Matthew 24:32-39 - "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. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
The perfect “billboard message” from God to any Judgment Day date-setters would be, “What did you not understand about my statement that no one knows the day and the hour?” The Lord Jesus could not have stated the matter any more clearly than he did in Matthew 24:36. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but My Father only.” In other words, no one should try to figure out the date of the Lord’s return because no one knows! So what does “no one” mean? No onemeans no one -- and yet there are always some believers who don’t seem to get it! Somehow they don’t believe that “no one” means no one. In their zeal, they either unashamedly disobey the straight teaching of our Lord, or they arrive at incorrect interpretations by using “convoluted hermeneutics.” Examples of their convoluted interpretations are: 1. The Lord meant that generally speaking no one knows, because most people are ignorant of Scripture. But godly students of the Word who are on the “inside track” can figure it out from the clues hidden in the Bible. 2. The Lord meant that His Jewish audience then did not know the time of His return because the New Testament was not yet written. Now that we have the full revelation of Scripture, we can now figure out the date of the Lord’s return. 3. The Lord meant that we should not try to figure out the day or the hour, but He didn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to figure out the month or the year. 4. The Lord meant that no one knows for sure, but there’s no harm in trying to figure it out with educated guesses and prophetic speculation! All of these “loopholes” are a departure from practicing the clarity of Scripture, which is a basic and primary principle for interpreting the Bible. Do you really think it’s possible that the Lord wanted His hearers (both then and today) to understand Him to be saying, “You can figure out the date if you know the hidden secrets of the Bible”? Or did He want His hearers (then and today) to understand Him to be saying, “No one knows, so don’t try to figure it out”! In other words, “no one” means no one! Background Notes In order to better understand our Lord’s emphatic statement that “no one knows,” it is important to realize that these words were spoken in the context of a discourse that was given by our Lord on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24-25). The “Olivet Discourse” was given in answer to questions His disciples asked about the future. “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). In this section of the Olivet discourse, the Lord gave some significant signs of His return---not the day or the hour, but signs! It’s important to note that these signs are not signs of the Rapture of the Church, but of the Lord’s Second Coming and His return to this earth. The great truth of the Rapture of the Church had not yet been revealed when the Lord gave His Olivet Discourse. And, by the way, Matthew 24:40-41 are not “rapture verses” (a frequent misinterpretation). In the context, those who are “taken away” are taken away to judgment! Those “left” are the believers who enter the Lord’s earthly kingdom. Based on a number of prophetic Scriptures, the Rapture of the Church will precede the return of the Lord to this earth. Thus, if the signs that the Lord gave for His Return are clearly evident, those signs surely would be an indication that the Rapture is at hand. Before we look at the signs, let’s consider the interpretation of two verses in the Olivet Discourse that have caused a lot of discussion. Matthew 24:34 is one much-discussed verse: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place…” What did our Lord mean by “this generation”? There are several possible interpretations: 1. The Lord meant that the generation that begins to see these end time events will live to see the Lord’s return. In other words, the end time events associated with the Lord’s return that are described in the Olivet Discourse will not be stretched out over hundreds of years, but will take place during one generation- --about 40-50 years, at most. 2. Since the word “generation” in Greek can also be translated “race,” the Lord meant that as a “race,” the Jewish people would not cease to exist, but would continue right on until the end times. 3. The Lord meant that the unbelieving generation of His day would continue. In other words, Israel’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah would continue right on until the time of the end. Spiritual revival and change of heart of the Jewish people would not come until the end times. They would be an “unbelieving generation” or an “unbelieving race” all the way through---as indeed they have been. This third interpretation is probably the correct one, but the other interpretations are possibilities as well. The other verse that has caused a lot of discussion is Matthew 25:36, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but My Father only.” (See also Mark 13:32.) What did our Lord mean when He said that even He didn’t know the day or the hour of His return?! If Jesus is God, and God is omniscient (He knows everything), how is this verse to be explained? Answer: in the eternal counsels of God, it was divinely decided and decreed that when the eternal Son of God became Man, He voluntarily would not use His omniscience -- at certain times and in certain areas -- during His earthly ministry. This verse does not mean that our Lord gave up any of His divine attributes in the incarnation! Our Lord did not in any way give up any of His deity when He became Man--- He only limited the full use of certain of His attributes. He was (and is) fully God as well as fully Man! Now, of course, as the glorified Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ certainly knows the day and hour of His return. Doctrinal Point 1. The condition of Israel is a sign of the return of the Lord. Verse 32: “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.” What did our Lord mean? Did He simply mean that when the events that are mentioned in the earlier part of the chapter begin to take place, then we will know that He is about to return? Or did He mean something more specific? Remember, this is a parable, and the Lord’s parables were more than mere illustrations. All the parables have deeper meaning--in fact, that is the essential definition of a parable. The fig tree represents Israel, and the fig tree putting forth leaves is more than just a mere illustration of approaching end time events. The idea that the fig tree represents Israel in this parable is not just a wild guess, because there are other places in the Bible where the fig tree represents Israel. God said in Hosea 9:10: “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first fruits on the fig tree in its first season.” Our Lord likened Israel to a fig tree in Luke 13:6-7. “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” In this parable the fig tree clearly represents Israel. The “three years” were the three years of our Lord’s public ministry, when He was looking for spiritual fruit in Israel. He found none, therefore Israel was “cut down.” Israel as a nation was temporarily set aside from its place of God’s special favor. This “setting aside” of Israel was dramatized in the cursing of the fig tree in Matthew 21. So here in the Olivet Discourse a parable (not just a mere illustration) of a fig tree is given, and once again the fig tree represents Israel. The basic meaning of this parable is that Israel (the fig tree) will show signs of life once again, and when it “puts forth leaves” we will know that “summer is near.” In other words, keep your eye on Israel! When you see signs of life, you will know that end time events are not too far ahead. Are there signs of life in Israel today? Yes! A resounding yes! In 1948, Israel became a nation once again---after 1900 years of dispersion and severe persecution. And the Jewish people continue to return to their homeland, despite the troubled situation in the Middle East. Notice that our Lord did not say when the fig tree puts forth fruit, you will know that summer is near. No! He said that when the fig tree puts forth leaves, you’ll know that summer is near. This present day is not the time of great spiritual fruit in Israel, although there is some, and it is increasing. The harvest time of much fruit is yet to come--and it will come! The nation of Israel will not only return to the land, but they will return to the Lord as well. What a great day that will be! But the leaves are coming forth now. The Lord said when the fig tree shows signs of life, and it puts forth leaves (not fruit), you will know that summer is near. The leaves are there now. We are on the threshold of the end times! The condition of Israel is a sign of the return of the Lord. Verses 37-39: “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” At the time of His return, the Lord predicted that conditions in society would be similar to societal conditions at the time of Noah. What were society and culture like in the days of Noah? Genesis 6:5 says that it was a time of great wickedness: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Does not the evil and wickedness in our own day parallel that of Noah’s day? However, the main point that our Lord was making in these verses is that the people of Noah’s day were unprepared and unconcerned. The people of that day ignored the warnings of God given through Noah. They were going about their lives in a routine, everyday way, with no awareness of imminent judgment. The great Flood came upon them suddenly--- and it took them all away! In the same way, the return of the Lord will be sudden, and when He comes, He will come in judgment! But people will be unprepared and unconcerned. They will be going about life in a normal, routine way--eating and drinking and marrying. The return of the Lord will come when they least expect it, and they will be taken away in judgment. The condition of Israel and the condition of society are both signs of the return of the Lord. Practical Application 1. Read and study the Word of God, that will never pass away. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (24:35). The heaven mentioned in this verse is not the dwelling place of God, but the heaven of the planets and the stars. A day is coming when this present “heaven and earth” will pass away---but the Lord’s words will never pass away! The Lord’s words will never fail, and they will all come to pass! The Lord’s words are contained in Scripture. Why not spend more time reading and studying His Word--words that will never pass away? Why do we spend so much time on things that pass away, like reading less worthwhile books, or watching movies or TV, or spending a lot of time on our houses or hobbies or sports? Do you read and study the Bible? Do you have a systematic approach to Bible reading and the study of God’s Word, or do you have a “hit or miss” approach to the Bible? Bible reading and Bible study doesn’t happen automatically. Have you ever tried reading through the Bible in a year, for example? “Sanctified will power” is needed to keep up with the schedule! Is it worth it? Yes, it’s certainly worth it! The study of God’s Word has eternal value. Read and study the Word---it will never pass away! 2. Practice the “clarity of Scripture.” In your reading and study of the Word of God, practice the clarity of Scripture. Don’t “read in” your own ideas! Don’t search for new “doctrines” that are not there! Don’t try to figure out dates that the the Lord purposely has not revealed! Don’t try to find “hidden clues” in the Bible--clues that God supposedly included for only “elite” Christians to figure out! The Lord is not out to “trick” humble believers. The meaning of Scripture is usually quite clear and obvious. In His Olivet Discourse, the Lord gave definite signs of the end times that every godly believer can recognize. But when He said, “No one knows the day or the hour,” He meant exactly what He said. No one means NO ONE!