Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, believes that “God is removing Himself” from America and that “two biblical signs . . . indicate that this could be the ‘last generation of human history.’”
Here’s some of what she said on The Church Boys podcast on May 6:
“‘Two of the last [signs that Jesus] gave was that Israel would be reborn. [Jesus] said that the fig tree would put forth leaves and the generation that sees [this take place], that is the last generation,’ Lotz said. ‘For 2,000 years, Israel was scattered all over the world. Jews were scattered everywhere. They didn’t have a homeland.’”
Like numerous prophecy writers before her, Lotz maintains that Israel becoming a nation again on May 14, 1948 is one of two key prophetic events that indicate that we are near the end. Many people interested in Bible prophecy are unaware that previous prophecy writers like Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith argued that the end would take place no more than 40 years after 1948, that is, in 1988. Then there was Edgar Whisenant’s book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988.
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Lotz said that the second sign is “Matthew 24:14, which reads, ‘This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’ ‘Right now, the gospel is being preached to the whole world,’ Lotz said. ‘I believe my lifetime is the last generation of human history.’”
Lotz’s father made similar claims decades ago as did her brother, Franklin Graham.
Read related article: “More Predictions About the End of the World that Paralyze Christians.”
Is Anne Graham Lotz interpreting the Bible correctly on these two prophetic texts? Is it true that the “fig tree” illustration in Matthew 24:32 is about Israel becoming a nation again? While this has been a popular interpretation,1 very few prominent prophecy teachers today believe that the fig tree refers to the national restoration of Israel (see below).
There are several reasons why “the fig tree as Israel” interpretation has fallen out of favor. First, there is nothing in the New Testament that attaches any significance to Israel becoming a nation again. The New Testament is silent on the issue. Compare this silence with numerous accounts of the exiles returning to their homeland under divine direction in the Old Testament (2 Chr. 36:22; Ezra 1:1-4; Jer. 25:12; 29:10). There is nothing in the New Testament that compares with what read about the return of God’s people to their homeland in the Old Testament.
Second, Israel today is as pagan as the United States. Like the United States, it supports and funds abortion. Also, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Israel are the most advanced in the Middle East and one of the most advanced in Asia. . . . Although same-sex marriages are not performed in the country, Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, making it the first and only country in Asia to do so. . . . Gays and lesbians are also allowed to serve openly in the military.” (Source)
The exiles that returned from the captivity repented of their sins (see Ezra and Nehemiah). Israel today is still an anti-Christian nation.
Third, the parallel account in Luke 21:29-30 states: “Then [Jesus] told them a parable: ‘Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near.’” It’s not just the fig tree, but “all the trees” that begin to “put forth their leaves.” What are these “other trees”? Lotz never mentions Luke’s parallel account. The use of trees bringing forth leaves is an illustration from nature and nothing more.
Fourth, if the fig tree represents Israel in Matthew 24:32, then why doesn’t the fruitless fig tree in Matthew 21:19 represent Israel?
“Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, [Jesus] came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, ‘No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.’ And at once the fig tree withered” (also see Mark 11:12–14, 20-26; Luke 13:6-9).
It’s no wonder that numerous prophecy writers have abandoned the view that the fig tree represents Israel (see below).
Fifth, Jesus is not prophesying about some far distant event; He is explaining to His audience (notice the use of the second person plural “you” used throughout the Olivet Discourse) the signs they were to look for that will lead up to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 24:1-3) before “this generation” – their generation — passed away (Matt. 24:34; cf. Matt. 11:16; 12:39; 41-42, 45; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12 [twice], 8:38; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29; 11:30, 31, 32, 50, 51, 17:25; 21:32).
Sixth, even prophecy writers who agree with much of Lotz’s prophetic paradigm disagree with her on the meaning of the fig tree illustration. John F. Walvoord wrote the following about the claim that fig tree is a description of modern-day Israel:
“Actually, while the fig tree could be an apt illustration of Israel it is not so used in the Bible. In Jeremiah 24:1–8, good and bad figs [not trees] illustrate Israel in the captivity, and there is also mention of figs in 29:17. The reference to the fig tree in Judges 9:10-11 is obviously not Israel. Neither the reference in Matthew 21:18-20 nor that in Mark 11:12–14 with its interpretation in 11:20-26, gives any indication that it is referring to Israel, any more than the mountain referred to in the passage. Accordingly, while this interpretation is held by many, there is no clear scriptural warrant. A better interpretation is that Christ was using a natural illustration. Because the fig tree brings forth new leaves late in the spring, the budding of the leaves is evidence that summer is near.”2
Larry D. Pettegrew, a professor theology at The Master’s Seminary offers a common sense interpretation of the passage: “The fig tree . . . does not illustrate Israel becoming a nation in 1948. The fig tree is simply an illustration from nature.”3
Eighth, we are told by the apostle Paul what tree represents Israel. It’s not the fig tree; it’s the olive tree (Rom 11:17-21).
What about the second sign about the gospel of the kingdom being “preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations” before the end comes? (Matt. 24:14). The “end” is not the end of America or the end of the world but the “end of the age” (Matt. 24:3).4 The apostles were living in what is described elsewhere in the New Testament as “these last days” (Heb. 1:2), “the consummation of the ages” (9:26), “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11). Peter writes that Jesus “has appeared in these last times . . . for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:20). Notice the past tense and the audience.
What about the gospel being preached in the “whole world,” to “all the nations”? This is another mistranslation. The Greek word translated “world” is not kosmos but oikoumenē, the only time Matthew uses the word. Oikoumenē is found in Luke 2:1 and Acts 11:28 where it obviously refers to a limited geographical area encompassed by the Roman Empire. Rome did not have the authority or ability to tax the “whole world.” It could only tax its own subjects.
Remember what Matthew 24:34 says: “”Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” One of the “all these things” is the gospel being preached throughout the Roman Empire. Keep in mind that the Roman Empire was made up of many nations.
Here are some passages to keep in mind that show that Matthew 24:14 was fulfilled prior the end of that generation:
- “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world [kosmos]” (Rom. 1:8).
- “[T]he gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world [kosmos] also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:5-6).
- “[I]f indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister” (Col. 1:23).
- By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).
- “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 16:25-27).
So while Anne Graham Lotz is well-intentioned, she is incorrect in the way she is using Matthew 24:32 and 24:14.
Does this mean that she is incorrect in her view that God is bringing judgment on America? No.
- For example, Left Behind co-author Tim LaHaye writes, “when a fig tree is used symbolically in Scripture, it usually refers to the nation Israel. If that is a valid assumption (and we believe it is), then when Israel officially became a nation in 1948, that was the ‘sign’ of Matthew 24:1-8, the beginning ‘birth pangs’ — it meant that the ‘end of the age’ is ‘near.’” (Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times? Current Events Foretold in Scripture . . . And What They Mean [Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999], 57). The editors of LaHaye’s own Prophecy Study Bible (2000) disagree: “the fig tree is not symbolic of the nation of Israel” (1040). [↩]
- John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago, IL: Moody,  1980), 191-192. [↩]
- Larry D. Pettegrew, “Interpretive Flaws in the Olivet Discourse,” TMSJ 13/2 (Fall 2002), 173-190. [↩]
- The King James version translates the Greek word aion as “world.” This is incorrect. The Greek word for “world” is kosmos. [↩]
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