The Future of Jewish Religion


Some popular writers on prophecy have said that the founding of Israel in 1948 was the sign Jesus intended when He called us to watch for the rebudding of the fig tree. But as we have said before, the parable does not refer to reinvigoration of the Jewish state. Scripture also represents Israel as a vine and an olive tree. Each symbol seems to have distinct meaning, the olive tree standing for the true Israel of God—that is, the spiritual seed of Abraham (Rom. 11:16-25)—and the vine, not the fig tree, referring to Israel as a political entity (Isa. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21; Ezek. 17:1-10; Mark 12:1-11).

On the Monday after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus cursed a fig tree as He made His way to the Temple, where, on the previous day, the religious leaders had scorned His claims to be the Messiah. He cursed the tree because, although it was green, it bore no fruit. In other words, it was flourishing but fruitless, just like the religion of Moses. The state of Israel was not flourishing. It chafed under the authority of Rome. Spiritual Israel was not flourishing in any sense. Thus, the fig tree was a fitting symbol only of the Jewish religious system.

When Jesus predicts that the fig tree will someday revive and put forth buds, He means, therefore, that the Mosaic religion, with all its laws and sacrifices based on the Torah, will reappear after being extinct for millennia. Many prophecies assume that the Jews will indeed return to the religious practices of their fathers. The Book of Daniel informs us that during the last week of the seventy which God has set aside for future dealings with Israel, the prince elsewhere called the Antichrist will

. . . cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.

Daniel 9:27

Parallel accounts of the same incident occur in Matthew 24:15 and 2 Thessalonians 2:4. These reveal that when the closing three and a half years of the present age begin, the Jews will have a Temple in Jerusalem, and they will be offering sacrifices according to the Mosaic rites.

The rebuilding of the Temple will be the first step in the revival of Mosaic religion. So at last we are able to say what the rebudding of the fig tree represents. It is the rebuilding of the Temple.


Dating the Revival of Mosaic Religion


A clue as to when the Jews will rebuild their Temple and resume observance of the law appears in the last Scriptural reference to the fig tree, in Revelation 6. The record of the period subsequent to the opening of the Sixth Seal appears designed to suggest that the fig tree is on the verge of putting forth new buds. That record begins with an obscure image.

And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

Revelation 6:13

Although this prediction will likely have a literal fulfillment, each term employed here is elsewhere defined as a symbol.

It is evident that at the time of Revelation 6:13, evil forces will press mightily against Israel, but angels of God will come to her rescue. The only harm done to the fig tree will be the loss of some untimely figs. The meaning is that some Jews will be killed for their faith in Christ. These Jews will be the first of the martyrs prophesied two verses earlier.

And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

Revelation 6:11

The word translated "untimely figs" refers to late-ripening figs that hang on the tree until spring. We may regard the untimely figs mentioned here as figs found on the tree just before it enters a new season of growth. The image therefore implies that the fig tree is on the verge of putting forth buds.

The further history of the fig tree is given in Revelation 7.

1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.

2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,

3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.

Revelation 7:1-3

The four angels who hold the winds in check are likely the same ones who came to the rescue of the fig tree. Another angel commands these four to keep up their protection of the fig tree and all the other trees.

This passage employs "trees" both in a literal sense, with reference to vegetation, and in a symbolic sense, with reference to all the nations that will produce spiritual fruit. The symbolic sense of the term is illustrated also in Luke's gospel.

29 And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree and all the trees;

30 When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand.

31 So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.

32 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.

Luke 21:29-32

After an angelic guard is posted about the fig tree, 144,000 in the twelve tribes of Israel are identified as "servants of our God" and set aside to receive God's seal.

2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,

3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.

4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.

5 Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.

6 Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.

7 Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.

8 Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.

Revelation 7:2-8

It is evident that the record of the period following the opening of the Sixth Seal emphasizes preparations for Israel's renewal. Untimely figs fall from the fig tree. The fig tree is surrounded by a protective watch. And angels set seals upon the 144,000. The record gives us the impression that these preparations continue throughout the whole period. The earliest we can reasonably date the rebudding of the fig tree is therefore at the opening of the Seventh Seal. It is undoubtedly then that the Temple will rebuilt.

Thus, the Rapture will come first. Although the rebuilding of the Temple will serve as a sign that the Tribulation has begun, it will not serve as a sign that the Tribulation is approaching.


Current Preparations to Rebuild the Temple


Randall Price, president of World of the Bible Ministries, has provided the following summary of recent plans to rebuild the Temple. It is evident these plans are well advanced.

According to experts, detailed blueprints for the Third Temple have existed for the past four years. The plans were drawn according to the primary sources of information: the Bible, Josephus, and the Mishnah tractate known as Middot ("Measurements"). Other structures, including the Sanhedrin complex, have also been planned or actually built. The restored Temple complex envisioned by Ezekiel, is to be thirty times larger than that of previous Temples. The legal stipulations that the Sanhedrin will use to govern Israel's relationship to the rebuilt Temple and its services have already been researched and are in the process of being published by the Research Center for Jewish Thought under the direction of Yoel Lerner.

Since 1987, the Temple Institute, a group of rabbinical researchers, designers, and craftsmen, has been creating in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem what they call a "Temple-in-waiting." Among the 103 Temple items that have, or are in the process of being recreated are: apparel for the High Priest, sacrificial incense spices, urns, incense pans, the golden laver, and the stone vessel (kelal) for grinding and holding the purifying ashes of the red heifer, the golden menorah (lampstand), silver trumpets, the Golden Altar of Incense, and the Table of Shewbread. Other building projects include a full scale altar for the training of the priests. The Ark of the Covenant is believed to exist in a chamber under the Temple Mount. Another group active in the rebuilding of the Third Temple, the Temple Mount Faithful, has brought three cornerstones to Jerusalem from Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev. It is one of the few places in the Land of Israel where the character and color of the stone is similar to that from which the First and Second Temples were made.

According to rabbinic tradition, the Tribe of Levi was forbidden to alter their names (which connoted their priestly heritage) when assimilated into foreign cultures. Thus, we continue to this day to have Levis and Cohens, and derivatives of these names. Recently, a more scientific test to verify those of priestly lineage has appeared. A computerized list of all known priestly candidates in Israel is maintained. Orthodox organizations in Israel are helping to educate this priesthood.

In order for a Temple to be rebuilt today, those who would enter the holy areas must first be ritually pure. All Jews have become ceremonially unclean in the Diaspora and must be purified by the ashes of the red heifer (described in Numbers 19). In 2002, a red heifer was born in Israel, the first in 2,000 years. Because the Jewish sage Maimonides taught that there had been nine red heifers between the beginning of the Tabernacle and the end of the Second Temple, and, that the tenth would be prepared by the Messianic King, a special urgency is attached to the recovery of the Temple Mount (1).

Times of the Gentiles


Many Bible students are unwilling to concede that the Jewish migration to Israel in modern times fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of a future return. Yet Isaiah (in Isa. 11:11) gives the first eschatological return of Israel a number—he counts it as the second, the first being the return from Babylonian captivity. Thus, he prohibits any idea that there could be a temporary return of Israel within the Church Age, to be followed by another dispersion and another regathering at the very end. Such a regathering would be the third.

We have therefore argued that the modern regathering of Jews in Palestine and the formation of the Israeli state in 1948 are fulfillments of prophecy. It follows that the church has been correct in viewing these events as signs that the day of Christ is approaching. But do these events also signify that we are living in the Last Days? It is conceivable, at least, that the Jews could assemble in their homeland and form a government long before the Last Days actually arrived.

The strongest argument that an emergent Jewish nation is a sign of the end times derives from Christ's most detailed warning of the holocaust in A.D. 70.

20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.

21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.

22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

23 But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.

24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

Luke 21:20-24

Here, Jesus states that the Jews will not repossess Jerusalem until "the times of the Gentiles" have been fulfilled. This expression, which occurs nowhere else in Scripture, denotes the historical era since Pentecost, the era when the church has been carrying out Christ's commission to offer the gospel of salvation to the whole world, to gentiles as well as Jews. The times of the gentiles thus correspond to the Church Age.

Jesus' deliberately imprecise wording does not require an exact concurrence between the end of the Church Age and the end of gentile domination over the Holy City. The latter might be a gradual process anticipating the former. Yet, His wording does seem to confine the whole process to a time when completion of the Church Age is near at hand. The end of the Church Age is the same period that Scripture designates the Last Days. Thus, Jesus' teaching that Jerusalem would be a gentile city until the end of the Church Age implies that the church should view the purging of gentile power from the city as a sign that the Last Days have arrived.

Gentile control of the city has been waning now for almost two centuries. Jewish reoccupation of Jerusalem began with an influx of Jewish settlers in the nineteenth century. The Jewish population grew steadily until Israel attained statehood in 1948. Then, the fledgling nation absorbed the western sector of the city into its territory. During the 1967 war, the Israelis added the eastern sector, occupying the whole city except the Moslem holy site on Temple Mount and establishing military control of the whole city. Today, the Jews possess virtually all of Jerusalem.


Sign/ Jewish Reoccupation of Jerusalem


Jerusalem can no longer be considered a gentile city. Nor can it be said that the city is trodden down by gentiles. The city is teeming with Jews and flourishing as never before. Yet Jesus said that Jerusalem would not escape gentile domination until the times of the gentiles had been fulfilled.

The Jewish reoccupation of Jerusalem is therefore a specific and compelling sign that we have now come to the end of the gentile era, to the Last Days. From the perspective of Bible prophecy, what happened in 1967, when Israel regained control of Jerusalem, had greater import than even the founding of Israel in 1948. Let us not fail to understand the significance of that event.

Footnotes

  1. Randall Price, "Will There be a Third Temple?" Jewish Voice Today, January/February 2004, www.dunamai.com/articles/Israel/third-temple-built.htm.