If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 24, as we continue our studies in the Lord Jesus’ teachings on the last days, on the end times. As we have said, it as difficult as these verses are, as difficult as the passages is as a whole, especially in its details, the main themes are very clear. God is gracious to us. And when He challenges us in His Word, even with hard passages, His point is to comfort and strengthen His people, and those messages have come through very clearly as we have worked through these verses together. You will see the same today as we come to verses 32-36. The Parable of the Fig Tree, and then Jesus’ words of explanation and exhortation which follow. So let’s turn in our Bibles, to Matthew 24, and we will begin in verse 32. This is the Word of God.
“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; even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired Word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank you for this, the truth of Your Word. As we study it together today, we pray that You would cause us not only to grow in our knowledge of the facts of the truth, but that by the Spirit, You would apply the truth of Your Word to our hearts and that we would respond to it in obedience practically. We ask oh Lord, that you would give us eyes to see and ears to hear. To see when the Word is speaking directly to our situation and then to yield in our spirits to obedience to the Holy Spirit. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Last week, as we reviewed verses 24-31, we saw some of the clear points and emphasis that Jesus was giving to the disciples as He spoke to them about the end times. I would ask you to look at those verses briefly with me and let’s review. In verse 23, for instance, and also in verse 24, Jesus warns not to be misled by false messiahs. That is one of the practical teachings of this passage that Jesus gives us. If we look then to verse 25, Jesus reminds us that His warning was given to us in advance. In other words, He told His disciples that these things were going to happen, before they happened, in order that they would have confidence in His Word. And so Jesus warns us and this strengthens us to believe when He tells us something is going to happen. If we look forward then to verse 26, He goes on to say, that His coming is not going to be in private. It is not going to be something concealed from the general public. It is going to be wide open. Everyone is going to know it. Then again, if we look at verse 27, He says, that His coming is going to be sudden and unmistakable. Just like lightening flashing across the sky. If we look to verse 28, He uses a very earthy illustration of this. He says that it is going to be no more possible to miss His coming, than it would be possible for vultures to miss carrying on the road or in the woods. He mentions this in verse 28. He goes on in verse 29, to say that His coming will occur after much trial and tribulation. And it will be accompanied by signs of upheaval in the universe. The sun and the moon and the stars displaced. And then in verse 30, He tells us that His coming is going to be visible to all peoples, and it is going to cause those who do not believe in Him, to mourn. They are going to weeping and wailing because they realize that they are in obstinate rebellion against the one who has now been made the king of kings and Lord of lords. And finally, in verse 31, we saw Jesus teaches that His coming is going to be heard as well as seen. It is going be accompanied by trumpets and it is going to be a day of great encouragement for all His people. They are going to be gathered from the corners of the earth and to Him. And so these things are very clear. Whatever is difficult about these passages, Jesus has also given us many truths, which are very clear, which we can hang on to.
Now, many of these lessons are carried over into the passage that we are going to look at today. In fact, as we look at verses 32-36, we are going to see several of those themes repeated. First of all, Jesus tells us that we need to be realistic about our trials in the here and now. And then He reminds us at the same time, as we are realistic about our trials, we need to joyfully expectant about the glory of His coming. He also tells us that we need to be ready for that coming. And the way that we need to be ready for that coming is by obedience to Him. Obedience to His Word, especially by a practical acknowledgment of the authority of His Word in our daily lives.
So let’s look at this passage together today. There are three parts that I would like you to see. First in verses 32 and 33, He gives and applies the Parable of the Fig Tree. Then in verses 34 and 36, He juxtaposes two parts of His teaching. And then in verse 35, He gives a very important statement about the authority of His Word. And we will look at these together today.
I. The parable of the fig tree.
First, in verses 32 and 33, here Jesus shares a story with His disciples. And it is a story to remind them to be ready. He chooses the illustration of a fig tree. Many of the trees in Palestine were evergreens and so the leaves didn’t change, and they didn’t lose their leaves, or the foliage on the leaves. They stayed year-round. But the fig tree did lose its leaves. It lost its leaves in the winter, and by the summertime, it was back in full leaf again. And so this tree could illustrate for Jesus watching the signs. Jesus is basically using the illustration of the fig tree to say, when all these things, which I have been telling you about, in verses 4-28, occur, you will know that my prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of Israel, are coming about, have come about, you must be ready. And so He is using the illustration of the fig tree to tell them to be ready. He goes on in verse 33, to say that when all those things are appeared, behold He is near. He is right at the door. Now the background of this story is probably found in Isaiah chapter 34, verses 1-4. There you will find many of the terms, many of the phrases, used in Matthew 24 repeated together. But in particular in that passage which is the judgment passage against Edam, promising that God is going to come against Edam in judgment. In that passage He speaks of the shaking of the fig tree. And it is very possible that the Lord Jesus is drawing this illustration right out of that prophetic passage of judgment against Edam. But what Jesus is saying here in verses 32 and 33 is that all of these things, are the signs which He has mentioned in verses 4-26, which were fulfilled in the time leading up to and during the destruction of Jerusalem. And so when He says, it or He is near, He is referring to the second coming. His second coming. Subsequent to the destruction of Israel. Now the point is not that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, and then immediately in time, He was going to come. The point was that the very next great step in the unfolding of God’s end time plan, after the fulfillment of all these things, was going to be the coming of the Lord Jesus. It may have taken distance in time, but in terms of sequence it is the next great event in the unfolding of God’s end time plan. And so the disciples must be on the alert for the fulfillment of Jesus’ Word in their generation. Their present hardships must not dim their future hope. Remember, the disciples thought two things were going to happen together. Turn back to the very first three verses of Matthew 24. Look at verse 3. The disciples had asked, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age? It is very clear that the disciples thought those things all were going to happen at the same time. When will these things be? When will the destruction of Jerusalem be? And what will be a sign of your coming? Because the disciple reasoned like this. If Jerusalem is going to be destroyed, surely that means the end of the world. If that means the end of the world, it means the coming of Christ in glory. If it means the coming of Christ in glory, it means that we are going to rule with Him as kings, and we are going to judge the nations. So what were the disciples expecting at the end of the world? They were expecting at the sign of the destruction of Jerusalem, to reign. They were going to reign with Christ. They were going to judge the world. They were going to wipe out the infidels. They were going to judge the Romans. It was going a time of triumph. And the Lord Jesus has spent much of this chapter saying, let me tell you my dear friends, you are in for tribulation like you have never seen it before. You are going to persecuted with a greater intensity than we have ever experienced during my three years of ministry with you. They are going to kill you, they are going to banish you, they are going to excommunicate you, they are going to do all manner of things against you. You are going to experience tremendous hardship, and furthermore, this nation that you love so dearly is going to come to an end at the hand of evil men. And the so the Lord Jesus makes it clear to them that they are about to endure a trial. A very depressing message.
And so, what would be the temptation, you have been expecting triumph, now, Jesus is telling you to expect persecution, but He also goes on to say, I don’t simply want you to expect that persecution. I want to you to be joyfully expectant of my coming. Because when all these things have been manifest, then the coming of the Son of man is near. In other words, the very next great thing in the unfolding of God, is going to be the coming of the Son of man. It doesn’t mean, and we will see this very clearly as we compare verses 34 and 36. It doesn’t mean that the coming of the Son of man is something that Jesus expected to happen in AD 70 at the fall of Jerusalem. But He does want His disciples not to lose hope, because though they are not going to experience the triumph that they expected in those days, in their generation, they are indeed going to experience the triumph that they expected, it is just going to come at a different time. And so throughout this passage, Jesus’ concern is that the disciples not confuse those two issues. The issue of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the issue of the coming of the Son of man. The destruction is coming and so they must be prepared. They must be realistic. But the Son of man is also coming, and therefore, they must be expectant. And that is the message, isn’t it of this passage for us. Christians must be prepared for present tribulation. But we must also be joyfully expectant for His coming. We too, like the disciples must not anticipate triumph in this age. But at the same time, we must not lose hope. We must be confidently expecting His coming. And we must be ready to rejoice in His coming. Remember, in the last verses of the previous section that we studied, Jesus said that at the coming of the Son of man, the tribes of the earth should do what? Look at verse 30. They will mourn, all those who are part of the tribes of the earth, who have rejected the Messiah will do what? They will mourn. But the Lord Jesus wants His disciples to understand that the day of His coming for them will not be a day of mourning. It will be a day of rejoicing. It will be a day of vindication. It will be a day of reunion. It will be a day of in-gathering. It will be a day of fellowship. It will be a day of glory and triumph and so He says, even though you are going to go through these present trials, you must look for the coming of the Son of man, with joyful expectation. This is the age of warfare with the world. The next stage will be the stage of rest and victory. Here and now, therefore, we must do two things. We must be prepared to fight the fight of faith and we must be always expectant and hopeful because of our certainty of His coming. And both of those truths were absolutely essential for the disciples to live the Christian life in they are absolutely essential for us too. We must be prepared for the fight of faith, and we must be joyfully expecting His glorious coming. Now Jesus goes on to elaborate on this in the next verses.
II. The Contrast.
Look with me at verse 34 and 36, because in these two verses, Jesus supplies and important contrast. In verse 34, He speaks of all these things taking place. In verse 36, He speaks of that day. He places a statement in between these verses to even further distinguish the content of them. Jesus in these verses, is making an important juxt to position. He is saying all these things will be fulfilled, but don’t confuse all these things, the destruction of Jerusalem, with that day, the coming of the Son of man. All these things must take place in this generation, but that day no one knows. You see the distinction Jesus is making between the fulfillment of His prophecies immediately in the forty years after He made them, in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the coming of the Son of man. This was an issue which was confused in the minds of the disciples, and so now He is trying to straighten them out. He is indicating in this verse, verse 34, that all the events leading up to and connected with the destruction of Jerusalem will be fulfilled in this generation. And by this generation, He means the generation of people who are hearing them. And the people to whom He was originally speaking and their generation, those things would be fulfilled. And of course, they were. In forty years, Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Israel and of the temple and of Jerusalem was fulfilled.
But over against this, He contrasts in verse 36, that day, and that day, no one knows. In other words, in answer to the disciples question, when will these things be, which they had asked in verse 3, referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in the temple, Jesus’ answer is soon. In this generation, in your lifetime, maybe not everyone who first heard Him speak was alive to see the fulfillment, but the bulk of that generation lived to see Jesus’ words come true.
But in answer to their question, and what about the sign of the coming of the Son of man, is the coming of the Son of man. And no one knows when that will be. Including the Son of man. It is a startling statement isn’t it? But He is contrasting these two things. In answer to their question, when is going to be the destruction? Soon. In answer to the question, what about the coming of the Son of man? No one knows. That is Jesus’ response. His answer to their implied connection between the destruction of Jerusalem and His second coming is you have confused two things that need to be kept separately. And so, Jesus separates the day of His coming, calling it that day, from all these things in verse 34.
Now immediately into your mind or at least in mine, pops the question, how can Jesus say that the Son of man does not know? The disciples understood that He was the very Son of God. They understood that He as the second person of the trinity. How can we say that He did not know? Well, this phrase, “nor the son” which you see in verse 36, if you are looking at the King James, you don’t see it there. There is a textual variant, but if you flipped over to the parallel passage, in your King James Bible, in Mark, you would find it there. There is no question that Jesus said it, the question is it in both Mark and Matthew, or is it just in Mark? Jesus said it, no argument there. Okay, what does it mean? How can, we can understand how we could say angels don’t know, but how can you say the Son doesn’t know? Two things.
First, this phrase emphasizes the mystery of the coming of the Son of man. This phrase stands as an everlasting rebuke to the date mongers who are always telling us they have figured out when Jesus is coming again. You know we were told in 1843 that He was coming. And we were told in 1844 that He was coming and we were told that in 1914 that He was coming. And were told in September of 1988 that He was coming and I have heard some thing on the radio recently that assure me that He is coming at the end of this year. Great! Although, I happen to agree with C.H. Spurgeon who was writing in a time when somebody had just predicted that the Son of man was coming in 1866, it was the year, 1855, and C.H. Spurgeon said because they have predicted that He is coming in 1866, I don’t believe He will. This passage tells us that not even the Son knows. How dare we presume to know? That which the incarnate Son says that He does not know. Listen to what the great Baptist theologian, John Broaddus says. “ If the Son Himself, does not know the time of the coming, how cheerfully should we, His followers rest in ignorance that cannot be removed, trusting in all things to our heavenly Father’s wisdom and goodness? Striving to obey His clearly revealed will and leaning on His goodness for support? The timing of the coming of the Son of man is unknown to any.” That is the great emphasis of this phrase.
Of course, the phrase also reminds us of Jesus’ role in the Covenant of Redemption. John constantly tells us that in His work as our mediator, Jesus submitted Himself to the will of the heavenly Father, and this passage makes it clear that it was not the will of the heavenly Father for the mediator to reveal to us the time of His coming. Now we could perhaps say more about that passage, but we can say at least those two things about that mysterious phrase.
But the point apart from the difficulties is very clear. We must be watchful for His coming. Christians must be watchful for His coming. We must be ready. Not by trying to pry into the secret things of God and figure out His timing, but we must be watchful for His coming by being ready for His coming. We can’t know when He is coming, so we must watch by readiness. How are we to be watchful? By doing our Father’s business, just like He came to do His Father’s business. We are to do our Father’s business as if He were coming at any time. Ever put your house on the market? Realtors can call at any time and tell you that they want to come be and have a preview. Or they can call at any time and say, I want to bring someone by to see that house. And you want that house to sell, and so you want them to bring them by. How do you watch for the coming of the Realtor? Do you stick your head out the window and wait for them to show up down the street? You keep the house clean. Twenty-four hours a day, you keep the house clean. That is exactly what Jesus is saying. He is not saying stick your head out of a window and watch for me to come. He is saying, keep the house clean. That is how you watch for the coming of the Son of man.
III. The authority of Jesus’ words.
And then in verse 35, we see this glorious statement about the permanent authority of Christ’s words. And here we learn that Christians must practically acknowledge the authority of the Lord Jesus’ Word. Jesus makes it plain here that no rabbi or prophet in their right mind would have ever made heaven and earth will pass away, but My Word will never pass away. The cosmos, the universe, the sky, everything as we know it in this universe will pass away, but not His Words. His words will not fail, they will come true. Indeed, He is saying, His words are more certain than the earth that we stand on. His Words are more certain than the world beneath our feet. That is how certain His words are.
When we got to Peru, my very diligent friend, Duncan Rankin had researched everything there was to know about Peru. One of the things that he had discovered that you are never ever supposed to fly upon a military aircraft when you are in Peru. Because often times Peruvian airlines will substitute military aircraft, and when they do, don’t fly on them, because they don’t have to come up to the standards of international safety inspections. Well, it came the day for us to fly back from Cahamarjca to Lima. And we had flown to Caharmarjca on a pretty large jet, something like a 727. And as we had come through the Andes, the wind currents off of the tops of those 20 something thousand foot mountains had blown us around like a paper airplane. I have never landed going like this on a plane. I have gone up and down, but I have never gone like this. But we did land in Cahamrajca. When we got to Cahamarjca that day, to the airport, and airport is a little bit glorified. It was just a long runway. It is kind of like the airport in Holly Bluff, Mississippi. You know, you get out on the road, and you fly. When we got to the airport, there was a propeller plane that seated about 20 passengers, and I turned to Alonzo, and I said, “My brother, where is our plane?” He said, “Oh this is it my brother. We are going to fly over the Andes mountains, the largest mountain chain in the western world in that plane. That is right my brother. But not to worry, this is a converted military aircraft.” As we sat down, I was very nervous. I remember Terry Johnson’s last word as he got onto the plane, “If my wife ever finds out that this is how I flew back to Lima, she is going to kill me.” I was actually writing the notes for this sermon as we flew over, and it was a beautiful flight by the way. A beautiful flight as we fly over the Andes on the way back. But let me tell you, I was glad when that plane sat down in smoggy, dirty Lima. To have the earth under my feet meant so much to me that day. And Jesus is saying to us here, that His words, are more sure than the earth beneath your feet. And He is asking you to live by it. Yes, He says it has been two thousand years, and it more certain that He is coming again than that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. His words are more certain than the earth beneath your feet. Believe Him friends, He speaks the truth. Let’s pray.
Our heavenly Father, we are all too weak in our faith. And we are curious about things that you tell us that are secrets and we neglect the things that you reveal to us in your Word, so help us not to make the mistake of failing to trust in the authority of Christ’s Word, may His Lordship be reflected in every area of our lives. Not only in our trusting for His coming, but in our obedience to Him day by day. And help us we pray, to be watchful and ready for His coming so that we might rejoice in the day of His glory. As His children, by trusting Him. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.