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4-1  Jesus Gave Us the Signs of the Times

 "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.
In the world you have tribulation, but take courage;
I have overcome the world."
John 16:33 (NAS 1975)
During the time of His earthly Ministry, Jesus of Nazareth gave many Prophecies pointing to and describing the End-Time. Some of these predictions were directed mainly to the Gentiles; another portion of the Prophecies were reserved for Israel. We may wish to take particular note of the Signs given here - they bear the imprint of the Master.

Many of these Prophecies are recorded in Matthew 24 (Mark 13, Luke 17 and 21 cover similar ground). The opening for Jesus to share this key information came by way of a pertinent question from His disciples:

"Tell us when all this will be," they asked, "and what will happen
to show that it is the time for your coming and the end of the age."
Matthew 24:3 (TEV)

Section A. Israel - The Fig Tree

Many times in the Bible, the fig tree is a symbol for the nation of Israel. In the final days before His Crucifixion, Jesus made use of this fact when He linked two future events:
"Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near;
even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door."
Matthew 24:32-33 (NAS 1975)
We know from the context that our Lord is describing here a Sign of the End-Time. Once we are sure that He is talking about Israel and no other nation, we can be very glad of this Prophecy. Because this is the strongest Sign of the times we have. What He said would happen to the fig tree is confirmed by history.

First then, let us verify that Jesus is referring to Israel in this parable. (For there is disagreement about this. In Judaic thought for instance, it isn't the fig tree that is the Bible symbol for Israel - Jews believe that Israel is identified with the olive tree, biblically.)

So what does Scripture say about the fig tree?

If we go back to beginnings, we see the fig tree is the first tree to be named in the Bible:

So she ate some of the fruit and gave some to her husband, and he ate it too.
And as they ate it, suddenly they became aware of their nakedness, and were embarrassed. So they strung fig leaves together to cover themselves around the hips.
Genesis 3:6-7 (TLB)
^  The fig tree then, is elevated to a lofty status. It blesses the Patriarch and the Matriarch, from whom Abraham (Father of both Arabs and Jews) was descended. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and got a set of rights and wrongs as a result. One of the first things they learned was that it is wrong to walk around naked. The animals' simple way is not the way for humankind. With that loss of innocence, they set off on the path of growth.

In the course of time the people of Israel were called out as a special people and given the Judaic Law. By this law they too would strive to refrain from certain selfish acts (such as lying and stealing), they too would seek to love and obey the one God, and they too would start up the road to perfection.

Later on the fig tree was included in the description Moses gave the Israelites of the Promised Land:

For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land ...
of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates ...
Deuteronomy 8:7-8 (KJV)
Several times the Hebrew Bible links the fig tree and the people of Israel in this kind of attractive setting:
In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree.
Zechariah 3:10 (KJV)
Altogether there are thirteen places in the Old Testament where it seems a linkage is being made between the fig tree and God's called-out people: Israel. To these can be added five other verses that relate the nation of Israel and figs (as distinct from fig trees).

Finally there is the parable that our Lord Himself tells, about the Kingdom of God and the barren fig tree:

"A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'
" 'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' "
Luke 13:6-9 (NIV)
We saw in the Tanach then, that Israel as the fig tree is a place of prosperity. In the first four Books of the New Testament the fig tree (Israel) is coming under judgment. Fruitfulness is being measured against what it takes to get a useful harvest. We should note the fig tree that Jesus curses for having no fruit (Matthew 21:18-20).

^  The conclusion from looking at all the Scriptures must be - Jesus surely had the nation of Israel in mind when He spoke the Prophecy quoted from Matthew 24, above. (The full set of Bible references that relate Israel to the fig tree and the fig is listed in Appendix B.)

Our Lord said that when we saw the fig tree sprouting leaves again, we could know that His Return was imminent. On May 14, 1948 Israel was reborn as a nation. This was an event without parallel in recorded history! For 1,800 years and more, Jews had been "in the wilderness." How much they had longed for this day. The return to the Land was prophesied over and over in Scripture, but now the (largely secular) Zionist Jews in Palestine had determined it was time for this return to be made into a reality.

The unique nature of Israel's re-creation was foretold in clear language in this passage:

Who ever heard of such a thing, or saw the like?
Can a country be brought forth in one day,
or a nation be born in a single moment?
Yet Zion is scarcely in labor when she gives birth to her children.
Isaiah 66:8 (NAB)
By 1948 Palestine (as she was still known) had been ruled under a British Mandate for 25 years. WWII was over, and the British were weary of trying to manage the conflicting goals of the Arabs and Jews in the Land. The Zionists felt that the time was ripe for them to achieve their goal: To bring a new Jewish state into being, in the Land where the old one had been - thousands of years before. And so as the British Mandate expired, Israel declared her independence, thus fulfilling the above verse in detail.

It was the Jewish Holocaust(1-1) of 1933-1945, in which European Jewry was decimated, that had changed the climate and enabled the Jews to re-form the nation of Israel in 1948. As you must know, Hitler's appalling Final Solution to the Jewish "problem" was extermination. He began this attempt in 1941 and by 1944 when the gassings were stopped, it is estimated that between 5 and 6 million Jews had perished.

Was God overlooking this terrible slaughter when inspiring the Isaiah passage above? No, because the question was posed: "Can a country be brought forth in one day?" Notice that Jesus also implies a time of special pain for the Jews. He says (in the Matthew 24 verses, above) that the fig tree's "branch has already become tender." What a dreadful price the house of Israel had to pay in that process. We see that their sacrifice was not in vain - they succeeded in making a place for themselves. But what a tragedy that the end of one sacrifice was followed by the beginning of another. What was a triumph for the Jews of Palestine was Al Nakba ("the Catastrophe") for the Arabs(1-2). Many of them were long-standing inhabitants of Palestine. The great majority of the Arab population in what became Israel ended up as refugees. Some left their homes because their leaders advised it - the idea being to leave a clear path for invading Arab armies. But others were (as Jews had been) shoved aside, terrorized, and even massacred. Surely this is not how a loving God envisaged the restoration of Israel?

So while we can appreciate the beauty of these Prophecies, we can also see the suffering that both Jews and Palestinians have undergone in bringing about their fulfillment. The writer suggests we will need to acknowledge that we owe a debt to these peoples. They have been afflicted, yet we along with them will reap a benefit when the Messiah comes. And the people who have taken the larger share of this persecution? It is the Jews - that is surely undeniable.

Nevertheless, we cannot allow that fact to blind us to something else - namely, wrongdoing by the state of Israel. The record of her treatment of the Palestinian Arab population - from 1948 down to this day - is a poor one, it has to be said. Admittedly, Israel treats Palestinians better in "Israel proper" than she does the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS). However, a 1999 report by Amnesty International was critical of both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority over their human rights abuses(1-3). These two governing bodies have a long way to go before they can be said to have reached an acceptable standard in this area. In the meantime, WBGS residents can suffer from both bodies.

On the other hand, to be fair it has to be recalled that the new nation of Israel was surrounded by hostile neighbors. In recent years Egypt and Jordan at least, have been helpful to Israel, so it's possible to forget that in 1948 all the Arab nations bordering the old Palestine, plus Iraq, were at war with the new state. Even now, the men of violence are a threat to Israel, from within and without. And we should add that terrorism against Israel is not limited to Arab sources - Hezbollah is not an Arab organization.

^  Also in defense of Israel, there is something else of importance - something known perhaps to you the reader (certainly a fact that this writer can attest to). Namely that, in contrast to the flaws we see in the state of Israel, we see in Jews themselves such wonderful qualities. And if the Bible statements that the Jews are "God's chosen people" are true Scripture (please see for example, Deuteronomy 7:6[2]), then one thing must follow: one day the rest of us will see God elevate the Jews. We will find them carrying out their role as the Lord's most holy people in the world. This will be made clear to us when we see the Jews treating the Palestinians with equity and mercy. Of course, we expect equally good treatment of the Jews by the Palestinians. And may we all take to heart these truths: namely that, like the Jews, Palestinians are also sons and daughters of Abraham, and are in themselves a lovable and distinctive people.

Let us pray therefore that Israel will return to the pursuit of peace with justice. Just a few years ago, our hopes were high. Must it all come to nothing? Can we not look forward to a day when Jews and Palestinians and all the children of Abraham fully recognize their kinship with one another? With God's Help, surely we can.

May we look now at a beautiful aspect of the Parable that Jesus gave us, above? We see it when we look at the nature of the fig tree. It is the only fruit tree to bear in two distinct harvests. There is an early fruit ("bikurah" in Arabic, "bakkurot" in Hebrew); this is ready in June. Though these figs are smaller and less sweet, they are prized for their special flavor. Then from August on, the main harvest ripens. This sweeter fruit is called "te'enah" in Hebrew ("teen" in Arabic).

How aptly the bountiful fig tree fits the illustration that Jesus is drawing for us. Israel was producing fruit with which God was pleased - before Western civilization existed. For example, while still in the desert, the Israelites gave a large quantity of fine materials for the completion of a tent of worship. Scripture later describes how God approved what had been done:

Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation,
and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Exodus 40:34 (KJV)
And today, we begin to see the second fruiting of the Fig Tree, as predicted by Scripture. From that "instant declaration" of 68 years ago the crop is approaching maturity. Despite the past combined military efforts of its neighbors, and noting the opposition of some of us to its aggressive methods, the nation of Israel is there - and God's Faithfulness will be vindicated!

This next item is difficult: On the one hand, adherents of every religion believe theirs is best, don't they? On the other hand, can there be any doubt that God is the source of all the world's great religions? Each faith has its own precious measure of the heavenly Light, and to belittle any one of them is to fail to see the beauty of God's mosaic - a mosaic made up of all the people of faith, the world over. But here is a difficulty: when the Gospel is proclaimed as being the answer for all humankind, this is music to the ears of Christians, whereas to many believers in say, Judaism - that ancient and profound religion out of which Christianity grew - these can be most unwelcome words, which can create enemies.

With this in mind, let us consider the recent phenomenon of the Messianic Jewish movement. Just as in the early days of the Church, today there are Jews who have accepted "Yeshua" (Jesus) as their Savior. From the Christian viewpoint, this is very significant - indeed from the viewpoint of this e-book, the movement is taken to be a Sign of the End-Time (please see Jeremiah 31:31-33[3]). But these are not the only considerations, for this new development has not come without its pain.

Let us recall that, of course, each person is free in her/his own heart at least, to choose and stick to that religion which means the most to them. However, when a Jew forsakes traditional Judaism and joins the Messianic branch of the Church, this has far-reaching effects. The Orthodox Jew regards such a person as a sore loss. Whether they were a religious or a secular member of the Jewish people - they were a member of a select faith, or a potential member. Now they are "outside the camp." By contrast, the Messianic believers themselves usually affirm that they feel more "Jewish" than they did before. It should be added that most of these people started out with a very limited understanding of their Jewish religious heritage.

The path cannot be an easy one for these converts - not always fully accepted by every Christian they meet, they can also experience a measure of rejection from their fellow-Jews. In spite of this, we may find that these believers are in a position to bring healing to places where hatred and suspicion still exist between the two faiths. We may see that they are uniquely able to promote wonderful works of reconciliation.

A further development is that the Messianic Jewish movement has evoked a response in traditional Judaism. There is now mission work being carried out by Jews who are keen to preach the value of their traditional faith - not only to those who have "left the fold" but to secular Jews also. We can surely see this as a welcome move - as long as the objective is focused on bringing more honor to God, we all gain.

What can we say then, about this "Messianic" movement that brings joy to Christian hearts, but at the price of division within the Jewish family? The writer claims the encouragement of Scripture for the following optimistic hope and belief. Namely that the harvest resulting from this unique revival will make both Jews and Gentiles very glad - in the long run. And here is the ground for this hope - the Prophecy spoken by the holy Simeon about Jesus, on the day that He was brought as a Baby to the Temple:

A light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Thy people Israel.
Luke 2:32 (NAS 1975)
This prophetic verse shows that it would be quite inappropriate to judge the Messianic Jewish movement as a matter of winners or losers. Instead, in all humility, we need to acquire a sense of God's ongoing Revelation - there is a dynamic to the Divine relationship with humankind. This enables us to see something here. We see today's believers - Christian, Judaic, or of any other faith - will not be standing, when all is fulfilled, where they are now. God is far too creative to let us stand still. And in that day, people of all our religions will be recognizing and receiving, their Messiah!

^  Section B. The Almond Tree - The Gentiles

The almond tree in Scripture is used to represent the Gentiles. Please see for example, Exodus 25:31-40. Here God showed Moses how the almond was a key part of the design for the lampstand that brought light into the holy tabernacle. This lampstand ("menorah") had seven branches - three either side of a central stem. If the central branch is taken to symbolize Israel, then the other six branches would stand for the Gentile nations.

"Let it be known to you therefore, that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen."
Acts 28:28 (NAS 1975)
Jesus had completed His earthly Ministry to the people of Israel, and now the above statement by St.Paul marks the spread of the Gospel: from its first flowering among the Jewish people, out to the Gentile world. Our Lord had set the scene for this marvelous development - the Gentiles are addressed before the Jews, in the Matthew 24 Prophecy chapter (please see verses 7-14 and 32-34).

The 14 End-Time "identification marks" in the list below conclude with five which are great blessings from God.

1.  Wars: Jesus said, "And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars ... nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom ...." Matthew 24:6-7 (NAS 1975).

The last 100 years have seen massive wars fought on an unprecedented scale - "world wars." The forces in the 1914-1918 war numbered 65 million, and 8-9 million of those gave their lives. A further 6-7 million civilian lives were lost in WWI(4).

WWII was worse: forces - about 100 million - of these 14-15 million lost their lives in battle. Tragically we must add to these millions the great number of people who perished in the accompanying Holocaust: 5-6 million Jews and at least 5 million non-Jews (Poles, Slavs, Gypsies, others). Further, there were the great number of civilian lives lost as a result of the war, rather than by genocide. Indeed the complete toll of civilian lives was about twice that of the battle toll (somewhere around 30 million non-military lives). Begun in 1939, WWII was ended in 1945 by the dropping of the two atom bombs on Japan(4).

The vastly destructive power of nuclear weapons enables most people to figure out for themselves how bad a WWIII would be. The WWIII theme has provided science fiction writers with the backdrop for so many books, plays and films - "rumors"? Our own imaginings - "rumors"? Surely the accuracy of the above Prophecy is of God.

2.  Earthquakes: "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in place after place ...." Matthew 24:7 (Amp.)

Seismologists are not aware of a particular rise in either the number or severity of earthquakes taking place in the last 100 years. Mercifully there has been no more deadly earthquake than the one that hit Shaanxi [Shensi] Province in China in 1556 CE. It carried off 800,000 people. (Although in 1976 an earthquake, also in China, destroyed the city of T'ang-shan, near Beijing. While there is some controversy over the number of mortalities, some believe this quake may have approached, but not exceeded, the toll of the 1556 earthquake.)

^  Is the above Prophecy unfulfilled then? No, because in 1945 we got the Bomb: a weapon of such appalling power that it makes artificial earthquakes(5). The shock of nuclear explosions produces seismic waves looking almost identical on a seismograph to waves from natural earthquakes.

Suppose some of the "earthquakes" in the End-Time were to be produced by bombs? Does this idea fit the above Scripture? Well yes it does, because war and earthquakes (also famines) are linked together, in this verse. (As they are in Mark 13:8, also.) In line with this, the two explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused shocks which would have been measurable on the Richter scale. If we are to understand the above verse correctly, and the words "place after place" (writer's italics) - doesn't it mean that these two cities were to be a fulfillment of this Prophecy?

At the end of the day, we may find that the horror of the atom bombs in 1945 served to forestall, later on, a bigger catastrophe - WWIII. And yet it's likely that few of us would rush to stand in for the citizens of those Japanese cities. So maybe we would be wise if we were to consider the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as "sacrificial lambs" - people who suffered in order that we be spared an even greater tragedy?

Some of these Prophecies refer to terrible things. But instead of being repelled by this, we should be comforted by the thought that our God is Kind. God's good purpose is to protect us from needless harm. Jesus warns us of WWIII because He wants to keep us safe from it.

3.  Famines: "... there will be famines ..." Matthew 24:7 (NAS 1975).

We're understanding better today how famine and war are grim companions of each other. First there is widespread destruction of crops and cropland when war is being fought. Then too, people are often driven from their homeland, and turned into refugees by war. Finally we have the continual drain of resources: diverted into war and war preparation. Globally, $1.6 million of output is wasted in this way every minute, while almost 1 billion people go to bed hungry(6).

For example, famine has dogged the footsteps of the people of Sudan. Grappling with the problems of drought and a growing population has been made many times more difficult, because of war. In theory 23 years of civil war ended in 2005. But since then there have been, and still are, appalling atrocities in Darfur, and armed conflict in the South. In 2011, South Sudan obtained independence from Sudan; sadly this has not brought peace. Fighting there is so widespread that it has led to the creation of large numbers of refugees(7).

And in another African country - the Congo - war and the resultant famine have claimed the lives of millions. Today, fighting over the Congo's mineral riches continues. UN peacekeeping forces face an uphill task in bringing any sort of stability to this fractured and much fought-over land(8).

The ultimate war-related famine is the one which could be expected in the wake of a nuclear holocaust. WWIII would, it is thought, plunge most of the Northern Hemisphere into darkness for months: "Nuclear Winter."

By the Grace of God nuclear winter may never happen. Thank God. But wait, are the physical famines we see today the only fulfillments of Jesus' Prophecy? Isn't there a famine today which claims even more victims than food-famines do? Namely the current spiritual famine.

Jesus said, "I am the bread of life" - John 6:35 and 48. As long as we neglect this truth, all the pleasure-seeking in the world (whether this is for food or drink or whatever), will not erase our famine. Conversely this deep-seated hunger can be satisfied so simply. We have only to seek the sustenance our Lord has for us.


Chapter 4 (1st half) Notes

^  1-1. The Jewish Holocaust - World War II:
This original webpage is still available; not being secured, can't be shown.
It was known as: http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/the-holocaust
^  1-2. Al-Nakba:
This original source webpage is no longer available;
it was here earlier: http://jewishfilminstitute.org/
films/detail/al-nakba-the-palestinian-catastrophe-of-1948
^  1-3. Reported in: The Jerusalem Post, June 16, 1999.
^  2. Deuteronomy 7:6 (TLB):
"For you are a holy people, dedicated to the Lord your God.
He has chosen you from all the people on the face of the whole earth
to be his own chosen ones."
^  3. Jeremiah 31:31-33 (TEV):
"The LORD says, 'The time is coming when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt.
Although I was like a husband to them, they did not keep that covenant.
The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this:
I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.' "
^  4. Sources for world war facts:
R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, Encyclopedia of Military History: from 3500 BC to the present (London: MacDonald & Jane's, 1976),
The 1988 Information Please Almanac, 41st edn. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1988),
Holocaust Timeline:
This original webpage is still available; not being secured, can't be shown.
It was known as:
http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/holocaust/timeline.html
^  5. G. A. Eiby, Earthquakes (Oxford: Heinemann, 1980).
^  6. World Military and Social Expenditures - 1991, 14th edn.,
editor - Ruth Leger Sivard (Washington, DC: World Priorities, 1991).
^  7. Refugee Situation in South Sudan:
This original webpage is still available; not being secured, can't be shown.
It was known as: "http://data.unhcr.org/SouthSudan/country.php?id=251"
^  8. democratic republic of congo:
https://www.refugeesinternational.org/search?q=democratic%20republic%20of%20congo

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