Barry Newman's Blog

February 15, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (Full Series PDF)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 9:33 pm

Here is the full series

February 14, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (part VII)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 9:49 pm

The oddities of the parable?

I am not sure that there are any oddities in the parable itself. The fig tree in the “story” that Jesus told behaves exactly in the same way that fig trees behaved in his real world.  What may be considered a little peculiar however is the reference to a welcome homely event – the coming of the fig season, being allied to the awesome future that is in store for many and for disciples especially.  This sharp contrast, generally ignored by the commentators, may well have had a sobering and long lasting effect on the disciples.  One should not ignore the possibility that this was a purposeful ploy by the master educator – referring to an ordinary and well known development in the life of tree, with its pleasant outcome to bespeak of awesome and unexpected events, yet to come, most unpleasant for many.

What we should learn from the parable and the teaching of Jesus accompanying it.

What Jesus said to his disciples, he has also said to us.  We must not see the peaceable circumstances of western Christianity that exist at this present time as normal.  The world and what happens to believers in this world is by and large tortuous.  And we can be easily led astray.  We must be on our guard against false teachers and false messiahs and we must understand that persecution when it comes is what Jesus promised.  We should further realise that the plans of God do not focus on a temple, Jerusalem or national Israel.  They relate to the proclamation of the gospel worldwide and the bringing in of the kingdom in its finality with the coming of the Son of man.

In the words of Jesus: “Listen carefully. Watch. For you do not know the time when these things will occur. The situation  is like a man who going away and leaving his house, puts his slaves in charge and assigns to them their work, commanding the one in charge, the door-keeper, to be watchful. Likewise you must watch. For you do not know when the master of the house will come.  It could be in the evening, at midnight, when the cock crows or in the morning and not during daylight hours. If you do not keep watch, he could come without warning and find you asleep. What I say to you disciples, I say to all.  Watch”.

February 13, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (part VI)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 10:14 pm

Solutions to the problems?

It is not my intention to review various solutions proposed to the problems outlined above.  Carson’s understanding of the textual material is one example of how evangelicals have addressed the issues.  See Carson, D.A., Matthew, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, the Expositor’s Bible Commentary Series, vol 8, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1984, 496-507. In his concluding remarks and with respect to the claim by Jesus that “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24: 34), he writes, “If our interpretation of this chapter is right, all that v. 34 demands is that the distress of vv. 4-28, including Jerusalem’s fall, happen within the lifetime of the generation then living.  This does not mean that the distress must end within that time but only that “all these things” must happen within it” (p. 507).

Taking a broad look at the textual material, one is struck by its many components and the ways in which they are juxtaposed.  Using much of the general descriptions given earlier to these components and forming a type of collage from the accounts given in the three Gospels, we find that reference is made to:

the prediction of the destruction of the temple, the coming of the Christ, world- wide catastrophes before the end, persecution for the disciples, the need to endure to the end, desolation, “invasion” and the warning to flee, the gospel of the kingdom being preached throughout the world, the warning about false Christs and false prophets, the coming of the Son of man being obvious, the picture of cosmic catastrophes and the coming of the Son of man, angels gathering God’s elect, Jesus stating that when “these things begin to take place … lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near”, the parable of the fig tree, the statement, “This generation will not pass away until all has taken place.  Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away”, the warning that the exact time is known only to the Father, the parable of a man preparing for going on a journey, the warning about being weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the cares of life, the warning to watch and pray, because the exact time when the Lord is coming is unknown and because the disciples need strength to escape all these things and to stand before the Son of man, the parallel with the days of Noah and the sudden appearance of the flood for those who perished, the warning of the suddenness of the end and eternal distinctions being made between people – some taken, some left.

One cannot fail to be impressed by the extreme gravity of the various situations being foretold, the dire warnings given to the disciples, the catastrophes that will occur in the near future, the startling end of all these matters involving the coming back of the Son of man, the master of the house returning from his journey.

Perhaps one of our problems has been to look at the accounts with a modern, western and strict view of chronology and time duration.  Is Jesus not primarily concerned to warn his disciples of their need to escape the destruction of Jerusalem soon to take place, their dire future because of their relationship with him and the possibility of their being led astray by false claims, false people and unrighteous living?  Does he not so warn them by painting the situation to be as extreme as it will be and is he not giving them an assured awareness of the reality behind his warnings by indicating that the beginning of the catastrophes – the great distress, will occur in their life time? And while so warning them, does he not give them the assurance that it will all one day come to an end, with the return of their master in final vindication, along with indicating their need to recognise that when that will occur is completely unknown?

He collapses together the many and various elements of the complete scenario.  The predominant use of the word “near” and the reference to “all these things” is simply a consequence of this compactness.

February 11, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (part V)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 9:09 pm

Problems in understanding the parable and the words of Jesus that accompanied it

If the prime matter being referred to by the word “near” is the soon to come destruction of the temple, the successful siege of Jerusalem the military occupation of the surrounding land and even the persecution of the early disciples, then we readily comprehend the significance of that word.   We also readily understand the notion that these matters would be carried out with considerable force.

If however we reflect upon the reality that wars, nations rising against nations, famines and earthquakes (“floods” and “fires” are not specifically mentioned but I am sure we are meant to include them) have been occurring in the world throughout the last two thousand years and occurred before, the idea of “nearness” in association with them may seem to be a little odd. (Although one might argue that since they have always been occurring they have always been near.) We might also consider it odd that Jesus said the gospel would be preached throughout the world, if that phenomenon is to be associated with the idea of “nearness”, when we recognise that it is only in our time that one could legitimately say that the gospel has been so preached. And some might say that not even that has really come to pass yet.  (Alternatively one might view “the world” as Jesus spoke of it as being of narrower dimensions than our modern view of “world” and agree with Paul that in his time the faith of believers was being reported on “throughout the whole world” [Romans 1:8]).

Adding to our puzzlement might be that part of the interpretation of the parable given by Jesus where he refers to “when you see these things happening” (Mark and Luke) or “when you see all these things” (Matthew).  That Jesus, after telling the parable, solemnly declares, “This generation shall not pass away until all has taken place”, may only compound our difficulties. And what are we to make of “the great signs from heaven” (Luke)?  Well, presumably, whatever else one might make of this phrase, it speaks of the cataclysmic nature of the events being described.

The textual material preceding and following the parable of the fig tree is well recognised, particularly by evangelicals, to be one of the most difficult parts of Scripture with which to come to terms.  One proposal, as part of a solution, is that Jesus, thinking that the final bringing in of the kingdom with the return of the Son of man was imminent in time, was simply mistaken.  After all Jesus was not only the Son of God he was also fully a man and subject to some of the limitations of mankind.  It is arguable for instance that along with everyone else of his age he believed that the organ, the heart, was where thought was located. Additionally, as seems evident from the Gospel accounts, that he was sometimes surprised at the belief expressed in him by gentiles. (Although on other occasions he displayed knowledge that one would not have expected him to have possessed unless God had revealed it to him.) Furthermore, in the textual material under discussion he indicates something of his knowledge of his own ignorance in saying that he is not privy to the knowledge of “that day and hour”.  None the less, many are reluctant to concede that with respect to the relative imminence (or otherwise if that is the case) of his final arrival and the arrival of the kingdom in its completeness Jesus was mistaken.

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.

February 7, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (part III)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 9:28 pm

The teaching of Jesus following upon the parable

Each of the Gospels follows the parable with Jesus solemnly stating, “This generation will not pass away until all has taken place.  Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24: 34, 35; Mark 13: 30, 31; Luke 21: 32, 33).

Matthew and Mark soberly record Jesus warning that the exact time is known only to the Father (Matthew 24: 36; Mark 13: 32).

Mark reports Jesus relating a parable that speaks of a man preparing his household for going on a journey, warning his disciples to watch, since they “do not know when the master of the house will return” (Mark 13: 33 – 37).  There is a faint echo of this parable in Matthew 25: 14 ff (the parable of the talents) and in Luke 19: 12 ff (the parable of the minas).

Matthew records Jesus referring to the days of Noah and for those who perished in the flood, its sudden appearance and follows this with enigmatic words concerning “one being taken” and “one being left” – “So watch because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24: 37 – 41 and echoed in Luke 17: 26,27, 34, 35).

Luke concludes the discourse by citing Jesus warning his disciples about being weighed down with “dissipation, drunkenness and the cares of life” and the sudden appearance of “that day”, exhorting them to watch and pray so that they might have strength to escape “all these things … and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21: 34 – 36).

Though the Gospels differ in the way they bring the discourse to a close, the overall sentiment of these concluding words is, Jesus declaring that these things will certainly occur and the utter importance of being on one’s guard.  The Son of man will come without warning.

What Jesus might have meant by his generation not passing away until all has occurred will be discussed later.

February 6, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (part II)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 9:41 am

The teaching of Jesus leading up to the parable

Matthew and Mark indicate that Jesus having left Jerusalem, while on the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple, began to instruct his disciples on a number of matters including the parable. Luke simply records that the instruction occurred after his disciples made reference to the beauty of the temple.

In each of the Gospels, the parable  is preceded by the prediction by Jesus of the destruction of the temple (Matt 24: 1 – 3; Mark 13: 1 – 4; Luke 21: 5 – 7), the coming of the Christ (Matthew 24: 4, 5; Mark 13: 5, 6; Luke 21: 8), world- wide catastrophes  before the end (Matthew 24: 6 – 8; Mark 13: 7, 8; Luke 21: 9 – 11), persecution for the disciples  (Matthew 24: 9 – 12; Mark 13: 9 – 13a; Luke 21: 12 – 17), enduring to the end (Mark 24: 13; Mark 13: 13b; Luke 21: 19) and desolation, “invasion” and the warning to flee (Matthew 24: 15; Mark 13: 14 – 20; Luke 21: 20 – 24).

Matthew tells of Jesus speaking of the gospel of the kingdom being preached throughout the world (Matthew 24: 14). Matthew and Mark tell of Jesus warning about false Christs and false prophets (Matthew 24: 23 – 25; Mark 13: 21 – 23).  Matthew writes of Jesus speaking of the coming of the Son of man being obvious (Matthew 24: 26 -28 – recorded also in Luke 17: 23, 24). And each of the Gospels recouns Jesus speaking of cosmic catastrophes and the coming of the Son of man (Matthew 24: 29 – 30; Mark 13: 24 – 26; Luke 21: 25 – 27). Just prior to the telling of the parable, Matthew and Mark tell of Jesus speaking of angels gathering God’s elect (Matthew 24: 31; Mark 13: 27) while Luke records Jesus stating that when “these things begin to take place … lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”

However we are to understand some of the elements of this teaching, fundamentally it amounts to dire warnings concerning Jerusalem and Judea, the foretelling of terrible trouble for disciples of Christ, and the forecasting of awesome world-wide events before the final coming of the Son of man and the final deliverance of God’s people.

January 31, 2013

The Parable of the Fig Tree (part I)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Fig Tree — barrynewman @ 11:27 pm

The Parable of the Fig Tree

The parable of the fig tree is one of only a few parables that are reported in all three Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. Others are: The parable of the sower, the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the tenants. The parable of the fig tree is far shorter than any of these.

The parable and the explanation given by Jesus

The parable of the fig tree and the explanation that Jesus gives can be found in Matthew 24: 32 and 33, Mark 13: 28, 29, and Luke 21: 29 – 31.

Mark’s account reads: “From the fig-tree learn the lesson (the parable): as soon as (when already) its branch becomes tender and produces the leaves you know that the summer is near. So also, you, when you see these things happening, know that it (or he) is near, at the gates.” Matthew’s account is very similar but refers to “when you see all these things,”.

Luke’s account, although along the same lines, puts matters somewhat differently:  “And he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig-tree and all the trees – as soon as (when already) they sprout, observing for yourselves, you know that summer is already near. So also when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.’” Given that each of the Gospels seems to indicate that the same circumstances prevailed when the parable was told, see below, it would appear they are making reference to the same parable, despite any differences in their reporting of it.

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