Spiritual Meaning of
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THE FIG TREE.
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near; so likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say to you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.
By learning a parable from the fig tree is meant, to learn instruction from what is signified by a fig tree, with its branches and leaves, which are afterwards mentioned; and, therefore, before this instruction can be learned, it will be necessary to consider what is signified and represented by a fig tree, with its branches and leaves.
A fig tree, whenever it is spoken of in the Holy Word, always signifies and represents the good of the natural principle of man's life, as a vine signifies and represents the good of his spiritual principle. By the good of the natural principle, is not meant the good into which man is born, or which he derives from his parents, but the good which is spiritual as to origin, and into which no one is born, but is introduced of the Lord by the knowledges of good and of truth; wherefore, before man is in this good, namely, in spiritual good, he is not a man of the church, however he appears to be so from natural good. If, then, the fig tree signifies and represents such natural good, its branches will denote the affections of that good, because affection buds forth from good, as a branch from its trunk; and, for the same reason, its leaves will denote the truths of that good, because truths are to the mind of man what leaves are to a tree.
The term rendered tender in our translation is expressed, in the original, by a word which means soft; and the term soft is applied to denote what is inmost and innocent, and thus in the present case, is intended to express the inmost principle of innocence from the Lord which is in the affection of natural good; thus by its putting forth leaves, is further signified its fruitfulness in the truths of innocence, or in truths of a celestial origin.
By summer, according to the spiritual idea, derived from the doctrine of correspondence between things spiritual and things natural, is to be understood, the conjunction of good and of truth in the Church here on earth; since, as natural heat and light are conjoined in the natural summer, in like manner spiritual heat and light, which are goodness and truth in the minds of men, are conjoined in the spiritual summer. By summer, therefore, is here spiritually meant the commencement of a new Church; and by its being near is, further, to be understood, the establishment of this Church whenever the branch of the fig tree becomes tender, and puts forth leaves; in other words, whenever the affection of natural good is influenced by innocence, and productive of truths from a celestial origin.
The import of the next words can only be known from considering what is meant by the things spoken of, which they were to see; and this cannot be known but by reference to the former part of the chapter, in which an affecting account is given by Jesus Christ, of the successive corruptions of the Christian Church, under its several fattened cattle away from evangelical purity and truth. These fattened cattle away may be, described in the following summary, containing prediction concerning the devastation of the Church, and, at length, concerning the establishment of a new Church in this order:
These, therefore, are the things which they were to see, and when they saw them, they were to know that it was near, even at the doors; in other words, that then would be the consummation of the Church, that is, the last judgement, and the coming of the Lord; consequently, that then the old Church would be rejected and a new one established. It is said, at the doors, because the good of the natural principle and its truths are the first things which are insinuated into man, when he is regenerated, and is made a church. It accordingly follows, Verily, I say to you, this generation shall not pass away till all these things be fulfilled, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away (verses 34, 35), to denote, first, that the Jewish nation shall not be extirpated as other nations; and, secondly, that the internals and externals of the former Church, here signified by heaven and earth, shall perish, but that the Word of the Lord shall remain.
We learn, from this parable, to adore again the wisdom of our God and Saviour, as peculiarly manifested by His usual mode of expressing His own divine ideas by natural images, or by the representation of natural things. Thus, in the present instance, we are instructed, that under the natural figure of a fig tree, its branches, and leaves, He describes, in the most appropriate language, the commencement of a glorious new Church, which was to succeed on the declension of the former Church from its original purity; and, further, under the natural figure of summer, He describes the conjunction of goodness and truth, or of spiritual heat and spiritual light, in that Church, by virtue of which it was to be fruitful in all heavenly graces and virtues, and thus to have living conjunction with its Heavenly Father. We are instructed, yet further, to attend carefully to the several predictions uttered in the verses preceding this parable, until we discover from them the several states of the declension of the first Christian Church from its original purity; and we are, besides, consoled with the prospect and the certainty of that glorious new Church which is to succeed it, and which may convince us, that what is commonly called the last judgement, and the coming of the Lord, is not for the purpose of destroying the earth, but of preserving it, by imparting to mankind the pure and heavenly doctrines of the eternal truth, which were prefigured in the Revelation by the descent of the new Jerusalem. Thus may we humbly hope, that, through the mercy of God, the branch of the fig tree with us may become tender, and put forth leaves, whereby we may be convinced, to our unutterable joy, that the summer of the divine benediction of the Most High is near at hand, consisting in the conjunction of His most blessed love and wisdom, and that thus, though heaven and earth pass away, His word shall not pass away. Amen.