1. The Parable of the Fig Tree:
Discerning the Signs of Christ’s Return
2. Command from the King:
Is the Parable for Me to Learn and Apply?
3. The Beginning Buds:
Understanding the Initial Signs of Christ’s Return
4. Tribulation Pains:
Understanding the Final Campaign Against God’s Elect
5. The Abomination of Desolation:
Understanding The Sign that Reveals the Antichrist
6. Like Lightning:
Hearing Christ’s Instructions for This Unparalleled Time
7. Preparing the Skies for the Son:
Understanding The Sign that Heralds the Return of Jesus Christ
8. The Great Gathering of God’s Elect:
Understanding the Timing of the Rapture
9. The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord:
Understanding What We Are Delivered From
10. What About Imminence?
Answering the Question, “Could Christ Come at Any Moment?”
11. “This Generation Will Not Pass Away Until . . .”
The Olivet Discourse and the Salvation of Israel
12. A Word of Comfort:
Taking Solace in Our Sovereign Lord
13. Watch and Pray:
Putting the Parable into Practice
14. A Call to Arms:
Becoming Battle Ready for the “Evil Day”
Reflections from the Mount of Olives
About the Author
Table of Graphics
1. The Parable of the Fig Tree
Becoming Battle Ready for the “Evil Day”
THE PARABLE OF THE FIG TREE
Discerning the Signs that Herald Christ’s Return
In the second chapter of the book of Ezekiel, we read a sobering exhortation:
“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Eze. 2:17–18)
This was the message delivered to the prophet Ezekiel. He was accountable before God to announce the reality of coming judgment. He was appointed to be a watchman to the house of Israel. A watchman in Ezekiel’s time was one who was placed at his post to watch over the city walls. If threats, harm, or destruction were on the horizon, he was to sound the alarm. This text holds an implication that resounds for the church of Jesus Christ. The faith delivered once and for all has been entrusted to the saints. The King, who endured the cross for the sins of the world and was raised from the dead forevermore, is returning. When He returns, He will be not be redeeming the world through suffering, but “dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8). Judgment is approaching on the horizon of human history. Much of the church is either sleeping at their posts or falsely sounding the alarm.
Most of us were brought up hearing Aesop’s fables. These fables, or short stories, were penned and passed on to demonstrate certain moral or enduring truths. One of the more famous fables is “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” According to the story, a certain shepherd boy became bored tending his sheep, and thus he found it amusing to cry “Wolf!” In response, the villagers would race to the boy’s side, only to find him amused by the false alarm to which they had fallen prey. While he continued to amuse himself by repeating this alarm, the day came when the wolf actually arrived. Once again, the shepherd boy sounded the alarm, but this time, the villagers didn’t believe him. No one came, and the wolf proceeded to make a tidy meal of the boy’s flock.
Over the last two thousand years, many have cried “wolf” regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ. Church history is peppered with prognostications and announcements of when the King will return. Many have cried, “Here comes the Christ!” but the King has not returned. While many have sounded the alarm in error, the truth is still this: One day the events of the end of the age will actually begin to unfold. With deception surrounding us and so many false prophets scattered throughout the land, how are we to discern the true signs of Christ’s return from the false? Our Lord has not left us without a witness. We have His Word, preserved through the ages, to guide, protect, and prepare us.
Learn the Parable of the Fig Tree
Our King left us clear instructions regarding the end of the age. We are not to be taken off guard because He “told us everything in advance” (Matt. 24:24). He exhorted all of His disciples to learn the parable of the fig tree. Through learning this parable, not only are we equipped with the true knowledge of what will transpire, but we are able to discern and reject the false prophecies that continually arise.
Allow me to paint the context in which the parable of the fig tree was proclaimed. During the last week of His earthly ministry, the Lord arrived at the temple and announced powerful woes upon Jerusalem’s leadership. Because of their unwillingness to gather under the Messiah, the Lord declared: “From now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matt. 23:39).
Jesus’ disciples heard their Master speak of the destruction of the temple and that there would be delay before He would “come again” to Israel.1 Their expectations were high. This language would have roused =expectations of the restoration of Israel, so the disciples sought answers. The scene was as follows: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately and asked, ‘Tell us when will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and the end of the age?’” (Matt. 24:3– 4). The disciples understood that the Lord would “come” and that this would mean “the end of the age.” The Greek word for “coming” is parousia. This term was often used for the arrival and presence of royalty. Jesus’ coming as the conquering King would usher in the end of the age. The expectation in the first century was intense. The disciples would have understood the end of the age as referring to the end of Gentile domination leading to the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. The end of the age would usher in Israel’s King, who would judge the nations and reign over all the earth in justice and righteousness. Thus, Jesus accepted their questions and proceeded to reveal the events and conditions that would lead to the consummation of human history.
After beginning His discourse by warning, “See to it that no one deceives you” (24:4), the Lord proceeded to give a detailed outline of the events and conditions leading to the end of the age. This is known as the Olivet Discourse. Event after event was prophesied by the King, culminating with His return in glory. Then the Lord commanded His disciples to learn the all-important parable:
“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; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” (Matt. 24:32–33)
The central goal of this book is for the reader to become well acquainted with this parable. The Greek verb is imperative: “learn” (mathete). This is a command. Our Lord exhorts us to learn this parable. If we see that which He outlined, we are to recognize that He is near. This particular parable is both simple and profound.
A Simple and Profound Parable
The parable of the fig tree is simple in that its meaning is straight-forward. We are to look at the fig tree. The fig tree is barren in wintertime. Yet when the “branch becomes tender,” which means that it is beginning to bud, we know the season of summer is near. In the same manner, when one sees “all these things” that Jesus outlined in His Olivet Discourse, one is to discern that His coming is near, even “right at the door.”
Though understanding this parable is simple on one level, it is deeply profound on another. I consider the Olivet Discourse to be the heart of understanding the second coming and the events that surround it. The discourse points back to important passages in the Old Testament, but also becomes the source for continued end-times teaching in the New Testament. In a sense, the Olivet Discourse is the glue that holds the whole prophetic framework together. As we progress through this book, we will see how, in His discourse, the Lord alludes to the prophets of Daniel and Joel. We will see how His teaching becomes the source of Paul’s instruction in the Thessalonian epistles. We will reach forward to the book of Revelation and see how the discourse provides the framework through which we understand the Apocalypse of John.
My aim is to accurately expound the essential end-times texts and highlight the biblical links that the Lord left for us, enabling us to better perceive the whole picture. This, of course, does not mean that every detail is plain and clear. Far from it. But it is my conviction that the general picture has been sufficiently laid out and that the diligent student of the scriptures can grasp the essentials of end-times prophecy.
[Chapter 1 continues . . .