While spending time in north London looking after my mum again this summer, I was once again inspired by the verdant overhanging fig tree almost blocking my path as I walked (and ran) around Hampstead.
Laden with ripening fruit, it was another reminder of one of the most significant events of our time, largely missed by most people – including Christians – I’m afraid.
In speaking to his disciples about Israel’s restoration and of his coming back to reign on earth, Jesus indicated that one of the signs of his imminent return was “when the fig tree blossoms…” (Matthew 24.32f) The fig tree is a biblical symbol of Israel.
There is a lot of talk in church circles these days of a coming revival of fervent Christianity. There is certainly a need for one, and I pray it will happen. In fact my understanding is that, along with much trouble and strife, there will be revival in the last days because Joel prophesied of how the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2.28). That was partly fulfilled at Pentecost of course, but its final fulfilment is yet to come, although Asia, Africa, the Far East and South America have already witnessed great outpourings of heavenly rain in recent decades.
But who in the church is preparing for the great revival prophesied for Israel? God has not forgotten them, nor has he replaced them with the Church as some preachers suggest. He has made an everlasting covenant with Israel – with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants. Covenants are not meant to be broken; a disciple of Christ who expects God to go back on his word has completely misunderstood his character! If Israel is cut off from God because of unfaithfulness, what chance has the Church with all her backsliding over the centuries – especially in terms of persecution of the Jewish people? No, God will never reject his chosen ones. “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the Lord. (Jer 31.37)
Even the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah is not addressed particularly to the Church, as you might think from the context in which it is used over Christmas. No, it is with Israel that the Lord promised a new covenant, when he will put his law in their minds and write it on their hearts – and they will all know him. (Jer 31.31-34) Earlier in the same chapter, he declares his “everlasting love” with his chosen people whom he vows to restore – to their land, which would once more become fruitful, and to their Lord, who says: “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” (v13)
If only the Church would take a closer look at Israel, they would be so much better informed and live with much greater hope, for the Jewish state is a mighty testament to our God’s great faithfulness and love. He entrusted the Jews with his word so that they could be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49.6), but they broke his covenant, forsook his laws and turned to idols instead. Yet, just as the prophet Hosea kept faith with his adulterous wife, he never stopped loving them.
He brought them back to the Promised Land from every corner of the globe in perfect fulfilment of his word. Now almost half of world Jewry lives in re-born Israel, and more keep coming as anti-Semitism rears its ugly head once more in the nations to which they were dispersed for so long.
The Lord didn’t wait until they put things right. He honoured his promise and now waits patiently for the time when “they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (v34). As St Paul put it, the day will come when “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11.26), echoing the word of Zechariah speaking of the time when they will look on him whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only child (Zech 12.10).
Perhaps you look at the 200,000 people who marched through the streets of Tel Aviv in support of Gay Pride, and the fact that most of Israel’s population are secular in outlook. But don’t be blinded by that. See how the fig tree is blossoming: a nation has been rebuilt from a barren wasteland, now supplying the world with fruit and a global leader in technology, using their agricultural genius to help African and other countries, and even using their medical expertise to heal their ‘enemies’ as they tend to the wounds of Syrian soldiers wounded in the civil war that has been raging on their northern border.
But the real clue to their coming restoration is evidenced by the growing number of Messianic Jews – those who have recognised that Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) is indeed their Messiah. Despite the high price paid by Jewish believers in Jesus (being cut off from their families in many cases), they keep ‘coming home’, like the Prodigal Son – not only in Israel but throughout the world.
Yet the fig tree is still only a bud, a blossom. But it will soon be laden with fruit, like the one in Hampstead’s Spring Path.
The Church really does need to ‘watch’ Israel, especially the growth of Messianic Judaism, for it is key to the unfolding events leading up to the second coming of Christ. It is also key to understanding the lovingkindness, forbearance and longsuffering of our God, who watches over his word to see it fulfilled (Jer 1.12).
Sadly, many Christians can’t see what Israel has to do with them; they seem to forget they worship the God of Israel, which means in fact that it has everything to do with them. But if they only knew, for example, how Jews and Arabs are being reconciled through the cross (in accordance with Ephesians 2.14) and are worshipping together in many parts of Israel, their faith would be encouraged no end. For this surely underscores the truth that Jesus holds the answer to world peace.
Even on the war front, there are lessons to be learnt. The ongoing tension on the Temple Mount, for instance, needs to be understood more as a spiritual battle than a political conflict, representing on a grand scale what Christians are taught to expect in their individual lives.
Ignorance of Israel will leave your faith weakened while knowledge of Israel, even it its present largely unrepentant state, will edify your soul as you realise afresh that you can trust in the one and only Saviour of the world, for whom the Jewish people remain the apple of his eye (Deut 32.10, Zech 2.8).
Some date the budding of the fig tree from the year 1967, fifty years ago, when Israel recaptured the Old City of Jerusalem for the first time in 2,000 years, thereby ending (in the understanding of some) the ‘trampling down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles’ spoken of by our Lord (Luke 21.24). It’s an interesting point that 1967 is generally also regarded as the year the Messianic movement began in earnest, coinciding (as it happens) with the breakthrough of the Charismatic movement that brought a restoration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the old historic churches. The feast of Pentecost (known to Jews as Shavuot) is still seen in Israel as a celebration of the Law received by Moses, which of course is now ‘written on our hearts’ through the work of the Spirit in accordance with Ezekiel 36.26f. It seems that there is a ‘golden’ thread holding together this trinitarian truth.
So in this golden year of celebrations, make sure that ‘Jerusalem the Golden’ lightens up your understanding of the Scriptures and of God’s wonderful – though sometimes mysterious – ways.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon, and Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com