Behold the Fig Tree

"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).

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel, we are remembering an event that we know as "the budding of the fig tree." Believers have also identified the birth of the fig tree nation as the "sign of the Son of Man" in the political heavens. We have been encouraged to associate this and other related signs with the near return of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

The nation of Israel is a modern miracle. It is clear and positive evidence that God accomplishes what He pleases, and that His word does not return to Him void. This one single event in modern history has restored our faith in the word of God. It has given us assurance that the Kingdom is coming, and it has demonstrated clearly to us that the return of Christ is very near. So what?

How Are We Affected?

So what about us? How have we been affected by the implications of this miracle?

You would think that we would be ecstatic. That we would be leaping for joy. That we would be very excited about the fulfillment of our hopes. Is this the case? (Ho hum.) Ironically, the Master foresaw a very complacent attitude for the latter day believers, and we have done what we could to fulfill his prophecy. "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Peter expressed additional concern for this generation when he said: "There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming?" (2 Pet. 3:3-4). How could anyone who has witnessed the miracle of Israel demonstrate so much blindness to this event? Israel is perhaps our greatest proof that the promises relating to the Master's coming are still alive and well, and yet the fig tree has failed to motivate as it should.

So What is Our Problem?

Why are we by and large unmoved by the miracle of Israel? Why has this event failed to provoke us to love and good works in preparation to meet our God? The reasons may be different depending on our perspective. The generation that saw Israel bud may have been disappointed too often with misguided expectations. Conversely, later generations may have taken Israel for granted, never having known a world without the presence of this nation.

Certainly one problem that affects all of us is that we are very inconsistent. There are times when we are highly motivated and greatly inspired; and there are other times (most of the time), when we are callous and unimpressed with the signs of the times.

Periods of Enthusiasm

During the past fifty years there have been several significant events involving the Nation of Israel. The War of Independence, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, and the Gulf War have all taken their turn in renewing our hopes. Some of these periods were so dramatic that they resulted in several conversions. In addition to the new sons and daughters that were brought into the household, many mature believers were born again to their first love.

These periods of enthusiasm were good for us while they were happening. We turned again to our mirrors, to the "perfect law of liberty." Once again we took a really good look at what manner of person we ought to be. We even made some changes, knowing that the time was very short.

Unfortunately, these stimulating events were often fast moving and quickly over. First the thrill and then the memory faded. So, we left the mirror and went our way, forgetting what manner of man we saw. We went back to our busy lives, maintaining our facade as "spiritual Israel" but soon, as forgetful hearers, we were no longer "doers of the word" (James 1:22-24).

Israel, More Than a Sign

Israel is a modern sign and this nation has been reborn as a miracle in fulfillment of God's promises. But the fig tree nation is not just a sign. If we look beyond the budding of the fig tree, there are lessons to be learned. We might begin by asking, Why was this nation ever scattered in the first place?

Four thousand years ago, at Mount Sinai, this people were told: "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation..." Initially, they were enthusiastic with this great privilege, and they all responded by saying, "...All that the LORD hath spoken we will do..." (Ex. 19:5-8).

But as time passed and prosperity grew, "Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked... then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger" (Deut. 32:15-16). They had been promised blessings if they obeyed and curses if they sinned. A stiffnecked and rebellious people, they were unable to maintain their resolve to be obedient. They were punished seven times for their iniquities.

Israel restored today is only significant if we remember that Israel was desolated yesterday. Israel is a miracle now because of the dramatic change in her status. Early in this century, she was nothing more than a valley of dry bones. Then, through the mighty power of God "...the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army" (Ezek. 37:10).

Israel, Our Example?

We must remember where they have been so that their mistakes will be our lessons. "Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:6-12).

Take Heed Lest He Also Spare Not Thee

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminded the Gentiles that "whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." Remember, it is the Hope of Israel that we share with them.

Natural Israel lost their hope and we may be in danger of losing ours. "Because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee... For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in" (Rom. 11:20-21, 25).

Word Not Mixed With Faith?

Our hope was their hope. They received the oracles of God and we have heard the same gospel. "For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (Heb. 4:2). They fell because of unbelief. "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).

Israel failed by going about to establish their own righteousness through the works of the Law. They followed the letter of the Law without faith. We have rejected the concept of salvation by works to a fault, in order to avoid their mistake. We promote grace through faith as the answer to all human weakness. But do we really have the kind of faith that will be worthy of his grace?

What About Our Faith?

Why would the Master question whether he would find faith on the earth when he comes? Have we mixed the word of God with faith? The "deceitfulness of sin" thrives among Christadelphians, even as it did among the Israelites. When we stumble and sin, is it really because of human weakness, or is it a lack of faith? If we truly believed that God is always present in our lives, how could we ever give in to lust in front of Him? If we truly believed that Jesus had our human nature, how do we explain that he was able to overcome?

The faith that Jesus will seek when he comes will be faith that is perfected through good works and manifested in the fruit of the spirit. It will be faith that has been strong enough to overcome some of the weaknesses of the flesh. "Because of unbelief they were broken off." Is our faith any stronger?

Privilege and Responsibility

We have been chosen even as Israel was. We have heard similar words: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy" (1 Pet. 2:9-10).

There are responsibilities associated with our blessings, and as we "behold the fig tree" we ought to be reminded that: "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:28-31).

Resurrection and Judgment

As we remember their mistakes, and take another look at our own potential to stumble, we must keep in mind that there is another very sobering event that is associated with the budding of the fig tree. We are told concerning the resurrection of Israel: "For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15).

Their resurrection is our sign, our assurance that all those that sleep in Christ will soon be resurrected. Resurrection and judgment are linked together. The resurrection of Israel is also a sure sign that our judgment is near. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).

Israelites Indeed?

Today, as we consider the anniversary of the State of Israel, we also contemplate the impending judgment seat. We remember that many Israelites after the flesh failed in their faith. Our goal must be for a higher calling. We hope to become "Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile." We aspire to be as Jews inwardly, whose "circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God" (Rom. 2:29).

Behold the Fig Tree

"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. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away."

There are many interpretations of this prophecy. We have all looked at the various calculations for the length of a generation. Of one thing we can be certain. Those who were old enough to understand and appreciate the budding of the fig tree 50 years ago are now in their seventies and older. God's word does not return unto Him void, and therefore little time remains for all to be fulfilled.

With this in mind, as we behold the fig tree, "take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." Behold the fig tree, and "look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh."

Jim Millay

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