We now turn our attention to the next paragraph in Matthew’s account of the Olivet discourse, starting in verse 32 of chapter 24. At this point the Lord has completed His outline and overview of important conditions and events leading up to His PAROUSIA and the day of the Lord. The remaining portion of chapter 24 and much of chapter 25 contains Jesus’ admonition to possess an accurate understanding, or dare I say, theology, regarding His PAROUSIA and to follow through by living a life of discernment and faithful servitude. This is another paragraph that has suffered torturous abuse by well-intended students of the Word. But as Robert Van Kampen was fond of saying, “If the plain sense makes sense then you have the right sense.” Let’s see if we can discover the “plain sense”.
Matt. 24:32 “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;
Verse 33 even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
Some reading this may recall a common and wide spread interpretation linking these two verses to the Jews regaining their land after centuries of exile, and becoming a nation once again, in 1948. But I have never found a verse of scripture that clearly portrays the nation of Israel as a fig tree; and if the scriptures don’t make a specific reference to the fig tree representing Israel we dare not be adamant about it. Do you know what tree is the national symbol for Israel? The answer is, the olive tree. And from a strictly scriptural standpoint even that is vague. To conclude the fig tree branches putting forth leaves is to be understood as Israel becoming a nation again in 1948 requires more of a creative endeavor than a scholarly endeavor.
Well then how are we to interpret the fig tree? Christ tells us–plain and simple. In verse 33 He gives us the analogy and the explanation. You see a fig tree sprouting leaves, know that summer is near. You see all these things, know that He, or actually the alternate word choice is perhaps the more accurate, that being “it”…is near, even right at the doors. But what is the Lord referring to when He says “all these things”? I believe the primary answer is listed in verse 29 where He reveals the signs in the sun, moon, stars and heavens. Of secondary importance I would also include the activities associated with the Abomination of Desolation brought out in verses 15-28, and even the conditions and events mentioned in verses 4-14 but with less emphasis, slightly less importance than the others.
When Jesus said “it” is near, what was He referring to? The answer is the PAROUSIA. Christ is saying very simply that when you see the things leading up to and including the sign in the sun, moon, stars and heavens realize that the PAROUSIA is right on the verge of occurring and He’ll be coming back; and when He comes back it will be with power and great glory! Every eye will see Him and many among the wicked and ungodly are going to be shocked and they are going to mourn. Some will be wringing their hands together and crying “Oh no, now what are we going to do?” Everyone should know the sovereign Lord of the universe is back and He is going to demonstrate His sovereignty during His day of the Lord’s wrath judgment and destruction of the wicked and ungodly, which will commence after His spectacular rescue and deliverance of the righteous–and no one will be able to stop it. At that time the period referred to as the great persecution/tribulation, as well as the power, the effectiveness of the Antichrist will be KOLOBOO’ed; it will be cut off, amputated, docked, curtailed, cut short. As the Old Testament prophet expressed it, the Lord alone will be glorified in that day. Ah, but the biblical Antichrist will still have great influence over his ardent followers and armies and he will rally them for the great battle of Armageddon. This hoard of deceived warriors will have been indoctrinated to expect the arrival of “the false, Christian Jesus” and embrace the promise they can and will defeat Him, as is taught in Islamic prophecy.
Getting back to the fig tree, we need to check out a parallel passage in the Gospel of Luke where we find his account of the Olivet discourse in chapter 21. While Luke’s account contains similarities to Matthew 24 there are also some striking differences. Notice how Luke touches upon the parable we are studying.
Luke 21:29-30 And He 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.
We see that Luke mentions the fig tree but he also adds “all the trees”. That de-emphasizes a lot of any significance some have been tempted to place on the fig tree as symbolizing the nation of Israel, as nearly all trees that grow in areas having four seasons will put forth leaves in the spring, indicating summer is near! Additional support for this would include the point that we are to learn the parable “from” the fig tree not the parable of the fig tree.
Verse 31 “Even so you, too, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.
As we can plainly see, there are differences in the wording. Matthew says “recognize that He (or, it) is near”, and Luke says “recognize that the kingdom of God is near.” Do you recall when we studied Matthew 24:14 and dealt with the Greek word BASILEIA, which is translated “kingdom”? Remember that BASILEIA is primarily used as an abstract noun and denotes “sovereignty, royal power, domination”. It is emphasizing the sovereign reign of God over all His creation. God doesn’t always do all He can do in a particular situation, but He always does all He wills to do in every situation, and during the PAROUSIA/day of the Lord’s wrath period, God’s sovereignty and omnipotence will be manifest in spectacular fashion.
Matthew 24:34 “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Here’s another verse that interpreters have abused and it has gotten many into trouble. Most of those who claimed the fig tree sprouting leaves refers to Jews regaining the land and becoming a nation in 1948 also claimed that the generation that experienced the return to the land would experience the return of the Christ. Then they calculated how many years a “generation” was and came up with 40 years, which from a biblical standpoint is loosely accurate. After that they did the math; 1948 plus 40 years equals 1988. So they got all excited and said “Now, nobody knows the day or the hour but the rapture could/should occur by 1988.” Someone even wrote a book titled “88 Reasons Why Christ Will Return In 1988”. I never read the book myself but a friend of mine did and in 1987 he was encouraging me to read it. Well, in 1988 when Christ didn’t return the author quickly wrote a new book titled “89 Reasons Why Christ Will Return In 1989” in which he explained why he was off by one year! It’s apparent to all he shouldn’t have bothered as it has been over two decades and still no rapture or second coming! But we are close now…right? We were getting close in 1989 but now we are getting real close…right? To determine the answer we need to apply an important principle: Don’t force prophecy to fulfill current events; rather, allow prophecy to be literally and naturally fulfilled by predicted events as they occur. If you have an accurate understanding of a particular prophecy…then you will be able to tell when current events provide the fulfillment of that prophecy.
All right, we’ve looked at some things these verses don’t teach, let’s take a look at what they do teach. There’s nothing mysterious or difficult about it as we have two keys that make it very plain and simple. The first key comes from understanding the phrase “this generation”. In the Greek the word we have translated as “generation” is a word that (according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary) emphasizes “the people in existence at a certain time period.” The word itself doesn’t give any clues as to which period of time that may be. The emphasis is upon the people themselves. Fortunately we have a qualifier in verse 34 that gives us some degree of indication which time period is being referred to. Christ said it would be “this” generation. The word “this” is a very important qualifier. So what did Jesus mean when He said “this generation”? Did He mean the present generation that was alive at the time He was talking to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, around 33 A.D.? Obviously not. What about the generation of people that witnessed the forming of the nation of Israel in 1948? Again, obviously not. The word “this” all by itself doesn’t reveal much information so what do we look for? We look for some link; and as we look to see what “this generation” is linked to we find it is right there in verse 33. It is the generation that “see(s) all these things”. And what did we establish Christ meant when He spoke of seeing “all these things” in verse 33? The answer is: specifically, the signs in the sun, moon, stars and heavens. That brings us to the second key which we find in verse 34. We have a repeat of the phrase “all these things”. Repeating that phrase provides additional support, confirmation and verification that the generation of people Jesus has in mind is the generation that is in existence when the signs in the sun, moon stars and heavens are given. He is simply stating in verse 34 that the generation of people living at the period of time we refer to as Daniel’s 70th week of years, when the sign in the sun, moon, stars and heavens are given, will not pass away until the consequences of what those miraculous signs signify begin to take place. He is saying it will not be a long, drawn out ordeal; things will happen in fairly quick secession. Between Daniel’s 69th week of years and the 70th, history shows there has been a big gap. Christ is telling His faithful followers that when these things start to occur there won’t be any gap.
There is yet another interpretation to mention here. Some take the word “generation” and ascribe as an alternate translation the word “race”. This is mentioned in my NASV Bible. I am not aware of how accurate or how popular this point of view is, but it intimates the “Jewish race” will not be snuffed out before all these things take place. I won’t disagree with that. Yet it is only God’s sovereignty that allows it to be so, as over the centuries, during the present hour and continuing into the Great Persecution/Tribulation period the attacks to annihilate the Jewish race are persistent.
Let’s touch base on the consequences once again to make sure this is fitting in place for everyone. What are two consequences involved with the PAROUSIA of Christ, which is introduced by the SEMEION, the attesting miracles in the heavenly places? The first consequence is the righteous are rescued. The true Christ followers, those having a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ will be delivered. The second consequence is the judgment and destruction of the wicked and ungodly.
Verse 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.
In this verse Jesus makes an emphatic statement to demonstrate how strongly He feels about the admonition He has given for the benefit of believers, Christians, the saints. Remember back in verse 3 the disciples wanted to know how to tell when Jesus returned. The Lord provided quite a bit of information so all can know unequivocally, yet He also discerned a lack of patience on behalf of His followers, knowing false teachers and false Christs will be infiltrating the ranks to deceive them. This is a way of telling us all to pay attention and listen up! It is a way of emphasizing that He has told us plainly and simply, so there is no reason to be ignorant or mistaken at any time until this all comes to the climax. Christ’s teaching comes first! These words from the Lord establish the outline, they establish the framework for understanding end-time events. All subsequent writers of sacred scripture compliment, supplement and augment these words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter, Paul and John all harmonize with Matthew’s account, as do the Old Testament prophets. As I read this verse I feel as if Jesus is admonishing me to give respectful reverence to His words. I feel an urgency to properly understand them and become equipped to apply the truths He has revealed, when the time comes. In verse 36 He continues with this same train of thought.
Verse 36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
It is imperative that we clearly understand what Christ is referring to when He states “that day and hour”. Is it linked to the rapture of the Church? I can only shake my head when I read or hear those who hold to the Pre-tribulation rapture position saying that nobody knows when the rapture will occur because Jesus says so in Matthew 24:36. Why do I shake my head? First, proponents of that position make a big fuss in trying to keep the Church totally separated from the Olivet discourse. But then they come to the fig tree and claim it represents Israel becoming a nation in 1948 and the rapture would occur before that generation experiencing Israel becoming a nation once again passes away. The issue is further refined by saying no one would know when the Church would be raptured except the Father alone–as per verse 36. My question would be, if verse 36 is given to instruct the Church not to be gullible in the setting of dates for the rapture, why do the Pre-tribulationists insist all other instruction given in the discourse is of no relevance to the Church?
But the admonition of verse 36 is not pertinent to the subject of the rapture. What is “that day and hour” linked to? The answer is it is linked to the PAROUSIA. It is linked to the original question in verse 3 as in “Tell us…what will be the SEMEION of Your PAROUSIA…”. It is linked to verse 27: “…just as the lightning…so shall the PAROUSIA…”; it is linked to verse 33 where we are told to “recognize that He (or “it”) is near, right at the doors”. Verse 36 really has nothing to do regarding the issue of the rapture. The intent and emphasis is upon the PAROUSIA, it is upon Christ–not the saint seeking to escape the trials of suffering and the process of death. The “snatching at once” of the living saints is only one of many facets or aspects of the major event of the PAROUSIA. Did we twist or force the scriptures to teach that? Are we taking verses out of context to draw that conclusion…or is that the plain and simple teaching of our Lord here in Matthew 24?
Now, Jesus goes on to say that no one but the Father alone knows when the signs in the sun, moon and stars will occur. This principle as taught in this verse has caused certain people to doubt the deity of Christ. They conclude since Jesus admitted He didn’t know everything and since part of the very essence of God is omniscience, that Jesus can’t be God. But there really isn’t a problem here at all. It is an issue that falls under the doctrinal category of the Hypostatic Union of Christ. A brief definition providing a description of the Hypostatic Union would include: Absolute deity united with true humanity in one person forever. (This definition is not mine originally. I was taught it.) These two natures are reflected in two of the many titles applicable to Christ. The title Son of God emphasizes His deity whereas the title Son of Man, used prolifically in Matthew, emphasizes His humanity. All Jesus is revealing here in verse 36 is in His humanity, the timing of the PAROUSIA had not been revealed to Him by the Father. In no way should this be construed as a slight against the deity of Christ. In fact it is in perfect keeping with the exemplary life He lived. It is easy to get in sort of a rut thinking that Jesus was the man born to die so He could save us from sin, and He had to live a perfect life in order to be qualified to be the propitiation for our sins, etc. When Christ said He spoke the words the Father gave Him and that He did the works of His Father, the intentions far exceeded the issues of reconciling man to God. Jesus initiated and proved out a new dynamic for living for those who would desire to be His disciples and live a life of servitude to almighty God. Though He came as the God-Man our Lord set aside His powers of deity (doctrine of KENOSIS) and operated under the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. So powerful and dynamic is the filling of the Holy Spirit in the inner man that it is easy to see right past the person and connect to God as the source of power. This is exactly one of the intended effects designed by God when Christ exemplified this system for living, 2,000 years ago.
Allow me to offer some points, and see if you draw a similar conclusion: Consider the life of Christ, and ponder all those miracles. Marvel at His clever answers to very tricky questions, as we study with amazement His revelation of divine wisdom and insight. Humbly compare our lives to His, a life lived so perfectly, there is not a shred of evidence of anything less than 100% fulfillment of God’s perfect will each and every second He walked this earth. As we look back at that lone solitary life, we come under such conviction that we scarce can stand it. But we immediately and so deftly attempt to excuse ourselves by piously sighing “Well, He was the God-Man after all!” All excuses are impotent however, in light of the very words of Jesus Himself. Time and again He chose to refer to Himself using the title “Son of Man”. Jesus purposefully emphasized His humanity. We need to face the fact that the life Christ lived was the life of a man, empowered by God. It was not His own powers of deity that enabled Him to live that perfect and sinless life of utter obedience and complete conformity to the will of the Father. He lived the most influential life in the history of the world using the exact same divine power system made available to every born-again Christian. The filling and control of God the Holy Spirit is available to all believers. The Spirit can empower the one whose soul is saturated with the accurate doctrines and principles of sacred scripture, and is willing to yield to Him. Jesus didn’t use His own divine nature to gain any advantage in any situation. Rather, He set aside His divine nature. Theologically this is developed under the doctrine of KENOSIS. He did this in order to fully depend upon God, just as you and I must do. He chose to be as vulnerable as you and I are.
There is an important application from verse 36. Far from supporting the notion of “Ahaa! I knew Jesus wasn’t God!”, we see one of the most vivid pictures of Him as the most unique person in the universe–Jesus Christ, the God-Man. In verse 30 Christ describes His returning with magnificent power and great glory, terms that can only fit the regal splendor of the divinity side of His nature. Verse 36 reaffirms that He is still “one of us”; that, if the Father did not reveal a matter it would be hidden from Him as well as from us. Verse 36 provides us with extraordinary insight on an issue which many hold to be a bit of a dilemma; the issue of how could Jesus be both God and man…
As we continue our examination of verse 36 let’s ponder some more regarding “that day and hour”. Our Lord stated that “no one knows” except “the Father alone”. There is absolutely no room for date setters of any sort. The matter is settled! Speaking for myself, if the Father didn’t reveal it to His Son, Jesus Christ, He surely won’t reveal it to anyone else- not even to His followers. Therefore we can all relax and focus our attention on the Savior rather than the calendar.
That being said I want to make a few points related to the issue of dates or “when” to expect Christ’s return. This teaching that Christ could return, or, more precisely, the “rapture” could occur at any moment, is just not supported in the scriptures. We already looked at much of the details surrounding the PAROUSIA of Christ as presented in plain and simple fashion by the main writers of sacred scripture. Remember, vocabulary shapes the way we think. Scriptures teach we can know for certain and we can expect with total confidence that Jesus Christ will in fact return some day. There is no doubt. We are as sure of that as we are there will be another sunrise tomorrow. What the Bible does not teach however, is the return of Christ (or more specifically, “the rapture”), is “imminent” , which denotes the concept that a particular “something” could occur at any moment. If you are in the middle of a thunderstorm you might rightly believe that lightning could flash again at any moment. You might open a fortune cookie at a restaurant that reads, “Your luck will change at any moment!” (Then you will worry about if it will change from bad to good, or from bad to worse!) But at this point in our journey no one should have any problem seeing that the scriptures do not teach the return of Christ or the rapture of the saints is “imminent”, i.e., that it could occur at any moment. That theological position does not hold up against the plain and simple teaching of Christ given in the Olivet discourse nor in the teaching of the apostles Paul, Peter or John.
I know my views against an “imminent rapture” will almost seem heretical to some, so allow me to ask some questions to strengthen my case: At what point in history did the rapture become imminent, as in, the very next event to occur on the Prophetic Calendar, as has been popularly proposed the past few decades? Was it imminent before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.? How about before the revelation to John, which completed the canon of scripture? Since the Jews were experiencing divine discipline and were expelled from their land, was the rapture imminent before their return to the land in 1948? Is the rapture really imminent now, or do we need to wait for other items or issues to be ready to fall into place? These are tough questions. Do you know how I would answer these questions when I was a Pre-Tribulationist? I have a confession to make. I thought of an answer to this dilemma. I thought I was so clever. My answer was, the Bible teaches the rapture could occur at any time after the Lord’s ascension, but God, in His sovereignty, because He is omniscient, would not have chosen to rapture the Church until a later time. A time when all the important things were in place or lining up with Godly precision. Friends, remember the book, “Eighty-eight Reasons Christ Will Return in Nineteen Ninety-Eight”. And don’t forget the sequel either.
Let’s quickly review why the rapture of the Church cannot be imminent, why it cannot be “the next event on the prophetic calendar”. The argument could include several points but some of the main points include that the rapture cannot occur before the PAROUSIA. The resurrection of the saints and the rapture of the saints are only one of many facets or aspects of the PAROUSIA, a major event, comprised of several lesser events. The PAROUSIA can’t occur until the sign in the sun, moon and stars is given, and that won’t occur until the Great Persecution/Tribulation is cut short, which won’t happen until it begins with the Abomination of Desolation, which doesn’t occur until the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week of years, which doesn’t even begin until the incognito Antichrist signs a seven year treaty or covenant with the nation of Israel. Whew! As we have seen (and will continue to document) the rapture is intimately linked to the PAROUSIA, which doesn’t occur until long after the start of Daniel’s 70th week of years, though several months before the completion of the seven years.
There is another point I wish to make regarding the issue of “dates”. in verses 32-36 Christ was very careful to instruct His followers that although no one knows the day or the hour, to pay attention because they would be able to recognize when He or “it” i.e. the PAROUSIA, was near. He would be right at the door when they observed the signs, the SEMEION’s in the heavenly realm. It is pretty safe to conclude then, if the Abomination of Desolation has not occurred initiating the Great Persecution/Tribulation, then the return of Christ isn’t all that close either. At the very least we need to see the signing of the seven year covenant or treaty between Israel and the dictator of three countries in the area of Russia and/or possibly Germany, initiating the count down of Daniel’s 70th week of years prophecy. Jesus said you can’t tell summer is near until you observe tree branches becoming tender and putting forth leaves. The principle believers need to apply is to wait for the observance of the major knowable events before expecting the return of Christ. For many years an unfortunate consequence of the errant teaching of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture position has been that many within the professing Christian community continually look at world conditions and conclude that the historical setting seems to be lining up with what they perceive to be the agenda of the Antichrist, along with global environmental conditions determined to be indicative of the approach of the beginning birth pangs period (the first half of Daniel’s 70th week of years) and concluding from all this that certainly we are very close to the return of Christ for the rapture of the Church. For over forty years I have heard people exclaim the opinion that certainly Christ is coming back soon–based upon observing conditions in the world. But how soon is “soon”?
Also, it is discouraging to me as I continually observe vast numbers within the Christian community capitulate to the advancement of sin and evil by piously stating this is what we have been told to expect in the “last days”, that there is nothing to be done about this as it is the fulfillment of prophecy leading up to the return of Christ for the rapture of the Church. What about the principle that Christ followers are to “resist the devil and he shall flee from you”? What about defending those who cannot defend themselves? I believe it is the Christian’s duty, here in the United States particularly, to vote for those who profess virtue and character modeled according to the teaching of God’s word and vote against those who do not posses those traits. I believe it is the Christian duty to hold a public outcry against attacks upon the Christian heritage and influence within the United States and to demand accountability. My hope and prayer is for the Christian community to undergo revival and regain much of the fervor that has dissipated!
I know I have strayed slightly off of the path to express some of my concerns, so let me conclude this issue by stating just because we may see flagrant efforts to achieve a one world currency, government or religion, or because we experience an abundance of severe weather patterns, earthquakes or military confrontations, it does not necessitate the return of Christ is imminent for the purpose of whisking His bride out of harms way! Down through the centuries the Church has been there as first responders in the midst of crisis and disaster. She is needed yet today. She will be needed in years yet to come. Do not allow yourself to be distracted from aggressively serving the Lord. The Body of Christ still has work to do on His behalf. As the famous hymn entreats, “Rise up, O men of God!”