Seventy years ago, on May 14, 1948, the political state of Israel was established. For millions of Christians, the political establishment of Israel in 1948 has held prophetic significance.
The claim has been made repeatedly that 1948 began what has been called the “fig tree” generation based on Matthew 24:32-34 where Jesus said:
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; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
The fig tree is said to be Israel becoming a nation again, a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. From the 1948 date, a Christian could calculate that the “rapture” would take place within 40 years before that 1948 generation passed away.
In his 1976 book The Soon to be Revealed Antichrist Chuck Smith wrote, “we are living in the last generation which began with the rebirth of Israel in 1948 (see Matt. 24:32–34).” You will search in vain in the three verse’s Smith references to find any mention of “the rebirth of Israel.”
He repeats the claim in his 1978 book End Times: “If I understand Scripture correctly, Jesus taught us that the generation which sees the ‘budding of the fig tree,’ the birth of the nation of Israel, will be the generation that sees the Lord’s return. I believe that the generation of 1948 is the last generation. Since a generation of judgment is forty years and the Tribulation period lasts seven years, I believe the Lord could come back for His Church any time before the Tribulation starts, which would mean any time before 1981. (1948 + 40 – 7 = 1981).”1
If this prophetic math sounds familiar, it’s because the same end-time logic was used by Hal Lindsey in 1970. With the publication of The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970, Lindsey made a near-certain prediction that a pre-tribulational rapture would take place before the passage of 40 years from 1948:
The most important sign in Matthew has to be the restoration of the Jews to the land in the rebirth of Israel. Even the figure of speech “fig tree” has been a historic symbol of national Israel. When the Jewish people, after nearly 2,000 years of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again on 14 May 1948 the “fig tree” put forth its first leaves.
Jesus said that this would indicate that He was “at the door,” ready to return. Then He said, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34, NASB).
What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs—chief among them the rebirth of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so.2
Here’s the curious thing. The New Testament doesn’t say anything about Israel becoming a nation again. The Old Testament prophesies that Israel would return to their land and rebuild the temple, and Israel did return to their land and rebuild the temple after the exile. That’s why there were Jews living in Israel and there was a temple during Jesus’ ministry and beyond. There is no indication in Matthew 24 that the fig tree has anything to do with Israel becoming a nation again…