"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near."
(Matt. 24:3; ESV)
Sometime around 1978 I saw a book in the Salvation Army store named The Late Great Planet Earth authored by Hal Lindsey and read it with great interest after purchasing it. At the time I was in a faith which believes in Replacement Theology and brushed off most of what Dr. Lindsey wrote, but one thing kind of stuck with me at the back of my mind for years, the role of Israel in the prophecies of the last days.
I left my previous faith some years ago and now had the opportunity to take a closer look at the prophecies concerning the Return of the Jews to their homeland and the restoration of their national polity with the creation of the state of Israel. But there is more, there are prophecies yet to be fulfilled, and it was with wonder that I studied the subject and listened to mature Christian men of knowledge expound on the subject. Some of those men filled in gaps for me so that I see the wondrous whole. So I decided it is a great time to discuss this subject of import.
The above verse was part of a group of prophecies which Jesus gave his disciples in answer to the question, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matt. 24:3; ESV) Although the context closely followed the declaration of Jesus that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed (Matt. 24:2), the wording of the question as it was preserved for us asks a greater question, what would be the sign of Jesus “coming” (Really “presence” instead of “coming” as the word here is παρουσιας G3952), thus pointing to something much greater than just the destruction of the Jewish system. It is with that understanding in mind that we must approach the great prophecies Jesus gave in answer to that question.
Some of those answers applied specifically to the fall of the temple, of that there is no dispute in our mind. Others had a dual fulfillment, one then and one in the “last days” and some in the last days only. Where confusion generally runs is in trying to figure out which fits into what category. We believe that this particular statement may apply to both ages because it references the sign of spring when the fig tree shoots for its foliage from its buds. The obvious meaning is that of seeing the signs of fulfillment beginning to appear. In many places the Bible does tell us that one of the signs of the “last days” would be the restoration of Israel to the holy land (Jer. 30, Is. 2:2, Mic 4:1).
In my studies I read several books written over a hundred years ago which predicted with astounding accuracy that restoration based on the word of God, though the expected them all to happen much sooner than they did. Still, the accuracy of his words struck me as remarkable. However, just as Charles Taze Russell did, I’m going to let the Bible speak for itself instead of using his words.
It was in 1878 that the tree of prophecy concerning the restoration of Israel began to sprout forth. The great historical event historians remember that year for is the Berlin Congress where British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the first Jew to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and other leaders of Europe gathered in Berlin to craft an agreement. The idea was to hammer out certain details regarding the status of certain nations which used to be part of the Ottoman Empire but were given their freedom under the Treaty of San Stefano which was signed earlier that year. What is given scant attention if at all about the treaty is that Prime Minister Disraeli insisted on attaching a provision onto the treaty giving the Jews the right to purchase and hold property in the Holy Land. It was provision which would have enormous consequences later on.
One thing modern academia doesn’t like to admit is that, although the Jews were dispossessed of their homeland, the land was never entirely devoid of Jews. There were two major cities with large Jewish populations, Haifa and Jerusalem. However they lived under marginal conditions where persecution was an ever present reality and they weren’t allowed to own land, etc. Outside of the cities the land was a desolate waste, as reported by people who traveled through the area, including such luminaries as Mark Twain. But all of that changed with the congress of Berlin.
Shortly after the treaty was adopted a group of Jews purchased a large tract of property and founded the town of Petah Tikvah, or Gate of Hope, for Jews to immigrate to. Although it had rocky beginnings, Petah Tikvah is still around and one of the major cities in Israel to this day. So began the return of the Jews to their homeland and the eventual restoration of the state of Israel in 1948. In the next post we will talk about some bones and what they have to do with predicting the restoration of the Jewish state.