Session #142 Summery Statement
Scripture Matthew 24:32-35
Summary In Matthew 24:32-36, Jesus wraps up His reply with a statement about summer. More accurately, how to know when summer is approaching. Or shall we say … when it gets sort of summery? Guess that makes the parable of the fig tree a summary statement.
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. Matthew 24:32-36.
Parables are stories that illustrate a main point simply and clearly. In this teaching, Jesus is still replying the disciples’ big question in Matthew 24:3 : “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
Though Jesus has answered the disciples’ questions (Matthew 24:4-31), it is a lot to process and so He next uses a parable (Matthew 24:32-35) to summarise everything. All the answers can be found in the preceding verses, but many still find it hard to accept that it can be so simple and straightforward.
In the following sections, we will consider three questions that have posed challenges to the way this passage has been interpreted as we look for the right answers.
What or Who does the Fig Tree represent? (Matthew 24:32)
Fig trees are common and recognisable in Israel. A present popular view is that the fig tree represents Israel and the birth of modern Israel in 1948 was considered a huge and prophetic end-time sign.
Alternatively if we consider the fig tree as a simple and straightforward horticultural illustration, then when we see the leaves, we know summer is near and so simply, when we see ‘all these things’, the return of Jesus is near. To determine which interpretation is right, let us consider next ‘all these things’ in Matthew 24:33
What do ‘All These Things’ refer to? (Matthew 24:33)
If Israel is the fig tree that puts forth leaves after a season of being bare, then ‘all these things’ has to refer to the rebirth of modern Israel and everything that pertains to Israel. This is a very attractive proposition and we have seen a lot of emphasis and focus on Israel since 1948. However, context does not allow or support that at all. Though Israel will be included in the eschatological picture, it is too narrow to only focus on Israel.
Context has to help us determine what Jesus was referring to when He said ‘all these things’. Since the parable serves as a summary statement, we must refer to the preceding verses to understand ‘all these things’. Clearly and simply, ‘all these things’ must refer to all Jesus had mentioned in Matthew 24:15-31 (abomination of desolation, great tribulation, false christs and prophets) except His return.
Now that we have considered the fig tree and all these things in proper context, we next tackle the toughest question : What does Jesus mean by “this generation will by no means pass away”?
What does Jesus mean by “This Generation will by no means pass away”? (Matthew 24:34)
Does ‘this generation’ refer to that generation present with Jesus? That generation lived to see the destruction of the temple in AD70 and suffered intense persecution and tribulation all within 40 years of Jesus’ prediction. If so, then the passage is fulfilled already as they saw ‘all these things’. However, Jesus did not return in their time.
Does ‘this generation’ refer to the generation following the rebirth of Israel? Israel rebirthed in 1948, Jesus will return within that generation which is 40, 70 or 80 years long?. Edgar C. Whisenant published “88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988” but the predicted rapture did not occur. Those who hold to this view keep revising the dates to 2018 (70 years) or 2028 (80 years); before this generation runs out.
Finally, Jesus referred to His (this) generation as “an evil/wicked and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39, 16:4). This can refer generally to the evil, the wicked and the unbelieving of every generation. These have been and will be around until Jesus returns; and then will pass away. Paul described his generation in the same way as a “crooked and perverse generation” (Philippians 2:15). This phrase is also used to refer to God’s own people (Deuteronomy 32:5) and remains true and applicable in our day and generation. Another word often used in tandem with generation as an emphasis is ‘age’ (Colossians 1:26, Galatians 1:4). In other words, ‘this wicked & adulterous generation’ can refer to ‘this present evil age’. Matthew 24:34 can then be rephrased as ‘this evil and wicked generation or present evil age’ will pass away when Jesus returns at the end of age, ushering the new age of the kingdom, a new heaven and earth (Matthew 13:49, 24:35, Revelations 21:1).
This last interpretation makes the most sense that this generation aptly describes this present evil age that will not pass away until the coming of the Lord and it is applicable to each and every generation.
The parable of the fig tree was not given for believers to figure out some perplexing prophetic puzzle. It is a simple story that shows and summarises what Jesus wants us to know. A simple summary statement of Jesus would be: “When times get tough: Know that it would not be long. I am coming soon. Trust Me”
As if pre-empting that many may still focus on the wrong things, and be tempted to predict and set dates, Jesus promptly clarifies this summary statement with a “But” in Matthew 24:36. This verse emphasises the unexpectedness of His expected return. It also introduces the final section of this 5th kingdom discourse – what the right focus is and how we are to live in light of this summary statement: “Stop setting dates”; “Hang in there” and “Be watchful, faithful, ready and prepared”
This passage wraps up and concludes Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ questions about His return and the end of the age with a summary statement of encouragement, comfort and hope: “When times get tough: Know that it will not be long. I am coming soon. Trust Me” .
Jesus’ point is simple, clear and precise. It is also timely and applicable across all generations. Every generation is to be watchful, faithful, prepared and ready.