Barry Newman's Blog

February 9, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (part IV)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 8:35 pm

Understanding the parable

The presence of the fig-tree in ancient Israel is well attested and the phrase, “every man living under his own vine and fig –tree” (1 Kings 4: 25 and Micah 4: 4) is well known. Bethphage, a place very close to Jerusalem and on the south eastern side of the Mount of Olives (see Matthew 21: 1), literally means “house of figs”. Furthermore, “during the summer, the fig tree with its large green leaves provides ample shade.  But unlike such trees as the olive, the cedar, and the palm, the fig tree loses its leaves with the approach of winter.  While other deciduous trees begin to show signs of life early in the spring – for example, the blossoming almond tree – the fig tree continues to thrust its bare branches heavenward until the warm season has made its initial debut.  The sap begins to flow, the buds swell and within a matter of days the tender leaves appear.”[1] Jesus has based his parable on a well know reality.

Also, fortunately, Jesus has told us how to interpret the parable. “The things happening” are signs that it, or he or the kingdom of God is very near.  One could argue that the final coming of the Son of man is in mind, and so a reference to “he” is appropriate. If however it is the coming itself that is being referred to, then “it” would be more appropriate.  This would also be consistent with Luke’s mention of the kingdom of God.  If we focus on this latter reference then undoubtedly we would have to understand the kingdom of God as the final bringing in of the kingdom.  Perhaps for Jesus it was not a matter of being as precise as we tend to be.  Possibly, understanding the parable along any or all of these lines was what he intended.

What however are we to make of “near” and “at the gates”?  Each of the Gospels uses the adverb “near” (eggus) in the sense of “nearness in time” At the gates” though seemingly a reference to “place” carries with it also the idea of time having the sense of “about to enter”, even “about to enter forcefully” behind it.  There is a clear emphasis in the parable of “very soon to happen”.


[1] Kistemaker, S., The Parables of Jesus, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1980, p. 108.

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