There is also the promise that the generation that sees the signs in Matthew 24 will not pass away (all die) before these things take place. But there is another possible meaning hidden in Jesus’ parable. The budding of the fig tree’s branches can be taken as a metaphor for the return of Israel as a nation in 1948.
Why would we suspect that? Jeremiah 24 includes a prophecy that compares Israel to two baskets of figs, one good and one bad. God said to Jeremiah regarding the good figs that he “will plant them and not uproot them.” I count a total of 25 references that associate fig trees with the land of Israel in the Old Testament, like Zechariah 3:10, which says, “‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” There is also the image of a twig budding that recalls Aaron’s staff in Numbers 17. Lastly, there is a similar image in Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” While this is clearly about Jesus, it also evokes an image of the future return of Israel.
So, if we understand that Jesus’s statement “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened” applies to the generation that saw the return of Israel as a nation, then it begs the question, “How long is a generation?” David tells us in the Psalms that the span of a person’s life is between seventy to eighty years. If we use that as an indication of the length of time for one generation, then we could infer that the Lord’s return must come somewhere between 2018 and 2028.
Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. – Psalm 90:10 NIV
One last comment. I don’t want to make too much of this, but notice at the end of Psalm 90:10 that it mentions days of trouble and sorrow, after which “we fly away.” I can’t prove that’s a reference to the gathering up of the saints, but it sounds like an allusion to it to me…
BALAAM’S ERROR AND REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY
The account of Balaam is given in Numbers 22-24 and 31. Balaam was a Gentile who worshiped God; but he was enticed by Israel’s neighbors to curse them and to put stumbling blocks in their way. The story is easy to overlook as just an odd event that happened in the days of Moses. Balaam is mentioned several more times, in Deuteronomy 23:4-5, Joshua 13:22 and 24:9-10, Nehemiah 13:2 and Micah 6:5, but these other Old Testament references are in the context of remembering the things that the Lord had done for Israel. It is not until the New Testament that we see a grave warning about following Balaam. In fact, Peter, Jude, and John all mention Balaam in connection with the end times and Christian believers that have fallen away. Let’s look closely at some of them.
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. – Revelation 2:14 NIV
They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. – 2 Peter 2:15 NIV
Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. – Jude 1:11 NIV
In two of these verses, money is mentioned along with Balaam, and the other verse mentions sexual immorality. The typical understanding of the reference to Balaam, therefore, is that he is a symbol of Christians who go after ill-gotten gain, such as found in 1 Timothy 6:5-10, or of those who entice others to sin, such as found in 2 Peter 2:18. But there is another option that I don’t think has received much consideration, and your Bible commentary probably won’t be of much assistance, either. Why? Because most people, including the commentators, overlook the primary classification of who Balaam was. He was a gentile “holy man” who was asked by Israel’s enemies to help them curse the Israelites. Said another way, he was a gentile believer who helped the surrounding pagan nations (now comprised of Islamic Arab countries) to fight against Israel.
Accordingly, applied more broadly and assuming we really are now in the last days, I believe that the full meaning of these verses is not just talking about Christians who have a love of money, but more pointedly, they are talking about Christians who are embracing Replacement Theology and opposing Israel by supporting the Palestinian cause, Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS), and other anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist movements.
Replacement Theology is the idea that the Church has not just been grafted into the promises of Israel, as taught by Paul in Romans chapters 9-11, but it has instead completely replaced the nation of Israel as the inheritor of God’s promises. To borrow from an Old Testament example, to affirm Replacement Theology is like believing that Israel has become Esau and that the Church, like Jacob, has stolen Israel’s birthright, with God’s blessing. But Paul is very clear that the heart of Israel will only be hardened “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).
Also, if you haven’t heard of the BDS movement, it is a Palestinian-led organization that seeks to delegitimize the state of Israel and hurt them economically. Their justification is based on a revisionist version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As an example, many Palestinians deny that the Holocaust ever happened. They also deliberately forget that it was Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt that invaded Israel on multiple occasions to wipe them out, not the other way around. If you don’t know the true history of the conflict, then their claims may sound reasonable and just. But when you know the truth, their accusations amount to a thief calling the police on a homeowner for defending their family and property against themself! When well-meaning Christians support these movements, they are supporting and believing in lies—the kinds of lies that are also told, for example, by the Iranian regime against America. In fact, the Iranians are big supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah, the terrorist allies of the Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank.
However, it is important to say that not everyone who embraces replacement theology is anti-Semitic; but you will rarely find someone who does and yet also wants to bless Israel and pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Furthermore, I should also mention that I have visited and enjoyed the hospitality of quite a few Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria (now often called the West Bank). I met many that seemed kind, honorable, and deserving of a chance to have a better life than the current contentious situation allows. Under the right conditions, perhaps many Palestinians would make wonderful Israeli citizens. Nonetheless, that cannot be said of their current leadership, nor of a significant percentage of the population, whose hatred for Israel is palpable and dangerous. The world needs to stop trying to blame Israel for the current state of this conflict. The truth is that most of the responsibility for the present situation lies with the rabid leadership that has governed the Palestinians for over five decades, and the countries that have encouraged them.
Here is the warning, though. In Revelation 2:14, God says, “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you.” One of the major things God is holding against them is that they were acting like Balaam. In other words, he is calling out Christians who are against Israel and are siding with her enemy neighbors, just like Balaam did. And he is saying to “whoever has ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches” that they better stop it. I hope that Christians who are following Balaam’s error will repent and turn back to a sound understanding of God’s Word and will begin to love and support the Jewish people. Not because I say so, but because of “him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.”
[To the Church in Pergamum]
12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you re-main true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. 14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent there-fore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
– Revelation 2:12-17 NIV
Nevertheless, to avoid being unbalanced, I will also point out that Jesus commends many of them for remaining true to his name. Consequently, this means that we need to be patient and loving with those that don’t yet understand the significance of God’s plan for the Jewish people because they’ve been deceived by replacement theology. Pray for them. Love them. Warn them. “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh. – Revelation 19:21 NIV
THE GREATEST SIGN OF OUR AGE
Clearly, the promises of God to Israel are still in force and will be carried out, just as God has declared. Even though the Jewish people who do not currently accept Christ as the Messiah are enemies “as far as the gospel is concerned,” they are “loved on account of the patriarchs” (Romans 11:28). The end is near. Exactly how much time remains before Christ’s return no one can know for sure; but we should recognize that, with current events in Israel matching so closely with what God told us in his Word to expect, his return must be close at hand.
The return of Israel as a nation is the single greatest sign of our age. It is just as significant as the sign to the nations of the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians and their passage through the Red Sea. Jeremiah prophesied that in the last days the sign of Israel becoming a nation, which we see before us now, would become more important to people than talking about Israel’s deliverance from Egypt through Moses. Many today are now eagerly expecting the return of the Lord for the exactly the reason that Israel is once again a nation on the earth. So, we can confidently say that this prophecy, too, has come to pass.
“So then, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when people will no longer say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ Then they will live in their own land.” – Jeremiah 23:7-8 NIV