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Does The Fig Tree Represent Israel?

 

       In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus explained to His disciples what would take place before He would be seen coming on the clouds with power and great glory. He then instructs them to learn a lesson from the fig tree.

       Matthew 24:30-31: "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

       Matthew 24:32-34:  Now learn this lesson from the fig tree:  As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth; this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

       Many Christians believe the Olivet Discourse is about events that will take place in our future and lead to a return of Christ to planet earth.  Most who believe this also believe the restoration of Israel as a nation is required before Christ returns.  Some believe the temple must be rebuilt as well.

       Some who take this position believe the fig tree parable in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) is prophetic of a restored Israel.  It is believed the fig tree represents Israel.  The fulfillment of this supposed prophecy is seen in the granting of statehood to Israel in May of 1948.  It is believed the establishment of Israel as a nation signals the return of Christ in our generation.  The idea that the fig tree represents Israel is based on several Old Testament passages.

       Hosea 9:10: When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved.

       Jeremiah 24:3-10: Then the LORD asked me, "What do you see, Jeremiah?"   "Figs," I answered. "The good ones are very good, but the poor ones are so bad they cannot be eaten." Then the word of the LORD came to me: "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.  "`But like the poor figs, which are so bad they cannot be eaten,' says the LORD, `so will I deal with Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the survivors from Jerusalem, whether they remain in this land or live in Egypt. I will make them abhorrent and an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth, a reproach and a byword, an object of ridicule and cursing, wherever I banish them. I will send the sword, famine and plague against them until they are destroyed from the land I gave to them and their fathers.'"

       Jeremiah 29:16-17: This is what the LORD says about the king who sits on David's throne and all the people who remain in this city, your countrymen who did not go with you into exile-- yes, this is what the LORD Almighty says: "I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like poor figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten.

       In the Hosea passage, both grapes and the fruit of the fig tree are used to symbolize Israelites as initially appearing fresh and innocent before God but then falling into the sin of idolatry.  God is saying that in the past He found the fathers of Israel to be like the early fruit of a fig tree.  Now He finds them idolaters. God is not using a fig tree, or grapes for that matter, to represent Israel as a nation.  He is using the fruit of a fig tree and grapes to picture how He once felt about Israel.  He then makes it clear He no longer feels this way about them.  God is using the fruit of a fig tree and grapes as metaphor.  In the Jeremiah passages, the prophet uses figs to represent good Jews versus bad Jews.

       In both Hosea and Jeremiah, the fruit of the fig tree is used to signify either good or bad Israelites.  There is nothing in these passages that shows the fig tree is being used to represent Israel as a nation.  Neither is there anything in Jesus’ use of the fig tree in the Olivet Discourse to suggest Jesus is using the fig tree to represent Israel as a nation.  It should be apparent Jesus is paralleling the budding of the twigs and leaves of a fig tree signifying the beginning of summer with the unfolding of events He just described as signifying His return in power and glory.     

       In Luke’s version of the fig tree parable, Luke has Jesus referring not only to the fig tree but all the trees sprouting their leaves as a sign that summer is near. Therefore, it should be apparent Jesus used the sprouting of leaves in general as an analogy to drive home the point that just as sprouted leaves show summer is near, so will the fulfillment of the events He had just described show His return is imminent.

       Luke 21:29-32:  He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. "I tell you the truth; this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

       There are two basic approaches to Bible study which are best explained by the two Greek words exegesis and eisegesis.  Exegesis is where great care is taken to consider the circumstances (the context) extant when words are initially spoken and how those who hear the words spoken would have understood them (audience relevance).  Eisegesis is the process of interpreting spoken words in such a way where one's own presuppositions, agendas, or biases are introduced into the deciphering of what the speaker is saying. This is commonly referred to as "reading into the text."  It is eisegesis that is being used by those who believe Jesus is using the fig tree to represent Israel.

       Jesus followed His remarks about trees sprouting their leaves by saying, "I tell you the truth; this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened" (Matthew 24:34).  Those who believe Jesus used the fig tree to prophesy the restoration of Israel as a nation and believe the granting of statehood to Israel in 1948 is the fulfillment of such prophecy, believe we are living in the generation Jesus is referring too.

What generation is Christ addressing?

        To arrive at a Scriptural understanding of what Christ meant by “this generation,” let us first look at the Greek word genea which is translated “generation” in Matthew 24:34, and many other New Testament passages.  In the Arndt, Gingrich and Bauer Greek lexicon, genea is shown to have the general meaning of, “the sum total of those born at the same time, expanded to include all those living at a given time.”  The meaning can apply to all those descended from a common ancestor.  Thayer’s Greek lexicon provides similar meaning by defining genea as, “that which has been begotten of the same stock, all having similar characteristics.”  Genea can also refer to a particular age or time.

       It is interesting to note that genea is not defined as a specific number of years but relates to a group of people living at the same time, whereas our English usage tends more toward assigning a specific number of years to the word.  Webster shows it to be around 30 years or the period of time between the birth of one generation and the birth of another generation.

       Now let’s look at how genea is used in context in the New Testament Scripture involving the sayings of Jesus.  In Matthew 23:34-36, in speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus said that all the righteous blood that has been shed on the earth would “come upon this generation,” referring to the generation of Pharisees He was addressing at the time.  In Matthew 16:1-4 the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Christ and asked for a sign.  Jesus addressed them as a wicked and adulterous generation (Greek: genea).  In Matthew 11:11-19, Jesus is speaking about Himself and John the Baptist in relation to their generation (same Greek word).  In Luke 17:25, Christ speaks of having to suffer many things of “this generation,” referring to the generation of His time (same Greek word).

       In every place where the authors of the New Testament documents show Jesus using the word which they translated into the Greek genea, the context shows Him using this word to refer to the people He was addressing at the time.  Therefore, there is no Scriptural reason to say Jesus is using genea in some other way in Matthew 24:34.  Jesus did not say that generation or some other generation, He said this generation. To try and make this saying of Christ Jesus apply to a generation far out into the future from the time He made this statement is totally inconsistent and incompatible with the manner in which He used this word in His various conversations as recorded in the New Testament.  It may be helpful to look at a few other translations relative to Matthew 24:34.

       New English Bible: I tell you this: the present generation will live to see it all.

       Today’s English Version: Remember this! All these things will happen before people living now have all died.

       Moffatt’s Translation: I tell you truly, the present generation will not pass away, until all this happens.

       Weymouth’s Translation: I tell you in solemn truth that the present generation will not pass away, till all this happens.

      The Scholar’s Version: I can promise you that some of the people of this generation will still be alive when all this     happens.

      The New Life Testament: The present generation shall not pass till all these things happen.

      Tyndale’s New Testament: even the present generation will not have passed away, till all these things have taken place.

       A quote from David Chilton’s book, The Great Tribulation, is instructive.

       "Some have sought to get around the force of (Mt. 24:34) by saying that the word generation here really means race, and that Jesus was simply saying here that the Jewish race would not die out until all these things took place.  Is that true?  I challenge you; get out your concordance and look up every New Testament occurrence of the word generation, and see if it ever means “race” in any other context.  Not one of these references is speaking of the entire Jewish race over thousands of years; all use the word in its normal sense of the sum total of those living at the same time.  It always refers to contemporaries.   In fact those who say it means ‘race’ tend to acknowledge this fact, but explain that the word suddenly changes its meaning when Jesus uses it in Matthew 24!  We can only smile at such a transparent error."

       Some have interpreted Christ’s reference to “this generation” as meaning the generation existing at the time when all the things He prophesied would take place.  As can be clearly documented, the things Jesus prophesied in the Olivet Discourse clearly took place in the events leading up to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.  Please see my multipart series entitled, “When Does Christ Return.”  There is no reason or need to believe Jesus was referring to events thousands of years into the future when the historical evidence shows their occurrence in the first century.  There simply is no contextual or grammatical justification for concluding that Christ is referring to a generation thousands of year’s future to the time He made this statement in the Olivet Discourse. 

       In Matthew 23 we hear Jesus proclaiming judgment upon the generation of religious leaders He was addressing at the time.  Did Jesus suddenly change the meaning of generation a few hours later when He was answering His disciples’ question about when the temple would be destroyed and His return would occur?

       It must be remembered that Jesus is addressing His disciples in the Olivet Discourse.  He is answering their questions about when the temple will be destroyed and when His return will take place.  In addressing His disciples, He says to them, “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.”  He then makes the statement about their generation not passing until all these things are fulfilled. The “you" Christ is addressing are his disciples. Christ is not addressing us or anyone else.  It must be understood that when we read the Olivet Discourse, we are reading a record of Jesus addressing His disciples at the time.  When Christ tells them, “when you see all these things,” He is telling them that it is they who will see all these things, not others living thousands of years into the future.

       A good example of how a reference to the generation being addressed at the time is contrasted with some other generation being addressed is found in the letter to the Hebrews.

          Hebrews 3:7-10: So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’

       Here we see the Holy Spirit using the word “that” in reference to a generation other than the generation being addressed at the time. Jesus, who also spoke by the Holy Spirit, never spoke in terms of “that” generation.  Such a usage would have connoted a past or future generation depending on the context.  We plainly see such usage in the passage in Hebrews quoted above. Christ never used the word “that” to modify the word generation.  He always used the term “this generation” which connoted the generation He was addressing at the time.       

       A striking example of Jesus’ use of “this generation” being associated with the audience He was addressing at the time is found in Mark the eighth chapter.

            Mark 8:34-38: Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.’

       In this passage it should be very apparent Jesus is using generation to signify the audience He was addressing at the time He made these statements.  In several other Scriptural passages we find Jesus referring to His generation as sinful and adulterous.  What is of even greater significance in this passage is that Jesus made this statement in the context of His coming in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.

       Had I been standing in that crowd listening to Jesus refer to my generation as adulterous and sinful and then proceed to say that if I am ashamed of Him He will be ashamed of me when He comes in the glory of His Father, I would not have understood that coming to be 2,000 years into the future and counting.  I would have understood Christ to be referring to an event that was not very far off.  When Jesus addressed His disciples in the Olivet Discourse, He said, “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”  “All these things” included His coming in power and glory with the holy angels.

       It should also be noted that a time frame of forty years is associated with the use of “generation” in Hebrews 3:9-10.  Forty years appears to be the generally accepted time frame for a generation in Scripture.  It is noteworthy that it was around forty years from the time Jesus delivered the Olivet Discourse to the time the temple was destroyed.

        A forty year time frame defining a generation presents a real problem for those who believe the establishment of Israel as a state in 1948 signals the generation in which the return of Christ was to occur.  Books were written claiming Christ would return in 1988. May of 1988 completed the 40 year generation following the establishment of Israel as a state.  Obviously Christ did not return during this period of time.  The idea that the establishment of statehood for Israel in 1948 is the fulfillment of prophecy and that it signals the “end times” is without merit.

Israel's present status before God:

     Physical Israelites are no longer a special chosen people to God at the exclusion of others as was once the case.  They are now part of a greater group that comes under the sacrifice of Christ as Paul made very clear.

        Colossians 3:11-12:   Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

       Galatians 6:15-16: Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.

         Romans 10:12-13: For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

       It is those who become a new creation in Christ that now constitute the chosen people and the Israel of God. With implementation of the New Covenant, there is no Scriptural reason to see present day descendants of Israel as having a present or future special status before God.

       Some believe the American people and the peoples of what was once the British Commonwealth of nations are descendants of the tribe of Joseph through his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.  Descendants of the other tribes of Israel are seen as making up several of the ethnic groups of Europe.  While there is some Scriptural and historical evidence for this position, who exactly the present day descendants of the twelve tribes of ancient Israel are continues to be a much debated issue. The vast amount of intermarriage between ethnic and racial groups throughout history makes the drawing of conclusions as to lineage very difficult. Even if it could be determined with surety who today constitutes the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel, it is immaterial because ethnicity is no longer a dynamic in the purposes of God.

       The Christ event brought about the establishment of a New Covenant between God and Israel as prophesied in the OT.  Scripture shows that non-Israelities can be a part of this covenant equal to that of the descendants of Israel. Under this covenant all peoples are of equal status before God.  While identifying who the present day descendants of Israel are may be of interest, such identification no longer has relevance as to the purposes of God. The establishment of Israel as a state in the land of Palestine in 1948 is not a fulfillment of prophecies that speak of a return of Israelites to the Promised Land.  It is not a signal that Christ is about to return and begin what some see as a Messianic age.

       Many take for granted that the current residents of Israel are descendants of the twelve tribes of Jacob whose name was changed by God to Israel.  Others believe the present inhabitants of Israel are the descendants of only the tribes who formerly made up the Kingdom of Judah when it split off from the other tribes of Israel shortly after the death of King Solomon. As will be seen in the following discussion, the present ethnic makeup of the modern day nation of Israel is not what many people believe. In order to provide some perspective on this issue, let's take a brief tour through the history of Israel.

A short history of Israel:

       God told Abraham to leave the area he was living in and move to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12).  The land of Canaan was occupied by a people called the Canaanites who appear to be descendants of a man named Canaan, son of Ham and grandson of Noah. Abraham had a son named Isaac who had a son named Jacob.  The name Israel was given by God to Jacob and Jacob had twelve sons who became known as the children of Israel.  The word Israel appears to have the general meaning of “one who overcomes” (Genesis 32:28).

       Because of famine in the land of Canaan, the family of Jacob (Israel) moved to Egypt where they sojourned for around 400 years and grew into a large nation that became slaves to the Egyptians.   Moses led the descendants of Israel out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan where his successor Joshua successfully led the Israelites into possession of the land by defeating the Canaanites in war. 

       After being initially ruled by judges, the Israelites were ruled by a succession of kings beginning with Saul, followed by David and then Solomon.  After Solomon died, the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms.  The kingdom located in northern Palestine retained the name Israel and had its capitol in Samaria. The kingdom to the south became known as Judah with its capitol at Jerusalem.  The nation of Judah was made up of the tribes of Judah, Levi and Benjamin.  The other tribes made up the Kingdom of Israel to the north of Judah.  The area of the nation of Judah became known as Judea. The word Palestine is a generic term that historically has been used to describe the area along the eastern border of the Mediterranean once occupied by a people called Philistines.  The Philistines appear to have been contemporary with the Canaanites. 

       The Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken captive by the Assyrians around 722 BC and the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom were dispersed by the Assyrians to nations under their control.  The Assyrians then brought people from nations under their control into the area that had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel. 2 Kings 17:24-41 indicates that the people the Assyrians brought in were punished by God for their failure to worship Him properly.  This indicates there were no Israelites to speak of that remained in the land who could teach the new residents of the land the proper way to related to God. 2 Kings 17 reveals that the Assyrian King sent back to the land of Israel a priest from the captivity to teach the imported residents how to properly relate to the God of Israel.  

        Various historians believe these imported people intermarried with Israelites who remained in the land.  It would appear, however, that there were few if any Israelites who remained in the land after the Assyrian invasion.  However, it must be noted that these imported residents of the former Northern Kingdom developed an aberrant form of Judaism which was extant in the first century when Christ walked the earth.  This would indicate there developed a blending of Israelite and pagan religious practices in the territory of the former Northern Kingdom subsequent to the Assyrian captivity. This suggests there may have been some Israelites that remained in the land or returned to the land at some point subsequent to the Assyrian invasion.

       It is instructive that in John chapter 4 it is shown that residents of Samaria, where the capitol of the Northern Kingdom had been located, speak of Jacob as their father and of looking for the arrival of the Messiah. This indicates there was a strong Israelitish influence among the residents of the former Northern Kingdom which in turn indicates the Samaritans were a mix of the foreigners brought in by the Assyrians and descendants of Israelites who returned or never left the area of the Northern Kingdom at the time of the Assyrian captivity.

       Archeology has discovered that at the time of the Assyrian assault on the Northern Kingdom, there was a significant increase in the population of the Southern Kingdom.  It would appear that some Israelites from the Northern Kingdom escaped the Assyrian assault in 722 BC by migrating to the Southern Kingdom during this time. Some of these folks may have returned to the area of the Northern Kingdom and intermarried with the foreign residents brought in by the Assyrians.  Others may have stayed in Judah which resulted in the nation of Judah becoming composed of descendants of more tribes of Israel than just the tribes of Judah, Levi and Benjamin.

       It wasn't just the Northern Kingdom that was assaulted by the Assyrians.  Around ten years after Assyria took the Northern Kingdom into captivity, they captured many of the cities of the Southern Kingdom of Judah as seen in 2 Kings 18:13 and Isaiah 36:1. Jerusalem, however, was spared.  Assyrian records show that forty-six cities of Judah and over two hundred thousand residents of these cities were taken captive by the Assyrians. If the Assyrians continued their practice of dispersing their captives to other nations and bringing in foreigners to occupy their conquered lands, it appears a number of Israelites, who were part of the nation of Judah, would also have been replaced by foreigners when these residents of Judah were dispersed to the various nations under Assyrian control. 

       Some time thereafter, the Assyrians were conquered by the Babylonians. The Babylonians proceeded to take captive the remaining residents of the Southern Kingdom of Judah between 584 and 586 BC. In conquering the Assyrians, the Babylonians now controlled the cities where residents of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah had been dispersed during the Assyrian assaults.  When the remaining residents of the Southern Kingdom were taken captive by the Babylonians, it is very likely that some captives taken to Babylon were reunited with some of their fellow Israelites from both the Northern and Southern kingdoms who had been scattered throughout the former Assyrian Empire, an Empire that had included Babylon.  

       In Ezra chapter two, is a list of those who returned to Jerusalem and Judah 70 years after the Babylonian captivity. While this list primarily shows descendants of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi (The Nation of Judah), there were 775 descendants of Arah from the tribe of Asher (1 Chronicles 7:39) who returned as well. Luke 2:36 shows the prophetess Anna, who lived in first century Judea, to be a descendant of the tribe of Asher.  Ezra's list includes men from Bethel and Ai. Bethel had been part of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 12:28-29) as was Ai.

       It is noteworthy that in listing those who returned, Ezra did not write, "The list of the men of the people of Judah" but wrote,  "The list of the men of the people of Israel" (Ezra 2:2).   It is also noteworthy that in 1 Chronicles 9:1-3, it is recorded that the first to resettle on their own property in their own towns after the Babylonian captivity were some Israelites, priests, Levites and temple servants. The writer then lists a number of Israelites from Judah, from Benjamin, and from Ephraim and Manasseh who lived in Jerusalem. Ephraim and Manasseh were sub-tribes of the tribe of Joseph and were of the Northern Kingdom. Apparently some from Ephraim and Manasseh had returned to Jerusalem where they had been living before the Babylonian captivity.       

       In view of the above, it is apparent that some former residents of the Northern Kingdom were part of the group that returned to Jerusalem and Judea 70 Years after the Babylonian captivity.  Since there is no record of another captivity or dispersion of the Israelites after their return to Judea from Babylonian captivity, it should be apparent it was descendants of this mix of Israelites that inhabited Judea in the first century AD. This would explain why Peter and Paul often addressed their listeners as "men of Israel" and not just "men of Judah."     

        In Acts 2:22, 36, Peter addresses the crowd as "men of Israel" and "all Israel"  This crowd was made up of Jew's and converts to Judaism that had come to Jerusalem from various countries to keep the Feast of Pentecost.  This included residents of Judea (verse 9). Since Peter addresses the crowd as "men of Israel" and "all Israel" there is every reason to believe this crowd was made up of descendants of not only the former nation of Judah but descendants of the tribes who formally made up the Northern Kingdom.

       In Acts 3:12, Peter addresses his Jerusalem audience as "men of Israel." In Acts 4:10, Peter addresses the people as Israel.  We see the same in Acts 4:27.  In Acts 5:34, Gamaliel, addresses the leadership as "men of Israel."  In Acts 10:36-37, Peter speaks of the Gospel going to Israel and associates Israel with Judea. Paul identified himself as of the tribe of Benjamin.  In Acts 21:28, the people are addressed as "men of Israel."

       In Acts 9:15 it is recorded that God choose Paul to take the gospel message to Gentiles and the people of Israel.  In Acts 13:16-17, Paul addresses the men of Israel and speaks of their forefathers in Egypt.  Their forefathers would include all the tribes and not just Judah.  Paul appears to be addressing more than just the tribe of Judah here.  In Acts 3:24 it’s recorded that John the Baptist preached to all the people of Israel. 

       In Acts 26:7 Paul, in his defense before King Agrippa, refers to the hope of the twelve tribes. James writes his letter to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (James 1:1). While it is historically evident that many Israelites had been dispersed among various nations of the world as a result of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, It is also historically evident  that descendants of all the tribes of Israel were living in various parts of Palestine and the Mediterranean region in the first century, including Judea.  This is indicated by Jesus sending his disciples to the cities of Israel to minister to the “lost sheep” of Israel. (Matthew 10:5-6). The "lost sheep" of Israel are thought to be the ten tribes dispersed among the nations and lost from view as a result of the Assyrian captivity. If, however, the ten tribes were lost from view, how could the disciples be sent to the cities of Israel?  What cities?  Other than the cities of Judah, there wouldn't be any identifiable cities of Israel if indeed the ten tribes had passed into oblivion and nobody knew where they were.  It should be obvious that these "lost sheep" were not physically lost from view but were spiritually lost and Jesus wanted them to hear the gospel message. 

       It is instructive that in Mathew 10:23, Jesus is recorded as saying "I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.  These disciples of Christ, who lived in the first century, are told to take the Gospel message to the cities of Israel and that they would not finish this task before He returned.  For an understanding of when this return was to be, please read my series entitled, "When Does Christ Return." 

       It should be noted at this point that historically the term Jew has been used to designate not only descendants of the three-tribe nation of Judah, but to Israelites in general and non-Israelites as well who embrace Judaism as a religion.  In the NT we find the words Jew and Jews used interchangeably with the word Israel.  We also see as far back as the time of Esther (Esther 8:17) that non-Israelites who embraced the Jewish religion became known as Jews.  In Acts chapter 2, we see proselytes to Judaism referred to as Jews.  In the 700’s AD an entire Empire became known as Jews because they embraced Judaism as their religion.  This was the Khazar Empire once located between the Black and Caspian Seas. The Khazar’s are not of Semitic descent. More on the Khazar's later.

       The Israelites living in Jerusalem and its environs were largely killed in the war with Rome in the first century AD. The first century Roman destruction of the temple, the city of Jerusalem and many surrounding areas resulted in a million Jews being killed and 100.000 taken into captivity.  This destruction brought to an end facilitation of the Old Covenant system. There has been no physical temple, priesthood or sacrificial system since nor does there ever need to be. The Christ event did away with the need for the Old Covenant system as the book of Hebrews clearly points out.

       The Old Covenant system was associated with the physical nation of Israel and included the physical promise of land. This promise of land was realized when Israel under the leadership of Joshua defeated the various nations occupying Canaan and took possession of the land (See Deuteronomy 34:1-4).  The Old Covenant was terminated by the death and resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent Roman destruction of the Temple in AD 70.  Without the temple, facilitation of the requirements of the Old Covenant system ended. The New Covenant system is now in place and relates to spiritual promises. The New Covenant has to do with spiritual promises of eternal life rather than promises of land. Provision of physical land is no longer a dynamic of God's purpose for Israel or mankind in general.         

       In the years that followed the war with Rome, a number of Jews continued to live in Palestine but many had migrated to other nations in the Middle East and to various parts of the world.  Even before the war with Rome, it appears that many Jews were already living outside of Palestine.  The Jewish historian Josephus records that up to six million Jews were living outside of Israel at the time the temple was destroyed in AD 70.  These Jews had mainly migrated to Italy and Southern Europe.  The Jews who remained in Palestine after the war with Rome continued to have conflict with Rome and many were killed in such conflicts. During a revolt against Rome in 132 to 135 AD, the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem.  By the end of the seventh century AD, Palestine had become largely occupied by Arab’s who embraced Islam as their religion.  Islamic Arab's remained the dominant ethnic group in Palestine for the next 1,200 years. As recent as 1931, out of a total Palestine population of a little over one million, 800,000 were Arab.

        It wasn't until the Jewish Zionist movement of the 19th and 20th centuries that the demographics of the region began to change.  In the 1800's, Palestine was under the control of the Ottoman Empire and due to a change in land ownership law, wealthy upper class Arab investors were able to take over large areas of land in Palestine by denying tenure to Arab peasants who were farming the land.  This land was then sold to Jewish settlers.  This began the Jewish migration to Israel.  This migration was enhanced by the Belfour Declaration of 1917 which stated that the British government viewed with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.  Here is what Belfour Declaration said:

       His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

       As can be see, this Declaration strongly encouraged the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine which at the time was under British control.  As clearly seen, this Declaration discouraged this being done at the expense of the non-Jewish population in Palestine which at that time was largely Arab.  This instruction to not prejudice the civil and religious rights of the indigenous population was largely ignored by the Zionist movement.

        From the start, the Zionist goal was to take the land away from the Arab's and occupy it with peoples who are considered by many to be descendants of the tribes of Israel.  From the beginning of the Zionist movement, the aim has been the displacement of the indigenous Arab population.  It has been a consistent position of the Zionist's that the land of Israel is rightfully theirs because of it being granted to them by God as the Promised Land of Old Testament history. Jews believe they have a historical right to the land of Palestine.  Many evangelical Christians concur with this view and have supported the Zionist objectives in the belief that the Jews must return to the land of Israel before Jesus can return to planet earth to establish His kingdom.  Is this a valid position and are the present Jewish residents of Israel descendants of the tribes of Israel as commonly believed?     

The Khazar Empire:

      As stated above, in the 700’s AD an entire Empire became known as Jews because they embraced Judaism as their religion.  This was the Khazar Empire once located between the Black and Caspian Seas. The Khazar’s are considered Ashkenazi Jews because their ancestry has been traced back through Ashkenaz who was a son of Gomer who was a son of Japheth, son of Noah (Genesis 10:1-3).  Israelite’s trace their lineage back through Abraham who is a descendant of Noah’s son Shem.  Therefore, it is apparent the Khazar’s are not ethnic Jews.  They are not descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

       In the eleventh century AD, the Khazar Empire came to an end and the people of this Empire migrated to Russia, Poland and other Eastern European countries where they greatly increased in number.  Since they had embraced Judaism, they were looked upon as Jews.  It has been shown that a large majority of “Jews” who have migrated from Europe to various parts of the world, including modern day Israel, are Ashkenazi Jews.  It has been estimated there are more than 10 million Ashkenazi Jews living throughout the world today with around 2.8 million in Israel.  Jewish scholars clearly recognize and admit to the fact that many Jews living in Israel and throughout the world are of Ashkenazi lineage.

       The true descendants of Abraham are called Sephardic Jews.  Sephardic Jews have been shown to be from Middle Eastern countries around the Mediterranean Sea such as Israel, Jordan and Syria and also from Portugal, Spain and Northern Africa.

       Debate continues as to the ethnic heritage of modern day Jews.  Recent genetic research has indicated that the ancestry of many Jews can be traced backed to ethnic Jews who migrated from the Middle East to Europe and married nor-Jewish women who had become converts to Judaism.  This has resulted in many of  today's "Jews" being a genetic mix of Jewish and Non-Jewish heritage.  This mixing of Jew/Israelite with non-Jew/Israelite has been going on for thousands of years and can be traced to before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.  OT Scripture shows that intermarriage with non-Israelites was one of the sins for which the Nations of Israel and Judah were punished by God. 

       It should be apparent that intermarriage between diverse ethnic groups over the centuries has greatly mingled the human race as to ancestry. It appears a substantial number of Jew’s living in Israel today are of Ashkenazi descent and not Sephardic Jews. Hebrew scholars readily admit to this.  Many others are the product of mixed marriages where their heritage is a mix of Jew/Israelite and non-Jew/Israelite ancestry. 

The Jewish/Arab Conflict:

       Having arrived at this juncture in our discussion, we must consider the question of what can be done if anything to resolve the continuing conflict between Jews and Arabs who are currently occupying Palestine?  Palestine has been occupied by a variety of different ethnic groups throughout history.   Israel was given this land at one point in history in fulfillment of God's land promise to Abraham. Later, Israel was removed  from the land by God because of their failure to keep the Covenant He established with them.  Some of Israel was restored to the land 70 years after the Babylonian captivity.  Then in AD 70, much of Israel was again removed from the land as judgement for their failure to keep the Covenant and acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah.

       After AD 70, the land of Palestine began to be occupied by various ethnic groups and, as stated above, by the end of the seventh century AD, Palestine had become largely occupied by Arab’s and remained so until the Zionist movement of the 19th and 20th centuries facilitated the reoccupation of this land by a mix of ethnic and non-ethnic Jews. In 1948, Israel was established as a "Jewish" state which precipitated a war with the Arabs resulting in the creation of over 700,000 Arab refugees.  These people were systematically dispossessed of what had been their homeland for over a thousand years.  Thus began the Israeli/Arab conflict which continues to this day.     

       Because of their historical association with Palestine, it would appear both Jews and Arabs have a legitimate claim to the land.  Therefore, a two state arrangement appears to be a reasonable solution. This solution will be very difficult to implement because of longstanding mutual animosities and distrust. The major detriment to solving this problem is the failure by both Jews and Christians to understand that the land promises were fulfilled under the Old Covenant and have been abrogated by the New Covenant. 

       Religious belief is a major obstacle to a resolution of the problem.  The Jews still see themselves as under the Mosaic Covenant and therefore see the land promises as still applicable. Many Jews are looking for the Messiah to appear (first appearance) and many Christians are looking for the Messiah to appear (second appearance) to reestablish the Davidic kingdom with its headquarters in Jerusalem.  Therefore, the land is seen as an important dynamic by both Christians and Jews which makes relinquishing any of it very problematic.  Unless and until Christians and Jews come to understand that the land is no longer a consideration in the purposes of God, this problem will not be solved.

Summery:   

       I began this discussion by asking the question whether the fig tree represents Israel in the Biblical Scriptures.  I asked this question because some in the Christian community believe when Jesus refers to the fig tree in the Olivet Discourse, he is using it to reference the restoration of Israel as a nation which in turn signals His return.  Some believe the granting of statehood to Israel in 1948 is a fulfillment of what Jesus said.

       As discussed above, Jesus did not use the fig tree to represent the restoration of the nation of Israel. Jesus used the fig tree as a metaphor to show His disciples they need to be alert to the fulfillment of the various events He had just described as indicative of his return being imminent.

       Seeing that the present day ethnic makeup of modern day Israel shows many to be of Ashkenazi ancestry, it becomes rather problematical to see in the return of “Jews” to Palestine a return to the Promised Land of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Even if it could be demonstrated that it is largely descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who have returned to the land of Israel and even if a temple should be built and sacrifices reinstated, it would not signify an imminent return of Christ.  A careful reading of the NT narrative shows Jesus and His disciples teaching an imminent to them return of Christ and not a return thousands of years removed from the first century.  I encourage readers of this essay to read my fourteen part series entitled, “When Does Christ Return.”

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