The text here reads as follows: “Now from the fig tree learn her parable: when her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth its leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh; even so ye also, when ye see all these things, know that he is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.”
In this portion of Matthew 24 the Lord Jesus tells us to “learn” the parable of the fig tree. There is something in the nature of this fig tree which has in it a parable!There is here an expressed comparison and not simply an implied comparison. It is here expressed by Jesus just what the comparison is. In general wk can say, that all things happen in parables. Thus Jesus says in Mark 4:11, “And he said unto them, unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done (come to pass) in parables!” These parables happen day by day. The sower always again goes forth to sow the seed, and always and again the seed falls on soil that is by the way, stony, full of thistles, and on good ground. Matthew 13:3-9. The reason for this type of revelation is that the children of the Kingdom may know the Mysteries of the Kingdom of God, the secrets of the Lord with His friends, and that those who are without, whose hearing is not mingled with faith, may emphatically hear and not understand, may emphatically see and yet not perceive the mysteries of the kingdom.
Thus it is also with the parable of the fig tree.
God created the fig tree in such a way that it has in it the speech of the Creator. God made the fig tree in such a way that it is most emphatically a harbinger of the summer. Most trees first have leaves and then the blossoms and the fruit. However, we are told that the fig tree has this peculiarity, that first the fruit is seek on the tree. When the “branch is tender” one already sees the fruit, and afterwards the leaves. This is a sure harbinger of the summer. It has in it a created parable. A parable that every natural man can understand since he has “natural light”! Howbeit, the natural man cannot connect this phenomenon, in the fig tree, with the Parousia of Christ. The natural man does not know God through the medium of revelation, the created things, but has simply “some knowledge of God” which, even so, “he keeps down in unrighteousness by which he becomes inexcusable before God.” He does not “learn” the parable of the fig tree, since these matters are foolishness to him. But to us, who believe, they are the power aid the wisdom of God.
Now, what the natural man cannot do, we are instructed to do by the Lord, the chief prophet, who makes known unto US the secret counsel of God concerning our redemption, even by the parable of the fig tree. And what do we then learn? We learn that even as the fig tree’s tender shoots and leaves proclaim that summer is nigh, so also do “all these things” tell us that Christ is nigh, as the Lord of glory, coming in His Kingdom, yea, that He standeth before the door! And “learning” this from the fig tree does not simply mean: learn purely intellectually, but refers to the spiritual taking it to heart so that we lift up our heads in the hope of the eternal morning to enter into the eternal state, and thus ever be with the Lord!
It is noteworthy that, in the Greek text, it is emphatically pointed out that “ye” shall learn this lesson. A distinction is made here between “ye” and “this generation.” Just as the former alone, the elect, will hear the trump of God and be gathered from the four corners of the earth, so also here this lesson is to be learned by the children of God. In learning this we learn a “mystery” of the kingdom through God’s medium of revelation, the fig tree, and that, too, in the light of Jesus’ prophetic word.
In the light of this word there is much in our day for the enlightened child of God whereof to take notice. We have but to notice the stepping up of global life, global wars and policies. We hear more than ever of wars and rumors of wars. And man boasts great things, performing signs from heaven. Does he not dream of traveling to the moon and the planets? Does he not have his satellites in the heavens?! And is there not a great increase in religion, while godlessness is on the increase? And will not presently the very “heavens be shaken”? Will not man attempt to imitate God’s works, as did Jannes and Jambres of old in Egypt. Do not all things indicate that we are fast approaching the time when all things are ripe for the consummation of the age?
To the enlightened Christian this can mean only one thing. He hears the footsteps of Christ in history. He is approaching. Behold, he cometh quickly. His reward is with Him! Maranatha, Jesus comes!
Such is the lesson in the parable of the fig tree.
In verse 34 Jesus adds a solemn word of assurance that all these things shall be fulfilled. The counsel of God shall stand. The church, the elect, shall surely be gathered. And “this generation shall not pass away” till this all has come to pass.
There are some interpreters who insist that “this generation” refers to the then living generation in the days of Jesus, and that Jesus refers to the “Jews” and to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Others interpret the “this generation” in an expanded sense. This generation (genea) then has the meaning of “race” or family of people. It refers then to a certain kind (genos) of people. This generation are then the unbelievers who “shall pass away.” However, their final passing away from the scene of history will not take place till the time when the Son of Man returns in the consummation of the ages. Mockers or scoffers would refer “this generation” to the generation of Jesus’ day and then insist that, since all these things did not come to pass during that time, Jesus’ word does not stand.
And we may and must trust this word of the Lord Jesus. We must not pervert this “dark saying” to our own destruction as do the wicked with all of the Scriptures. Rather we are placed here in the either-or (entweder-oder) by Jesus. Either His word passes away, does not come to pass, and then He is in the class of the false prophets, or the heavens and the earth pass away, and then Jesus’ word stands and He is a true prophet. For that will be the last sign. When heaven and earth pass away all will need to say: “We know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs which thou doest except God be with him,” John 3:2. Here Jesus by implication applies to Himself the acid test of the credentials of a true prophet. Only that prophet’s credential is good whose predictions come to pass. The others must be stoned and put out of the land, Deut. 13:1-5. Let the mockers, therefore, scoff and mock, walking after their own lusts. Let them say: where is the promise of His coming! Let them willfully forget about the destruction of the earth in the days of Noah! This earth shall be destroyed by fire, being reserved against the day of judgment, II Peter 3:1-7. We know that God is longsuffering toward us, toward his own elect people, not willing that any should perish, but that they all should come to the knowledge of the truth, II Peter 3:9.
Hence, we trust this word of the Lord.
We are glad about this either-or. Either heaven and earth pass away, and we get a new heaven and new earth in the Parousia, or Jesus is a false prophet. We will, however, abide by the “Amen” of His word. For He is the Amen, the faithful and true witness of God, the beginning of the creation of God, and, therefore, through the “birth: pangs” of the world’s judgments also the “end” of the creation of God.
Do you ask “when” shall these things be? You mean: what will be the date, the day and the hour on ourcalendar and clock? That God has not made known to us. It is a “secret” which shall be revealed only when it comes to pass. Noah did not know the exact hour and day of the beginning of the flood either until it was told him. So it is also in this case of the final return of Christ upon the clouds. We are to live in a lively hope and are to have the loins of our mind girt up in sober expectancy, I Peter 1:13. And, therefore, we are to be certain that the Son of man shall return, but we are not to know that day or the hour, that we may be watchful unto prayer, Matthew 24:42.
On this point Jesus is very explicit and makes a most solemn utterance. We notice the three classes who do not know the day and the hour. In the first place Jesus says that “no one” knoweth the day or the hour. This implies that anyone who-thinks or presumes to have further information on this point of “time when” does not speak according to the prophetic word unto which we shall give heed as unto a light shining in a dark place. He lives by arithmetic computation and soothsaying and not by the faith in the more sure word of prophecy, II Peter 1:19. In the second place, Jesus most solemnly assures us that the angels in heaven do not know either. They only know the mystery of godliness through the church. Only in the church do they behold with rapt attention the things of the sufferings of Christ and the glory to follow. And, thirdly, let it not be overlooked that both the evangelists Matthew and Mark tell us that “neither the Son” knoweth this hour, or the day! This should not perplex us! It should rather be a greater deterrent for us not to pry into that which God does not will—because of the very pedagogical purpose with the saints—to disclose even to the Son. It is an element in the mystery that is not made known.
That the “Son” does not know certainly means that the Son in human nature does not know. Here we have a case of Communication of attributes (Communicatio idiomatum). The person of the Son, in his human consciousness does not “know” this point on the agendum of God. If he does not know, he who is the chief prophet, revealing to us the secret counsel of God concerning our redemption, what presumption is it on the part of men to say that they know. It is a strong commentary on human sinful inquisitiveness when men still pretend to be able to search out this path of the Almighty!
Hence, we are called not unto a searching out of the secret ways of the Lord, but rather to obey His word in holy and obedient expectancy!
The Lord Jesus himself will give further instruction of this “watchfulness” which shall be ours, in the sequence of this chapter!
His word shall stand also in respect to the limitation of the revelation of God and its pedagogical purpose with the believers, This word shall ever be the rock of offence upon which unbelievers stumble and fall into destruction.