What does the fig tree have in common with stars? Both signal the coming of great events and are given as warnings to the unprepared. Surah 95 At-Tin (The Fig) begins with:
By the fig and the olive… (Surah At-Tin 95:1)
Signify the coming of:
We have certainly created man in the best of stature. Then We return him to the lowest of the low, (Surah At-Tin 95: 4-5)
Surah al-Mursalat (The Emissaries), Surah at-Takwir (The Overthrowing), and Surah al-Infitar (The Cleaving) repeatedly declare the stars will dim, and that this signals the coming of something great:
Then when the stars become dim; When the heaven is cleft asunder; When the mountains are scattered (to the winds) as dust; (Surah al-Mursalat 77:8-10)
When the sun (with its spacious light) is folded up; When the stars fall, losing their lustre; When the mountains vanish (like a mirage); (Surah at-Takwir 81:1-3)
When the Sky is cleft asunder; When the Stars are scattered; When the Oceans are suffered to burst forth; (Surah al-Infitar 82:1-3)
What do these mean? The prophet Isa al Masih PBUH explains in his final week. First a quick review.
After entering Jerusalem on Sunday Nisan 9 according to the prophets Daniel and Zechariah, and then entering the Temple on Monday Nisan 10 according to the regulations of the Prophet Musa PBUH in Taurat to be selected as Allah’s lamb, the Prophet Isa al Masih PBUH was rejected by the Jewish leaders. In fact, while he was clearing the Temple they started planning how to kill him. The Injil records what the prophet Isa al Masih did next:
Cursing the Fig Tree
17 And he left them (the Jewish leaders at the Temple on Nisan 10) and went out of the city to where he spent the night.
18 Early in the morning (Tuesday Nisan 11, Day 3), as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. (Matthew 21: 17-19)
Many wonder why Isa al Masih spoke and withered the fig tree. The Injil does not directly explain, but the earlier prophets can help us understand. These prophets, when warning of coming judgment would often use the image of a fig tree withering. Notice how the withering fig tree image is used by the previous prophets in their warnings:
The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered;
the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree—
all the trees of the field—are dried up.
Surely the people’s joy is withered away. (Joel 1:12)
“Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards,
destroying them with blight and mildew.
Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,
yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord. (Amos 4:9)
Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit. (Haggai 2:19)
All the stars in the sky will be dissolved
and the heavens rolled up like a scroll;
all the starry host will fall
like withered leaves from the vine,
like shriveled figs from the fig tree. (Isaiah 34:4)
“‘I will take away their harvest,
declares the Lord.
There will be no grapes on the vine.
There will be no figs on the tree,
and their leaves will wither.
What I have given them
will be taken from them.’” (Jeremiah 8: 13)
The prophet Hosea PBUH went further, using the fig tree as a metaphor of Israel and then pronouncing a curse:
“When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert;
when I saw your ancestors, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. But when they came to Baal Peor,
they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol
and became as vile as the thing they loved.
11 Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird—
no birth, no pregnancy, no conception.
12 Even if they rear children, I will bereave them of every one.
Woe to them when I turn away from them! …
16 Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit.
Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring.”
17 My God will reject them because they have not obeyed him;
they will be wanderers among the nations. (Hosea 9:10-12, 16-17; note Ephraim = Israel)
These curses were fulfilled when Jerusalem was first destroyed in 586 BCE (see here for history of Jews). When the prophet Isa al Masih withered the fig tree, he was symbolically prophesying another coming destruction of Jerusalem and Jewish exile from the land.
After cursing the fig tree, Isa al Masih continued to the Temple, teaching the people and debating the Jewish leaders. He gave many warnings about the Judgment of Allah. The Injil records the teachings and they are in full here.
The Prophet Predicts the Signs of His Return
The Prophet Isa al Masih then concluded with a dark prophecy of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. At that time, this temple was one of the most impressive buildings in the whole Roman Empire. But the Injil records that he foresaw its ruin. This began a discussion about his return to earth, and the signs of his return. The Injil records his teachings
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.”
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
The prophet began by predicting the complete destruction of the Jewish Temple. We know from history that this happened in 70 C.E. Then in the evening[i] he left the Temple and was at the Mount of Olives outside the city of Jerusalem. Since the Jewish day began at sunset, it was now the start of the 4th day in the week, Wednesday Nisan 12, when he answered their question and taught about the end of the age and his return.
4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.25 See, I have told you ahead of time.
26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
29 “Immediately after the distress of those days
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
Here the prophet Isa al Masih looked past the coming destruction of the Temple. He taught that the period from the destruction of the Temple to his return would be characterized by growing evil, earthquakes, famines, wars, and persecution of his followers. Even so, he predicted that the Injil would be ‘preached in the whole world’ (v 14). As the world learned about the Masih, there would be a growing number of false prophets and false claims about him and his return. The true sign of his return in the midst of the wars, chaos and distress would be undisputable disturbances of the sun, moon and the stars. Somehow they will be darkened.
We can see that war, distress and earthquakes are increasing – so the time of his return is getting closer. But there are still no disturbances in the heavens – so his return is not just yet. But how close are we? To answer this question, Isa al Masih continued
32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Remember the fig tree, symbolic of Israel, which he had cursed and had withered the day before? When the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE the withering of Israel occurred and it remained withered for thousands of years. The prophet told us to look for shoots of green and leaves coming out from the fig tree – and then we would know the time would be ‘near’. Our generation has seen a change in the ‘fig tree’ as Jews have returned to Israel. Yes, this has added to the wars, distress and troubles for many in our times, but this should not surprise us since the prophet warned about this in his teaching. In many ways, there is still a deadness to this ‘tree’, but the leaves of the fig tree are starting to green.
This should make us careful and watchful in our times since the Prophet warned us of being careless and indifferent regarding his return.
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:1-51)
Isa al Masih continued to teach in the Injil about his return and the link to it is here.
Summary of Day 3 and Day 4
The updated timeline shows how the prophet Isa al Masih cursed the fig tree on Day 3 – Tuesday – ahead of lengthy debates with the Jewish leaders. This action was symbolically prophetic of Israel. Then, on Wednesday, Day 4, he described the signs of his return – the greatest being the darkening of all the heavenly bodies.
Then he warned all of us to carefully watch for his return. Since we can now see the fig tree becoming green again, we should live carefully and watchfully.
The Injil records next how Shaytan (Iblis) moved against the prophet on Day 5, which we look at next.
[i] Describing each day that week, the book of Luke summarizes that: “Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives” (Luke 21:37)