Matthew 24:32 and the Consequences of a False Interpretation

Filed in Hermeneutics by on May 29, 2018

One of the earliest recorded supporters of the notion that the “Fig tree,” reference in Matthew 24:32 is a type or illustration of Israel is that of A.C. Gaebelein in his published work in 1910. He wrote, “The fig tree is the picture of Israel….[i] One year later, William Kelly echoed this position when he wrote, “The fig tree is the well-known symbol of Jewish nationality. We saw it, in chapter 21, bearing nothing but leaves.… Here it is the tree, with renewed signs of life—Jewish nationality revived.”[ii]

The fact that countless numbers of scholars have debunked this interpretation means nothing. Among the laity this position persists. With the return of the Jews to the land of Israel in 1948, new momentum gave this view a greater audience and many new converts. However, with the years passing, now 70 years and counting—certainly a generation has passed, but no return of the Lord should have dealt this interpretation a silent death.

For many who believed this false interpretation of Matthew 24:32, it is time to “fish or cut bait,” as my grandfather would say. The belief that the rapture was imminent once Israel returned to the land in 1948 and that the Lord’s return had a 40-year window (one Jewish generation) requires some soul-searching. Thus, I read with some sense of sadness, a recent article in The Guardian, a British daily newspaper with a US edition, entitled “In US Evangelical Capital, a New Progressiveness and Differing Views on Israel.”[iii]

In light of current events in the land of Israel, particularly, the move of the United States’ embassy to Jerusalem, the article begins with a short history of evangelical believers who see biblical prophetic fulfillment with many events that occur in Israel. However, the majority of the article deals with those who have become disillusioned with the whole end-of-the-world-is-near because of what happens in the land of Israel mantra.

The article introduces us to Bruce McCluggage.

“We’ve been through all this before,” said Bruce McCluggage, a former evangelical who now identifies as a “follower of Christ”. Throughout his youth, in the 1970s and 80s, McCluggage was part of the Christian movement that interpreted the signs of Israel as evidence of the last days. But for McCluggage, after a slow-burn of things not coming to pass, that conviction slowly faded.

The article also tells the readers that

“There are plenty of young millennials downtown that would call themselves evangelical, even conservative, but are a very different breed from their parents,” said Russ Ware, co-owner of the Wild Goose, who grew up evangelical but no longer identifies that way. “They’re mostly not Trump supporters; they have a spectrum of views on LGBT issues, and they’re not on board with the end times theology … There is definitely a kind of end times fatigue with this generation.”

The article concludes by introducing the reader to Christopher Stroop.

In the 1990s, Christopher Stroop was one such evangelical. He has now abandoned his faith and leads a social media campaign seeking to galvanize “exvangelicals” with hashtags like #emptythepews and #raptureanxiety. He said he had “definitely seen a lot of ex-evangelicals talking about being triggered by the Jerusalem news”.

It’s not only post-evangelicals who are dubious about the end times scenario. Kimberly Troup believes Israel will be the center of Armageddon, but she doesn’t think it’s all happening now. The author of her father’s favourite book released follow-ups that predicted ever-later dates for the Earth’s demise. She is dubious about anyone who claims to know when the world will end.

It should not be difficult to see the consequences of a false interpretation of Matthew 24:32 in what is quoted from the article. People no longer want to be called evangelical. Some Christians no longer believe events occurring in the land of Israel portend the imminent end of the world. Some Christians are abandoning the faith because a prophecy about Israel returning to the land and the return of Christ within a forty-year span has not proven true.

These are the outcomes of a false interpretation of Scripture. Matthew 24:32 never said the Lord would return within a “generation” of National Israel’s return to the land of Israel. Sadly, people believe what they want to believe and believe what sounds good. A little error can go along way. So sad!

[i] A. C. Gaebelein, The Gospel of Matthew (New York, 1910), II, 213.

[ii] William Kelly, Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew (New York, 1911), p. 451.


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