Matthew 24:15-35: Fig Tree
March 10, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
These verses have caused considerable head scratching among faithful Bible believers, and it is important that we hold to the teaching here with consistency to avoid shrillness and clear mistakes without love and acceptance of legitimate differences of opinion. The first part of this section most clearly refers to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. The Jewish historian Josephus describes these days—a four-year long siege—with particular harshness and devastating impact. The “abomination that causes desolation” (24:15) is a quotation from the Book of Daniel, which may have first been interpreted as referring to the sacrilege of the altar that took place in 168 BC under the Maccabees but (“let the reader understand”) was intended to finally find its fulfillment in the yet more devastating desolation of AD 70. The temple was torn down, starvation, cannibalism, horrors unimaginable. The church historian Eusebius describes how Christians did indeed heed Jesus’ warnings and flee the city.
Part of the strange phenomenon of eschatological prophecies is, like a mountain range seen from a distance with one peak viewed next to the other, often the prophecies skip from one peak to another without going into great detail or explanation about the time differences in-between. Once Christ has come, once he has died and risen again, there is (in a sense) nothing left to be done in terms of the great acts of God in regard to salvation—except the preaching of this great act of God, the proclamation of the gospel.
So here, with this concertinaed perspective, we move towards the very end. And what we are told very clearly is not to be fooled by people telling us that Jesus is here, or there (24:23-25)—that the end of the world came secretly in 1914 as Jehovah Witnesses seem to believe, or the various varieties of this vain attempt to predict and spot the coming of the Messiah that have from time-to-time troubled the consciences of faithful Christians. No, when Jesus comes he will not be in secret, in an “inner room” (24:26); it will be like lightning that flashes right across that everyone can see everywhere (24:27). Or it will be like in the desert, if you see a great gathering of vultures in the sky, you know where the dead body is (24:28), and you can see those vultures from miles around. Everyone will see him when Jesus returns in glory.
Then comes the end—stars fall from heaven (24:29), those who have not repented and put their trust in Christ will “mourn,” for the great and terrible day of the Son of Man is coming, who will come on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory (24:30). For the elect, the chosen ones, those who have trusted in Christ, there will be a trumpet call and they will gathered to the Christ with great joy (24:31).
Lastly an illustration from horticulture. Look at a fig tree (24:32). Many of us have never seen a fig tree, but the same picture would hold true for an apple or pear tree. When the buds on the branches begin to appear you know that summer is around the corner. Similarly, says Jesus, while none of us knows the day or the hour of his return, when all these troubles happen, we know that Jesus’ return is imminent (24:33). This “generation” will not pass away until “all these things” have taken place (24:34)—“all these things” probably referring not to the very last things of the just proceeding verses, but the “all these things” of verse 33 referencing the earlier passage regarding the destruction of Jerusalem.
Given the reality of Christ’s return, what sort of people should we be? First of all, we must seek first the kingdom of God. We are to repent of our sin and put our trust in Christ. Second, we are to purify ourselves and make ourselves ready for his return. Third, we are to commit ourselves to his mission to take the gospel to the far corners of the earth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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