Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Signs of the Times (7) Matthew 24 and 25

Written by Rev. J.W. Wullschleger
Read: Matthew 24: 32Ð 35
Parallel passages: Mark 13: 28Ð31 and Luke 21:29Ð33

Until now we studied ChristÕs discourse on the last things. We saw what signs would precede the destruction of Jerusalem and, eventually, the end of the world. Christ now concludes the first part of His discourse. In verses 32 to 35 we have an application of all that has been said before in this chapter.

First of all, our Lord makes a comparison between the signs of the times and the order in nature. ÒNow learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near even at the doorsÓ (vss.32,33). What Christ is saying here is not a parable in a strict sense. You could also read ÒÔlessonÓ for parable. Learn this lesson from it!

The fig tree is a well-known tree in Israel. The tree is found wild and cultivated, in vineyards and gardens, and along the roads. It is possible that this accounts for the reason why Jesus chooses this tree as an example. In Luke 21:29 we find a reference to other trees as well: ÒBehold the fig tree, and all the trees.Ó In the spring the branches of the tree become tender from the influence of the sun and the motion of the sap inside the tree. During the winter months the branches are hard and contracted. It seems as if they are dead. The sap inside the tree is congealed. When in the spring the branches become tender, they burst open and put forth new twigs, leaves and green figs. All this is a sign that the winter is past, the spring has come, and summer is near (see also Song of Solomon 2:11 and 13). Everyone can observe this order in nature and conclude that the summer is coming.

So what do the signs of the times teach us? What should we conclude when we observe them? Christ gives the answer: ÒSo likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near even at the doorsÓ (vs.33). At first glance, these words are a bit obscure. What is meant with Òall these thingsÓ? What is near at the doors? Obviously, Òall these thingsÓ point to all that was said before: the disturbances in nature, the movement among the nations, the afflictions of GodÕs people, the spreading of the Gospel, the rise of false prophets, etc.

When these signs appear, it is near, that is, the kingdom of God (Lk.21:31), or Christ Himself. In the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70 Christ Himself was near to take vengeance. He stood at the doors to inflict His judgment upon the Jews. Then again, what is equally true, the kingdom of God was near in the sense that it was at the point of being more powerfully spread among all nations. This is the kingdom of GodÕs grace as it appears in the preaching of the Gospel. All this awaits a further and final fulfilment at the end of the days, when Christ shall be revealed in His full power and glory. Then the kingdom of glory shall be fully manifested.

The Second Coming of Christ will be a summer of joy and comfort for the saints. Christ will appear most lovely to them, He will be glorified in them, and they will enjoy full salvation. The winter of sorrows, afflictions, and persecutions will be over. The light of the sun will not be needed anymore, because the Lord shall be the everlasting Light of His redeemed.

Others explain the words of verse 33 this way: as little as the frost and snow can prevent the trees to put forth leaves in the spring, so little do tribulation and troubles hinder the coming of ChristÕs kingdom. Tribulation and troubles prepared the world for the kingdom of grace in its beginning; they will in the end prepare the world for the kingdom of glory in its completion.

Having made a comparison, Christ now points to the closeness of these events. The disciples were anxious to know when these things were going to happen. Christ answers this question this way: ÒVerily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilledÓ (vs.34). ÒVerily I say unto youÉÓ These words indicate a solemn declaration requiring special attention. The question is who are meant with Òthis generationÓ? ÒGenerationÓ has sometimes the meaning of race or kind in Scripture. Read for instance Acts 2:40 and Philippians 2:15 (ÒnationÓ stands for ÒgenerationÓ). The meaning of the text is then that this generation, namely of the Jews, shall not pass, until all these things will be fulfilled. There will always be Jews until the end of the world. Or, ÒgenerationÓ points to the believers or to mankind in general. There will always be true Christians, or there will always be a human race.

But is that what Christ is saying here? The point of ChristÕs words is not that there will always be a certain kind of people in the world until the end. Rather, He is saying that the fulfilment of all His predictions is very close. Therefore, the meaning of Òthis generationÓ is simply this generation now living. Before a single generation has passed, they will learn by experience the truth of what He has said. Of course, that does not imply that every single person will still be alive. But before this generationÐthe one living at JesusÕ timeÐhas passed away, it will happen. Consequently, within forty years the city was destroyed, the temple razed and the Jewish state terminated.

Some people are quick to point out that on the basis of this text all that is said before precludes any fulfilment in a remote future. They restrict the fulfilment of ChristÕs discourse to that time only. Does He not say that Òall these things shall be fulfilledÓ within the span of that generation? Yes, but that does not mean that coming generations will not experience the same thing. As a matter of fact, the same evils have happened without interruption throughout all succeeding ages. With Calvin we say that Òwhile our Lord heaps upon a single generation all kinds of calamities, He does not by any means exempt future ages from the same kind of sufferings, but only commands the disciples to be prepared for enduring them with all firmness.Ó

Having made a comparison, and having pointed out the closeness of the fulfilment of His predictions, Christ further confirms the certainty of them. ÒHeaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass awayÓ (vs.35). Heaven and earth shall pass away! The heavens shall be dissolved, the earth shall be burned up, the elements shall melt with fervent heat (II Peter 3:10Ð13). But ChristÕs words shall not pass away. They shall not prove to be vain and empty words. This goes for any word that came from the lips of our Saviour. But this applies particularly to what He had just said concerning the last things.

Verse 35 can also be taken as a comparative expression. Thus: it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than it is for My words to fall to the ground, as stated in Isaiah 54:10 and Luke 16:17. Heaven and earth are the most stable and abiding things. Yet, sooner shall they pass away than that one of ChristÕs words shall remain unaccomplished. We may build with more assurance upon the word of Christ than we can upon the pillars of heaven or upon the strong foundations of the earth! The expression used by Christ shows the certainty, the unalterable and sure accomplishment of all that He had spoken before. They are also the strongest possible expression of the divine authority with which our Lord spoke.

None of the prophets or apostles, not even Moses, the lawgiver of the Old Testament, ever said anything like this. Such language would be utterly unsuitable for any merely human mouth.

Questions for Discussion.
1. Read Matthew 16:2 and 3, and discuss why it is so difficult for us to discern the signs of the times.
2. Does the prophecy of II Peter 3:10Ð13 mean that heaven and earth shall be completely destroyed, or that they shall be purified? (If this is a difficult question, look up some commentaries.)
3. Read II Peter 3:3 and 4. In what way do people today mock the coming of the Lord?
4. Why was it necessary for Christ to emphasize the certainty of His words (vs.35)?
5. What place does His Word have in your life?

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