When The Fig tree Withers Away 

“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 forever. And presently the fig tree withered away. ” (Matthew 21:18-20).  They saw it was “dried up from the roots” (Mark 11:20). We’ll see how the fig tree misinterpretation in preaching about prophecy has contributed to the apathy concerning the teaching about the Rapture. When it comes to waiting for the Rapture, some may have taken a seat in patient expectation, but some have thrown up their hands and walked away. My research found that the document of the largest Baptist denomination in America, takes no position on the Rapture in the section on End Times, but only affirms that Jesus will return to earth after the Tribulation. Since the Church is the Bride of Christ, and will stand before Him at the judgement seat of Christ and will dine with Him at the Marriage supper of the lamb in Heaven before He returns to earth on a white horse at the Battle of Armageddon, how in the world can the Rapture not even be mentioned?  How is the church going to get to these heavenly events seven years prior? But, even within the Independent Baptist church world that prominently documents faith in the Rapture, sadly many pulpits are increasingly negligent in this emphasis.  

Thankfully for most of my early years I was motivated by preachers, from this passage, to work and witness. “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.” However, the contextual exposition of this passage, in particular in the next verse was weak. “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:32-35). The logic went like this. The fig tree budding is a prophetic symbol that was fulfilled when Israel became a nation in 1948 – misinterpretation #1. The second misinterpretation is that this  passage refers to the Rapture. Thirdly, therefore the Rapture must happen in that generation. This is a failure to rightly divide the truth. Those with line of circular reasoning were careful not set a date, but many couldn’t resist the sensational eschatological calculations. 

Here are some examples. From the 1960’s through the 1980’s the length of a “generation” got longer. In 1976 Pat Robertson Television Evangelist predicted that the world would end in October OR November of 1982. Some touted the predictions of “the astrologer Neil Michelsen’s “The American Ephemeris,” on 24 August 1987 there would be an exceptional alignment of eight planets in the Solar System. The convergence is purported to have been based on NASA data. Michelsen claimed it “corresponded with a great shift in the earth’s energy from warlike to peaceful.” Secular followers of this esoteric oracle maintained that the Harmonic Convergence ushered in a five-year period of Earth’s “cleansing”, where many of the planet’s “false structures of separation” would collapse.” I remember reading about that in 1977 and thinking if that was the date of the end of the Tribulation, then according to their predictions the Rapture should happen by 1979. Man, was I relieved when it didn’t happen because we had set a wedding date the next year!  Strange how we want Jesus to return but only after our next highly anticipated plans.

Some may remember the name “Edgar C. Whisenant (September 25, 1932 – May 16, 2001). He was a former NASA engineer and Bible student who predicted the rapture would occur in 1988, sometime between Sept. 11 and Sept. 13.  He published two books about this, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 and On Borrowed Time. Eventually, 300,000 copies of 88 Reasons were mailed free of charge to ministers across America, and 4.5 million copies were sold in bookstores and elsewhere. Whisenant was quoted as saying “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong; and I say that to every preacher in town” and “If there were a king in this country and I could gamble with my life, I would stake my life on Rosh Hashana (The Feast of Trumpets) 1988.” Amazingly he still sold many copies of  his sequel The final shout: Rapture report 1989 in which he predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1989. When the clock ticked January 1, 1990 he just reset the date for 1993. This new and improved title gave him some wiggle room.  “23 reasons why a pre-tribulation rapture looks like it will occur on Rosh-Hashanah 1993. By the late 1990’s the length of “that generation” was steadily being extended to 70 years. I remember when many Christians felt safe in saying that it seemed impossible that the year 2000 would pass before the Rapture would take place. Fear of not surviving the Y2K scare actually influenced Biblical interpretation. Within a decade hundreds of thousands of five gallon buckets of survival food didn’t survive the landfill and yet somehow, we all did.

Some started to get a little nervous by the mid 2010’s because of the fig tree Bible math. [1948 + 70 = 2018] But then, Christian Bible prophecy speculators were one – upped by the trending secular interest in the Mayan Calendar hoopla, now referred to as the “2012 Phenomenon.” “December 21, 2012 marked the zero date of a countdown of the  bʼakʼtun—a time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar..  Commenting on the new calendar found at Xultún, one archaeologist said, We keep looking for endings. The Maya were looking for a guarantee that nothing would change. It’s an entirely different mindset.” Christians  mocked that phenomenon while hanging on to 1948 + “a generation,” or 2018-ish. Most preachers and authors gave themselves the date setter disclaimer and quoted, “No man knows the day nor the hour,” with the caveat that the times and the seasons can be known. Speculation is irresistibly lucrative in fleecing the Christian flock or at least hyping the apathetic pew sitters in the flock. Crying wolf hype always lulls the people to sleep who need to be alert.  

Well, here it is 2023 and Israel just celebrated their 75th anniversary.  Three generations on the Overby Calendar means 60 years, if you’re calculating. And who could have predicted I’d be a granddad times 4? The Rapture hasn’t happened in the 75 years since Israel was established. We scoff at the scoffers but scoffers gotta scoff. Let’s stop giving them fodder by sensationalizing prophetic scripture and let’s be committed to rightly dividing the scripture. The way to motivate believers to serve Jesus is because they love Jesus, and the way to motivate saints to reach lost souls is because they love lost souls, not because they fear Jesus coming back.  “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:3,4).  But God is not willing that even scoffers should perish. The salvation of the ones still scoffing is  the very reason for His delay and for the extension of mercy. Thankfully, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). We are to be ready always to give an answer to the hope that lieth within us…” (Titus 2:13).

Sadly, the evangelical world’s misinterpretation of the “Fig tree” and “generation” has given the scoffers much fodder for their laugh factory. How can a Christian who is discouraged or dismayed about the Rapture hype of past evangelicals, muster the courage to answer unbelieving skeptics and scoffers. 

Serious Bible students must do the work to properly interpret scripture including the flowering fig. The Fig tree only symbolizes Israel 1 of 17 mentions in the Old Testament. That example of Israel as a fig tree is found in Hosea 9:10 and is not a reference to the rebirth of the nation of Israel in the end times but rather to her birth when God first found her in the wilderness at Sinai. In the same verse Hosea also says Israel was like grapes. So, which is it?  Should Israel be typified by the Fig tree or the grape vine? Now inappropriate application of the hermeneutic rule of the Law of first mention would mean that Israel must be the grape vine. See how ridiculous it gets? The Apostle Paul clearly identifies Israel as the Olive tree and gentile believers as wild olive branches graphed in among them not in place of them (Romans 11:17-24).

The Rapture is found nowhere in the Matthew 24 passage but is inserted by confusion with the Second Advent of Christ to earth after the tribulation. The confusion comes from the “Days of Noah” section where the phrase “one shall be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:36-44). It is wrongly connected to the eschatological term “Rapture”, from a Latin word for “caught up,” found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. The allusion to Noah easily discredits this interpretation because the ones taken in Noah’s days were taken away in the flood waters of judgment and drowned, not rescued by the ark. In the Rapture the one’s taken away are taken up and delivered from God’s coming wrath on the earth. Furthermore, the coming of Jesus described in Matthew 24 is literally back to the Mount of Olives not only to the clouds.

Comparing scripture with scripture instead of proof-texting one verse to fit a preconceived notion will save a lot of confusion. The same fig tree analogy is recorded in Luke’s account of the same sermon in Matthew 24:32-35.

 “And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled” (Luke 21:29-32.)

The key is found in the phrase, “Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth.” Do all the trees prophetically symbolize Israel or is it just the fig tree? Neither. When we combine both accounts, a simple point is made. The generation that observes “all these things” includes every event described in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, occurring simultaneously. It is a comparison to all the trees blossoming and putting forth leaves simultaneously which is a sign of a seasonal change. Summer follows new leaves like new leaves follow blossoms. With the same predictability of the seasons found in nature, His second coming to earth will immediately follow all the signs in the Great Tribulation. Only the generation that sees “all these things” happening will observe Jesus’ return to the earth at the end of the Tribulation.  Israel’s status of being “trodden under foot” by the Gentile powers will continue until Jesus comes as King of Kings to overthrow those nations and to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem (Luke 21:24). 

Hopefully, this misinterpretation of Israel as the prophetic fig tree, is withering. Yet some no doubt will still try to pick a sermon fig off from that dried up root. The eschatological theory of Israel as the fig tree had a shelf life. The expiration date defined as “the generation” = 70 passed five years ago and Jesus has not yet descended in the clouds to call His bride away much less put his foot down on the Mount of Olives. A misinterpretation that was used to keep the church in a perpetual state of red alert became unsustainable decades ago. People will not remain nor should be expected to remain in a state of high anxiety eschatologically. To the contrary, Jesus said, the Blessed Hope was to be used to “Comfort one another with these words.”

For years I have wondered how it is possible that the people on earth after the Rapture, in the seven year “Tribulation”, who observe a cornucopia of cataclysmic signs, could still be caught off guard and not be expecting Jesus’ second coming imminently. Jesus used the precedent of the clueless pagans of Noah’s day. Most “knew not until the flood came and took them all away” even after Noah preached it for 120 years. You’d think that in the Tribulation, they could easily count 7 seals, + 7 trumpets, + 7 bowls and voila – surely, they could almost figure out the month or season of the year of Jesus’ return. After all, that Abomination of Desolation and the Mark of the Beast are pretty big clues. But will they know? Will they have even heard? Jesus said, like in Noah’s day, they knew not until the flood came and took them away. People still won’t be ready after “all these things” happen simultaneously for seven years. One reason could be the distraction of the devastation from the global tsunami of geological and cosmological catastrophes. Survival will become the only focus. Another reason will be the wide scale deception. Jesus’ first words in answer to the disciple’s question in Matthew 24:3 “When shall these things be,” was “Take heed that no man deceive you.” Then He said many would be deceived. Later He said the deception would be so strong that even the elect would almost fall for it (Matthew 24:24). The “very elect” specifically speaks of the saved Jewish remnant of Israel in the Tribulation.

Serious Bible students must learn to clearly distinguish between the Rapture and the Second Coming. The Rapture has always been imminent. Paul, in his Epistles of 1 Corinthians 15:51 and in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-19 said that the “Rapture” event was a hitherto unrevealed “mystery.” That means the disciples of Jesus could not have understood that concept. The Rapture will not be preceded by glorious events in the heavens. The shout and the trumpet sound will only awaken the “dead in Christ” and we which “are alive and remain.” It will come as a thief in the night to the world. In the Rapture, the Lord will descend in the clouds, not touch down on the Mt. of Olives (Zechariah 14:4). Believers that are alive and remain shall be caught up “to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-19).  Unlike the Rapture, the second coming however, will be gloriously visible like lightening flashing from one end of heaven to the other. The world’s population will fear and tremble at the spectacle. It will be preceded by unprecedented global devastation that will annihilate at least 4/5ths of humanity. The Anti-Christ will be fully known and be in total control of the world. Believers today have become numb to the imminence of the Rapture. The great falling away in worldliness and love of self has emptied many pews and now we are seeing the beginning of the great falling away in doctrinal apostacy among professing “Christians” and historical “Christian” denominations. The hype of misinterpreted eschatology didn’t help the credibility of Christ’s message or the confidence of believers in the face of scoffers.

Although Israel is not the fig tree blossoming, their reestablishment as a nation is the greatest super sign of the last days. Israel the Olive tree according to Romans 11:17-24, had to exist before the 70th week of Daniel could begin with a seven-year peace treaty (Daniel 9:24-27; Matthew 24:15). The second coming as taught in this passage is focused on Israel. 

Jerusalem is increasingly becoming the trembling cup and burdensome stone of conflict in the Middle East. The whole world seems on the verge of the abyss of war. There are extensive preparations for the service of that third temple. A genetic line of “red heifers” has been isolated whose ashes must be used to purify a new Temple. The ashes could be readied for use within days. The geopolitical alignment of the Gog, Magog players of Russia, Turkey and Iran are strengthening. China and the armies of the east are becoming a world threat. Economic collapse and dependance on a cashless one-world government and currency is no longer a distant possibility. Recent Saudi, Israeli and American talks which had begun before the October 7, 2023 massacre of Israelis by Hamas was thought by many to be dead, but those accords still have life. These Abraham Accords between Israel and half a dozen former enemy Arab states could be the harbinger of a seven-year peace treaty.  Major world economic governmental and commercial players are well on their way to creating the new world order. There are fears that Israel’s current war with Hamas could spiral out of control into a regional war with Hezbollah in Lebanon then with Iran, Russia and Turkey who are mentioned in the Ezekiel 38 prophecy. We at J.A.M. refer to the similar things happening now that resemble “all these things” as “Shadows of the Tribulation,” rather than signs of the Rapture. Shadows are being cast on our time period well before the Rapture. The shadows won’t vanish into reality until the Tribulation period. Once that starts then the true signs listed by Jesus will present in rapid succession. Jesus said to the future Tribulation generation “The end is not yet.” “Be not troubled.” “Be not deceived.” “Occupy till I come.” Our prayer is, Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus. Until He does, lets carry His Gospel “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” because we love Him who first loved them.

1. The final recalibration of Ig Nobel Prize winner Pat Robertson (improbable.com)

2. Harmonic Convergence – Wikipedia

3. Edgar C. Whisenant – Wikipedia

4. 2012 phenomenon – Wikipedia

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