through which Christ was performing miraculous signs]” would not be forgiven Israel’s religious leaders [something seen extending to the nation at large in subsequent verses and the next chapter] “either in this age or in the age to come [lit., ‘neither in this age (Man’s 6,000-year Day), nor in the one about to come (the age about to come, the Lord’s Day, the 1,000-year Messianic Era)’].”
The same thing is in view relative to fruit bearing in Matthew 21:18, 19. Fruit bearing in these verses has to do with the kingdom of the heavens. And “the fig tree,” Israel, will not bear fruit relative to this facet of the kingdom even during the Messianic Era — during the same time seen in Matthew 12:32, which covers not just Man’s Day but the future Lord’s Day as well.
In that future day though Israel will bear fruit. In fact, Israel will be very fruitful in that day, just not in relation to the heavenly sphere of the kingdom.)
Christ came to Israel seeking fruit, found none, and Israel was set aside for a dispensation. The “fig tree,” Israel, is to bear no fruit during the present dispensation; nor is Israel to bear fruit during the last seven years of the past dispensation — during the coming Tribulation, when time during the seven concluding years of this past dispensation will be fulfilled. Israel is presently under a curse in this respect and will remain in this status (relative to fruit bearing) until the Messianic Era.
But even during the Messianic Era, Israel’s fruit bearing will be limited to the earthly sphere of the kingdom. And in this respect, after Israel has been restored, fruit will appear on the tree. In fact, restored Israel will be very fruitful (note Sarah, who was barren [Genesis 23:1, 2], and Keturah, who was very fruitful [Genesis 25:1, 2], within the overall framework of the typological teachings drawn from Genesis 21-25).
(For information on the typological teachings drawn from Genesis 21-25, refer to the author’s book, Search for the Bride. This book has to do mainly with events in Chapter 24 but covers the overall scope of events in Chapters 21-25.)
The fig tree that Christ cursed had leaves only. Mark, in his account, adds a statement not found in Matthew’s gospel: “. . . for it was not the season for figs” (Mark 11:13). It was not time for fruit to appear on either the tree that Christ cursed or the nation that the tree represented. It was too early in the season for the fig tree to bear fruit (although “leaves” portended fruit, for the appearance of fruit normally preceded or accompanied the appearance of leaves — a peculiarity of the fig tree); and, in this same respect, it was too early in God’s septenary arrangement of time for Israel to bear fruit, though the nation will one day bear fruit.
The fig Tree — Tender Branch, Leaves
Though the fig tree is cursed for the duration of the present dispensation, the tree, near the end of the age, is to reappear as it was seen in Matthew 21:19 prior to being cursed — with leaves, but no fruit. This will occur prior to the time that the curse is lifted, the Glory is restored, and fruit correspondingly appears on the tree. The reappearance of the fig tree, possessing leaves only, is THE SIGN that Scripture provides to show that the end of the age is very near.
This is something that occurs during the time God resumes His national dealings with Israel though, not something occurring near the end of the present dispensation. And the fig tree reappearing with leaves only has nothing to do with the existence of a Jewish nation in the Middle East, particularly during the closing days of the present dispensation. And this same thing would be true even during the Tribulation, when God will have resumed His national dealings with Israel and the fig tree is seen with leaves once again.
It’s not just the Jews comprising the nation in the Middle East that are in view. Rather, the whole of world Jewry is in view, with most of the Jews still scattered among the nations — the same ones in view when the fig tree was cursed, which can’t possibly be limited to Jews in the land of Israel almost 2,000 years ago.
The Jews in the land today — comprising the present nation of Israel, as it is recognized by other nations — are there in unbelief. And it is this present nation that will be there during the first three and one-half years of the Tribulation. This nation will then be uprooted (in the middle of the Tribulation) and driven back out among the Gentile nations (i.e., those who are not slain or do not escape to a place of safety that God will have prepared in the mountainous or desert part of the land).
And with that in mind, two things must be understood about the reappearance of the fig tree with leaves.
1) The fig tree has to do with the whole house of Israel, which, since the days of Moses, has never ceased to have both a national and racial existence. The national existence may not be recognized by man between about 605 B.C. and 535 B.C. and between 70 A.D. and 1948 A.D., but nonetheless it has always existed throughout the Times of the Gentiles, always including the whole house of Israel, not just a remnant in the land returning from the days of the Babylonian captivity, or the remnant in the land under a Zionistic movement today.
Possessing a national existence does not necessarily involve being separated from the rest of the nations and occupying a separate land. The Church has always possessed a national existence (1 Peter 2:9, 10), separate from either Israel or the Gentile nations; and those comprising the Church have always been found scattered among these nations, without a present land of their own.
(The land belonging to Christians though is in the heavens, presently occupied by Satan and his angels. Thus, Christians cannot occupy a land during the present time, only during that future day after Satan and his angels have been cast out.)
2) The fig tree with leaves will exist throughout the seven years of the Tribulation, not just during the first three and one-half years while a Jewish nation exists in the Middle East (note that a Jewish nation will not exist in the Middle East during the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation, though the fig tree with leaves will remain in existence). In this respect, the existence or non-existence of a Jewish nation in the Middle East during modern times really has nothing to do with the matter seen in Matthew 24:32-36, for, again, the whole house of Israel is in view — exactly as seen in the cursing of the fig tree in Matthew 21:18, 19 — not just the remnant in the land.
Israel will be in travail throughout the entire seven years of the Tribulation (cf. Isaiah 66:7, 8; Matthew 24:8; Revelation 12:1, 2), the birth of the nation will be about to occur, leaves will appear on the tree (anticipating fruit), and Satan will know these things. Thus, he, through the man of sin, will use and maximize every resource at hand, as he turns his attention toward one goal: the final solution to the Jewish problem — the complete and utter destruction of the nation of Israel, beginning with the remnant in the land and then continuing with the Jews dispersed among the nations worldwide.
The fact of “birth pangs” though portend birth, “leaves” portend fruit, and God’s promises to Israel will not fail. Though the nation will have to pass through its darkest hour, the dawn will arrive:
The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings . . . .” (Malachi 4:2)
In Matthew 24:33, when those during the Tribulation “see all these things” (things surrounding the fig tree with leaves in conjunction with the things seen back in previous verses, things that will occur during the Tribulation [vv.4-26, 32-36]), those on earth in that day, particularly the Jewish people, can know that Israel’s Messiah is “near -- at the doors!.” And the “generation” that sees these things come to pass during the Tribulation will not pass off the scene “till all these things take place” (v. 34). The word translated “generation” in this verse (Greek: genea) could be understood in the sense of either “race” or “generation.” It is used both ways in Scripture.
If the former (“race”), the word would refer to the indestructibility of the nation of Israel; if the latter (“generation”), it would refer to the same generation that saw the beginning will see the end. And since only seven years are involved from beginning to end, the former understanding of the word would evidently be the way in which the word is to be understood, i.e., a reference to Israel’s indestructibility (cf. Isaiah 54:17; Jeremiah 31:35-37; 33:20-26).
As well, this understanding of the word genea would be more in keeping with the overall scope of events seen in the Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse, with Satan in this section of Scripture, seen attempting, through every means at his disposal, to eradicate the nation of Israel from off the face of the earth.
That Day and Hour
Christians, by the signs of the times, can know the nearness of the Lord’s return; and the Lord has seen fit to supply His people with an abundance of information in this realm. Christians though cannot know the day or the hour. These specifics are reserved for the “Father only” (cf. Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32).
Within this framework, some Christians have been disturbed by the way Mark 13:32 reads (Matthew 24:36 also reads this same way in several of the better Greek manuscripts and is so translated in most later English versions [ref. ASV, NASB, NIV]):
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
The way that this verse reads in the English text has left some with the thought that even Christ Himself did not know the day and hour of His return, which, of course, would reflect negatively upon His deity.
Seeing this problem, some expositors have attempted to call attention to self-imposed limitations in connection with Christ’s incarnation and appearance “in the likeness of sinful flesh” on the earth. Though viewing the matter after this fashion may seemingly solve the problem (though, in reality, it produces far more problems than it solves), the text actually teaches something quite different.
Correctly translated, the text is really a direct allusion to the deity of Christ, showing to the ones being addressed that He was exactly who He claimed to be. Matthew 24:36 also teaches the same truth with the addition of the words, “neither the Son,” for the Greek manuscripts containing these words read the same way as the Greek text of Mark 13:32 reads.
The Greek words ei me, appearing in and translated “but” in both Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32, are the key to a correct understanding of these passages. Possibly the best comments on the matter were those given years ago by Archbishop Trench as he was expounding on the words ei me in Mark 13:32:
“The late Archbishop Trench, one of the greatest authorities on words, when lecturing to a London college, called attention to the fact that in the last part of this verse [‘but the Father’], the two Greek words ei me, translated ‘but,’ really mean ‘if not.’ The Greek word ei means ‘if,’ and the Greek word me means ‘not.’ He called attention to the fact that any good Greek Concordance would reveal the same.
Archbishop Trench understood this verse to mean, ‘If I were not God as well as man, even I would not know the day nor the hour.’ Thus, Mark 13:32 corrected would read:
But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son if not the Father.
In other words, Jesus says that if He were not the Father He would not know. We have the same truth in John 9:33 with the same two Greek words, ei me, translated, ‘if not’ — ‘If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.’”
— Selected Writings of A. Edwin Wilson
Thus, Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32, rather than showing self-imposed limitations of the Son (the attempted explanation used in some Christian circles), or a non-deity status of the Son (as claimed by certain cults), are two of the most straightforward verses in the New Testament bearing witness to the Son’s true identity.
He is one with the Father, possessing the same attributes. If He were not God, He would not know the day and hour of His return; but He is God, and He consequently does know.
The appearance of the fig tree with leaves once again will portend that which can only follow — the appearance of fruit on the tree, the appearance of Israel bearing fruit.
Israel though must first pass through the nation’s greatest time of suffering, the Great Tribulation. Then, the nation will realize a calling that has been delayed for millennia. The Glory and the theocracy will be restored, and fruit will appear on the tree.
1) Fig Leaves in Genesis
The fig tree with leaves only, representing Israel in the same condition, should be understood in the light of the first mention of fig leaves in Scripture, for a first-mention principle regarding fig leaves — which remains unchanged throughout the remainder of Scripture — is seen in this opening part of Scripture.
Adam and Eve, following the fall, suddenly found themselves in a naked condition and tried to cover their nakedness with fig-leaf aprons (Genesis 3:7). It is evident that the fig-leaf aprons constituted their efforts to replace a covering of Glory that they lost at the time Adam, as the federal head of the human race about to descend from his lions, partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
God is clothed “with light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2), and man was created in the “image” and “likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26-28). Man, at the time of his creation, could only have been enswathed in a covering of Glory, which had to do with the presence of God at all times. This covering was lost at the time of the fall, separating man from God, revealing the primary meaning of the word “death” — i.e., separation from God (cf. Genesis 2:17).
(Two different words are used for “naked” in the Hebrew text of Genesis 2:25; 3:7. The latter word, used in chapter 3, following the fall [geyrom], has to do with utter, complete nakedness. But something different is seen with the word used in chapter 2 before the fall [garom].
The word used before the fall could refer to a man partially clothed, though viewed as naked because of the way he was partially clothed — e.g., possessing an inner garment but not an outer garment.
Adam and Eve, before the fall, possessed coverings of Glory [the inner garments] but not the regal outer garments that they had been created to ultimately wear. They were “naked” in this respect.
Then, following the fall, with their loss of the coverings of Glory, with their complete nakedness, they were in no position to wear regal garments.
Thus, the thought of redemption enters into the picture at this point in Scripture [latter part of chapter 3, continuing into chapter 4]. And redemption is seen to be for one central purpose — in order that man might be placed back into a position where he can one day wear regal garments, ultimately occupying the position for which he had been created in the beginning.)
From the point Adam sinned until the present time there has existed in Scripture what could be called “the fallen image,” a condition wrought through Adam’s fall, which will one day be rectified.
(Note Romans 3:23 in this same respect:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
It is not “eternal salvation” that man falls short of in this verse. Rather, it is “the glory of God” [see also Romans 5:2].
This Glory was lost through “sin” in the past; and this is the manner in which conditions continue today.)
This fact will also reveal what is wrong with man’s body of “flesh” today. “Flesh” is presently spoken of as sinful. We read about the “works of the flesh” as opposed to the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-23; cf. Romans 8:8; 13:14; Ephesians 2:3), or about Christ coming to this earth in “the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3).
There is really nothing wrong with flesh per se. Man was created with a body of flesh, and redeemed man will possess a body of flesh throughout not only time (the millennial age) but eternity (the ages beyond). The problem exists where there is a body of flesh without the covering of Glory, a problem that has not always existed in the past and will not always exist in the future.
Christ coming in “the likeness of sinful flesh” is a reference to His appearance on this earth without the covering of Glory; and except for the brief appearance after a different fashion on the mount in Matthew 17:1-8, He lived on this earth and died at Golgotha apart from this covering. He was stripped of His garments, exposing the uncovered flesh, and arrayed as a mock King immediately preceding Calvary.
As He stood there in this array, apart from His Glory, He was spat upon, mocked, and smitten with a reed (representing a scepter, which had been placed in His hand). He was then stripped of His garments again at Golgotha, exposing the uncovered flesh, bearing the sins of the world “in His own body” (Matthew 27:27-31; John 19:23; 1 Peter 2:24).
The ignominy and shame of these experiences cry out for the same scenes that witnessed His sufferings and humiliation to also witness His Glory and exaltation.
2) Fig Leaves in the Gospel Accounts
Now, what do these things have in common with the fig tree being cursed by Christ at the termination of His earthly ministry? What does the mention of fig leaves in connection with the fall of Adam have to do with Israel typified by a fig tree with leaves only?
First, note the reason for Adam’s creation. Adam was created to supplant Satan as the ruler over this earth, and Eve was removed from Adam’s body to reign as consort queen with him (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:21-25). Satan, by and through sin, had been disqualified as the earth’s ruler (Isaiah 14:13, 14); and an entirely new creation, created in the image and likeness of God, was brought on the scene to hold the scepter.
However, Satan knowing this, brought about the First Adam’s fall and his resulting disqualification to assume the position for which he had been created. Thus, Satan continued to reign, even though disqualified to do so.
This reveals a principle of biblical government. An incumbent, even though disqualified and rejected by God, continues to hold his divinely appointed office until he is actually replaced, which requires the one replacing him to not only be present but to also be ready to ascend the throne (note Saul and David in this respect, or the antitype, Satan and Christ).
Second, note the reason that Israel was brought into existence and established in the position of God’s “firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22, 23). Israel, a special creation of God (Isaiah 43:1), was called out of Egypt under Moses to exercise the rights of primogeniture in the land covenanted to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel was to be the ruling nation on earth and the nation through which all of the Gentile nations would be reached and blessed (Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5, 6).
(Israel, as Abraham’s seed, was also made the repository for heavenly promises and blessings [Genesis 14:18, 19; 22:17, 18; 26:3, 4; 28:12-14]. These promises and blessings though were taken from the nation following the cursing of the fig tree [Matthew 21:18, 19, 43] and are presently being offered to a separate and distinct nation, which is comprised of individuals who are neither Jew nor Gentile [cf. 1 Peter 2:9, 10; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 2:11-15].
But the earthly promises and blessings — which were not in view at Christ’s first coming, which were not in view in the kingdom offered to Israel — will one day be entered into and experienced by the nation. These promises and blessings, having to do with the kingdom covenanted to David [cf. 2 Samuel 7:5-17; Ezekiel 37:21-28; Luke 1:31-33], can never be taken from the nation.)
In connection with Israel’s calling, the Glory that man lost at the time of the fall was, after a fashion, restored to man at Mt. Sinai. Rather than this Glory abiding directly with man as preceding the fall though, an earthly tabernacle, patterned after an existing tabernacle in the heavens, was constructed to house the Glory.
Two things become evident at this point in Scripture:
1) No restoration of this aspect of Edenic conditions — man enswathed in a covering of Glory — can exist as long as man resides in a body of death.
2) The Glory is inseparably associated with man’s rule over the earth.
The day came though, centuries later, because of continued disobedience, when this Glory was taken from Israel. About nineteen years after Nebuchadnezzar began carrying away Jewish captives into Babylon, God removed His Glory; and this Glory will not be restored until that time when God places Israel under a new covenant and the nation occupies the position portended by the Glory. Between these two times the nation can rise no higher in relation to regality than Adam following the fall — possessing nothing more than fig leaves at the very most.
Third, note that the cursing of the fig tree was a miraculous work. It was actually one-of-a-kind among miracles that Christ performed during His earthly ministry. All Christ’s other miraculous works dealt with deliverance, but this one dealt with judgment. And miraculous works performed by Christ (or for that matter, miraculous works performed by individuals anywhere else in Scripture [ref. Chapter 6 in this book]) were all peculiarly related to both Israel and the theocracy.
Now, tying all of this together, one should be able to clearly see that all these things are intimately associated with the government of the earth.
Adam was created to rule and reign. But, because of sin, the enswathment of Glory (that which covered Adam’s and Eve’s bodies before the fall, associated with God’s presence) had departed; and nothing was left but fig leaves.
It was the same with Israel. Israel had been brought into existence — a special creation (Isaiah 43:1) — to be the ruling nation within a theocracy. But, because of sin (continued disobedience, over centuries of time), the Glory (the presence of God among His people, dwelling in the tabernacle and later the temple) had departed; and nothing was left but fig leaves.
The time when the Glory will be restored and fruit will reside on the tree is yet future. It will occur when man is brought back into a realization of that which was lost in Adam being regained during the coming age in Christ, the second Man, the last Adam.