Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Now 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 doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
When you think about the Lord’s coming and of the end of the world, how does that make you feel?
Many Christians do not like to think about these things. For some it is because they are too earthly minded and too involved in the things of this world. These are weak Christians at best. But for many these things alarm them and make them afraid. I remember as a boy hearing sermons on the last days and being frightened half to death. One of my pastors said often from the pulpit that he hoped he would be alive. when Jesus returned. Not I! I fervently hoped that that day lay in the far distant future! I was frightened. Maybe some of you feel the same.
It is true that Jesus speaks of some pretty frightening things in this chapter. The Savior talks about wars, earthquakes, famines, falling away, persecution, the stars falling, and the powers of heaven being shaken. Those are scary things! Who would want to go hungry or thirsty? Who would want to see his children starve?
But it is unfortunate, even tragic, that so many of us are alarmed and afraid of these things!
Jesus’ intent here is not to frighten us, though there are elements of warning and admonition in this chapter. Jesus’ purpose is to comfort and encourage us. Our Lord wants us to live joyfully and in expectation of His coming and of the end of the world. Jesus tells us all about these signs which indicate the nearness of the world and its fiery destruction. He tells us these things so that we may look forward to His coming and the end of the world. Jesus’ coming and the end of the world means that our full redemption to the glory of God has come!
For this reason the Lord tells us to learn the parable of the fig tree. The fig tree is a fruit tree common in Palestine. It differs from the other trees in one important respect. While other trees blossom early in the Spring, the fig tree begins to bud and put forth leaves late in the Spring. Thus, when it begins to blossom, everyone knows that summer is near. All danger of frost is past. The warm summer has arrived.
“So likewise ye,” says Jesus, “when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” The point of comparison is obvious. Just as the budding of the fig tree indicates the nearness of summer, so the appearance of all these things indicates that the end is near, even at the doors.
What are “all these things”? This must refer to the signs of which Jesus had been speaking. In verses 4-8 Jesus speaks of false christs who would come in His name and deceive many. The Savior speaks of wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in diverse places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
In verses 9-14 Jesus talks about the persecution of the saints and the abounding lawlessness. He tells us too that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the nations for a witness and then the end will come. In verses 15-28 Jesus speaks of the coming of the antichrist and the Great Tribulation. The appearance of all these things indicates that “it is near, even at the doors.”
What is that “it” which is near? To answer the question we must remember that Jesus spoke of all these things in answer to the question of His disciples concerning the signs of His coming and the end of the world. This means that the “it” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, the historic fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic Word and the prefiguration of the final destruction of the heavens and the earth. And, the “it” refers to the coming of our Lord and the end of the world, the ultimate fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic Word.
All these things we have seen and continue to see in our world today! We hear of wars and rumors of war, earthquakes and famines, persecution, apostasy. The only sign we have not seen is that of the antichrist, but even now are there many antichrists.
Jesus’ command is to learn the parable and to know that His coming and the end of the world are near! So near that it is right at the doors.
This means that the Lord’s coming, which marks the end of the world, is near. It is not a long way off, far in the distant future. Nor does this mean that Jesus is coming quickly. He is, of course, but Jesus’ coming is already near! So near that it is right at the doors. It is the next item on God’s agenda!
So near is Jesus’ coming that “this generation shall not pass; till all these things be fulfilled.” This generation does not refer to the disciples and other contemporaries of Jesus. This simply cannot be, because that generation and many others have already passed and we have not seen the end as yet. The term “generation” is used in the New Testament to refer to “this kind of people.” In Acts 2:40 it refers to the kind of people who reject Jesus, unbelievers. InPhilippians 2:15 it refers to people who are crooked and perverse. What Jesus means by “this generation” is the kind of people who see the signs of His coming and who know that these signs mean that the Lord’s coming is near. There will always be a generation of believers, a remnant in the world watching for the fulfillment of Jesus word.
This is the content of the parable of the budding fig tree. The Lord’s coming is near; the end of the world is near. You know this do you not?!
This is certain to happen. Notice how Jesus stresses the certainty of all this. Verily (literally Amen) I say, “this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.” Verily! Amen! I tell you the truth! It shall surely be!
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away! What appears more enduring than heaven and earth? We speak of terra firma! Or of having our feet on solid ground. They shall pass away! Heaven and earth shall be utterly destroyed!
But not Jesus’ words! They shall never pass away! Let the critics say what they will; let the scientists say what they will! Let man say what he wills about Jesus’ words! Those words will never pass away! Jesus’ words endure forever. They are valid in all of time and for all of eternity! This is the word of God’s only begotten Son by whom and for whom the worlds were made. These are the words of the exalted Christ in whom all things consist. These are the words of the Word which was with God in the beginning and which is God! We can depend on these words. They will never pass away. Jesus’ coming and the end of the world are near!
We are seeing the signs. They indicate that the end of the world is near. We know this just as surely as we know summer is near when the fig tree blossoms!
How does this make you feel? Does this make a difference in your life? Does it affect the way you go about your everyday affairs?
Our calling is clear. As we see these things we must not be troubled or alarmed. Those who live for the earthly and who seek the things of the world, let them be troubled and alarmed. Their world is about to be destroyed. Why should we be alarmed? We seek God’s Kingdom and righteousness.
Neither must we be deceived. God sends the ungodly strong delusion (II Thess. 2) so that they believe a lie. But we who belong to Jesus are not deceived. We know the end is near and we look for Jesus! Neither must we be afraid! Let the ungodly whose hearts are set on the things of this earth, let them fear! The heavens and the earth are about to be destroyed. But why should we be afraid? Jesus is coming and it will not be long! This is God’s sure Word in all these signs we see.
Let us be full of joy! Jesus who died for our sins and who was raised for our justification and who was exalted to glory, He is coming. And His coming marks the end of this world. That is the end of all this darkness and sin, the end of all our sorrows, the end of our sicknesses and pain, the end of our dying!
And the end of this world means the beginning of the new world. Our bodies are going to be raised and transformed, made like the glorious body of Christ. God is going to create a new heaven and earth in which we will be united with all the saints and with Jesus. And in Jesus we shall see God! That will be glory!
Look up! Lift up your heads! Your redemption draws near!
Our response? Come Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly! Amen.