Then He gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but My words will never disappear.Luke 21:29-33
Why is this parable here? What does it relate to? Well, Luke tells us this is an illustration of something. An illustration of what? Clearly, it must be connected to what has gone before it. The signs pointing toward the fall of Jerusalem and then Jesus comments about End Times. This is another block of Scripture that requires us to ask the right questions in order to understand it properly. I have listed some questions below for you to ask / answer:
- What does the fig tree refer to?
- What is the point of comparison in focus here?
- When do we see “what things” happening?
- What is meant by “this generation will not pass from the scene”?
With this example, I am not going to leave it with you overnight and come back to it tomorrow. If you wish to work on it yourself, then don’t read any further at the moment. Stop here until you are ready to proceed.
The Greek text of this passage doesn’t use “illustration” but rather “parable”. This is not simply an ordinary illustration but rather an elliptical reference via a parable. Some of the information is hidden from the eyes of those who are not to know the details or the significance. This illustration is for the benefit of the initiated or the in-crowd. The fig tree here is referring to the nation of Israel. It is not that the Fig Tree is symbolic of Israel per se, but rather of Israel’s peace and prosperity. Fig trees are everywhere and so in that way they symbolize the fruitfulness and well being of the nation. Luke, in this segment refers to other trees as well, not just the fig tree. It is possible that Luke is using this to suggest other nations as well, since he is the Gentile writer of this book. The leaves come out on the fig tree in its growth season, prior to the fig tree bearing fruit. Of course the owner or farmers want fruit, not leaves. But leaves are indicative of the coming fruit. The tree leafs and buds first and then the fruit comes.
Therefore, when you see the leaves and fruit appearing on the fig tree (Israel) know that summer is near. Summer meaning harvest season. Thus, when you see fruitful action in the nation of Israel of the kind God is looking for – i.e., repentance, a mass turning to Him – you can know without being told, that harvest is coming. You can know that the Time of the Gentiles is coming to an end and now is the time of Israel. All we have been talking about in the paragraphs before this are linked to this concept. This is after all, an illustration of the points made earlier. When you see the blossoming of Israel and all the signs talked about before, taking place, then you can be sure that the Kingdom of God is near.
Ah, but how near and for whom?
There are a number of interpretations as to what “this generation” refers to. The problem is that [genea] has multiple meanings as follows: generation, contemporaries, period of time or age (time), family or even nation or race. Thus, yielding the following possibilities:
- descendants from a common ancestor,
- a group of people or people born at the same time,
- the period of time occupied by the set of people described in #2
The interpretations open to us are:
- The contemporaries of Jesus at the time He made the statement – those who heard what He said and were living at the time. In which case, the inference is that which is going to happen primarily refers to the fall of Jerusalem. A generation is considered to be around 40 years, so Jesus is effectively saying that the fall of Jerusalem would happen within forty years of when He uttered those words. Yet, what do we do with the suggestion that the Son of Man would be coming on the clouds at that time? Some don’t have a problem with Jesus anticipating His return in sync with the fall of Jerusalem. They figure that no man knows the day of the Son of Man’s return, only the Father. Thus, it is not a problem that Jesus made a “wrong assumption”. Only the Father knows the timing.
- The Jewish people as a race –would continue to exist until the time of the coming of the Son of Man. Effectively, this then was an encouraging statement to the Jews declaring that they would be protected by His hand and would continue to exist until He comes again. That was openly declared by Jesus despite the number of attempts that would be made to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth.
- The group or kind of people who continually opposed everything Jesus did –namely, in the first instance: the Pharisees, Chief Priests, Sadducees and teachers of the Law. But the inference is wider yet. This would include all those like them who would continue in opposition to the things of Christ until the End Times.
- The generation of people who would be living at the End Times –those people who would be living when the consummation of the Kingdom of God comes and Christ comes back for His own. So effectively the last generation living on the earth when the Son of Man comes. The one’s living at the End who would see the End of the Age and the ensuing commencement of the Age to Come.
Note the following words which are familiar to us from Matthew’s account but in a different context here. Namely, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.” All of the heavens and the earth – i.e., all of the created universe will pass away. Now that will be a remarkable, cataclysmic event. Every material thing, life as we know it will cease to exist, will pass away, will be rolled up and done away with.
Although the verb is the same [parerchomai] when it is used in the context of Jesus words, it has a different sense. Rather than to cease to exist, the idea is to endure, or to be in force, or to hold fast or to continue to apply. I think this has two senses. One relating to the prophetic words concerning the fall of Jerusalem and the End Times. The other sense applies to the applicability of all of His teaching. The general Word of God and the principles associated with it will not cease to be applied, even though the world as we know it has come to an end. As I have said before, there are only two tangible, concrete things that remain forever – the souls of mankind and the Word of God.
I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older. Then it dawned on me, they’re cramming for their finals.Ian Vail
The Lord gave us two ends: One to sit on and the other to think with. Success depends on which one we use the most.Ian Vail
You can’t change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying over the future.Anon
God Will Never Give You A Future That Makes Him Unnecessary.Robb Thompson
Your future in heaven is always and forever dependent on His grace and His subsitutionary death on the cross for you.Anon