The Lesson of the Fig Tree
"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Bede - Under the example of a tree the Lord gave a pattern of the end, saying, "Now learn a parable of the fig tree, when her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near. So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors."
Theophylact - As if He had said, As when the fig tree puts forth its leaves, summer follows at once, so also after the woes of Antichrist, at once, without an interval, shall be the coming of Christ, who will be to the just as summer after winter, but to sinners, winter after summer.
Augustine, Epist., 119, 11 - All that is said by the three Evangelists concerning the Advent of our Lord, if diligently compared together and examined, will perchance be found to belong to His daily coming in His body, that is, the Church, except those places where that last coming is so promised, as if it were approaching; for instance in the last part of the discourse according to Matthew, the coming itself is clearly expressed, where it is said, "When the Son of Man shall come in His glory," [Matthew 25:31] For what does He refer to in the words, "when ye shall see these things come to pass," but those things which He has mentioned above, amongst which it is said, "And then ye shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds." The end therefore shall not be then, but then it shall be near at hand.
Or are we to say, that not all those things which are mentioned above are to be taken in, but only some of them, that is, leaving out these words, "Then shall ye see the Son of Man coming;" for that shall be the end itself, and not its approach only. But Matthew has declared that it is to be received without exception, saying, "When ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors." That which is said above must therefore be taken thus; "And He shall send His angels, and gather together the elect from the four winds;" that is, He shall collect His elect from the four winds of heaven, which He does in the whole of the last hour, coming in His members as in clouds.
Bede - This fruitbearing of the fig tree may also be understood to mean the state of the synagogue, which was condemned to everlasting barrenness, because when the Lord came, it had no fruits of righteousness in those who were then unfaithful. But the Apostle has said that when the fulness of the Gentiles is come in [Romans 11:25], all Israel shall be saved. What means this, but that the tree, which has been long barren, shall then yield the fruit, which it had withheld? When this shall happen, doubt not that a summer of true peace is at hand.
Pseudo-Jerome - Or else, the leaves which come forth are words now spoken, the summer at hand is the day of Judgment, in which every tree shall shew what it had within it, deadness for burning, or greenness to be planted with the tree of life.
There follows: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till these things be done."
Bede - By generation He either means the whole race of mankind, or specially the Jews.
Theophylact - Or else, "This generation shall not pass away," that is, the generation of Christians, "until all things be fulfilled," which were spoken concerning Jerusalem and the coming of Antichrist; for He does not mean the generation of the Apostles, for the greater part of the Apostles did not live up to the destruction of Jerusalem. But He says this of the generation of Christians, wishing to console His disciples, lest they should believe that the faith should fail at that time; for the immoveable elements shall first fail, before the words of Christ fail; wherefore it is added, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away."
Bede - The heaven which shall pass away is not the ethereal or starry heaven, but the heaven where is the air. For wheresoever the water of the judgment could reach, there also, according to the words of the blessed Peter, the fire of judgment shall reach [2 Peter 3:10-12]. But the heaven and the earth shall pass away in that form which they now have, but in their essence they shall last without end.
- text taken from by Saint Thomas Aquinas, translated by William Whiston, 1842